Non-profit organizations have a tall order. Getting people to engage, donate, and volunteer their time without concrete compensation is no easy feat. In the past, non-profits relied on grassroots efforts and tireless footwork, and while those tactics are still used, social media offers a powerful new tool to reach much wider audiences.
Facebook is one of the most valuable resources for building philanthropic engagement, and in 2012 the introduction of custom actions opened up even more possibilities. That’s when Drew Bernard, Shawn Kemp, and George DeCarlo decided to launch ActionSprout.
“In many ways ActionSprout is an evolution of work that co-founder Shawn Kemp and I have been doing for years to bring relationship marketing practices to the non-profit sector,” said Bernard, who serves as CEO. “We both spent a number years working with nonprofit organizations helping develop engagement strategies and put in place tools they needed to build deeper and more productive relationships with supporters and donors.”
ActionSprout helps non-profits boost Facebook engagement with a variety of custom action tools like donating, signing petitions, and more. The startup, headquartered in Portland and Bellingham, also offers guidance on bigger picture marketing strategies for clients.
We caught up with Bernard for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “ActionSprout helps non-profits make Facebook work for their mission. From growing fan engagement to increasing email sign-ups and fundraising, ActionSprout takes the mystery out of Facebook.”
Inspiration hit us when: “It was really the creation of custom actions that made us realize that Facebook was becoming a place where organizations could build meaningful and productive relationships. So, we started building and testing. Today, we have 27 different social actions that page mangers can chose from, from signing a letter to donating.
In the early days, the tool was really all about the actions. This was mostly because we felt that the first thing that needed to be tested was whether or not Facebook users would willing to do more than click ‘like.’ If they had not been, then we would have packed up and gone back to bad-mouthing Facebook. But as it turns out, Facebook users want to do more than consume content and click’ like.’ They want to take actions that show their friends something about themselves. People are taking actions not only to support the causes they care about, but to help define themselves to their friends on Facebook.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “Angel-funded bootstrapping. The ActionSprout founders have a strong commitment and a deep belief in the bootstrapping ethos. For the first two years, we bootstrapped the company with no outside capital. But we entered into 2015 having closed an angel round that was led by the Oregon Angel Fund, Bellingham Angel Fund, Portland Seed Fund and other angel investors. But it’s probably worth noting that our intent for the round is to simply allow us to bootstrap faster.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “Taking the mystery out of Facebook for our clients, which means not just technology, but the knowledge and community to help them maximize Facebook to reach their goals. We’re in a unique position to see and learn from thousands of non-profits and political campaigns using Facebook today. In some ways, our customers are our secret sauce. We get to learn from each and every customer we serve. That and caring — we actually care deeply about the work that our customers do. Each day, we come to work knowing that the organizations that use our tools are working to make the world a better place. That fuels our entire team to do more of the right things.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Focused on Facebook. Simply put, Facebook really is the place where non-profits and political campaigns are going to reach and cultivate their most ardent supporters for quite some time.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “We are pretty committed to failing fast and cheaply. It’s hard to say which of the small bets we have made have been the most painful to lose. Honestly, the list of mistakes is longer than I can begin to list, from hiring the right person at the wrong time to building an integration that really didn’t end up making sense — we are in the business of trying things and running with the ones that work and cutting the ones that don’t quickly. Fortunately, none of them have been all that crippling.”
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “No contest — Zuckerberg. And I don’t say that lightly. Bill Gates is doing amazing things in the non-profit world and we would love to have him as a close partner. But Zuckerberg holds the keys to the single most important social platform on the planet. We would love to work with him to figure out how best to leverage the platform to make the world a better place for everyone.”
Our favorite team-building activity is: “Sharing the success of one of our customers. There really is no better way to bring us all together and remind us why we come to work each day than seeing one of our organizations really hit a home run on a campaign they are using ActionSprout to run on Facebook.”
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Cultural fit. There are a lot of highly talented people, but when everyone is running as fast as we are, it’s critical that everyone on the team really trusts and depends on each other.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Focus on what really matters, not what other people are telling you matters. It’s far too easy to impress people with the next new thing. What really matters in this world and what really adds value to a company is helping other customers be significantly more successful than they were without you. If you don’t care about what you’re doing, don’t do it.”