How Classy is Shaking Up The Two-Trillion Dollar Giving Sector

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This is a podcast episode titled, How Classy is Shaking Up The Two-Trillion Dollar Giving Sector. The summary for this episode is: With only 10% of charitable donations happening online, there's an enormous bridge to build between donors and worthy causes. That's exactly what SAAS company, Classy, is all about.   We talk with Soraya Alexander (COO of Classy) to learn how Classy is meeting the need for a trustworthy and satisfying donor experience. From improving donor retention for non-profits to helping connect Millennials with the causes they care about, you don’t want to miss out. Learn more: The Shake Up HubSpot Podcast Network Learn more about your ad choices. Visit
Payment processing matters!
00:43 MIN
The start statistic for the non profit space
01:09 MIN
Educating non-profits to think with a retention mindset
01:26 MIN
How to think about scaling go-to-market
01:07 MIN

Speaker 1: Time, weather and...

Alexis Gay: Welcome to The Shake Up. I'm Alexis Gay.

Brianne Kimmel: And I'm Brianne Kimmel.

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Alexis Gay: This week, we're talking about the half trillion, with a T, dollar giving space and how mission driven company, Classy, is proving that companies can do good in the world while also making money.

Brianne Kimmel: Classy is such an interesting company. I mean, we've talked before about companies that are doing good in the world while still making money. And typically, when I hear of those sort of companies, oftentimes they're more retail companies like Patagonia-

Alexis Gay: Oh, sure.

Brianne Kimmel: ...Starbucks to an extent and-

Alexis Gay: Warby Parker.

Brianne Kimmel: ...Warby Parker. And so it's great to hear Classy is more on the software side of things and they're building tools to bring the entire nonprofit and charity and giving space online, which is no easy feat. And it's awesome to talk to the COO to really learn about the operations of how they did this.

Alexis Gay: I really loved our conversation with their COO, Soraya Alexander. She shared so many insights, not only about how they're running the business, but about the sector more broadly, that honestly, I was very surprised.

Brianne Kimmel: And it was great to hear, I mean, Soraya's journey. She has been at the company for a while. She's been in multiple different roles. And so-

Alexis Gay: Yes.

Brianne Kimmel: ...this is also her success story as well, in building and scaling this high growth venture back start up, and so it was a really great conversation. And one thing that really stood out to me was because they're providing all of the tools and analytics for nonprofits, they're sitting on a really compelling data set. And so, they have all of these data points of just how much people are donating and I was very surprised to hear that the average age for a donor has also come down. And so, in bringing nonprofits online we're inviting Millennials and Gen Z to really find the best charity for them and to really donate in a more efficient way. So it was great to hear that they're really democratizing what it means to give.

Alexis Gay: Yeah, that we love to see it on the data side. Soraya also dropped one of the most incredible buzzwords I've ever heard, which I will let be a secret reveal later in the episode, but I personally loved it and I'm so excited for us to dive into that. But first, subscribe and follow The Shake Up on Apple Podcast, Spotify, wherever you get your podcast. You'll be the very first people to know when our new episodes go live. Brianne, what do you think about that?

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, I'm excited. Are you ready to dive in?

Alexis Gay: Okay. So without further ado, here is our fabulous conversation with Soraya Alexander, the chief operating officer of Classy. Brianne, I am so excited to bring on our guest today. Are you ready for this?

Brianne Kimmel: Oh, I was born ready for this one. I'm very excited, Alexis.

Alexis Gay: We love to hear it. Okay. So our guest today is none other than the chief operating officer of Classy, Soraya Alexander. Welcome to The Shake Up.

Soraya Alexander: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me. I'm ready for applause in the background or something. It was a big build up. I'm so happy to be here.

Alexis Gay: Truly our pleasure.

Brianne Kimmel: We're so excited to have you. Classy is a really exciting business and a pretty interesting space, in the giving space, which as we all know is pretty huge right now. Somewhat over a half trillion dollar space, is that the right number?

Soraya Alexander: Yeah, it's about 2 trillion worldwide and still only a fraction of it is online. And so, that's kind of where we fit. We're trying to change that.

Brianne Kimmel: Wow. Only a fraction of it is online.

Soraya Alexander: Only about 10%. Yes.

Alexis Gay: Soraya, I literally was like," What's the alternative?" And I'm like,"Checks?" IS there people writing checks?

Soraya Alexander: It's a lot of checks. It's a lot of offline giving. It's still a lot of dependence on things like grants and all of these different systems that are really difficult to manage and consolidate and actually build loyal, what you could call, subscribers to causes. How do we make sure that this amazingly, generously intended consumer base can actually find causes they care about, and engage and give in really amazing experiences? So we are there for our nonprofits to do that.

