Matt Cromwell, a Partner and the Head of Support and Community Outreach at Impress.org, is also well known in the WordPress community as an admin of the AdvancedWP Facebook Group.
Matt took the time to answer some questions about Impress.org’s flagship product: GiveWP. The plugin is a huge player in the donation space and is now actively used on over 70,000 WordPress sites.
On a personal note, for those that don’t know you, how did you get involved in WordPress?
I started building websites with HTML and CSS just out of curiosity. When the faith-based and higher-ed communities I was part of heard I could build sites, they all volunteered me to build for them. Slowly I started charging for it. Then a friend of mine in San Diego asked if I could build sites for him with WordPress. I only knew WordPress because of Kubrick (those rounded corners and gradients were AMAZING at the time). I jumped right in, then he threw me into the deep-end by adding me into the Advanced WordPress Facebook group. We only had about 100 members at the time, but I asked all the most naive newb questions and people were really generous. Both AWP and WordCamps really helped me level up a ton since then. But nothing beats building your own product and having to know all the things.
What is the backstory behind the creation of GiveWP?
My business partner Devin Walker and I both worked as “solopreneurs” and built sites for various NPOs. Every time they wanted to do donations we’d groan. We knew each other from our local San Diego Advanced WordPress Meetup but didn’t know we shared that pain with nonprofits. But when we decided to partner up we both wanted to tackle a big problem in WordPress and donations was one we were both passionate about. Our third partner, Jason Knill, was great with finance, marketing, and advertising so the three of us fit well together. We spent about 6 months of development and branding on Give and launched it shortly after WordCamp San Diego 2015. It’s been skyrocketing ever since then with a growing add-on library and now some great new innovations with Campaigns.
I’ve talked to dozens and dozens of WordPress plugin developers and companies on this site. GiveWP might be the first one I’ve seen with an actual mission. What does the idea of “democratizing generosity” mean to Impress.org?
It means breaking down the barriers to funding yourself. Making payments to and from individuals as ubiquitous as the internet itself is. Back in the day you needed advanced degrees to install an SSL certificate. And you can forget setting up a payment gateway — there were no handbooks. Companies like Stripe have made this tons easier, but you still have to be a developer to really make it happen — but not with GiveWP. We’ve had writers, church secretaries, high schoolers, firefighters… anyone and everyone setup GiveWP on their sites in minutes to start fundraising immediately.
The other trap that many fall into is just letting big SaaS players handle that for them. SaaS platforms have a place but they often take a lot from the donations. We have a lot of “Give Stories” on our website that show how people who were diagnosed with severe health conditions made no progress on GoFundMe, but once they built trust on their own website and used GiveWP they raised their funds quickly. That’s democratization.
From a technical standpoint, what parts of GiveWP are the hardest to develop and maintain? Are there particular add-ons or features that the team experienced unexpected difficulty with and why?
There’s several parts of GiveWP which make it challenging for sure. For one is the add-on model itself. It’s a very practical model for users, but as the add-on library grows, maintaining compatibility among your own add-ons — plus backward compatibility — gets more and more challenging.
The second challenge is any add-on that interacts with the payments directly. For example, Recurring Donations, Fee Recovery, and Currency Switcher. Each of these are relatively straight-forward by themselves, but when you consider how they have to interact with a wide swath of payment gateways and multiple currencies and languages it gets very complex very quickly.
Lastly is anything that relates to international requirements and regulations. Many countries have strict rules about how donation invoices are formatted (for example). Others require currencies to be formatted in a very precise manner. And we’re simply not experts in all the legislation in all countries everywhere. Fortunately, our international users are very helpful and patient with us. Our Gift Aid add-on is a great example of an effort we made to accommodate the UK in a unique way.
How difficult do you find support for GiveWP and how important is it to the business? I ask because in my own software company I find non-profit and charitable causes to involve the most hand holding as they rarely are technically savvy. They’re also the most grateful when you help though, in my experience, which is a nice trade off.
Support is one of our highest priorities. Many of our users are volunteers or administrative staff — they’re not developers and wouldn’t even consider themselves WordPress users that much. They need a lot of assistance. That’s been my role from day one and I’ve been really proud of how our team has made our whole product very support-driven and oriented. If you take a quick scan of our 5-star reviews on WordPress.org you’ll see that a large majority of them mention support explicitly. That tells you (1) how many of them USE our support and (2) how hard we work to make sure support is excellent for our users.
The marketing site for GiveWP is incredibly well done and thought out. Do you have any tips for smaller plugin developers for some easy wins to improve their own marketing sites?
We love hearing that — it really makes us happy. At the same time, the site hasn’t had a refresh since we launched in 2015, so we’re in the middle of a big refresh right now. So watch for that as it evolves over the next months!
But besides just the site design, I think smaller plugins can go MILES just by blogging regularly and having excellent documentation. These are the two things I see smaller businesses and plugins fail at over and over. They focus on the salesy stuff and totally neglect their customers who want to dig in and learn more and do more. Our online documentation is a major search engine and sales funnel. It can’t be understated how important it is to have tons of high-quality valuable and relevant content on your website. The only skill you need to do that is time and discipline.
More marketing questions: how do you do outreach for potential customers? Are you actively involved in online communities that non-profit organizations use? How much of an impact does word of mouth have on GiveWP’s growth?
Every plugin author automatically has a giant sales funnel in the WordPress Plugin Directory. The freemium model really is a big success for the lone developer who builds something and ships it to the large repos like WordPress or Github or NPM. At this point in WordPress history, many simply take that for granted, but your presence on WordPress.org is probably one of the most valuable things you have.
Beyond that, yes, WordCamps, Meetups, and NTEN are conferences and events that we are investing in. WordPress itself was a grassroots, word of mouth operation for at least a decade. It earned at least 20% adoption of the entire internet just by doing Meetups and WordCamps. Now of course it’s at 35% adoption and that’s still largely due to the groundswell of their grassroots marketing in my opinion. Every year at WordCamp Miami or Sacramento or US we ask attendees “who’s attending their first WordCamp today?” Invariably, over half the attendees raise their hand. There are new people attending all the time, so thinking “Oh we’ve done WordCamps and we’re beyond that now” really misses the boat.
As we near the end of the year, what can people expect in terms of updates and new features to GiveWP heading into 2020?
We just wrapped up WordCamp US and we had a table there. We gave a sneak peek into what we call “GiveWP Campaigns” it’s a whole new REACT-based approach to building full-page, embeddable fundraising campaigns. This is the future of everything GiveWP is about. It will enable us to do all kinds of new fundraiser types like Peer-to-Peer, Kickstarter-like crowdfunding, countdown campaigns and a lot more. We’ll be publishing a lot about it on YouTube and our blog over the next months, so stay tuned for sure.