Canvas selects nonprofits to get its app for free

August 26, 2012

Who: James
Quigley.

Company: Canvas, a Reston-based service that allows users to create Web applications for data collection.

Charitable giving highlights: Provided 20 nonprofits with pro bono services. Recently started a campaign to give its app and services to nonprofits.

Tell me about your company’s corporate philanthropy.

Our company is a platform where anyone can convert a process and have it work on any mobile device and it automatically goes in our cloud and can be shared with anyone. We’re big believers that real-time data connections can do amazing things. We’ve had groups come up to us and say that they would love to use this, but they can’t afford it. So we set up a program called Ante Up where we give away our product and our people’s time.

What does the Ante Up program entail?

It’s three parts. One, each employee can adopt a charity that will get our product free and the employee gets paid time off to work with them. We will also fly the employee to the nonprofit’s location to make sure that the product is actually making a difference. The second thing is we will have one annual winner that receives our product, support and publicity. The third thing is we are helping local chief executives of start-ups with their giving programs.

What are some examples of nonprofits that you work with?

For instance, an organization called Dandelion Support Network in Australia. They recycle barely used baby items and give them to families that have nothing. There’s a manual process of doing all the safety checks, and tracking where the items are going. Because they’re a nonprofit, it’s painful to keep on top of all this. With our product, they’ve built a series of applications for signing up volunteers and doing safety audits.

How did you determine this giving model?

We’re a start-up. There are so many companies in the area that aren’t making money. If you look at quantity, not the size, there are a lot more start-ups than there are established companies. We don’t have cash. That’s the lifeblood. But the things we have to give are what we call our four Ps: passion, principle, product and people.

How does a nonprofit become a partner?

There’s an application process. The nonprofit’s application goes into a pool where an employee can adopt it. If it’s approved, our employees fills out a quarterly report so we can see if they’re putting time into it. They can schedule a trip to work with the organization to check on the project. That process can happen at any time. We select a winning nonprofit partner once a year. We fly the winner to us and we do some free press to market what they’re doing.

You decided to go beyond local partnerships and open it up to nonprofits around the world.

Most of our business is so viral and self-service, and 35 percent of our users are overseas. So we’ve always determined from the beginning that we’re not just a U.S. company.

How much have you budgeted for overseas travel?

We’re developing it as we go. I’ll put a certain amount of dollars per person against the budget per year. As our company grows, there’s a certain dollar amount that I’ve set aside.

How has the giving yielded results on the business side?

We’re going to have employees who are more passionate about our company. When we hire employees, we’re looking for people that are passionate and wildly intelligent. Also, when people use our product for a volunteer sign up, we get greater viral awareness of our product. And the rest, I trust it to fate that if we do the right thing, we’ll get the right people.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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