Brianne Kimmel: Awesome. That's great to hear. I mean, one thing that strikes me as I recently read that 60% of millennials donate over 480 some dollars to charity each year, and I'm a Millennial and I spend most of my time online. And so unless it's a nonprofit that's running ads on Instagram or has a YouTube channel, or is really doing things in the digital world, I probably haven't heard of them.

Soraya Alexander: Well, this is exactly where we saw the issue as well. So, we started about 10 years ago and at that point, the conversation was online is coming, online is changing everything. Younger donors are going online and they expect you to be there. You, nonprofit, where are you in this space? How are you making sure that the donation experience is really easy? And a lot of what we would hear at the time was," Well, we've got a, I don't know, a PayPal button." Well, that was great, but that's not actually what younger donors expect when they're coming from really elegant platforms. They're using Spotify and then they're going to Amazon and that is the expectation. Why would the most important sector in the world stand for anything less? And yet we were standing for something less. But in the 10 years since that, the conversation's actually really evolved. It's not just Millennials and younger now. We do a lot of donor sentiment surveys and every generation except for the Silent Generation, which I think is 79 plus, if I'm not mistaken, prefers online giving. This is trusted-

Alexis Gay: Every single one?

Soraya Alexander: ...Every single generation-

Alexis Gay: Wow.

Soraya Alexander: ...trusts it and prefers it because it's just so much simpler. And so, this is not a cutting edge strategy anymore. This is a cornerstone and to understand it well, needs really good technology. And so that's really where we've come up and how we've been able to partner effectively with our customers.

Alexis Gay: That is awesome. You brought up a really interesting word there, which is trust. And I think trust in the ability to pay online, to process payments online, has been a huge driver for more, especially older generations to be comfortable with giving on the internet.

Soraya Alexander: Yes, trust is a big one. You know for us, we kind of think of ourselves as being at the intersection of three things for this sector. So if you think about social media and how, where do you find causes that you trust that you want to give? Oftentimes it's from personal solicitations by friends, by family, saying," I'm raising for this cause. I'm doing a bike race for this cause." Whatever it is." I've been a volunteer with this cause and I really believe in it." Okay, I'm more likely to give. The other piece is payment processing. That sounds really unsexy, frankly. It actually matters a lot if you're thinking of-

Alexis Gay: It matters so much.

Soraya Alexander: ...It matters so much.

Alexis Gay: We love a frictionless checkout experience, okay?

Soraya Alexander: All right. My people.

Alexis Gay: Like big fans of payment processing over here.

Soraya Alexander: You get it. You get it. The payment options matter. The fraud protections matter. That is what continues that trust. And then the third, we talked about it a little bit already, but it's what is a good eCommerce checkout experience look like? If you get to a page that looks like it was written in code from 40 years ago, I don't know that you want to give your hard earned money over there. And so we feel like we are at the intersection and of those three things in a way that unlocks a ton of latent generosity.

Alexis Gay: Oh, latent generosity.

Soraya Alexander: Do you like that?

Alexis Gay: I love that.

Soraya Alexander: I just word shopping that.

Alexis Gay: That's great. Yeah, it works. I would say it landed.

Soraya Alexander: All right, great. I'll tell my PR people.

Alexis Gay: Yeah, let the team know.

Soraya Alexander: Right, exactly. But honestly, it's amazing. And then it's powered, more importantly, powered all of this amazing impact and that's really what this is all about. Who cares about money if it's not driving impact and that's what all of our customers are doing.

Brianne Kimmel: In so many ways, it reminds me of Shopify for nonprofits.

Soraya Alexander: Yes.

Brianne Kimmel: If you're able to bring nonprofits online in the same way that Shopify was able to give brick and mortar stores and traditional merchants a way to come online, it's also a really great business model because you're giving them the tools to actually generate more revenue.

Soraya Alexander: Well, and that is the beautiful thing about being in this space because we do not succeed until our customers succeed. Everything we talk about is really maximizing their return on their commitment and their investment in Classy. So we cannot kind of extract value out of these nonprofits. I could not sleep at night if that was our business model and it's not.

Brianne Kimmel: Of course.

Soraya Alexander: We only earn money when our customers are doing really, really well and when they are growing. And so everything we are building is around, how do you drive up conversion rates? How do you drive up donor retention? How do you make sure that new donors are finding your pages and how are they optimized for mobile? All of these fundamentals of eCommerce that, frankly, this sector has been really underserved with. And we believe in these causes and we are very invested in them. And so, it's our kind of mission. It's our mission for being. It allows us to do a lot of really interesting thought leadership and kind of meta- platform analysis to understand what actually drives great donor retention, drives great conversion rates, drives new ways of giving that nobody's really thinking about yet. We see that as our job for our customers and they don't have to worry about it. That is really-

Alexis Gay: Soraya, what is meta- platform analysis?

