By Lorie A. Parch a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, and social media strategist. She runs 828 Communications, a small content strategy and creation firm. The Crowdfundamentals is pleased to welcome Lorie as our guest blogger.
If there’s one thing it’s safe to say about crowdfunding — other than that it’s growing by leaps and bounds — it’s that this way of raising dough is still very much in its infancy. Which means that innovations are happening all the time. CauseVox, launched in beta in January 2011 by co-founders Rob Wu and Jeff Chang, is both a great example of this and one of the engines driving that innovation, in their case in the nonprofit crowdfunding/fundraising sector. Their mission is to bring fundraising back to the nonprofit’s site.
Wu and Chang’s New York City-based company is a new platform for fundraising that allows anyone — from a single individual to a large nonprofit — to create their own site to raise money simply, quickly, and affordably. The Crowdfundamentals recently spoke to Rob Wu about what makes CauseVox different in the fundraising and crowdfunding space, and where the site is headed (up it would seem; 10,000 sites have already been launched using their platform). Here’s an excerpt of that phone interview:
The Crowdfundamentals: What’s your background? What led you to launch CauseVox with Jeff?
Rob Wu: Jeff and I we were friends long before we had the CauseVox idea. Around 2007, 2008, we kind of got together and said, ‘Hey, what can we do with technology to really benefit the world? How can we use our skills to make this a better world?’ I was doing business consulting and always wanted to do more nonprofit and social good. [Jeff and I] took a trip to Uganda and since it was pro bono, you had to fundraise to get yourself there. We asked friends and families for donations, but it wasn’t a good way to do it. So we built our own solution to raise funds online. After we came back we saw you can do a lot with a little bit of technology, which helped us start CauseVox. We launched the beta platform in January 2011.
TCF: How is CauseVox different? What makes it stand out from the pack?
RW: There are a lot crowdfunding platforms out there, but we’re different because we focus on customization and storytelling. We have mass content creation tools that allow people to get more donations, as well as let customers customize their site and pages to what they want it to be. With that customization, you’re able to get more donations … On CauseVox, you don’t have to be a 501(c)3; you can be an individual, and you can be in the US, in Canada, or anywhere; lots of platforms restrict [users] to US-based platforms only. We’re excited to push the frontier; we think it lies in storytelling and customization.
TCF: Is this area of platforms for cause-related sites/platforms a competitive one? Who is your competition?
RW: Yes and no. In terms of fundraising for nonprofits, there’s online and there’s offline. There’s also more Twitter-based fundraising, Facebook-based fundraising; online, there a lot of techniques and approaches. We want to become the most developer-friendly platform out there. So individuals can easily use our platform to create their own customized pages and sites.
TCF: The marketing part of any crowdfunding or fundraising campaign is typically the hardest. In other words, getting people to become aware of what you’re doing and then to donate. Does Causevox help with that?
RW: In terms of helping people to come [to your campaign] to raise funds, one is [our site-building] tool and the other is empowering them with our storytelling guide and other crowdfunding resources. We also have this free 10-video course on online fundraising [for our clients]. We have a lot of resources that are free for customers, like how to approach the press, journalists; how to get donations. We work with certified fundraising executives, professors in philanthropy, to get some of these courses up; they’re all free … When we look at fundraising campaigns that are heating up [on CauseVox], we tend to promote them for free [to the Causevox network] through publicity, we push [trending sites on CauseVox] out to our media contacts. … What we found is that you can’t promote something that doesn’t have traction, but you can empower [our clients] through our guides. It’s a more interesting story [to the media] if there’s traction.
TCF: Who’s a great candidate to use CauseVox, who can benefit most? You note on your site that small- and medium-sized nonprofits are a very underserved audience: How will this help them?
RW: In terms of the people that raise the most money on our platform, they tend to be individuals with anything social good-related, but they don’t have to be a nonprofit. It can be an individual wanting to make a difference, all the way up to larger organizations. One of the sites we launched was a group of friends — one of their friends got stabbed seven times in the back in San Francisco and he didn’t have health insurance. His friends raised over $40,000 to cover his medical bills. We also serve nonprofit startups. This is a hard question to answer because there are so many case studies — large and small nonprofits, individuals — all are using our platform.
TCF: Who’s been the most successful so far using CauseVox, in terms of the most money raised?
RW: In 2012, when we looked at it, we found we’d helped an organization that raised $400,000. Later, they went up to $600 for their social good campaign. We’re helping out people who want to raise $5,000 to those who want to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars.
TCF: What are some of the things you hear most often from your clients — questions, goals, frustrations about fundraising?
RW: Some people don’t know how much they want to raise. Figuring out a dollar amount is kind of always a difficult thing. Some people do more social good projects so they want to know, what is the social impact? And they have trouble figuring out what the social impact is. Instead of raising $10,000, they might say, ‘we want to raise enough to buy, 100 water wells.’ Figuring out a goal is a difficult issue for some people.
Another issue is rallying a support base. How do they approach people for donations, how do they get people on board, how do they make them aware? We don’t help them directly with that, but we do provide resources. One section of our fundraising guide is how you build community: How do you identify the core members of community to fundraise? Or, how do you build a tribe? Everyone’s campaign is different.
TCF: Where do you think crowdfunding is headed?
RW: We’re at an exciting time. When we started in crowdfunding two years ago, it wasn’t visible to a lot of people. With respect to social good, it will keep growing. People have been fundraising for social good for a long time before crowdfunding; they did it the old-fashioned way — they sent letters, they went door-to-door … The social good space is going to grow very fast and they are going to innovate around it. Especially for nonprofits and social good in crowdfunding, I think there will be a movement toward customization; [people] want to control their brand.
A lot of crowdfunding is short-sighted: [People say,] ‘We want to raise a specific amount and call it a day.’ But in order to create a social impact it needs to be more than just a project; you need to be sustainable. Because of that there is a movement to bring crowdfunding into a nonprofit’s website, cultivate a support base, integrate it with [the nonprofit’s] web properties — there will be a movement toward that.
Lastly, around content, I think there’s going to be a movement toward creating that content — stories as a way to get donations. Great, compelling content is going to help you get more donations.
I think the crowdfunding space is a growing space and there’s a lot of interest from individuals with small projects to [large] charities … We have a lot of interesting features that we’re releasing in the next 6 months, including content marketing techniques and approaches to enhance how you do fundraising online.
We’re moving nonprofits from asking for money online to being true storytellers: Use content to reach more people and to get more donations … For us, we’ve always had a strong focus on storytelling; the story is one of the most important aspects of getting any type of fundraising off the ground. We released an e-book about how to tell a story … As we go deeper into how to get people to tell better stories, one of the most promising movements is around content marketing — writing blog posts, creating infographics, creating video, but also trying to understand how to use social media … Compelling content that wants to be shared — that’s what powers social media. [Many nonprofits] have difficulty telling their story and creating enough content in a sustainable way. So we integrated more of a storytelling component into any fundraising campaign on their site.
The second thing [Causevox does] is allow for mass content creation. The supporters of a social good project can create their own fundraising page and create and post stories. For each story that’s posted, it was associated with $109 in donations. So it’s good to see some of the hard data with that, especially with storytelling. We now have people creating tons of content and people can cultivate stories and can use that to talk to press, to talk to donors. It’s an automated engine to create and share stories.