A barrier that those looking to give back to the community most often face is not knowing how and where to start. Even for corporations, while corporate social responsibility (CSR) is gaining ground, it is still an uphill task to bring together a largely distributed workforce and quantify impact of contributions in terms of CSR.
Co-founded by Chad Smalley and Kevin Chua in December 2015, Involver - Social Volunteering is a platform that connects volunteers to social causes and help corporations and non-profits run data-oriented structured CSR programs economically. Involver’s research estimates that its services can save charities and non-profits up to 5% of their annual sponsored funds, which they can then in turn channelize to their community activities. “CSR and university partners could save an upwards of 15-20% of cost savings managing their CSR and student engagement programs,” says Smalley.
The startup brings non-profits on board to adopt its services and thereby gets volunteers and corporate partners to use the app. Customers are charged a monthly subscription fee for the technology that helps streamline volunteer management. The upstart reports over 1,200 volunteer users for the app (all organic) and 31+ partners posting volunteering events weekly. Involver’s gamified mobile app also enables better volunteer engagement where users earn badges and progress in levels for doing good. The platform also helps corporations derive better value out of their CSR by generating useful reports for decision-making.
The co-founders say that they found Dubai to be an apt market to test its beta, owing to its large volunteering community who are also avid smartphone users. Involver was also a Gulf region finalist at The Venture, a global pitch competition for social entrepreneurs organized by Chivas, held last month. Singapore, Thailand, India and Philippines are a few other countries where the venture has expanded organically. “Luckily, we have been able to grow within three countries in less than 45-days due to our user-friendly mobile technology,” says Smalley. “This means we have active non-profits and charities using our Volunteer Management System posting cause related events in our apps where before they were manually using excel sheets.” The upstart plans to expand through the Middle East and Asia in year one, and across Europe, Africa and then the USA in year two and three. “We have a funny mantra which is ‘We are Mobile, So We are Global!’ and are sticking by it,” Smalley adds.
Has analytics on data from Involver thrown any interesting trends on the volunteering community of the region?
I think this is a point that is really missed in the mobile world- lots of apps out there, but with no true understanding of the users using them. We can see from ours that our demographic of users is really made up of the younger generation, 18-25 years old, which is exciting, for they will lead the way in the future making our communities great and teaching their children the same. Some other exciting trends is our retention rate and repeat visitors with over 70% return vs. new users, which is amazing based on industry standards for apps. This shows that our users are continually coming back searching for volunteering events and socializing with like-minded friends. We are avid believers in making the app fun and engaging through the use of social interaction, gamification, ability to share their accomplishments and rewarding our volunteers for making a positive change.
Do you vet the community causes that you take up? What is the diligence process you follow for the same?
Currently, Involver is partnered with over 30+ social good partners; these can be NGOs, NPOs, charities, and more. The volunteering space in the markets we are in is highly fragmented, where people who do want to volunteer or give back really find it challenging to find reputable organizations or find cause-related events they care about. Each social partner that we bring on goes through a due diligence process, as well as making sure they are either accredited or have a long history of positive impact in the community. We also constantly receive amazing feedback from our volunteers using our apps letting us know if anything is out of order. We do plan on having a rating system in our apps for both volunteers and organizations to build up trust; honestly, we have just scratched the surface of mobile innovation, so stay tuned for what’s to come.
With a team of four people, how do you plan to scale Involver? What are the challenges you anticipate in scaling up Involver?
We are currently seeking funding to help us scale the business within the markets we are in. The funding will be used to help hire the right talent that can help acquire new clients. Thankfully our mobile volunteering ecosystem is growing at a rapid pace on its own. The challenges will primarily be around finding the right talent in each market that can communicate our value proposition for CSR and university clients and let them know our solutions is available to them. Since we are quickly becoming global due to the mobile backbone, we can’t afford to be in every market at the same time. But this is a good problem to have and we are confident in finding the best solution.
The feedback and experience from The Venture as a whole was amazing. It helped us hone our pitch and refine our true value proposition to each vertical we support. It was a bit nerve-racking, in all honesty, for this is the first time we actually presented Involver to anyone outside of our volunteers and partners. We did receive some validation for our core business model and the current challenges we are helping to solve in our social space.
What were the biggest lessons from your endeavors? How did you learn them?
The biggest lesson I have learned so far is building technology based on assumptions does not always pan out and can be very costly. You need to get real feedback from real users before investing a lot of time and money into building features on your app that you personally think is cool and useful but your actual avid users do not. Been there, done that.