Soraya Alexander: ...Oh my God, isn't that the most obnoxious? It came out of my mouth and I just crosstalk.

Alexis Gay: No, it sounded amazing. I truly do not know what it is. In case if our listeners also don't know what it is, I just thought I'd ask.

Soraya Alexander: It's an overly jargony obnoxious way to say that we've got over 6, 000 clients, who run hundreds of campaigns. We process well over a billion dollars a year. And so, we've got a lot of interactions, where donor meets campaign and either it converts or it doesn't.

Alexis Gay: I see. Okay, amazing.

Soraya Alexander: And we can tell kind of at scale, what is working and then convey that to the rest of the sector.

Alexis Gay: Yes.

Soraya Alexander: Like," Hey, you should try this." Its simple things really like enable digital wallets, that will drive up your version rates. We know this, but we actually have the data to prove it and we can-

Brianne Kimmel: Wow.

Soraya Alexander: ...really help affect that change. So it's not a commodity. We can help drive that impact.

Alexis Gay: Yeah, I'm actually, I'm reminded a lot of Patreon in this case.

Soraya Alexander: Yes.

Alexis Gay: I was reading that over half of nonprofits operate with less than$ 83,000 per year. And so I think there's an assumption that nonprofits are, they raise multiple million per year and that they are these like large enduring institutions. But quite frankly, a lot of them fail because they're not making enough money to really continue to move forward. And it reminds me of Patreon in many ways, where it's like you're empowering up and coming nonprofits or very small teams where every new dollar that comes in that you're able to generate through the platform can really enable them to keep their lights on.

Soraya Alexander: Well this is something I talk about a lot because it drives me crazy. So I started off in the social sector world, but then I went to for- profit. I went to eCommerce and one of the starkest statistics for the nonprofit space is four out of every five new donors that come in the door will never come back. And so these tiny-

Alexis Gay: Are you serious?

Soraya Alexander: ...Yes. These tiny resource strapped organizations, and they're not all tiny, some are huge, but-

Alexis Gay: Right.

Soraya Alexander: ...they are trying to take on the most complicated problems in the world. They are busy and have to spend all of this time trying to find people to both, care about their cause, care enough to open their wallet, and then they basically have to start it all over again. They have to start almost from scratch. So a lot of what we're trying to unlock is that retention trust, getting people back in the door, and a lot of that comes through technology. It's not a surprise that we kind of keep going back to the well on some of these other social platforms or subscription platforms. They know audience segmentation. They know engagement. And why would we expect all these nonprofit practitioners to be able to do that. So that's where we think we can be this intersection of great technologists, helping people do the fundamental programmatic work that our clients do.

Alexis Gay: Well, it seems like it's working. I read a couple of the testimonials on your site and that ease of use both on the back end and for the end user, for the person making the donations, seem to be top of mind for the people that are using Classy as one of the highlights for working with the platform.

Soraya Alexander: It is and I think sometimes there's this sense that the space is maybe like less sophisticated or move slower. Honestly, it's because it's underfunded and I work with like the savviest customers. They get it. They know it and they are desperate for good technology that can meet their needs within those budgets. It's really incredible the kinds of problems that we face. I don't know, I'll go on a tangent here. But the beginning of COVID when it hit the United States stores, we all just like every other business sat back and kind of were holding our breath. What's going to happen? People are losing their jobs. Nobody is going to have time to think about how to support, I don't know, the Philharmonic-

Brianne Kimmel: Right.

Soraya Alexander: ...or my local humane society, like this is secondary. And in fact, you saw, honestly, like the best of humanity come out. People said," I am really hurting. I know I'm only hurting maybe a little bit compared to how much other people are hurting."

Brianne Kimmel: Right.

Soraya Alexander: And so, the support for food banks, for frontline health workers, for healthcare systems, for even arts and humanity-

Brianne Kimmel: Right.

Soraya Alexander: was unbelievable. It was our biggest year by far on the platform. And so now the question is, how do you keep that going? That desire to give is living in so many of us and how do we make sure that people are able to kind of find the causes and actually stay engaged with those causes, understand the impact they're having.

Brianne Kimmel: Right.

Soraya Alexander: And it comes a lot from the programmatic work, but it does come from good technology kind of meeting that need and that curiosity.

Brianne Kimmel: One of the ways in which Classy is different from other solutions, outside of just the tech, is in reframing the user experience from making a donation or giving a handout to what I believe I've heard as impact storytelling.

