How to Build a Sustainable Fundraising Program

Long Term Planning


Too often, small causes and organizations focus only on their short-term fundraising needs. Mike Berkowitz, the co-founder and CEO of Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies, argues that it’s important even for small, new organizations to think about long-term success.

In a recent post on the Foundation Center blog, Mike offers a few ideas on where to start:

  1. Hire the right staff (not just consultants)
  2. Think holistically about your fundraising opportunities (not just about grants)
  3. Create a development plan (be proactive rather than reactive)
  4. Use a donor management system


Here at Rally.org, we’ll add one more idea:

  1. Connect your cause’s story to a bigger trend or cultural narrative


For example, if your new organization is currently focused on offering computer help to San Francisco seniors, frame your work in the context of America’s rapidly aging population and/or the impact of technology on public health. Share photos, videos, or articles related to those larger themes when you communicate with donors, in addition to telling them about the specific work you’re doing today. That way, even as your organization changes and grows, you have a sustainable narrative that provides continuity for donors.


Keep It Simple: Takeaways from Day 2 of NTC

Guest blogger Mike Berkowitz is co-founder & CEO of Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies, an impact-oriented strategy firm that partners with the world’s most passionate and daring changemakers to reimagine, expand, and realize their social impact. He is also an active member at RallyPad, a social venture incubator funded by Rally.org.


I’m a first-timer here at the Nonprofit Technology Conference (a huge thanks to Rally.org for bringing me along!).

I expected to walk away from my NTC experience with a deeper understanding of the ways in which technology can be used to help nonprofits. But I’m intrigued to find that the biggest lesson I’ve learned today isn’t about technology, per se.

From Dan Roam talking at an amazing opening plenary this morning about his new book Blah Blah Blah and imploring us to draw the problem instead of writing it out; to Katya Andresen of Network for Good emphasizing the need to connect with people’s emotions (which generally isn’t accomplished with facts and figures); to blogging expert Britt Bravo’s recommendation to keep blog posts to 100-300 words (and find creative ways to engage people, like this hugely popular blog for Goodwill DC: http://www.fashionofgoodwill.org/blog/), the underlying thread of my day has been: keep it simple. 

As Britt taught us, people are skimmers. We’re short on time and short on attention. We respond to emotion. We understand pictures easier than we understand words.

(Which is one reason, by the way, why you may enjoy Rally’s graphical notes from NTC more than you might a traditional conference summary).

So next time you’re communicating to your network, remember to make your message visual, emotional, and easy to understand. In other words, keep it simple.


Two-Party Party: Both Sides Sling Hashtags and Some Mud at Rally HQ

Chris Kelly, Christine Pelosi, Fred Davis

Christine Pelosi comments on Tuesday's results with Chris Kelly (left) and Fred Davis (right)

Highlights from Rally’s Technology-Themed Super Tuesday Watch Party & Panel

Hashtags were more prevalent than insults Tuesday night as tech leaders and leading strategists from the two main political parties gathered at Rally HQ to talk politics and technology.

The all-star panel, moderated by former Facebook Chief Privacy Officer Chris Kelly, mostly agreed on tech’s growing impact on the race for the White House, while agreeing to disagree about the broader issues that will define the election.

“The big takeaway from the night is that the fundamental truths of politics have not changed but the technological tools have,” said Rally.org founder and CEO Tom Serres. “In fundraising, people still give to people and people still give to stories.”

Conventional wisdom is that Republicans are troglodytes when it comes to technology,” said GOP strategist Tucker Eskew, “Are we there yet, no. But we are sharpening our weapons.”

“Campaigns must adapt to survive or they cannot win,” said Democratic communications expert Peter Rangone.

Panelists also talked about the role of technology in building image and driving conversation.

Fred Davis, a leading Republican ad maker, said “I don’t think the internet and web yet are the image creators that decide all . . . the decision on who to vote for is made by talk – something that old.”

Leading Democratic digital strategist Christine Pelosi responded, “The internet is not the image maker but it is definitely the image breaker.

I think the water cooler has changed – the water cooler is on Facebook, the water cooler is on Twitter, the water cooler on Rally” said Serres.

Responding to the results from ten GOP primaries, Democrats welcomed the prospect for an even longer and harsher Republican primary season during the discussion at the Rally headquarters.“The winner tonight is Barack Obama,” said Pelosi.

Republican strategist Eskew said he saw a path for a Romney victory, but that the governor needed to “avoid the temptation to tell the biography of Mitt Romney and instead put forward solutions on the terribly unpopular stimulus and terribly unpopular healthcare plan.”

Representatives from both the Obama and Romney campaigns attended the event and mingled with the more than 200 participants.


