Classy Helped Nonprofits Raise $1B — Discover The ‘Secret Sauce’
This post was originally produced for Forbes.
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The nonprofit fundraising platform Classy recently announced it had reached $1 billion in funding raised for its clients and their causes. Scot Chisholm, co-founder and CEO, visited with me to share some of his insights about reaching this “BHAG, big, hairy, audacious goal” set when the company was founded.
You can watch the full interview with Chisholm in the player at the top of this article.
Chisholm noted that it took six years to reach $500 million in funds raised but only 14 months to double that mark. “So, the growth is still happening which is really exciting.”
He was prompted to launch Classy after organizing a pub crawl to raise money to fight breast cancer in honor of his mother—a two-time survivor. The nonprofit he chose refused to accept the money! He knew then there had to be a better way.
Scot Chisholm CREDIT: CLASSY
For its own operating requirements, Classy has raised $53 million from investors including JMI Equity, Mithril Capital Partners, Bullpen Capital and Salesforce Ventures.
The relationship with Salesforce developed initially with the Salesforce Foundation. Co-founder and then president Suzanne DiBianca, who now serves as chief philanthropy officer and EVP of corporate relations at Salesforce, was first drawn to Classy as “an example of the impact that technology can have on advancing philanthropy.”
In 2014, Salesforce Ventures invested. In 2015, Classy launched its app on the Salesforce AppExchange. That year, Classy joined the “Pledge 1%,” an initiative led by the Salesforce Foundation, Atlassian, Entrepreneurs Foundation of Colorado and Rally, that encourages companies to dedicate 1% of employee time and 1% of product to nonprofit customers.
Chisholm is proud of the charitable initiatives the company makes in addition to its core mission of helping nonprofits raise more money. In addition to being an early member of Pledge 1%, the company hosts an annual event they describe as the “Oscars of Philanthropy” called the Classy Awards. Employees also participate in a philanthropic initiative called “ClassyGives.”
There is little argument, however, that the company’s biggest impact isn’t the $1 billion it’s helped nonprofits raise. Chisholm acknowledges that it is difficult for Classy to track the impact outcomes of the money raised but a lot of good can be done with $1 billion.
Jake Wood, CEO and co-founder of the nonprofit Team Rubicon, reports raising $12 million on the platform, most recently in response to California wildfires. “Classy has consistently proven to be an easy to use and reliable platform in taking advantage of that trend. You don’t get to $1 billion raised online without doing something right. “
Classy has several different fundraising services that can all be used for various forms of crowdfunding, including direct appeals, peer-to-peer campaigns and event management.
One use case for Classy’s toolkit is giving days, including the biggest giving day of the year, #GivingTuesday on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, this year falling on November 27. Classy will have a live tally of the day’s results at classy.org/giving-tuesday. Separately, I will be tracking results across all fundraising sites, including Classy, at gtstreamathon.org.
That penchant for sharing information and total transparency has been a hallmark of Chisholm’s approach since the company’s early days. He says he’s been criticized at times for being so open.
From the earliest days of the company, he says, “we would produce this report for people that had invested in the company and we sent it to all employees, including the interns; it had all our information, financials, cash in the bank—everything.”
Today, the company has 240 employees and they still send out copies of the investor reports to the employees, so everyone knows how the company is doing.
“That level of transparency, even though I’ve been criticized sometimes for it, has built an amazing amount of trust within the organization. So, folks know, kind of a ‘state of the business’ and they feel like they’ve got a seat at the table,” Chisholm says.
“Maybe that’s some secret sauce in helping to grow the company,” he adds.
Salesforce’s DiBianca says, “Classy does incredible work advancing philanthropy with the next generation of online fundraising and this $1 billion milestone is proof of that success.”
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