Soraya Alexander: Yes.

Brianne Kimmel: And I'd love to talk with you a little bit about that because it's something that I've seen in a lot of way. Again, my background is more in the creator space, but we've watched people willingly fund the work of creators, journalists, musicians, etc., that they really care about because they know, and now the value is being communicated to them in what they're receiving.

Soraya Alexander: Yes.

Brianne Kimmel: And so I wanted to understand a little bit about this mindset change you're encouraging in givers through impact storytelling.

Soraya Alexander: Yes, absolutely. So impact storytelling is basically, why do you initially give to a particular cause? You have found something where you say this is a problem and I think this particular entity, nonprofit whatever it is, can actually help start to solve that problem. That initial decision, how do you keep that going? And for us-

Brianne Kimmel: Right.

Soraya Alexander:'s all about that storytelling. So on a campaign page, you'll have visited nonprofit pages that say," At$ 10, this is how far it will go. At$ 100, this is how far it will go."

Brianne Kimmel: Yep, yep.

Soraya Alexander: It seems fundamental, but actually doing that well and then doing that over time, encourages donors to stick around. I'm actually going to, whatever you call it, subscribe to this nonprofit. I'm going to give$ 10 a month.

Brianne Kimmel: Yep.

Soraya Alexander: That transforms the impact the nonprofit's going to be able to have. They can start planning programs because it's consistent. It adds up to much more over time. But a nonprofit has to tell you what that is. Otherwise, donors will walk away. You want to have an impact, but want to know that it's truly an in, I think the best way to say it is, you investigate to get a return. It's no different when you invest in philanthropy.

Brianne Kimmel: Yes.

Soraya Alexander: And so what is the return? And telling that story well, telling that story by donor segment, telling that story by donation amount, telling that story by donation frequency, telling it as you go. Is the program evolving? Not just you can feed 100 kids today, but over time, how is that transforming the community in which that organization is operating? That suddenly builds a very invested donor base, that in turn allows you to have even more impact.

Alexis Gay: Amazing. I'm super excited to hear more about that. But first we're going to take a quick break. Today's episode is sponsored by those fine folks over at HubSpot. Managing conversations with prospects and customers and creating remarkable experience can be tough. HubSpot wants to change that. That's why they created a CRM platform that makes it easier to align across teams.

Brianne Kimmel: Oh, it's so much easier with HubSpot unified system of record, all teams can create a better customer experience without missing a beat.

Alexis Gay: We love a unified system of record. We always say that. You can install live chat on your website and allow sales or support to get in touch with prospects directly.

Brianne Kimmel: Or send marketing emails on behalf of sales reps or customer success managers.

Alexis Gay: Not to mention allows prospects to book meetings with reps without wasting time.

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah and best of all, teams can get access to all of the contact history, so they can have more informed conversations with prospects and customers and design a better overall experience.

Alexis Gay: The result, all your customer people can align around the same goals, consistently great customer journeys that drive growth and lifetime loyalty.

Brianne Kimmel: Learn more about how you can scale your company without scaling complexity at Hubspot. com.

Alexis Gay: And we're back with Soraya Alexander, the chief operating officer of Classy.

Brianne Kimmel: I'm really curious to understand, I mean, when you think about donor retention, what sort of programs do you have running behind the scenes? How do you educate nonprofits to really think with more of a retention mindset? Because my view is typically, nonprofits are great at organizing an annual gala. We just saw the Met Gala. They're great at doing kind of one off things for very fancy people. And so I think now that they're online and they're thinking with more of a retention mindset, it opens up a whole new audience, a whole new segment, many different use cases that I'm sure they haven't explored before.

Soraya Alexander: It's true. And the hard thing with this is, a nonprofit that is bringing in$100, 000 a year, let's say, is very different than the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Brianne Kimmel: Sure.

Soraya Alexander: They're very different. But what is consistent is, there's a different level of kind of touch and engagement you can have with, let's say, a high net worth donor than you can with your average donor. And for us, great technology allows you to democratize that engagement. So we spend a lot of time talking about customer segmentation. So any, like we were talking about Shopify, you've got the ability to, let's say, parse out the customers who've shopped in the last 90 days, the customers who generally have this basket composition, the customers who only buy on discount, the customers who buy consistently in reaction to just email versus whatever other channels. You can't do that at scale without good technology.

Brianne Kimmel: Right.

Soraya Alexander: And so before, nonprofits without good technology, it didn't make sense for them to try to get every$ 10 donor because the resourcing would ever pay for itself.

Brianne Kimmel: Of course. Right.