A Good Cause Wins with a Good Story

Cara Jones speaking

Cara Jones speaking

How often do you immediately share with a room full of strangers the story of the most wild drag-down fight you ever had with your brother? That is was what happened to me Tuesday night at “Storytelling for Good”—a workshop hosted by RallyPad with Emmy award-winning Cara Jones (founder of Storytellers for Good).

For almost two hours, 25 other non-profit or communications professionals and I practiced storytelling, learned concrete tips for storytelling, and watched examples of mighty fine video storytelling. Here are my notes.

After asking us to tell a personal story in 90 seconds, Cara shared with us her story as a young ABC affiliate broadcaster in southwest Florida. She reported about stranded manatees and other marine wildlife until she moved to New England and covered Boston area crime. And reported about a lot of sad, sad stories. She eventually left. “I wanted to tell stories but I didn’t want to tell stories for the news.” After leaving Boston, Cara traveled for a year to South America, Spain, and India. She eventually moved to San Francisco and founded Storytellers for Good.

The workshop focused on three basic principles for storytelling in video, photo, and writing.

1. Aim for the heart.

Reason, statistics, and infrastructure all have their place. But not when you need to  supercharge your audience to remember your cause. Stories that resonate emotionally are also more likely to be shared. As viral video pundit Dane Greenberg put it, people “are not just sharing your content — they are sharing the feeling your video has created.”

Example shown:  Mama Hope
What moved me: A mother’s love and loss unexpectedly transforms her daughter and a small Kenyan village

Mama Hope


HOW do you interview someone to best capture their story?


  • Make eye contact during your interview.
  • Be aware of “what you want to find vs. what you find.”
  • Ask tough questions. Then ask them again. Sometimes you hear more the second time around. (Sometimes you need to ask them again because the camera wasn’t rolling!)
  • Be comfortable with silence. Wait a beat or two and you might be surprised what people share.

“Exaggerate what’s there so people who are not there feel they are there.”

Aim Tight.

  • Use close ups of people for video and photography
  • Allow natural background sounds to be present in the audio.
  • Show concrete details to evoke the reality of the situation

“We are all looking for ourselves in stories.”


2. Let characters lead.

Focus on 1 or 2 characters. Don’t try to include everyone or everything; otherwise, people will remember nothing.

Example shown: Smile
What moved me: A one-woman intervention to help her neighborhood connect.



Choose a main character who embodies G.O.A.L. :

Genuine. Someone is emotionally in touch with themeselves.
Outgoing. Shy people will not amplify well on video.
Lively. Enthusiasm is infectious.

HOW to help characters shine?

  • Interview them in a comfortable environment (never against a white wall!).
  • Invest in a lavalier mic that is unobtrusive and captures sound well.
  • Interview without referring to notes so the person is more at ease.


3. Remember narrative structure. Build to a surprise.

Don’t get keep telling your beginning over and over. A lot of organization spend so much time talking about their programs or introducing themselves, they forget to move it forward.

Example shown:  The 93 Dollar Club
What moved me: One random act of kindness between strangers at the grocery store grows into a solution to hunger.

The 93 Dollar Club

When crafting a story:

  • Identify a problem. Introduce the hero. (beginning)
  • Send the hero out into the world. (middle)
  • Resolve the tension and draw or suggest a conclusion (end)


Think big picture. Ask yourself or your organization:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What is the message of the story? (This is not your mission statement)
  • What is the best medium to tell this story? A 2 minute video? One large photo? A “longread” in your newsletter or blog?
  • What is your “ask”? What do you want people to feel or do by the end of the story?


In addition to the people you help,  also consider telling the stories of :

  • Founders
  • Volunteers
  • Donors
  • Your surrounding community


Parting thoughts.

Everyone has a story.

Keep it short. For video, 2-3 minutes is a good length without trying to describe everything you do.

A good story helps people remember your cause; it doesn’t attempt to represent everything your organization does.

Build a storytelling culture in your organization. Consider developing a “story bank” so when you need to communicate through story, you have good examples on hand.

And that fight I had with my brother? It ended well. He and I learned we care a lot about toys. I learned not to bite. In some ways, we both won, and my parents learned something in the process too.


“If you want to learn about a culture, listen to stories. If you want to change a culture, change the stories.” — Michael Margolis, Get Storied


And lastly, a parting example of  a story that balances more than one character, showcases fruites and vegetables, and incorporates moving type. There is a whole world of storytelling out there. Find your hook!


Mandela Marketplace from Storytellers For Good



We at Rally hope this article was useful.  If you or your organization are looking for a unique way to combine storytelling and fundraising, check out Rally’s online fundraising tools. Post your videos and photos and raise money for causes you care about. 

If you live in the Bay Area and are interested in attending future workshops and events at RallyPad, our incubator and event space for non-profits and causes, join our email list.

