CauseVox, , who told us about the integrated platform he and Jefferson Chang developed after their experience working with nonprofits in Uganda in 2008. The young men saw the need to bring together online tools like website customization, social-media outreach, and donor tracking for smaller nonprofits so that they could use all these tools in an affordable and scalable manner. This week Rob shares the lessons he and Jeff learned while building CauseVox., we introduced one of the founders of
Rob and Jeff began to rollout CauseVox in 2009, not an especially auspicious year to start a new business. We asked Rob if the ongoing Great Recession has been hard on the company and how he and his colleagues see CauseVox going forward through this recession. He answered in a manner-of-fact tone that suggested the confidence of an athlete whose team is in a rough patch: “We started CauseVox in a down economy, and we’ve been doing well. So in a way, we’re not too worried about a double-dip or triple-dip recession. We’ve been working through one anyway. But in a way a recession drives nonprofits to look for new sources of funding. They become more willing to try new things. As they are trying new things, we think they will want to try CauseVox.”
If the economy in the near future is not of great concern to CauseVox, what might be the development or trend in the nonprofit and social-media recipe that Rob sees coming – and will help bring about? Mostly, he believes, outreach will concentrate on simplicity and aligning appropriate outreach channels with their audiences. In fact, we raised this very issue in.
“Certainly more and more nonprofits are going to grow comfortable with using social media. For a while, there’s some reservation with new outreach, like a direct email campaign or a direct-mail campaign. It’s foreign to nonprofits. But I see nonprofits learning and figuring out what are the voices to use, how to bring out an audiences. I see a move back-to-basics, after we’ve been through a period when I think nonprofits thought social media would end all their fundraising problems. But it won’t.
“We need to get better at our basics: How do we identify issues? How do we tell stories? Who do we need to share our stories with? What’s the best way to reach them? Is social media the most appropriate channel? Is email? When should you meet fact-to-face? I’m sure social media will be big part of the mix, but it won’t be the silver bullet to all their needs.”
If getting a new business venture cooked up in the midst of a collapsing economy did nothing to deter their ingenuity and energy, was there anything that surprised them as they got to coding and talking with their constituents?
“We certainly had a number of surprises as we got CauseVox going. One of the first ones is that many nonprofits just don’t focus on technology. I think the smaller shops spend most of their time on their programs, and from there they don’t have the skills or time to get an online presence.
“So one of our jobs is education of nonprofits. We can’t just built a set of tools. We have to help them as well, which is why we have such aand publications. We want to help them get better at online fundraising.
“Another surprise is how every part of a project takes longer than we expect. We soon learned that as we set out a new feature or a new campaign that we planned out with milestones, we’ve included a 1.5 multiplier to get it out the door. We want to leave room for basic innovation and for creativity.”
With success coming to CauseVox, Rob is confident that the organization is ready to turn up the heat a notch with expansion and outside funding. “Jeff and I met five years ago, and ever since then we’ve tried to find ways that we could have an impact in the nonprofit sector. We really were confident that we could start something.
We had corporate jobs, and saw that what we needed to make it work was a ‘runway,’ so we saved up for five years to finance this venture. We just used our own money to finance the venture. We’re definitely at the stage where we want to scale up, as we’ve proven the model. People use CauseVox, our customers rave about it. We feel ready for the next stage of financing, which is brining in outside investors.
Rob’s enthusiasm for enriching the nonprofit world was evident throughout our conversation, as he often moved between the company’s roles as technology developer and outreach educator. He knows CauseVox brings some unusual ingredients together, and he knows that nonprofits will benefit from a recipe that includes those ingredients. What he and Jeff have cooked up will prove to just the right thing for those organizations with smaller budgets but bigger plans: “The cool thing about CauseVox is that we wanted to give smaller nonprofits a voice, so we built tools for that: easy customization, website building through flexible and easy-to-use tools accessible to nonprofits. All that helps them get a voice online.”