Soraya Alexander: With good technology suddenly that whole world opens up. And so it's not an either or, it's you can do both. And I think the most fascinating thing we've seen is suddenly you're seeing big donors come through these channels. You are seeing big donation amounts coming through just the normal channel outflow, anonymously.

Brianne Kimmel: And is that unusual?

Soraya Alexander: Absolutely not. Not at all.

Brianne Kimmel: Oh really?

Soraya Alexander: Not at all. People are really comfortable with it. They understand, if you can see the impact of the work, you're talking about the evolution of the programs of the constituents, of what you're able to do, what your plans are. The donors will come and then you've got a kind of trustworthy experience. And actually what we find is a lot of long term, bigger donors start out with lower donation amounts and try to understand what that experience is. Do I think this nonprofit is treating every dollar really thoughtfully?

Brianne Kimmel: On the donor side of things, are you helping donors get matched with new nonprofit? To what extent are you building programs behind the scenes to really help increase their average donation per year? Because I think Millennials, we're now in our thirties and so, the average donation is$ 481 per year. I can imagine that through introducing new nonprofits and building a way for them to be more actively involved, they would donate even more over time.

Soraya Alexander: I'll tell you like, where we have been and then where we are going, because I think they're both really exciting and fun.

Brianne Kimmel: Right.

Soraya Alexander: So where we have been is, if you think about what we call peer- to- peer donations, so you are doing a 5K and you're going to raise money from a bunch of your friends to sponsor you on this race. That's kind of the original... Most of those donors are new to an organization, and so that actually is a really organic. When we talk about social media, like this is a social way to discover and match new donors to the causes. Where we're going is, you're absolutely right. We are going more and more into, can we provide kind of a directory for donors to find causes that really match their interests around cause category, around location, around type of impact, around... how do we support any way that you want to give? And it's not, it's currencies, it's whatever giving looks like for you, is going to be our ambition.

Brianne Kimmel: Wow. Okay, so let me ask you a question then, because something that I think Shopify has done really well, and I also have some hands on experience with, from Patreon is negotiating the relationship between being a facilitator of a function between the organization and the patron, or the organization and the person making the donation, and being more of a white labeled background solution that the patron, customer, user, whatever, doesn't know exists.

Soraya Alexander: Yes.

Brianne Kimmel: And so I'm wondering how you are all thinking about that balance.

Soraya Alexander: Yeah, we never are interested in having our name out there to any donors. So the organization comes first, their impact comes first, their story comes first. And I think that's kind of where we stand apart from some other ways that you can fundraise, and some other platforms and that's been really intentional.

Brianne Kimmel: Right.

Soraya Alexander: We think we can do this amazing resource for donors, potential donors, people that are interested to find these organizations, but we don't have the brand equity. If you go to our site, the only thing you're going to see is really all about our customer testimonials. And you've probably visited, you've probably donated on one of our pages, and you probably don't know it, and that's great.

Brianne Kimmel: Without knowing?

Soraya Alexander: A hundred percent.

Brianne Kimmel: Ooh. I've just like been a white label stand for a long time now, because I think that I care so much about brand. I've always cared about brand. On behalf of the companies I've worked for or now as an individual, and technology is so beautiful at disappearing into the background when it's at its most effective.

Soraya Alexander: Yes.

Brianne Kimmel: And so I'm always excited by platforms that can do that well.

Soraya Alexander: You couldn't have said it wells. I love the silence because if you're a headline, unless you just did a big fundraise or you really made a splash with some innovation, it should be the customer, 100%.

Brianne Kimmel: Which Classy has done that as well, not for nothing. Was it your series C that you just wrapped up?

Soraya Alexander: We just did our series D-

Brianne Kimmel: Oh, series D.

Soraya Alexander: Nora West. Yeah, it was great. Where we were in the process was, our interest is really around creating a very durable company. We actually had a really incredible year, which is to say our customers had a really incredible year last year. We have just some amazing clients at the front lines of everything that was happening. The CDC Foundation is a client and just amazing customers-

Brianne Kimmel: Oh my God.

Soraya Alexander: ...doing really important work last year. And so we wanted to go into this year just saying, the sector needs so much more and faster. And so we did a fundraise just to be able to do the work and the path that we were already on at a much greater level, a much greater scale. And the other thing that was really important to us is, we try to walk the walk. No company is perfect but-

Brianne Kimmel: Sure.

Soraya Alexander: ...we were a certified B Corp. We just reincorporated as a public benefit corporation and we really wanted investors who are aligned to that and very supportive.

Alexis Gay: One question as a SaaS company, now that you've raised a larger round of funding, how do you think about scaling go to market?

Soraya Alexander: Yes.

