This Allston Startup Is Building Volunteer Engagement Tools—for Progressives Only
With 62.6 million people who volunteered at least once, there’s no shortage of enthusiastic hands in the U.S. Unfortunately, that enthusiasm tends to vanish quickly, sometimes as soon as the first volunteering shift falls into a rainy day.
As the kind of volunteers who stick around, Allston residents Tony Arias and Annie Carlson became frustrated with no-shows of fellow campaigners—and decided to leverage their tech-savvy backgrounds to make their lives as community workers easier. In March 2018, OrganizeTogether, a civic tech startup providing engagement tools only to progressive campaigns and activists, was born.
Arias and Carlson said that the focus of their longtime interest in volunteering – in education fields for Arias, in justice for Carlson – shifted to politics right after the 2016 general election, when they coincidentally moved from Brookline to Allston/Brighton. Their search for local activist groups in the new neighborhood didn’t get off to a good start.
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“One of the things we became really frustrated about… was that we started with 15 or 20 people in our group of young folks trying to get involved,” Arias and Carlson said. “By the time we started doing things, more than half of these 20 weren’t active anymore.”
On top of that, the two Brown University graduates realized that they were spending a consistent slice of their hard-earned volunteering time to do redundant work, like deciphering the handwriting in the applications of potential volunteers, or scheduling a time for the group to go knocking on doors. Not finding a pre-existent solution to their problem, they built one: a software that speeds up volunteering-related tasks.
As a platform, OrganizeTogether might look similar to the event management software Eventbrite. In addition to letting volunteers set up a calendar of availability, organizers can use OrganizeTogether to create events, invite volunteers and keep track of who showed up. What makes OrganizeTogether different from Eventbrite, Arias said, is the possibility to add a personal touch and engage more with people.
At state level, OrganizeTogether can count on a potential user base that’s already pretty active. In 2015, more than 1.3 million of Mass. residents volunteered their time to contribute to causes like tutoring youth, serving food or providing medical counseling. Almost one in four Bay State residents volunteer, according to a survey by The Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency for volunteering and service.
Currently, the company is working with around 20 organizations, which count for a little over 1,000 users, both in- and out- of state. The platform is free to use for small groups (up to 250 volunteer invitations), then it costs $15 a month for additional 250 messages. Customizing invitations is a paid feature.
Both Arias and Carlson, who work on their startup out of their apartment in Allston with two other employees, left their full-time jobs to focus on the venture. After bootstrapping OrganizeTogether with a $45,000 friends and family round, they said they’re not currently interested in raising a seed round.
“We came into the picture a little late to really be involved in this election cycle, but we have folks lining up to use us for the [Massachusetts] municipal race next year,” Arias said.