CharityFinders was founded in 2000 by Allan Pressel. Allan was previously a co-founder of i-Cube, which had a highly successful IPO in 1998, and was acquired by Razorfish in 1999. i-Cube was profitable from the first quarter, every quarter for seven years. i-Cube helped large corporations develop an IT/Internet strategy and implement it through software/web development and consulting services - much like CharityFinders does for nonprofits.
Allan spent 15 years developing mission-critical software applications for Fortune 500 corporations. These included Hertz’s worldwide reservation system, Northrop Grumman’s manufacturing system, and many more. Though his work was exciting and fulfilling, Allan began to crave the opportunity to put his skills to work to help nonprofits better pursue their missions using information technology - specifically the Internet. Allan had many years to think about what philosophies would eventually guide him in his nonprofit-related venture. Chief among these philosophies were:
- Help nonprofits apply sound management principles to their organizations. Allan wanted to develop a way to help the management of nonprofits use some of the best practices of for-profit corporations to better achieve their missions.
- Help as many people as possible. Allan has enjoyed helping others on a one-on-one basis (for example, as a Big Brother and a springboard diving coach), and admires others who do so. However, Allan wanted to figure out a way to help large numbers of nonprofits and the people they serve - thousands or millions of people.
- Help people to help themselves. "Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him to fish and he’ll eat for life." Like the philanthropist who helps solve hunger problems not by giving out food, but by helping people to grow or acquire their own food, Allan believes in helping others to help themselves - including helping nonprofits to help themselves and enable those they serve to do the same.
- Give back to the community. Allan wanted to create a venture that practiced what it preached by being socially responsible and donating a percentage of its revenues to worthwhile causes.
Allan started thinking about what was really needed in the nonprofit sector, where his expertise and approach could play a valuable role. Briefly, his thinking was that there was a tremendous gap between what nonprofits were doing with the Internet to further their missions - versus what they could be doing. Allan had perceived such a gap years earlier in the for-profit world, and i-Cube (along with many other companies) helped many for-profits to bridge that gap by using the web strategically for their competitive advantage. This time, Allan thought he could help nonprofits use the web strategically to further their missions - by offering them a tool they could use to easily build their own websites that would not only offer a lot for users to see, but - more importantly - a lot for users to do.
Allan set about to validate his idea. First, he analyzed hundreds of nonprofits’ websites. He estimated that roughly 90% of the approximately 1 million U.S. nonprofits had no web site, about 9% had basic "brochure-ware", and around 0.9% had only a simple e-commerce capability - typically online donations. Yet, the potential for nonprofits to use the web to improve their fundraising, lower costs, and better pursue their missions was enormous. Allan spent months thinking about what nonprofits could and should be doing strategically on the Internet.
Allan’s thinking went like this: A high percentage of nonprofit websites were brochure-ware or little more. Allan thought about the purpose of these sites. The answer was clear - nonprofits wanted their sites to inform people about their organization, to get them excited about it, and most importantly, to motivate people to take action to support their nonprofits. The problem was that even if a website was successful in accomplishing those goals, the result was a website visitor who was motivated to support the organization but had no immediate way to do so. Allan thought that these sites - and their organizations - could be so much more successful if they actually offered such visitors easy ways to support the organization online, immediately - through cash donations, in-kind donations, event registrations, volunteer sign-up, membership, planned gifts, investment donations, e-store purchases, and more.
Faced with this evident gap between what nonprofits were doing and should be doing on the web, Allan asked, "Why?" The answers seemed almost too obvious: Nonprofits didn’t have the money, time, technical expertise, or IT infrastructure to build and maintain a website that did the things they really wanted and needed. Plus, they didn’t want to be distracted from the pursuit of their mission. Many nonprofits were spending large amounts of money and devoting months to developing websites that contained little or no functionality. What’s more, these nonprofits were typically dependent on the individuals or companies that built their sites to maintain them - resulting in unneeded expense and delay to keep their sites up-to-date. Not surprisingly, many sites contained obsolete information.
Allan met with several leaders of the nonprofit community in Southern California. They each agreed with Allan’s assessment of nonprofits’ use of the web, and believed that the "tool" that Allan that had, by then, prototyped, showed much promise in helping a large number of nonprofits. They each referred Allan to several other nonprofit leaders, who reacted the same way.
Armed with independent validation of his idea, Allan set about to design and build this tool - and named it NonprofitSite123.
Two and a half years after starting CharityFinders and beginning the development of NonprofitSite123, the tool was launched in December, 2002. The first few clients were enthusiastic – they could now develop world-class websites in just hours, even if they were small nonprofits. As word got out, Allan was invited to meet with many executive directors, heads of foundations, and other leaders of nonprofit organizations. Allan has been incredibly gratified by their overwhelmingly positive response to NonprofitSite123, particularly now that the second generaiton of the tool -- V2 -- has been released. He now sees that his dream of helping large numbers of nonprofits to easily use the Internet to further their missions is coming true!