Alexis Gay: Because I would imagine you'll need to have a pretty large sales team to really make this possible because it's such a B2B led business.

Soraya Alexander: We do have a decently large sales team. I think as we have grown, our reputation has kind of helped us quite a bit, in so far as a lot of the nonprofit practitioners stay in the space. They will go to different nonprofits, ancillary causes, but once you are up and running and really understand certain technologies, you develop your affinity. And we are at a really great advantage in terms of, I think, the technology we offer and in terms of building really good relationships with customers, who when they leave they'll often bring us with them.

Alexis Gay: Oh really?

Soraya Alexander: So yes, you're absolutely right. I mean, it's a lot of the traditional, SaaS scale considerations any business will have. I think we do something really well and some things we are totally figuring out, and just like any company. The most exciting thing for me has actually been the real focus on customer growth over the last couple of years, which is a little bit newer for us, and that has really transformed the company.

Brianne Kimmel: What led to that decision, to that focus?

Soraya Alexander: It was actually a little bit of a realization that we had these amazing organizations who were only coming to us and using us for, let's say, a particular campaign, a particular gala, a particular even.

Brianne Kimmel: And campaign focused giving-

Soraya Alexander: Yes.

Brianne Kimmel: ...seems to be very hot right now.

Soraya Alexander: Very hot, but also, why would you have three different platforms when you do six different kinds of giving, when you have a platform that can do it all for you, and lighten up the load. And so for us, the biggest realization is we would bring them on for what was essentially a pilot, and then we kind of wouldn't talk to them again. Well, suddenly we implemented this kind of a complete overhaul of our customer engagement teams where we said, no, we actually want people who understand the technology and the opportunity in the base, to be talking to customers and saying," Okay, let's consolidate." Again, our focus is high return. If you're paying a subscription fee and a transaction fee, why wouldn't you spread that subscription fee over much wider section of your fundraising and your giving, and it's just gone really well for us. I think our customers feel really heard and taken care of and that we're really proactive about identifying opportunities. And we've just learned so much more from this. So we started breaking down moments from contract sign, all the way to renewal and beyond to understand what are the key inflection points that tell us if-

Brianne Kimmel: Are they the same?

Soraya Alexander: ...they're getting deeper engaged or they're kind of pulling back. And suddenly we've got entire programs to make sure customers are hitting those key milestones.

Alexis Gay: So when we're talking about identifying key inflection points, are we talking like beautiful dashboards and Tableau?

Soraya Alexander: No, no.

Alexis Gay: Are we talking about like a checklist in a Google Doc? I just want you to paint the picture for me a little bit, because I love operations and I just want to know, and sometimes it sounds so glamorous and then you learn the truth and the truth always makes me feel a little bit better.

Soraya Alexander: Oh yeah.

Alexis Gay: So I'm just curious, like how did that process start?

Soraya Alexander: You're only asking that question because you've seen it enough times for it to be a totally leading answer. You and I both know these are totally hacked together Google Sheets that we are-

Alexis Gay: Yes. That's what I want to hear. That's what I want. Damn good stuff.

Soraya Alexander: ...And as I totally transformed our whole focus as a company.

Alexis Gay: It's that incredible?

Soraya Alexander: I don't even need a pretty dashboard.

Alexis Gay: No.

Soraya Alexander: We will build it once we know there's something there.

Alexis Gay: Exactly.

Soraya Alexander: In the meantime, gets to work.

Alexis Gay: Yes.

Soraya Alexander: And it's been great. It's been really great.

Alexis Gay: I love that.

Brianne Kimmel: Have you done a lot of segmentation as well, based on how large is the nonprofit, how many employees do they have?

Soraya Alexander: Yes.

Brianne Kimmel: How personalized do you get with this customer journey?

Soraya Alexander: We do. We do a lot of segmentation on how large the nonprofit is and how much revenue is coming in and where it's coming from. And more than anything, again it goes back to, we need to be having conversations that resonate with their priorities and what they can actually take on. If we come in and say," We think you should launch this whole new set of campaigns, like what makes sense? We're seeing this in the market." And they look at us with a blank stare and say," We've got a three person development team."

Brianne Kimmel: Right. Right.

Soraya Alexander: "What are you talking about?

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah.

Soraya Alexander: We have to do that homework and we know that certain features, certain campaigns, even the platform as a whole, serves certain nonprofits better. So we try to be really disciplined about that. I think every nonprofit can benefit from better technology. I think the biggest misconception is trying to hold nonprofits to this arbitrary admin, overhead percentage because if they're spending a little more, but then they're growing their impact to such a large degree, you would never hold a for- profit company to that same standard.

Brianne Kimmel: I know. I have never understood that.

