Syam Buradagunta is president and co-founder of Blue Sky Collaborative, a company that offers online pledge event software (Sweet) to nonprofits for walkathons, bike-a-thons and similar peer-to-peer fundraising events. The company also provides custom websites and a content management system. Syam and his co-founders worked in nonprofits before starting their firm in 2003. The interview was conducted by Don Akchin, a principal of and a frequent contributor to the .
MKC: Did you start doing peer-to-peer fundraising, or has that evolved over the years you’ve been in business?
SYAM: That was really our mission from the get-go. Peer-to-peer was our angle. We decided we’d stay in that niche for the near-term, and the long-term I guess, to really optimize that type of fundraising on the internet, and hopefully in the near future, on phones and other platforms as well.
MKC: Was it hard to convince nonprofits to get into this in the beginning?
SYAM: Nonprofits have an aversion to adoption of new technology by default, because of budget constraints, and all the decision-making power of boards that may or not be familiar with new fundraising techniques like online fundraising. There was resistance from nonprofits to really get online with their fundraising even 8 or 9 years ago. A lot of them that thought this was going to be a passing thing. We don’t see that so much anymore. A lot of nonprofits have peer-to-peer programs somewhere incorporated in their campaigns. It is, however, a type of fundraising that works best for specific types of nonprofits.
MKC: Let’s talk about that. Which kind do you think it works best for?
SYAM: It works best for organizations that have family-oriented causes. So for example, healthcare and particularly, specific diseases – for example, if someone in your family has cancer, or ALS, or some other disorder. It also works great for causes people are very passionate about – political causes, for example. Peer-to-peer fundraising was a big component of the Obama Campaign fundraising in the last campaign. Other passionate causes, for example, abortion rights or right to life, where there’s a passion and it stirs people to action. It doesn’t work as great for causes that have historically been funded by major donors and wealthy benefactors, like the arts, for example. It doesn’t work so great in the education sector, because really those causes relate to what school you belong to, so there’s only so many folks you can ask. Or religion – people generally give to their own church but not to another church, even if someone in their family asks them. So there’s got to be some affiliation, there’s got to be passion, and there’s got to be some urgency. Those with all three are the causes it works best for.
MKC: Have you been trying to expand the limits – into other kinds of nonprofit work that it might work for?
SYAM: We try to stick to the causes that we feel are ideal for this type of fundraising, because regardless of whether or not the platform is perfect, a lot of the perceived success hinges on how much money is raised for the cause. You can have a perfect piece of software or a website that doesn’t bring in a lot of money. Then that doesn’t speak well to the product even if it is the same system used for successful campaigns. It’s an easy scapegoat. So we really try our best to focus on the organizations that are the right fit. I think this type of fundraising, the technology available for it, is yet to scratch the surface of what it can be, especially with the expansions of mobile technology and social media as well.
MKC: I noted that you have a fairly high rate of client satisfaction, with 90 percent resubscribing, so you must be fitting them pretty well.
SYAM: Honestly, it’s a partnership. It isn’t all us. We just come up with the tools to do what they need to do, and it’s almost just like building a great race car, but without the driver it’s not going to work. So we look at the organization as the driver and we’re giving them the racecar.
MKC: What sort of topics are you covering in your blog?
SYAM: We’ve had some internal discussion about that. There are a couple of approaches. First off, we have to look at the objective of the blog. We hope any post will be informative to any interested in the sector, but another goal is to get the attention of decisionmakers at nonprofits on certain topics, and to build awareness for our company. There’s a marketing component as well. As much as I love to spout off and have people listen to what I am saying while I’m on my soapbox, I also realize the purpose. So the topics range from general thoughts about the nonprofit sector – such as how, for example, decisions in the government are going to effect the sector in the near- or long-term – and they range to specific items that relate to peer-to-peer fundraising, or specific type of events or campaign types that are relevant to our customers.
MKC: Are you getting responses from the blog directly?
SYAM: Yes, we definitely see a lot of traffic coming from the blog. Interestingly enough, when we first launched the blog, most of our traffic was from people looking for free resources like documents and how to’s, so we leveraged that to help people get the type of tools that they needed, and also to boost our search engine rankings and get people to our site. That did not necessarily translate into any additional business on our side; there’s certainly an awareness, but it wasn’t necessarily targeted. So we’ve fortified the blog to also include articles that target individuals and mom-and-pop operations that are looking for peer fundraising solutions, as well as articles that would cater to directors and development folks at nonprofits.
MKC: Do you enjoy the blogging? Do you get much satisfaction from it?
SYAM: Absolutely. It’s something that I’m good at doing because it obviously serves its purpose for the organization in terms of marketing. However, from an individual level, I’d like to put out there what we’re feeling as an organization and what I’m feeling as leader of the organization.
MKC: What’s the part that’s satisfying to you? Is it the response or is it the expression?
SYAM: The expression piece is definitely there. I find it a useful exercise at the very least to write and document what we believe in. And I love getting responses. Actually that’s probably the most satisfying piece. I love getting all types of responses – people that agree, people that disagree, and we get both. And that’s fine with me. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. It’s great to see that people are reading it, and actually also tweeting about it, and reposting it, and retweeting about it, so that’s very very satisfying.
MKC: Does it get passionate?
SYAM: Absolutely. My posts are criticized by others and internally for being almost too passionate, too opinionated. But that’s just how I feel about certain issues. It doesn’t necessarily reflect how the company feels at all times, but I have some freedom to put my opinions out there, and people, as long as they read it, they have the freedom to agree or disagree, and that’s fine with me.
You can learn more about Syam and Blue Sky Collaborative at his website.or his
Guest blogger Don Akchin writes frequently about marketing and philanthropy at donakchin.com.
This interview series is produced with the generous support of the Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Zone.