The volunteer matching and management system created by two Cornell-Queens graduates was selected to connect Cornell alumni.
by Da-Eun Lee ’16
When Charlie Mulligan, MBA ’11, and Aaron Godert, MEng ’05, MBA ’11, met as fellow students in the Cornell-Queens Executive MBA Class of 2011, they had no idea they would work together as the CEO and CTO, respectively, of a social network for volunteers.
GiveGab, the Ithaca-based startup Mulligan and Godert created, connects people interested in volunteering with volunteer opportunities and with other volunteers and helps volunteer managers track and record volunteer activities. The site also shows the aggregate impact of nonprofit groups. CEO Mulligan describes it as a “LinkedIn for volunteers.”
GiveGab links people with volunteer opportunities that match their skills, interests, and values. Members can find places to volunteer, see where friends are volunteering, share pictures, and encourage others. “GiveGab is about increasing the footprint of volunteers and volunteer participation rates around the world,” says Mulligan. The idea for it came to him when he was a Cornell student — he realized it was difficult to find places to volunteer that matched his skills to the organizations that needed them. He approached Godert about his idea and asked him to help with the technical work; the two started developing the product a few months later.
GiveGab received a fabulously encouraging first round of funding: $1.6 million from the Cayuga Venture Fund, Great Oaks Venture Capital, Rand Capital SBIC, and Excell Partners. The startup now boasts more than 35,000 total users, tens of thousands of participating nonprofits, and nearly 300 participating colleges. And it’s ramping up for a big expansion to the Cornell community: Following an exhaustive review process, Cornell University’s Office of Alumni Affairs and Development selected GiveGab as the vendor of choice to implement its volunteer management system.
“GiveGab understands what Cornell and our volunteers want and need from a system,” says AA&D project lead Laura Denbow, senior director, Office of Volunteer Programs. “Their user-friendly interface is backed up by a sophisticated set of technical applications that will allow Cornell and our volunteers to participate in a broader range of volunteer opportunities, ranging from one-time experiences to ongoing ones, spurring a culture of volunteering over the span of a lifetime.” GiveGab is scheduled to go live to Cornell alumni on July 1, 2014.
Looking to the future, GiveGab aims to attract 21 million users by the end of 2016. Co-founders Mulligan and Godert acknowledge it’s an ambitious goal, but they continually track progress and know where they need to be each week.
Getting GiveGab up and running was challenging at the outset, concedes Godert. But overall, the ride has been exciting. “A lot of things are great about it, and that’s the thrill of being on a team,” says Godert. “Going through hardships makes it all the more satisfying when things start to go well.” Although they encountered a few dead ends and could have better optimized a few channels, Mulligan says: “For us, it’s a continuous learning process, and the culture here is to be introspective and always look at ways to adapt and improve as you move along. We don’t look back at all. We are always examining what we have now; we want to constantly fix that and keep moving forward.”
Both Mulligan and Godert credit Johnson for contributing to their success, especially in building the risk tolerance necessary for entrepreneurship. “The Cornell-Queens program gave me enough confidence and a broad discipline across business that I felt comfortable enough to say, ‘Okay, I’ll take the leap,'” says Mulligan. “It’s probably the most exciting point in my career, taking a complete career shift to something very risky but really loving it. Knowing you have it in you to actually lead and do the entrepreneurial thing feeds energy into itself.”