Soraya Alexander: It's insane. It's-

Brianne Kimmel: Why it's like," You better be taking every single dollar. No coffee in the break room for you nonprofit." And it's like," Excuse me?"

Soraya Alexander: ...That's exactly it. Yep.

Brianne Kimmel: If we know how to make employees at tech companies more successful, more productive, have bigger, better outcomes by treating people well, paying them fairly, and giving them the resources we need, why would we then go and say," No, go do the exact opposite while you try to cure some of the world's most difficult problems."

Soraya Alexander: Well, it's that, but it's even worse than that, because this covers marketing costs. So if you actually think you have got the solution or a solution, or at least a good program to alleviate one of these huge problems and you're not allowed to spend to drive awareness to then drive donations-

Brianne Kimmel: Right, right.

Soraya Alexander:'re going to never going to get the impact you need, right?

Brianne Kimmel: Your hands are tied.

Soraya Alexander: Your hands are tied. And so this sector is really disadvantaged from kind of that public perception, but regardless we try to be really sensitive to it because we know it's the reality-

Brianne Kimmel: Of course, of course.

Soraya Alexander: ...that our customers live in.

Alexis Gay: Well, speaking of having to keep different priorities top of mind, I do want to dig into a little bit more about the decision to incorporate as something other than just a traditional corporation. What were you primarily trying to accomplish with that?

Soraya Alexander: So for us, we want to be very, very clear about the decision making criteria. We have a financial consideration, of course. We are a company kind of unapologetically looking to grow and make some money. But-

Alexis Gay: Great.

Soraya Alexander: ...we don't do that without considering our employee impact, without considering our environmental and community impact, and without considering our customer impact. So it's really easy for us because of the way we operate that we won't make money unless our customers do. Whenever we are in big strategic conversations, we will evaluate against those criteria. What does it mean for our employees, for their being? What does it mean in terms of, how we're affecting the community in which we operate and the community at large, the world in which we operate? Are we making sure that we're adding value and that we're proud to look our kids in the eye in, in the evening-

Alexis Gay: Right.

Soraya Alexander: ...and say that we did things in a way that we think we are making the world better, in a really genuine way, and there's no way to make that sound genuine and not really cheesy, but it's very-

Alexis Gay: I know. Well, it's hard-

Soraya Alexander: ...true.

Alexis Gay: ...sometimes when we say things that are authentic and empathetic or coming from a good place, it can sound fake. And part of that is also because I've been in the tech world long enough to remember every single company I've ever applied for, interviewed with, or worked for having a set of really fluffy company values that got written on the wall in calligraphy and then never addressed, ever again, or followed.

Soraya Alexander: Yes.

Alexis Gay: And so I think that that has engendered some cynicism in the whole values based realm. Brianne, what do you think?

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, absolutely. And I think this is something where you have to live your values internally before you even are able to serve your customers. I think that's one thing that we have seen in Silicon Valley where if you have fluffy values and it's one that you're not holding your managers and the founders accountable, the last thing you want to hear is that a company has a great product, but everyone that works there is miserable.

Alexis Gay: Oh my God.

Soraya Alexander: That's it.

Alexis Gay: Truly.

Soraya Alexander: And it really is difficult because we are not going to get it right every time. I don't even know what right is in every situation. Things are so complex and I think that the thing that has struck me with how we make decisions at Classy that is different than other places I've been a part of is, we at least consider them very intentionally every time. It is not something we stick on a wall and then feel good about. We won't get it right. There won't always be clear answers, but they're at least well discussed and well thought through, which I think is all you can ask for. It's really intentional.

Brianne Kimmel: I completely agree. And speaking of intentional, I wanted to dig in a little bit as something that we've touched on earlier but I think, I'm personally curious about it, which is how you're using, at Classy, education for these nonprofits to help achieve all of these goals that we've talked about. I want to hear specifically a little bit about Classy Academy.

Soraya Alexander: We love Classy Academy.

Brianne Kimmel: Oh, yeah? Good, good.

Soraya Alexander: We just launched it about... We love it. We launched it maybe six months ago.

Brianne Kimmel: Congrats.

Soraya Alexander: It really comes out of, thanks, deep roots where we started and frankly, this is how do you build a SaaS company? You do it through content marketing.

Brianne Kimmel: Right.

Soraya Alexander: But our content market was always about, how do you support nonprofits to be better fundraisers? Many of the people that work at classy, especially on the customer facing teams, came from nonprofits, have deep expertise. And so we just try to kind of distill it all and then package it up and hand it back to practitioners in the space, in the most resonant way possible. So we do a ton of events. We do lots of white papers. We do lots of meta- platform analysis. Bri said it earlier.