Two Fantastic Ladies Join the Rally Team

Jesse TaggertJesse Taggert joins us as Product Marketing Manager for Rally and Program Manager for RallyPad. She has over 15 years experience in communication and design. Jesse has helped organizations — startups, professional associations, art museums, universities, and even the U.S. Navy — strengthen their market position, tell their story, and inspire their audience.

Born and bred in New England, Jesse worked in Boston for over 10 years and earned a master’s degree in graphic design from Rhode Island School of Design. A few years later—craving warmer winters and the “can do anything” culture of the Bay Area—she moved to San Francisco. She’s taught design and design history, run a coworking space, and currently volunteers as “Dean” of the Awesome Foundation, San Francisco.

Causes Jesse cares about include: funding art projects, ending child sex trafficking and increasing women’s educational and economic opportunities worldwide.


Teresa HodgesTeresa joins Rally as our indispensible Operations Manager. She worked with us for several months on a contract basis, and we’re now thrilled to have her aboard full time to support the Rally team and the RallyPadders as we all work towards building a stronger community.

She is finishing up her MA thesis and is in her third year of a “service learning teaching pipeline,” Pin@y Educational Partnerships, where they voluntarily teach Critical Filipina/o American Studies at SFUSD and City College of San Francisco to address issues of recruitment, retention, and research, amongst others. In her chill time, she likes to eat good food, be with friends, and go to sunny places.

From Texas Politics to International Nonprofits

Photo of Rally Team

Photo: Brant Ward / The Chronicle

A few weeks ago, Carolyn Said sat down with Rally’s CEO to learn more about the company’s evolution. We love the way her cover-article in the San Francisco Chronicle tells the Rally story:


Serres, now 30, was volunteering for a local candidate running for judge in 2004 while studying Chinese and accounting at the University of Texas at Austin.

Surprised that the campaign lacked an online presence, he helped build a website and raise money via e-mails and online newsletters.


During the next year and a half, that consulting business evolved into a online fundraising platform. After a key turning point involving Rep. Joe Wilson’s famous “you lie” outburst during President Obama’s health care speech to congress, the platform took off.

To the founding team’s surprise, it wasn’t just  politicians who needed an easy online fundraising tool. Everyone from schools to churches to nonprofits started signing up:


[Rally] is now home to more than 10,000 cause-based groups worldwide, “from Bangladesh to Iceland,” Serres said.

“We quickly evolved beyond political organizations to advocacy groups, churches, things like nature conservancies, missionary groups, you name it,” he said.


The article goes on to describe Rally’s current client-base, as well as our social venture incubator, RallyPad.

You can read the full story here.


Cycling Across the Country to “Make US Strong”

Cycle for Security Logo

Starting tomorrow, I’m biking almost 5,000 miles – from San Francisco to Washington DC – to talk with supporters, students, and policymakers to discuss how international development is vital to America’s security and prosperity. This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart –  for the last five years I’ve worked with groups like the Genocide Intervention Network and Save Darfur Coalition to stop and prevent mass atrocities, and in four months I will begin Officer Candidate School with the United States Marine Corps. There is a strong connection between human rights, international development and our national security, but some people want to cut the funding for these critical programs. There’s never been a more important time to talk about this issue…and that’s why I’m biking across America as part of the Truman National Security Project’s Make US Strong campaign.

We kicked off my ride last night with an awesome party at RallyPad, co-hosted by National FieldNew Leaders Council – San Francisco, and Lagunitas Brewing Company. Lt. Col. Paul Clarke (USAF – Ret.) headlined the event and spoke from personal experience about how international development prevents the outbreak of disease, conflict, entrenched poverty and radicalism – and how that helps keep Americans safe at home.

Cycle for Security Kickoff Event

I couldn’t be more grateful to the talented people at Rally for hosting the event, helping me put together all my fundraising materials and online presence, and just being generally psyched about the trip. It’s not every technology company where the staff goes out of their way to brainstorm new and creative ways to raise cash, designs cool outreach materials, and helps you track down a beer sponsor. The folks at Rally aren’t just working on a great product (which reminds me, you can donate to my ride here! 😉 ) – they also really care about helping people change the world. A special thanks to Kirsten, Jeff, Teresa, Nick and of course, Tom, for your  time, energy and generosity.

If you’re interested in following my ride, I’ll be blogging, tweeting, instagramming and being generally obnoxious via social media. And of course, if I’m coming to a town near you, I hope you’ll come out to an event!

Be a Story, Not a Pitch

Yesterday at the RallyPad, we had the privilege of hearing Tim Wagner give a wonderful seminar on storytelling. Tim has been a multimedia reporter for the UN, a film producer for the Public Health Institute, and a brand strategist for Habitat for Humanity and Kiva. Now he works with btrax, a cross-cultural marketing firm, and he runs Open Show.

Yesterday’s audience was filled with social entrepreneurs and nonprofit innovators, including Craigslist Foundation, Storytelling for Good, and New Incentives.

