Rally.org, a community fundraising startup based in San Francisco, today announced that it has raised $7.9 million in a new Series A round including Relay Ventures, Mike Maples of Floodgate Fund, Reid Hoffman of Greylock Partners, Kevin Rose of Google Ventures, and more. The startup, which focuses on providing a platform for causes of all stripes to reach out to the community and solicit funding, will be using its new funds to scale now that it has over one million users and a growing library of ongoing campaigns (14,000 causes at last count).
Co-founder and CEO Tom Serres said in an interview that the funding will help the startup hire engineers and drive new platform enhancements, as Rally.org continues to grow and help different types of causes share their stories. The storytelling aspect is one of the key differences that helps Rally.org set itself apart from other online fundraising platforms like Kickstarter and IndieGoGo, according to Serres, and a core component in terms of its difference to both funders and fundraisers alike.
“At the end of the day ‘project with a goal is completed’ is just part of the story,” he said. “If I’m raising money, it’s not a momentary thing. Fundraising, and the art (and thus the science) of fundraising is a continuous process.” Serres cites the example of a park building project, wherein an organizer might want to first build monkey bars, for instance, and then later move on to providing ongoing maintenance fees for cutting grass, trimming trees, etc. Whereas others are focused on single products or moments, Rally.org is looking at ways to help causes and organizations build lasting relationships with their community, and the tools it provides in terms of back-end analytics and support are geared towards helping find the right storytelling recipe to make that possible.
“How can we as a platform, using things like big data and data science that makes storytelling monetizeable, how can we basically bake that into product improvement?” he said. “Whether that’s through gamification of what to do to make a more successful cause, or through simple reminders to perform actions to deepen engagement, that’s what we’re developing that no one else has yet provided.”
For Rally.org, the question of what defines a cause doesn’t really have a set answer. The company originally was founded as Piryx, and specifically targeted political fundraising. But when its users started asking about other types of projects that needed funding, Serres and his team had to wrestle with the decision of whether or not to open things up. In the end, that’s exactly what they decided to do, spying a larger opportunity.
That decision appears to be paying off, and needing to bring on additional engineering talent to help scale growth is a good problem to have. The startup has a number of things going for it in terms of traditional fundraising channels, including a four percent cut of revenue that compares favorably with offline campaigns. Rally.org also wisely invested early in developing a proprietary payments infrastructure, which means it doesn’t have to lean on Amazon Payments or PayPal to handle its transactions (and therefore take an additional cut). That could help it find partnership opportunities with sites like Kickstarter down the road on the backend, Serres suggested.
In the end, the Rally.org approach will likely change the way people think about things like street campaigns to solicit recurring donations from passers-by, and other ongoing needs not addressed by goal-oriented competitors. As long as it can help causes while also not getting too liberal about what exactly falls under that definition, it should be able to become another trusted resource in the fundraiser’s toolkit.