Brianne Kimmel: I'm so obsessed with this term. I need to work it into some conversation today somehow, maybe a dinner. I haven't figured out.

Soraya Alexander: Oh, tell me how it goes.

Brianne Kimmel: But know that... Yeah, I will. Meta- platform analysis will be dropped.

Soraya Alexander: Oh man. I apologize to the world.

Brianne Kimmel: No, I love it.

Soraya Alexander: And so, Classy Academy was really a natural extension of that. It actually came from a combination of this thought leadership, content development, and this life cycle management, where we started understanding what are those key pathways and what are those key journeys that customers are taking to make them success? Well, we can guide people through that. And so we set up all of these courses that we try to make really digestible, really quick so that customers make sure that they stand up day one and they can be successful. More than that, we talked a little bit about turnover or teams growing.

Brianne Kimmel: Yep.

Soraya Alexander: No nonprofit has the time to sit there and say," Okay, this is all the technology I use. Let me take a week out and onboard my new"-

Brianne Kimmel: Truly.

Soraya Alexander: ..."fundraising coordinator." And so for us, we said we can take that lift. This is our tech. We can help you through and we can marry it to your particular instance, and we will take a lot of the burden on that and make sure that your staff is feeling ready to go by week two, week three. It's been really it. Yeah, it has been successful. I'll own it. It's been really great for us.

Brianne Kimmel: Yes, own it.

Soraya Alexander: We've heard really good things from our clients.

Brianne Kimmel: Great.

Soraya Alexander: We love it and we're just early days still. We're really building this out-

Brianne Kimmel: Okay.

Soraya Alexander: ...quite a bit. But the exciting thing of it is, Classy Academy is this learning journey, you can get certified, great. But it's actually supplemented, we do almost daily webinars, small groups, training sessions to make sure-

Brianne Kimmel: Yes.

Soraya Alexander: ...that no matter where you are, you can just plug in and we've got people there available for you, in addition to all of our account teams.

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, I mean, I truly believe the job of a SaaS company is not to sell software, it's to help people be better at their job.

Soraya Alexander: Yes.

Brianne Kimmel: At the end of the day-

Soraya Alexander: Love that.

Brianne Kimmel:'s so easy when you work in tech to believe that your customer cares about every single feature. I think that's not always the case. Oftentimes people just want education and they want the tools to just be better and to get promoted or to-

Soraya Alexander: Yes.

Brianne Kimmel: you said, leave and go to that next nonprofit where they can have even more impact.

Soraya Alexander: I know. Well, it's true and we get really excited about the features, because we think it will transform the game, but we know not everybody's going to be interested in everything. Our job is to educate, figure out, is it going to support as many clients as possible, figure out creative ways in which clients can use it, and then they're in control. We're just here to make them heroes. That's really it.

Brianne Kimmel: Wow.

Alexis Gay: Fabulous. Soraya, thank you so, so much for joining us on The Shake Up. This was such a treat. I definitely feel like I learned a lot about the nonprofit sector that I really didn't know before. Brianne, what about you?

Brianne Kimmel: Yeah, exactly. It was awesome because in many ways you're a SaaS company, but this is a sector that we haven't really talked about before.

Soraya Alexander: Well thank you both so much. It was so much fun and I mean, truly this is the sector that needs great technology the most. And so-

Alexis Gay: Yes.

Soraya Alexander: ...we're just really proud to be able to do it and thanks for the platform to talk about it.

Alexis Gay: Anytime. Thanks, Soraya. Talk to you soon.

Soraya Alexander: Talk soon.

Alexis Gay: Bye.

Brianne Kimmel: Bye.

Alexis Gay: Hey Brianne, are you ready to do that thing we practiced?

Brianne Kimmel: Oh my gosh, is it time? I'm ready.

Alexis Gay: Okay. Three, two, one. Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review.

Brianne Kimmel: Don't forget to subscribe and leave us a review.

Alexis Gay: Pretty good. Today's episode was written and produced by Matthew Brown. Production support comes from Lauren Shield. Our engineer is William Low, with research from Corey Broccolini and special thanks to Kyle Denhoff and Lisa Toner.

Brianne Kimmel: We have some amazing guests coming up this season that you won't want to miss.

Alexis Gay: See you next time.


With only 10% of charitable donations happening online, there's an enormous bridge to build between donors and worthy causes. That's exactly what SAAS company, Classy, is all about.


We talk with Soraya Alexander (COO of Classy) to learn how Classy is meeting the need for a trustworthy and satisfying donor experience. From improving donor retention for non-profits to helping connect Millennials with the causes they care about, you don’t want to miss out.