I get very excited about any new product or service launching in the market and each and every single one makes me dream for a few seconds what it would be like to be a part of that project- because I am addicted to story telling, purpose, passion and bravery that all these entrepreneurs invest in their careers. Then there are days when I think long and hard about my true purpose and it always goes back to helping people, the environment and dedicating my life to non-profits. Then I came across Alma– a start up that’s a sweet spot between the two- a clever product in the non-profit space.
I got on a call with Michelle Rittenhouse and her voice lit up my day- both in her passion and sincerity, she was very proud of her app that encourages literally anyone and everyone to become a philanthropist. I was sold. With so many natural disasters, wars and environmental damage happening around us, you wonder how you can help each of these causes. I’ve seen enough posts on Facebook from friends asking where to donate to help out Syrian children and refugees in a crisis or a fund that looks after the animals that were dying in the Australian bushfires. And this is where Alma came- to connect everyone with those causes, an app that is probably the most essential and human of all social apps, because at the end of a few clicks: you contribute to change. Here’s a chat with Alma’s co-founder Michelle Rittenhouse.
What is Alma?
ALMA is empowering the next generation of philanthropists. ALMA is a donation platform with rich profiles for all 1.5M+ verified nonprofits in the US. Whether you’ve never donated to a cause before or you’re a passionate activist, ALMA allows you to discover, research, and support top nonprofits. Just like Robinhood and Acorn have done for stock market investing and finance, we believe anyone can be a philanthropist.
When did you and your co-founder Dan come up with the idea for Alma and how did you start the company?
A major catalyst was the 2017 wildfires in Sonoma, just outside San Francisco. The fires were devastating – people lost lives and many lost homes, including friends of ours.
Thick smoke clogged the air in the city, and our friends and colleagues were all eager to do what they could to help. But most people didn’t know how to effectively help. Many wanted to donate to local nonprofits that were providing assistance, but they didn’t know how to find these organizations.
We realized the marketplace between nonprofits and donors is pretty broken today.
You both come from professional backgrounds that was heavily involved in serving people. How did this experience transition to Alma?
Dan and I have always worked in consumer facing tech, so we’re familiar with how to do user research, use beautiful design, and build feedback loops into the product.
Philanthropy is now more publicly accessible to the community in comparison to the past when it was associated with the wealthy. Do you think it’s just a trend or a culture shift?
The word “philanthropy” does have connotations of extreme wealth – people think of Bill Gates or Warren Buffett. But the average American household gives around 3% of their income to charity, and that’s true across all income ranges.
We are the generation that powered Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March and Me Too over more than a decade, and it’s clear that we’re not done challenging the status quo.Michelle Rittenhouse from Alma
Millennials, according to a lot statistics, are a lot more conscious about the environment, for example, or other great causes. What differs this demographic to others?
Millennials have grown up, but we haven’t gotten complacent. We are the generation that powered Occupy Wall Street, Arab Spring, Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March and Me Too over more than a decade, and it’s clear that we’re not done challenging the status quo. Philanthropy is a part of that. Our donors are intentional about where they spend money, knowing that choices in neighborhoods, food, clothing and travel say something specific about what they believe.
How are you changing the culture of ‘giving’ and community support?
The most effective way to give to charity is by setting up a recurring donation. That allows the charity to have a predictable revenue stream, which helps them spend more time on their programs and less time fundraising. Nonprofits would strongly prefer donors setting up $10/month donations than receiving $100 today. Plus, it gives donors the chance to hear how their support has led to impact at the nonprofits.
What has been your biggest challenge so far and what you’ve learnt as a founder?
The most challenging part has also been the most fun – learning about all aspects of building a company. I’ve really expanded my knowledge about company formation, growing a team, the ins and outs of marketing tools and so on.
- Learn a little about everything – at the start of any company, there are no specialists, and you’ll need to know a little bit about everything. The best way is to dive right in and be prepared to get your hands dirty. Last time we moved offices, it meant I was renting a UHaul and moving all the furniture myself!
- Know when to outsource – there are aspects of the business where it’s worthwhile to have expert opinions (e.g. accountants, lawyers), so determine which areas of the business you can use contractors
- Build a network – find companies slightly ahead of you in their lifecycle to see how they tackled similar issues
What’s it like to work with so many causes and non-profits?
It’s been very rewarding to work with so many impactful nonprofits. A number of them are local nonprofits with smaller budgets, so the support they’re receiving from the ALMA community is already a meaningful amount. I love hearing from nonprofits with how the additional funding unlocks opportunities for them to increase their impact.
What do you spend your time mostly on as an entrepreneur?
There’s no “typical day” as an entrepreneur. That said, I’m mostly focused on product: building out the ALMA product experience and getting feedback from users. Sometimes that feedback comes in the form of user research and talking to potential customers in coffee shops. Other days, I dig into our data to identify trends and patterns with how customers are engaging with the product.
A Quote you live by?
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead