So how did you decide to develop VolunteerSpot?
I’m a business process expert and working entrepreneur and when my daughter entered kindergarten -- I wanted to find a way to be involved in her school. I quickly learned that the way volunteers are coordinated is an antiquated mess. The level of inbox clutter with reply-all emails and bad klunky signup tools just to staff classroom helpers -- I got overwhelmed. I thought this has got to stop!
So I got on the PTO board, and took over the volunteer coordination role as a way to get more working parents involved. I thought for sure I could fix the system -- but I found a lot of moms couldn’t use Excel, and were frustrated with Yahoo!Groups and other tools like Evite. They could RSVP to Evite, but setting one up for volunteering didn’t work.
Talking to friends that work in tech in CA, I said “you know, I think I stumbled across a need” and they said, “surely someone’s doing this.” – but after looking for a long time to find someone making volunteer coordination, signups and reminders a snap – I discovered no one was – so I decided to build the tool myself.
Cool. So you are using it now for volunteer coordination at Eanes Elementary?
We’re using it now with some pre-screened beta groups from Eanes and some other community groups. We’ve already posted a public demo of the system that uses the real tool and then we’ll be opening the doors to all in our public beta launch in October.
Where do you get the development done?
We’re using a diverse team of local and Seattle programmers. This was my big learning curve – pick the right developers! I had a false start in 2006 with the wrong vendor.
What did they get wrong?
I’ve never developed software before so I thought they could build it because they said they could -- the guys that I hired were more web designers than web developers and they subcontracted out the backend to somebody who was a programmer but not an architect. Whew – that was a learning curve. But now we’ve got a fantastic dev team – the back end is architected here and our UI team is in Seattle. All our developers are invested in the product and are getting equity.
So how do you plan to make money out of volunteer work?
We have a beautiful story -- most volunteers are women from 35 to 49 and they’re involved in their kids’ activities and advertisers can’t find us on line because we’re not sitting in Facebook and we’re not sitting online chatting and blogging all day because we’ve got other stuff to do. We give volunteers simple tools that they use in their real lives, we give nonprofits and community groups higher volunteer retention rates, and we give advertisers access to power purchasers and a forum to demonstrate their social responsibility. Win – win – win in a great demographic.
So, is it an advertising model?
Yes, it’s an advertising model initially and the companies we’ve spoken to are super excited about getting their message out to this demographic – all the while supporting volunteering. Downstream we’ll also be offering premium subscription services, private branding and other services. We’re also pursuing some really high level advertisers and partners who want a white label.
And you’ve approached them already?
We’ve had meetings with Florida Orange Juice, Salvation Army, HEB and Michael Angelo’s.
How many users do you need for those groups to get interested?
We don’t need a lot, actually, we only need 10,000 – 20,000 highly-targeted users.
What nonprofits are you targeting?
Groups with volunteer-intensive missions like Habitat, United Way, Red Cross, PTA and Scouts. These groups have their own proprietary software for their employees – but committee members and community volunteer captains are left on their own to organize ground-level activities. We plan to create custom widgets for these groups to push out to their membership.
So how did you get this in front of those organizations?
My board is highly networked, Dr. Sarah Jane Rhenborg is a national expert in volunteering from the LBJ school. She’s one phone call away from many of these groups including the PTA. We’re mentioned in an article coming out in PTA magazine this Fall. Our board is also networked in faith-based volunteering and other nonprofit membership organizations.
But the other thing is that volunteers and volunteer leaders are highly networked. So if you’re involved at school, or if you’re involved with your kid’s soccer team, or church, you would likely be involved in four or five other group activities.
So you target schools and churches?
Schools, churches and non profits. We’re pursuing nonprofits to build our channel because we’ll be able to push our service quickly - such as creating a widget for a blood bank that they can push out to get people to sign up with a local drive at work or school. Our users are highly networked and if you get invited as a volunteer, you taste the tool. If you like the tool you find other places to use it.
Do you have events now or anything this fall?
We’re using the tool at Eanes Elementary school for cafeteria and recess volunteers. We’re seeking demonstration sites with nonprofits and events where we can prove our product (and cross-promote it with the cause).
Eventually we have plans to provide volunteer hours tracking because that’s important to be able to log hours for United Way and other recognition. But right now it’s a feature for the future. We don’t have a lot of money and need to refine development on our core feature set. Eventually we’ll do text message reminders and mobile signup as well.