I had the pleasure to interview Josh Rowley the co-founder of Givebox. After witnessing firsthand the widening gap between philanthropy and technology, Josh Rowley co-founded Givebox, a fundraising platform where any size nonprofit can raise any amount without losing donations to the middle men. Beginning in 2013, Josh began volunteering for nonprofits and noticed the complete lack of technology in this sector. It came down to one issue, the cost for premium technology was far too high for most nonprofits to afford. Josh put together an expert team and began the long journey of providing technology to every nonprofit in the world. From guest lecturing at USC to discover the donating habits of millennials to performing keynote speeches all over the world at technology conferences, Josh has dedicated his life and career to his vision of providing premium technology to every nonprofit.
Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?
My background is in film and television development. But while working as Vice President at Cheyenne Enterprises, in early 2005, I fell in love with new technology. At the time I took the road less traveled in LA and began working on startups. This led to a very successful consulting career that was lucrative and risk free. I was able to solve problems within companies without having the emotional attachments. It was at this time I got a call from a good friend who had been traveling the world surfing and building skateparks for kids in third world countries. He told me about how difficult it was to raise money for these projects and how fragmented the services were. He was using one company for sweepstakes, another for events, etc. and each was taking a cut of the donation. He was drowning in the expensive burden of raising money and wanted my help. I challenged myself to build an “all-in-one” fundraising platform where all nonprofits could benefit from technology. I called my good friend and genius engineer, Aaron Miller, and convinced him to become CTO.
As we researched the industry and realized how little actually goes to the cause when someone donates, it drove us to figure out how we could help change an industry and help more people with technology by becoming the the “bank” for these smaller nonprofits. I realized that we could make a material social impact by giving nonprofits the tools they need at the lowest price possible. It was at this moment that I realized that this was more than a business, it was a revolution.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
While literally going door-to-door and researching the needs of nonprofits, I walked into the office of SBIFF (Santa Barbara International Film Festival), one of the leading film festivals in the US and is of course, a nonprofit. They were immediately blown away by the Givebox platform and started using it. As we got to know each other we quickly learned that they had many other needs starting with ticketing. They asked if we could duplicate our donation forms into ticketing, invoicing, merchandising, etc. I had no idea if we could do that but I said, “Of course!” Then I called my CTO and asked him IF we could. After many hours going back and forth on the logistics of adding these modules, we finally designed a way to develop this tech and 6 months later SBIFF had replaced 7 platforms with Givebox.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Yes, Givebox has game changing technology including its own state-of-the-art payment gateway, but what makes this company stand out from all the others is the team members. I’m very fortunate to work with a group of people that have been successful in other walks of life. And now, they want to give back. Givebox provides the opportunity to not only help nonprofits save money, but it gets premium technology into the hands of smaller nonprofits that can’t afford technology.
In an industry that is fueled by donations, we knew that we had to gain control of the money to actually make an impact. What sets my team apart from everyone else, is that we accomplished becoming the financial backbone for these nonprofits through a sheer force of will. We have lowered the fees and increased the standard for philanthropic technology all and truly given every nonprofit the chance to aid their community and change the world.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My team’s philanthropic passion is the driving force behind Givebox. But the countless people along the way who said what we were trying to create was impossible is the driving force behind me. In our early days of R&D, I sat with one of the biggest nonprofits in the world. I had cashed in a lot of favors to be in front of these board members. All I wanted was to hear from them that there was a real issue in philanthropy. I wanted to get further confirmation that technology was not only overpriced to nonprofits, but absolutely inaccessible to small nonprofits. They confirmed this, then told me flat out, “People are making too much money between the donor and us…things will never change and we may never get the technology that other industry’s get.” This statement, told to me several times in several different ways, has haunted me and makes me more driven to give technology to every nonprofit.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Later this year, we are releasing Givebox Smart Accounts that gather information for nonprofits and builds a premium account for each charity. This enables organizations to focus solely on their mission without the time and expense of building a website and adapting to modern technology.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
As government funding slowly disappears in the philanthropic sector, local community nonprofits are in danger of disappearing. Grassroots nonprofits are mostly unaware of this. I dedicate much of my time to connecting with these nonprofits and educating them in the technology space so that they are not left behind. This has led me to joining over a dozen nonprofit boards where I discuss my experiences in technology development.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
My career has been sculpted by the reading of 3 books:
- When I first ventured into technology read and reread Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I related to Steve’s drive to create technology that the world didn’t know it needed and now we all depend on.
