From Counting Beans to Crowdsourcing Dollars: An Interview with CauseVox’s Rob Wu
I first met Rob Wu, the co-founder of CauseVox, last year in New York when we were both StartingBloc fellows. It didn’t take long for me to see that this unassuming professional beancounter & management consultant from Texas was actually a budding social entrepreneur sitting on a great idea, just waiting for the most opportune time to bring it to life. That time came shortly after when Rob left his well paying job at Deloitte to dedicate himself to his venture full-time. It has been almost a year since then and I finally caught up with up Rob to see what he has been up to.
For those who aren’t familiar with CauseVox can you give us a short intro.
Sure. CauseVox is an online fundraising platform that lets non-techie non-profits design their own campaigns, get supporters involved in personal fundraising, and easily manage the whole process.
What was the inspiration for the platform?
A few years ago my co-founder and I volunteered for Action for Children (AFC), a Kampala-based NGO that serves children and families vulnerable due to HIV/AIDS and poverty, by providing pro bono marketing and IT support. Like a lot of pro bono projects, we had to raise funds to get ourselves there, but we couldn’t find a good way to make that happen online. All the choices out there required hacking tools together, were hard to use, or were very outdated; as a result, we built a prototype and used that to fundraise for our project. It was awesome. We were overwhelmed by the response from our friends and family through the prototype. After Kampala, we talked to dozens of nonprofits and decided to launch CauseVox.
How does CauseVox differ from other fundraising sites like Crowdrise?
There are a lot of great platforms out there. We’re different because charities can fully preserve their identity and brand through our page customization tools. In addition, it’s fast to setup and charities can start fundraising within 15-minutes. Charities that use us love the user experience too because we’ve made a complex process super easy.
Since launching the product earlier this year, what has been one of your favorite examples of non profits succeeding on the platform?
One of our recent favorites is the The Adventure Project (TAP), a small non-profit founded just last year. In seven days, they organized a one day fundraising campaign, called TypeTAP, on World Water Day (March 22nd 2011). TAP signed on 150 bloggers from around the globe to mobilize their readers to take part in a Water Revolution. The goal was to raise $10,000 in one day to support a water well mechanics program in India. They ended up raising over $12,000 within 24 hours and received a matching grant of $10,000. Very cool.
In addition to the success of The Adventure Project you were also involved in another successful project, SXSW4cares, where you helped organize and raise over $120,000 for the earthquake relief effort in Japan. Can you tell us how that got started and how you were able to raise that much money so quickly?
The Japanese earthquake and tsunami occurred on the first day of SXSW Interactive. After seeing the news, we used CauseVox to launch a campaign-branded giving site within 30 minutes to capture the urgency of disaster giving. The original goal was to raise $10,000 within the 5-day interactive portion of SXSW, but we were able to far exceed that and raised more than $120,000. The community really make it successful, and the organizing team did a few things to encourage that.
- Community Branded – We used a co-branded (with the Red Cross) site to maintain credibility with our 1500+ donors. The site was hosted on http://www.sxswcares.org, which used a URL and design that supported a strong sense of community around the campaign. We also used branded Twitter accounts (@sxswcares and @sxsw4japan) to promote the campaign.
- Personal Fundraising – In order to extend our reach and to leverage personal networks, we encouraged attendees to create fundraising pages. Businesses gave away products for donations, attendees held competitive fundraisers, and hundreds of others used other creative means to make fundraising personal. You can read more about it on our blog.
- Influencers – We grabbed session leaders, keynote speakers, bloggers, and social media influencers to extend our message across to their audiences. Guy Kawasaki, Brian Solis, Blake Mycoskie, and many more helped spread the word about the campaign. Joseph Jaffe auctioned off a keynote for $15,000.
- Media – The campaign featured compelling video footage of the disaster and testimonies from Japanese attendees. We also leverage media opportunities this AdAge piece to drive traffic to the campaign site.
- Partnerships – We partnered with as many groups and sponsors as we could. This included SXSW organizers, the Red Cross, the Hanson Brothers, and many more to promote the campaign. Hanson led a 12-hour telethon that featured over 40+ artists, including Michelle Branch, Ben Folds, and Kina Grannis.
It’s been one month since the earthquake, are there any plans to continue support?
For SXSWcares, we’re in a wait and see mode to determine how best we can continue to help Japan disaster relief. Our team is also planning campaigns at future SXSW conferences as well as other events too.
So what’s next for CauseVox, anything to be excited about? And how do you see yourselves evolving over the years to come?
Well for our fundraising platform, we’re working on enhancements to make customization more robust as well as to improve analystics, reporting, and administration. Our immediate goal is to help charities raise $1 million by the end of this summer. Charities have a hard time engaging supporters. We’re launching a tool this spring to tackle that problem (Interested non-profits can sign up here.)
Eventually we want to scale social good through technology by transforming the way small and medium sized non-profits use technology. I liken it to how 37signals changed technology for small businesses and entrepreneurs through their suite of applications. Our vision is to build applications that focus on improving how non-profits communicate, engage, fundraise, and manage their online presence. We’re going to be the leader in small/medium non-profit technology.
How can our readers help you help non profits?
They can help spread the word about CauseVox to non-profits that readers know.
Crowdrise: A Revolutionary Way to Fundraise from Edward Norton
Photo credit: via Flickr by David Armano