Rob Wu and CauseVox on Startups in the Non-Profit Sector

Rob Wu is the founder of CauseVox, a startup that builds fundraising and engagement tools for non-profits. We don’t hear enough about startups catering to non-profits and causes, so Rob agreed to answer some questions for us.

What sparked the idea for CauseVox? & What were the key factors that lead you to target non-profit audiences with CauseVox?

We’ve been dabbling with fundraising technology since 2007, and our trip to Uganda, a few years ago, was the catalyst for CauseVox. We served 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 All the choices out there required hacking tools together, were hard to use, or were very outdated; as a result, we built a prototype and used that to fundraise for our project.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. Jeff exceeded his goal by several hundred dollars (apparently he’s more popular than me), which helped send other team members to Uganda, too. In the end, we provided services to AFC worth about 7 times the cost it took to go.

After the prototype, we began asking ourselves how this tool can help other people. We talked to countless donors, supporters, and a wide spectrum of non-profits. The common theme that kept bubbling up was that using technology to fundraise was a real challenge for small/medium non-profits.

Today, CauseVox helps non-profits raise funds for their causes. Our online platform turns their supporters into fundraisers. We’re like the Shopify of nonprofit fundraising platforms.

While in Uganda, visiting and living in the slums, we were struck by the poverty and need we saw. We were also struck by the difference and impact that nonprofits make. The world could be much better, but without nonprofits, the world would be much worse.

Our vision is to make it easier for nonprofits to do more good and effect even more change in the world. We believe that making this vision a reality is worth having quit our lucrative jobs and living off our savings.

We started CauseVox because we believe in good.

Did you have any concerns about the ability of non-profits to pay for such a tool?

Yes and no.

Most people outside of the nonprofit space think that you can’t build a successful business in this sector. They’re wrong. There’s over one million nonprofits just in the US with a captialization of over $300 billion a year. We knew that nonprofits had budgets for technology.

On the other end, we saw that some of the biggest vendors in the nonprofit space were charging thousands of dollars for nonprofits just to get started. Because of that, we created a revenue model that doesn’t require large setup fees. We opted into a monthly subscription and transaction revenue model. This makes it easy for them to get started, see the value, and evangelize our product. We also have a unique trial period. Our success is directly tied to the nonprofit’s success in fundraising online, so this helps build a strong sense of loyalty.

For our larger nonprofits, we do flat rate annual plans that fit their budget.

Has focusing on nonprofits changed how you think about running a startup?

Absolutely. We intentionally focused on this market because it was so underserved. At the same time, this market is smaller than most other markets and requires a long time to get traction because of fragmented distribution channels. Because of that, we saw that the traditional “get big super fast via big funding” approach for a startup wouldn’t work in this space so we decided to bootstrap and focus on revenue and cost cutting from day one.

This discipline has paid off. By not being tied to investors or a premature growth timeline, we’re able to focus completely on building the best product that creates the most value for our customers. This path isn’t easy. We can’t just throw money at our problems, but this approach pays off in the long-run.

What does the long-term plan for CauseVox look like?

Our vision is to transform the nonprofit technology space. We do this by first helping nonprofits fundraise more effectively, and second, innovating around nonprofit engagement and storytelling. We’re focusing on developing and launching new tools that help nonprofits engage their community, identify their passionate supporters, and manage their fundraising more effectively.

Image by Flickr user Howard Lake

About Thursday Bram

Thursday Bram has been fascinated with technology and business since she was recruited to work with a startup focused on launching rockets into space in high school. She has started her own business, written for sites like CNET and GigaOm, and thought a lot about whether space flight or the web are going to wind up having a bigger impact on the human race.

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