Organizing volunteers can be a pain. That's why this dad built SimpleSignups - Technical.ly DC

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Apr. 21, 2017 11:20 am

Organizing volunteers can be a pain. That’s why this dad built SimpleSignups

It’s for nonprofits and neighborhood groups. “As I got more involved with my kids’ activities,” said founder Scott Rakestraw. “I realized the need for good technology at the community level.”

Sign up to volunteer. Simple.

(Photo courtesy of SimpleSignups)

About 14 years ago Scott Rakestraw volunteered to help organize his son’s elementary school’s Fall Festival. It turned out to be a bit of a pain.

He spent hours, “way too many hours,” he says, documenting and organizing volunteers for the Festival using tools not especially suited to this purpose, like email or Excel. What he really wanted was a simple way for other parents to sign up to volunteer and provide all the pertinent information — when they’d arrive, for example, or what they were bringing. This didn’t exist at the time.

“As I got more involved with my kids’ activities, I realized the need for good technology at the community level,” Rakestraw wrote in an email to Technical.ly. “I was trying to play super dad — Boy Scout Scoutmaster, Girl Scout Leader, FIRST LEGO League robotics coach, and church youth group leader all at the same time.”

So Rakestraw, who’s history in tech goes way back and who is the cofounder of Reston-based predictive analytics company Upper Quadrant, threw together a simple signup sheet for his own purposes and then quickly forgot about it. Upper Quadrant was in its early days — he was busy.

Fast forward 14 years and, on April 4, Rakestraw launched SimpleSignups — a software platform that helps nonprofits (or just hapless parents putting together fall festivals) organize all the volunteer time and resources at their disposal.

The whole idea? Make it easier to volunteer.

Currently, Rakestraw said, too many food pantries and church groups and the like are using email or Excel to keep track of simple daily information about organization. And this lack of easy organization trickles down to the individual volunteer level — organizations you’d like to help out forget about you, or take so long to get back to you that you’ve already forgotten what it is they’re all about.

SimpleSignups gives these groups something centralized and in doing so, Rakestraw hopes, allows them to focus on the work (feeding the hungry, caring for the elderly, etc) that they do best.

SimpleSignups has a free version for one-off events that’s not unlike competitor SignUpGenius, but it also goes beyond that. The “organization plan” allows nonprofit-type groups to organize and keep in touch with volunteers, and runs as a monthly subscription service. “We built SimpleSignups to help people pursue their passion together to make a difference,” Rakestraw writes on the company website. “We also hope to make some money along the way.”

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SimpleSignups boasts a team of just six, based in Northern Virginia. Each of the company’s employees is steeped in volunteer experience — the product manager, for example, used to be a PTA president. And Rakestraw himself, though his son is now 17, continues to be involved in Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and church youth group. He’s still, we’d argue, super dad — but hopefully, with SimpleSignups, the organizational part is just a bit easier.

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Tajha Chappellet-Lanier

Tajha Chappellet-Lanier is the lead reporter for Technical.ly DC. The California native previously worked for NPR and the editorial board at USA Today. She can talk travel plans all day, and has strong opinions on the best doughnut in D.C.

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