Last year, close to $300 billion was donated to nonprofit organizations in the United States. But to raise necessary operating funds, charities from San Diego to Syracuse had to spend nearly a third that much. That means as much as $100 billion, according to the higher estimates, was paid in donor research, event hosting, and other fundraising expenses just to ensure that life would go on for these community-crucial organizations.
Sound like a waste to you? It sure did to Craig Harris, a San Jose native, UCSB graduate, Peace Corps vet, and nonprofit industry visionary who started a little Goleta Internet company that hopes to change all that. Harris created Nozasearch.com (known more simply as Noza), a Web search engine, with the goal of helping nonprofits “raise more money, and spend less money doing it.” In about two years of business-recently jumpstarted by a Web site re-launch in October-Noza has made it ridiculously easy for those who need the money to find those willing to give it.
“Aside from the IRS,” explained Harris recently in his office, which sits in the shadow of the Santa Barbara Airport’s air traffic control tower, “we have the largest source of searchable data for charitable organizations on the planet.” By that, he means a user of Noza-which is free to browse but then costs, at its most basic level, $25 to retrieve 200 complete records-can find all the individuals, foundations, and corporations that have given money to nonprofits. As of December 1, the database boasted more than 28 million donation records and is adding them at the rate of nearly 250,000 per week. Most useful to nonprofits, these records can be searched by name, region, cause, donation amount, or any combination of those criteria.
Noza, explained Harris, is answering the “number-one question for nonprofits,” which is, “Whom do I ask?” Explained Harris, “We help nonprofits figure out whom to ask and we make that as painless as humanly possible [while still] sustaining our company.”
The “Magic Database”
Had you asked Harris what he wanted to do when he got his aquatic biology degree from UCSB in 1995, “Internet search engine creator” would have never come to mind. “After graduation,” said Harris, “I wanted to do something crazy and positive.”
The Peace Corps was a natural choice, and as a surfer, he was hoping for a placement along the coastline of a Spanish-speaking country. He got Paraguay, one of just two landlocked countries in South America, but it wasn’t the bummer he feared. Instead, his reforesting work with remote villagers caught on like wildfire-so much so that when he left, he convinced 10 other volunteers to use their $5,500 Peace Corps-provided “readjustment allowance” to found eco-forestry center SEPA (Servicio Ecumenico de Promoci³n Alternativa) for Paraguayan farmers. “To this day,” said Harris, who handed it off to Paraguayan villagers years ago, “it’s a focal point of forestry development in Paraguay.”
Back in Santa Barbara-this time with the woman who’d become his wife and the mother of their twin boys, Noah and Zachary (Get it? No-Za?)-Harris realized that he’d spent much of his time with SEPA raising money. So he signed on with the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County as their first development director and then started South Coast Strategies, a one-man nonprofit consultation shop; he helped nearly every nonprofit in Santa Barbara County, from Habitat for Humanity to the Casa Esperanza homeless shelter, where he was the capital campaign manager. Meanwhile, he began a clipping service that tracked donations listed on charities’ annual reports, which are published on the Internet. The service grew so fast that it became unmanageable.
“I knew I couldn’t be the only one struggling. I wanted a magic database,” Harris said. “All this data was out there in the public realm, but no one had attempted to put it in one place.”
There are companies, such as Foundation Center.org and GuideStar.org, that provide comprensive information on foundation donations, but they sell subscriptions for thousands of dollars and are aimed at the biggest fundraisers. Noza provides a more brief but free foundation search. “The people who need the data most are the small, community-based nonprofits,” said Harris, explaining that other directories are prohibitively expensive for the small charities that he believes “sustain the community.”
More to the point, however, is that foundations only contribute about 12 percent of total nonprofit income in any given year. Individuals account for approximately 84 percent or more. (The remaining four percent comes from corporations.) The bread and butter of nonprofits countrywide are the small donations from individuals that keep the lights on, buy pencils, and pay salaries.
Noza, which scans the Web daily for “anything that looks, smells, or feels like a charitable organization,” said Harris, is the first database that connects fundraisers directly with these individuals. It’s also the first to list the contributions of corporations, and the free foundation service is Noza’s way of telling people to stop trying to raise money only from foundations and instead focus on individuals, explained Harris.
And it works, according to Noza users. “It’s a much more user-friendly interface, and we’re definitely getting more results,” said one medical nonprofit fundraiser on the East Coast who pulls in close to $200 million per year. “I know that they make my job easier.”
Goodwin Deacon, a Seattle grant writer and “prospect researcher” who uses the site “practically every day,” concurred. “Before Noza,” she explained, “there were some other sources for finding out charitable giving history, but they were more expensive and, in many areas, not as thorough and not Web-based.”
Deacon is also excited about the corporate giving information, which had been hard to obtain, except from the corporations themselves. “That’s been a huge thing that Noza did,” Deacon said. Best of all, she added, “They have made themselves so affordable. It’s amazingly inexpensive.”
Despite the abundance of technically public information available in one place, Noza has received only one complaint so far-from a woman whose donation was supposed to be listed as “anonymous” by the reporting charity. Rather, according to Deacon, “More sophisticated donors are happy for nonprofits to know what they’re interested in and what level of gifts they’re comfortable giving. That makes the conversations much more interesting.”
For Good, For-Profit
Unlike the organizations they’re helping, Noza is very much a for-profit company. Less than two years in, the company’s staff is growing exponentially and the finances are strong, thanks to seven licensing arrangements with other software providers. Noza’s biggest bucks may come thanks to the powerful Internet search algorithms the company invented. Harris said that Silicon Valley companies have expressed serious interest in their Web searching technology. “We could end up making a lot more money for the secondary purpose [of marketing the algorithm] than what it was intended for.”
But even in the realm of making money, Harris seems focused on others. “How I’m going to gauge our success is if everyone here [at Noza] can buy a home,” said Harris, promising, “If there are spoils, they will be shared.” Based on the predominantly selfless career Harris has led, it’s likely that his employees can trust him.