After a decade of building Classy into a sophisticated fundraising platform that has helped raise $3B for thousands of nonprofits, and on the heels of Classy’s recent Series D funding announcement, Classy Co-Founder and CEO Scot Chisholm has decided to transition into a full-time executive chairman role and hand the reins to longtime Classy partner, Christopher Himes.
As CEO, Chris will build upon the foundation laid over the past 10 years, seven of which he served as advisor, investor, board director, and, most recently, as Classy’s chief operating officer. Chris will continue Classy’s track record of creating world-class technology to serve the social sector.
We recently sat down with Chris to talk through how his career experience—from Fair Trade to Salesforce to Classy—has uniquely prepared him to take on this role, his vision for Classy’s future, and why his obsession with verifiable value will lay the foundation for everything the company does moving forward.
Q: You’ve been a huge part of helping to build Classy over the past seven years. Tell us about that journey and why you are able to step into this new role now.
A: It’s not often you find a company where great people and technology serve thousands of nonprofits who make the world a better place every day, but I’ve been lucky to be a part of the Classy journey for a while now.
I first learned about Classy when I was working at Salesforce.org and was blown away by what I saw. Here was a company radically rethinking what the social sector could expect of their online fundraising technology, and it was clear the impact that technology could have. After facilitating Salesforce’s first investment in Classy and a lasting partnership between the two companies, I became a Board Member and advisor to Classy in 2014. From then on, I’ve done all I can to support the company’s growth as we went on to help nonprofits collectively raise $1 billion for social good on the platform in 2018.
Two years later, I joined as chief operating officer just as we were witnessing the generosity of so many donors in the wake of COVID-19 and this past summer’s social justice movement. The events of this past year have changed giving as we know it and the role of technology has never played a more important part in helping nonprofits fund their missions. This was evidenced by the fact that nonprofits on the Classy platform raised over $1 billion in 2020 alone.
I’ve spent my career between a top tier SaaS company and the nonprofit space, which gives me a unique understanding and the experience to effectively serve our customers. I know how better technology translates into more revenue to drive more impact for the world.
Q: Tell us more about your career path and how this experience will lend itself to your role as CEO here.
A: I began my career working at the nonprofit that runs Fair Trade, a global movement that makes sustainable development goals a reality. There I helped to evolve a leading program for conscious consumption and higher incomes for disadvantaged workers. I led their core Certification operation and launched the Global Producer Services group. We certified dozens of product categories, partnered with international agencies and companies to invest in capacity building for developing countries, and invested in technology to further our mission. Eventually, I took on the role of CFO and joined their Board of Directors.
From there, I joined the team at Salesforce when there was only one product. In my six years at Salesforce, the company grew tenfold as cloud computing came of age. As an SVP and division COO, I learned the value of earning customer trust and loyalty every day, and I became obsessed with delivering verifiable customer value.
Getting to bring this obsession to life at Classy to better serve our nonprofit customers is what gets me up in the morning. Classy isn’t a tool to just passively accept donations. We are a platform with a robust suite of fundraising tools geared towards providing a seamless donor experience that encompasses all types of online fundraising to drive higher engagement and revenue for your organization.
Q: So what’s next for Classy? How does this customer value obsession come to life?
A: Classy is evolving to be a true product-led company. We just raised $118 million in Series D funding and, with that, we plan to overwhelmingly invest in our product and engineering teams. This doesn’t just mean that we’ll be releasing new features faster; we are working to make profound improvements on our already-strong underlying tech stack. That’s the beauty of being a SaaS company. As technology advances, we can make our product better, faster, more reliable, and more productive, which increases customer value. It all leads back to this.
It is a core company philosophy – great technology drives more revenue for nonprofits, which means more resources to tackle the complex challenges they are trying to solve. And for me there is no more important market to serve than the social sector.
Classy is focused on extending its lead in donor conversion and retention, while creating a new wave of recurring giving tools to help nonprofits build highly predictable revenue models that help them to maximize their service and impact. Through our platform data, we know that recurring donors are five times more valuable than one-time givers and research has shown that each additional second of web page load time translates to a 7% conversion rate drop. Without the best online fundraising technology, nonprofits are leaving money on the table.
Classy is here to make sure that no longer happens. Currently, about 20% of total giving on Classy’s platform is done by donors who pledge to give on a regular basis, but in the next couple of years, we plan to build a billion-dollar recurring business for our customers.
We are also constantly improving our security and scalability. Giving is a half trillion dollar market and we have to be ready for it. We have proven measures in place to provide a safe and trusted fundraising platform including using secure cloud architecture and multiple security measures to protect data, including AWS Virtual Private Cloud and PCI Level 1 Certification. We have dedicated personnel focused on platform security and our network is constantly scanning for vulnerabilities so donors can be assured their data is safe when giving to an organization through Classy.
Q: How does Classy’s culture play a role in this customer-first mindset?
A: At Classy, we have a business model that prioritizes our four main stakeholders, which are our customers, our team, financial durability, and our community.
For our customers, this means we deliver unquestionable ROI. For our team, we bring on the best talent, give them the opportunity to work with the most important causes in the world, and invest in their growth and well-being. In considering our financial sustainability, we aim to create durability with top-tier returns for decades to come so our customers can rest assured that we will be here as long as they need us to help fulfill their missions. And for our community, we believe in holistic value creation and therefore must practice what we preach. Much of this stakeholder model comes to life through our B Corp Certification, which holds us to the highest standards of social and environmental performance out there for business. I’m proud to say, we’ve also accelerated our timeline to becoming a Public Benefit Corporation.
As a stakeholder-first company, we have also decided to pay back our PPP loan, which we took from the federal government during the first few months of the pandemic to keep our staff fully employed and to ensure we could continue to serve the social sector at full capacity during a time of increased need. We are grateful for the security it provided, but we are fortunate to have emerged from the last year stronger than ever and are happy to be able to pay it back so that the money can be used to support others. We’re also excited to launch our first-ever impact report this year; bring back our annual conference, the Collaborative: Virtual Sessions; and relaunch the Classy Awards to honor the most innovative nonprofits and social enterprises. The last ten years have seen many milestones for us and our customers, but we are just getting started.
Q: Thank you, Chris. Anything else you’d like to add?
A: We’ve got an exciting road ahead of us and lots of work to be done. We don’t just want to give our customers access to the best technology today. We have the scale to continue to innovate and deliver the resources nonprofits will need in the future. Classy will be there, as a trusted partner with world-class technology, as long as it takes to fulfill your mission. This also means we’re looking for amazing, diverse talent nationwide to join our mission to mobilize and empower the world for good. If Classy sounds like a fit for you, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our team.