Ep 48: Dusty Welsh: Connecting for a Cause

Diva Tech Talk was inspired by Dusty Welsh, co-founder of Cause Activators (http://causeactivators.com), a Web-based company that connects corporations/businesses with tangible nonprofit opportunities, making it easier for those organizations to support their local communities, and empower their team members to do good.  “For nonprofits, the value is clear,” she said. “You post your opportunities online, to be in touch with donors. For donors, the value is enormous savings of time and having a platform to cut through all opportunities, to clearly identify those that align with your business.”

Dusty is highly family-oriented.  As a girl, she was stimulated by her grandparents who were very active in key nonprofits like Meals on Wheels (https://seniormealsonwheels.com)  and their local community center. In college, Dusty began working with many large nonprofits like Leader Dogs for the Blind (http://www.leaderdog.org), and found her passion in life.  She moved to Colorado (“where I had the adventure of a lifetime”) and spent time there “doing a lot of nonprofit work.”  One of those nonprofits was a national wildlife center, where Dusty worked on community programs for children and conservation education, while she also sat on the Board of Directors.  “There I learned about politics; it was eye-opening for me,” she said. Subsequently, she returned to Michigan, (where she “saw a need to support Detroit in its resurgence”). Staying continuously close to her family, Dusty co-founded Cause Activators with her stepmother, human resources expert Dr. Mary Welsh. “I really just wanted to make the world a better place.  Before starting Cause Activators, I coached and worked with over 125 nonprofits, helping them operate almost like a business.”  

Originally, Dusty never intended to be a technology leader.   “Technology really became part of my focus when I realized that nonprofit organizations and business donors were coming together in a very antiquated way.”  She observed “nonprofits chasing businesses who were not aligned with them; businesses putting up firewalls to keep nonprofits at bay. I realized it was a very time-consuming process on both sides of the equation, and that technology could really bridge the gap and bring this process into the 21st century. Similar to what Amazon has done for shopping, Cause Activators has brought nonprofits and businesses, together.”

Prior to the company’s inception, Dusty acknowledged that there was existing task-oriented software, but stated that “there were not a lot of tools available, in the way of local community engagement, enabling a company to see all the opportunities out there.”  Sitting on the Board of Specs Howard School of Media Arts (http://www.specshoward.edu/), Dusty had expert resources and skills, at her fingertips, for Website development, as well as direct personal experience with crowd-sourcing fundraising since 2008.  “I took those and married them with the skills of my stepmother and we created the Cause Activators technology platform.”  

Launched in October 2016, that platform is based on “the same algorithms as a dating website, but we match companies and donors instead of guys and gals! It’s high level ‘matchmaking.’  We ensure that recipients and donors are matched on over 25 points of interest, hitting the goals of both recipients and donors.”  She designs and manages the front-end user interface of the Cause Activators system and additionally supervises the back-end development team for the platform.  She also is the company’s primary community engagement professional, working to capture as many requirements as possible to continually refine the system to address all the needs of this market.  Dusty is also “the face” of Cause Activators at conferences, events, prospect visits, customer sites and media interactions, where she articulates “a keen understanding of the challenges faced by businesses looking to get engaged” and deep understanding of the needs of nonprofits, themselves.

Dusty’s personal strengths include “a gift of gab;” having the ability to “motivate people;” and a strong skill in “connecting and uniting people around a common goal.”  With her heightened sensitivity to the needs of underserved populations, Dusty acknowledges that “it can be a heavy weight on your shoulders” when you examine social ills.   “Many nonprofit leaders face these as well.  But all we can do is offer our very best.”

As a female entrepreneur, Dusty said the #1 challenge she faced, like other women founders, is funding. Because Cause Activators is a true social impact enterprise, the difficulty is compounded. The company is less attractive to most traditional funders like venture capitalists, bankers or many “angels.”  To overcome this, she looked for non-traditional funding sources.   Cause Activators won a Michigan Woman’s Foundation Entrepreneur New Business Plan and Pitch competition in 2015, and received a technology grant.  The company has also gotten over $100,000 in pro bono tech support from various companies, and a $150,000 technology subsidy through the Microsoft BizSpark program. 

In addition to being resourceful, one key lesson that Dusty has learned along the way is “I always ask anyone and everyone for help.”  Additionally, her major leadership tips include:

●      Maximize your strengths.

●      “Surround yourself with key leaders who elevate your leadership abilities” and complement your team with strengths you don’t have.

●      “Learn to become a better listener.”   Step back and reflect what someone has said to you.   Take notes.

●      “It’s so important to be positive and encouraging….” to keep team members motivated.

●      Don’t be afraid of failing. “Each time, I’ve been knocked down, I gain more courage.” 

For entrepreneurs, Dusty’s strongest piece of advice is “I cannot stress enough the importance of doing the research to make sure you are developing something that the marketplace will want to buy.”

Dusty is passionate about the strong future potential of Cause Activators. “Helping one nonprofit at a time, we can only do so much.   But the Website can make impactful matches 24 hours a day, with 1000’s of matches a week, across the country.”  With ambitious plans to go nationwide, soon, Cause Activators offers current internships for university/college students. Please feel free to contact Dusty at her email address dusty@causeactivators.com or via Twitter @causeactivators 

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