University of Massachusetts Amherst

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Raising Money for Nonprofits on Shoestring Budgets

UMass Amherst alums Scot Chisholm ’04 and Pat Walsh ’03 were just “a couple of average guys” when they met as undergraduates in the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, but ever since they staged a “StayClassy Pubcrawl” in 2005 to raise money for cancer research, they’ve found themselves as revolutionaries in fundraising for nonprofit organizations. The original San Diego-based event, which attracted 200 pub crawlers and derived its name from the popular Will Ferrell movie, Anchorman, mushroomed into a free online platform and social fundraising service for nonprofits.

At its core, StayClassy is a “small company with a big heart,” helping customers leverage the power of social media to expand their donor networks, collect online donations, and host their own fundraisers.

“StayClassy has become a full-service fundraising platform for nonprofit organizations of all sizes,” says co-founder and CMO Walsh. “It’s inspiring for us to watch the viral growth of the company. Every day new charities are signing up from across the country.”

StayClassy’s bottom line is motivating young professionals to support charitable initiatives in their own communities through fundraising events and volunteer activities. In the past three years, more than 1,400 nonprofit organizations throughout the U.S. have registered on StayClassy.org, attracting 125,000 members and 230,000 regular visitors to its website.

But StayClassy is much more than just a company for Chisholm and Walsh. It’s a cause célèbre. "The San Diego-based group behind [StayClassy] is genuinely passionate about its philanthropic mission,” wrote Mashable, the online guide to social media. “For years, they've continually hit the streets with the StayClassy brand to raise funds for good causes via charitable events. Their belief in creating a philanthropic platform for nonprofits on shoestring budgets is evidenced in pretty much everything they do."

“We’re taking social fundraising to the next level,” Walsh says. “We’re helping nonprofits embrace social media tools to grow their supporter base and drive large numbers of small donations online.”

According to Walsh, StayClassy's social fundraising platform represents the evolution of the social commerce medium, being the most highly evolved descendent of telethons, direct mail, and Internet mail.

“The idea of social fundraising is about dialogue,” explains co-founder and CEO Chisholm, who was named as one of "San Diego's Top 40 Leaders Under 40" by San Diego Metropolitan Magazine. “Our product is actually about making donations a part of a running Internet conversation.”

That’s because StayClassy’s social fundraising model relies, in part, upon empowering people who care about a cause and engaging them as unofficial, ad hoc fundraisers on behalf of that cause. Through StayClassy’s peer-to-peer fundraising tools, those individuals can contact their own friends through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to raise awareness about a particular fundraising campaign or event.

In 2010, StayClassy was voted one of the top three startup companies at the 12th Annual MIT Venture Capital Conference. But the immediate success of StayClassy doesn’t seem too surprising to Chisholm and Walsh, who learned to dream big at UMass Amherst when they met.

“We were in a few classes together,” recalls Chisholm, “and played soccer together as well.” 

Those mutual classes, in effect, would eventually lead them to StayClassy. But the time between graduation and the conception of StayClassy in 2006 was an incubation period during which Chisholm and Walsh were conquering other worlds.

Before hatching the idea for StayClassy, they were both working for important companies. Using his B.S. in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research to good advantage, Chisholm worked as a senior consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton specializing in process improvement on the Economic Business Analysis team. After graduating with his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a minor in Economics, Walsh worked for General Dynamics Corporation as the deputy program manager of the largest commercial shipbuilding contract in the United States, with previous positions in Operations and Strategic Business Development.

So, before going classy, they weren’t just spinning their wheels. Now, four years after founding their own company, the two UMass graduates have come full circle by using their social fundraising expertise for energizing efforts at the College of Engineering and other segments of UMass Amherst to raise money for some of its most important causes.

“With UMass in particular,” says Walsh, “we have talked about coming up with a program to engage young alumni. We’re excited to be in a position to support our alma mater through StayClassy.”

Not by coincidence, one of Chisholm and Walsh’s New Year’s resolutions for 2011 is to concentrate on helping educational institutions raise money. And what better source of wisdom for UMass Amherst than these two young alumni with their own online platform, which is launching them into a high orbit around the social networking world and taking many nonprofit organizations with them. (January 2011)