GWU students help small groups raise money


Dylan Fox, right, is founder and chief executive of Crowdvance, a new online fundraising platform. He is pictured here with Zack Herman and Maz Obuz. (Evy Mages/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

While most students at George Washington University are studying for finals, Dylan Fox is tracking revenue and client activity on his laptop in his downtown office. Fox’s grades may be “going like this,” he says, his hand motioning like a diving plane, but the graduating senior and economics major has received nods of approval from business executives.

The student entrepreneur started Crowdvance, an online charitable donation platform that has run fundraising campaigns for some 200 community groups since its creation last September.

Crowdvance recently won first place in a business plan competition for college students from around the world, held at Texas Christian University. He took home the $15,000 prize for the company’s focus on values and social impact.

Now Crowdvance is competing in the hot market of online giving. Sites such as DonorsChoose, GlobalGiving, Razoo, Causes, Network for Good and JustGive have spurred the rise in online charitable giving. Some worry the growing space could produce donor fatigue, but Fox and his business partner, Zachary Herman, a sophomore, said they believe Crowdvance can avoid that fate by using incentives to attract givers.

Crowdvance is something like a cross between LivingSocial and online fundraiser Razoo, only it targets its support to very small community groups, such as a Little League team struggling to pay for its uniforms or a high school debate team that needs money to enter a national competition.

When making a donation on Crowdvance, donors get a menu of exclusive deals — $25 off a concert ticket or 7 percent off a textbook rental for example. Then Crowdvance collects a service fee of 6.5 percent from the organization’s fundraising total. So far, incentive partners include Razorgator, ShoeBuy.com, Delivery.com and Ice.com.

Fox declined to disclose revenue.

“Small organizations can’t generate a lot of direct donations because their networks aren’t big enough and their messaging isn’t strong enough,” said Fox, 21. “Selling cupcakes and T-shirts cost way too much money up front, they are risky and the revenue isn’t reflective of the time you put in and it burns out donors.”

Crowdvance’s biggest success stories to date tend to involve groups associated with his college, such as the GWU triathlon club, which raised $600 to compete in a tournament. But participants also include groups such as the basketball league DC Metroball Youth Outreach, the Metro Warriors Youth Organization and the Autism Speaks chapter at University of Michigan. Participating organizations do not have to be registered nonprofits.

Fox has been an entrepreneur since middle school, charging friends for server space to play video games. During his sophomore year of college, he started an online toiletry subscription company, LeaveItToMom.com, that would deliver items to students each month.

Then one afternoon last year, Fox — who developed a hobby designing Web sites — was fiddling with his design software when he thought of the idea for Crowdvance. He sent an e-mail to his fraternity brothers, and that’s when Herman expressed interest and became the marketing officer.

Fox, who spent free time in between classes at an incubator office space downtown, plans to work full time after he graduates in two weeks. He plans to bring on four interns this summer to help with acquisition, development and social media and do a second round of raising seed money.

In between their busy schedules, Fox and Herman meet with other students to encourage them to start social ventures.

“I don’t want to be a big-time executive, I want to change the world,” Fox said. “I think you can only be successful if you’re not only creating a profit but a value.”

Vanessa Small covers philanthropy and nonprofits for Capital Business. She also spotlights newly appointed executives in the New at the Top column, which chronicles their journeys to the top. Small was raised in Orange County, Ca. and graduated from Howard University.
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