- When I began my work in philanthropy I studied the book Screw Business As Usual: Turning Capitalism into a Force for Good by Richard Branson to remind myself and those around me that we can turn capitalism into a force for good.
- And every year for the last 15 years, I read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn and on each read I take something different from it. Lately, I this book reminds me that we are all human beings, in it together and we need to recognize our similarities in each other.
Can you share 5 things that you wish someone told you before you founded your company?
Here are 5 things that people indeed told me before I founded the Givebox…and that I’m glad I didn’t listen to.
5) “The nonprofit industry will be way too resistant to new technology.”
I just couldn’t believe that any industry would be resistant to change for the better. Had I listened, I wouldn’t have discovered that nonprofits aren’t resistant to new technology; there simply hasn’t been a technology company that solves all of the problems surrounding charitable fundraising…until we created a solution..Givebox.
4) “Millennials and mobile users don’t give donations.”
I ignored this pessimism and guest lectured at USC to see if this was in fact true. After 90 days, we launched the Givebox beta app on Apple’s App Store and inspired hundreds of students to give their first donation. What I concluded was that the younger generations are very interested in their social impact and want to change the world and even if it’s in smaller donation amounts. These students had 2 very specific requests
- Make it easy: We invented a donation shopping cart where they could give to several nonprofits at once.
- We want to see the fee breakdown: We added in details on where every part of the donation and fee were going.
Easy giving, full transparency.
3) “Nonprofits now and forever will thrive on cash and check donations.”
According to industry analysts at Nonprofit Source, BlackBaud and even card issuers like Amex and Visa, donations via credit cards are on a steady rise each year and could be as high as 50% of all donations could be via card by 2020. The majority of nonprofits are not prepared for their donor’s method of giving.
2) “Don’t get into this industry; donors don’t trust charities anymore.”
Instead of a warning, we took this negative advice and made it a challenge. We developed a service that not only drastically decreases the overhead for nonprofits; it also lays the first steps for industry-wide transparency for donors. Soon people will realize it’s not the nonprofits that aren’t trustworthy rather the middle men who are syphoning off charitable donations. We are confident that Givebox will make other organizations on aware that very little of their donations make it to their cause. GiveBox changes that.
1) “It’s impossible to become a registered Payment Facilitator backed by a major banking entity.”
I have to admit that there were times when I felt this was a true statement. Despite working with the most talented technology team I’ve ever been a part of and investors who supported our vision, it was a grueling 5 years of low level, manual payment processing, all while maintaining perfect financials. I personally have first-hand experience of how I took this process and made the possibility a reality. It took a leap of faith, incredibly hard work, a lot of luck, and an inability to hear “NO” that gave us our competitive advantage. Something that every other platform out there has tried and failed to do.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Ashton Kutcher. Not because of his uncanny business sense and philanthropic spirit, but because of his inability to let go of a “real issue” in our society. Whether he’s investing in technology that vastly improves our everyday lives or actively trying to eliminate sex trafficking through his foundation; he has his pulse on every caste in our society and I have learned much following his prolific career.
The technology and financial inadequacies in philanthropy are one of the biggest shames we should bear as a society. We owe it to our community, local and global, to give every charity powerful weapons to aid them in the ongoing war between good and evil.
That’s what Givebox is doing. And I’m confident that a guy like Ashton Kutcher would applaud our mission as we bring this issue to the world’s attention and help millions of foundations, including his own.