Bloomington Tech Startup promotes volunteering, builds community

BLOOMINGTON – Serial entrepreneur Geng Wang had already built and sold two tech startups – Rent Jungle and Community Elf – before founding his current venture, Civic Champs in 2019.

Having experienced early success, he decided to invest his next efforts in supporting something he had long believed in and practiced volunteering.

Serial entrepreneur Geng Wang

“Startups are hard, and you’re always going to have down moments,” CEO Wang said. “It’s certainly helpful if you believe in the mission in what you’re building and you’re excited at the prospect of building a really large company around that idea. Volunteering is something that almost everyone is like, ‘Oh yeah, I think that’s a good idea.’ It’s one of the few times that across racial, ethnic, political, and income lines, you have people actually rubbing shoulders with each other. There’s something special about that in terms of building empathy. Because if you don’t meet other people, how are you ever going to build that type of empathy?”

Civic Champs is a mobile and web application that helps nonprofits easily manage, track, and engage their volunteers: tasks that are typically both time-intensive and critical for nonprofits. But the ultimate vision of the company to inspire volunteerism, strengthen nonprofits, and improve lives and communities. Every month, Civic Champs staff get together to do a service or volunteer project of their own.

“Volunteering is such a great way to show love and kindness,” Wang said. “And being able to promote that and encourage that in your community, within people, that’s something that I can definitely get behind.”

The original idea for Civic Champs was a mobile game, like Pokemon Go for volunteering, that would make volunteering fun and easy. As the founders explored the idea with potential customers, they started hearing a common theme.

Most nonprofits either were unhappy with their volunteer management platform or didn’t have one: and they were willing to pay for a solution. So Civic Champs quickly repurposed their technology and signed up nonprofits for a pilot program.

Wang said, it took a while to get the product right, but they had an early sense that it was needed and would eventually work for customers. Today, more than 90 percent of users who download the Civic Champs mobile app keep it on their phone, making Civic Champs an unusually “sticky” application.  

In just two years, Civic Champs raised a million dollars from investors and hired nine employees, a large team, by startup standards. When COVID hit, like most other companies, Civic Champs needed to re-establish their footing.

The company launched its own pro-bono initiative, Helping Hands. They were accepted into two prestigious startup accelerator programs: MassChallenge and Techstars. Then they added a new COVID-specific feature set and received funding support from the Hillman Foundation and Jewish Healthcare Foundation to launch a pilot program with the United Way of Southwestern PA.

In February of 2021, Civic Champs’ microdonations feature was selected as one of 10 winners of the IDEO and Gates Foundation Reimagine Charitable Giving Challenge out of more than 400 concepts submitted from over 68 countries.

“I think there is something really special that we can bring to the table for these organizations outside of the core features that I know that they want,” Wang noted. “And that’s around building community for them, which essentially drives donations because people are more invested in you and becoming true champions of your cause. And if we can build that for these nonprofits, they’ll have much more engaged people who are going to want to advocate for them, to donate to their cause. That’s the key vision piece that keeps me excited.”

Civic Champs now serves 61 nonprofits in 23 states, including Habitat for Humanity, Animal Shelters, United Way, and the Boys and Girls Club.

Learn more about Civic Champs.