Here are a few fantastic nuggets from Tim’s talk:

  • Storytelling is like dating. Being a storyteller means building relationship with your audience and involving them in your story. Great storytelling builds trust over time, and helps you move from “just coffee” to something more serious. Don’t ask for money right away; make sure there are other ways to engage people through low-commitment actions like sharing a video or signing up for email updates.
  • Think like your audience. Tim is clear that this does not mean you should pander to your audience or change who you are. It means you should put yourself in your shoes and ask: “Do I care?” “What is boring?” “What is exciting?” Thinking like your audience helps you understand what media and storytelling techniques resonate most deeply with them.
  • Stay minimalist. Good stories have “catchy, consistent, and clear” messaging. They focus on the one thing that you stand for that makes you stand out most. There’s no need to over explain your mission. If people want more detail, just make it available for them to find.
  • Make it personal & universal. Cause storytelling must revolve around something that people can relate connect to on and individual emotional level, yet it must also help people feel like they’re contributing to something bigger than themselves.
  • End with action. Invite people to become a part of the story. Whether that’s sharing it, commenting on it, donating to your organization, or volunteering in some other way – don’t forget to ask people to get involved!

Here at Rally, we agree that storytelling is the most powerful way to connect with supporters and inspire them to contribute to your cause. (A little plug: If you’re curious how to share your story and raise money online, check out Rally’s fundraising tools.)

Thanks, Tim, for such a great talk!

Rally Berlin Launches

11/11/11 was a momentous day for the Rally Team.  We opened our new European HQ in Berlin, and launched our second RallyPad.  Berlin is the political and cultural capital of Germany, and is rapidly establishing itself as the center of social and technology entrepreneurship.

The Rally Team in Berlin is led by two intrepid entrepreneurs:  Markus Schranner is our General Manager, working on business development and Europe strategy.  Jens Dresen is our Operations Manager and is focused on growing our RallyPad customer base and our overall operations.  Together, they have scouted out an awesome office space, and have assembled a fantastic community of Rally supporters.  These two projects came together on 11/11 to produce a launch party that sets the standard for how Rally will enter new markets.

Nearly 100 attendees joined Rally CEO Tom Serres, Markus, myself, and Jens (pictured above) at the launch event.  We were pleased to have a guest speaker from Albert Schweitzer Foundation.  Mahi Klosterhalfen told the audience about the charity’s work in improving the condition of animals in Germany, and strengthening the ideas of vegetarianism and veganism.

Markus and Jens introduced the attendees to RallyPad.  RallyPad is our innovative concept that accelerates the success of causes and socially focused entrepreneurial ventures by providing them with workspace, collaboration, mentorship and tools.  RallyPad Berlin is our second location following our pad in San Francisco.

Congratulations to Markus, Jens and the Rally team!  We are all looking forward to being Berliners!

A Happy Crowd at Nonprofit Happy Hour!

Nonprofit Leaders Sip Cocktails & Swap Solutions

Nonprofit Leaders Sip Cocktails & Swap Solutions

Last night, Rally hosted our inaugural Nonprofit Happy Hour at the RallyPad in downtown San Francisco. Thanks to the fifty nonprofit leaders who showed up to share ideas, experiences, and advice. The Rally team was honored to meet and mingle with our fabulous guests, including:

– Ritu Sharma, who organizes the wildly popular Social Media for Nonprofits Conference series. Check out the upcoming events in Atlanta and New York City. Rally will be there as an official sponsor.

– Cindy Tsai, Operations Manager at KIPP Bay Area Schools. KIPP is transforming the future of education in the United States through their innovation-focused charter school network.

– Marce Gutiérrez, the Founder & Executive Director of The Azul Project. Marce has successfully fought for legislation to protect our oceans and ban shark-finning in the US and Mexico. Since sharks are Rally’s unofficial mascot, we are huge fans of Marce’s work.

– Robyn King, the Founder & CEO of Digital Literary Arts Studios. DLA Studios provides digital arts education, training, and hands-on experience to youth and young adults. DLA Studios is also the winner of our “Event-in-a-Box” giveaway at the San Francisco Social Media for Nonprofits conference this month. We can’t wait to help them throw an awesome fundraiser at the RallyPad.

– Cara Jones, the Founder of Storytellers for Good. She leads a team of passionate journalists and photographers who seek to use their skills to inspire optimism and change. We’re excited to find ways to collaborate with Cara, since Rally’s social fundraising tools operate on the premise that great stories create movements and raise money.

Huge thanks to FAIR. Spirits for sponsoring our cocktail menu, which featured creations such as “The Red Rally,” “Wolf Berry Sour,” and “The Nine A.M.”

Since last night was such a success, we’ll be hosting another Nonprofit Happy Hour in early 2012! To get the invite, make sure to follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook to get the invite.