Raising Money 101 – Tips for Progressive Startups from Successful Founders


By Shannon Baker

In the categories:

This year, New Media Ventures is investing in more and earlier-stage startups than ever before, and we want these amazing founders to have everything they need to succeed. But how do we make sure we’re solving the right problems? In the spring, we hired Deena Rosen, user experience expert extraordinaire, to do some research for us. We sent her on the (virtual) road to talk with founders, entrepreneurs and accelerators to get the dirt: Where did they struggle? What did they wish they had known when they first started out? What kind of help would have really, you know, helped?

Here are a few things that we heard loud and clear:

  • It’s hard for first-time founders to get trained on the basics and find safe places (read: judgment free zones) to build skills and up their game.

  • Being an entrepreneur is HARD, and first-time founders need just as much personal support and coaching as technical skill-building.

  • Being an entrepreneur can be LONELY, and founders want to connect with and learn from others in the trenches.

We hired Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman – founder of SumOfUs.org, who took an idea and built it into a global movement of 10 million people – to reach out to the new founders in our portfolio and share her wisdom from the trenches. Through one-on-one conversations, webinars and skillshares, a re-energized listserv, and a new Facebook group, Taren has invigorated and connected the NMV community of founders.

Drawing from her (many, many) learnings at SumOfUs.org, she’s also started creating “back to basics” primers on some of the essentials for first time founders: fundraising, hiring, growth, and when to start and how much to pay yourself and your co-founders. We’ll be sharing these and other great resources in the weeks ahead.

First up: Raising Money 101

When you’re launching a startup in the progressive political space, raising early money is likely to be one of your very top concerns. That’s true whether you’re structured as a non-profit or a for-profit. Taren and Cheryl Contee, both progressive entrepreneurs funded by NMV, recently shared their top fundraising tips with our new cohort of founders. Now we want to share them with you, too:

  1. Fundraising is an organizing problem. If you’re an organizer and have planned and won campaigns, you already have many of the fundamentals of raising money in your toolkit. From building (and using!) your CRM to leveraging your networks, having a clear ask, and understanding what motivates your targets, always be working your plan.

  2. Getting meetings is 90% of the battle. Getting in the room is often the hardest part of fundraising. Cultivate and take advantage of your validators to help you get the meeting, create buzz that funders care about, and always make the most of opportunities to engage your targets (e.g. doing your research about who will be at conferences and introducing yourself early and often).

  3. Listen, don’t talk. The most successful fundraisers find something funders need that they can provide. The only way to get that sweet sweet intel is by asking questions about your funders’ interests, constraints, and strategies. Then modify your pitch to meet their needs and look for ways to add value all along the way.

  4. Do your research. Work LinkedIn for all it’s worth, talk to successful founders who have already gotten to scale, go to pitch events, get on Angelist, and make sure you take the time to understand whether the funders you’re approaching actually fund projects like yours. And remember, you’re always pitching.

  5. Start early. Fundraising is a relationship game, and (to mix metaphors), it’s also a marathon – not a sprint. Start planning early and work your plan. Make sure you spend time getting to know potential investors (and let them get to know, and love, YOU), ask for advice and help along the way, and stay in touch with investors. Funders want to know that you’re the kind of person who will persevere against the odds.

  6. Think big. Even impact investors want to know that you’re ambitious and have a plan to make it BIG. Make a strong case about the size of your market, the share your plan to capture, and your plans for an exit (or impact). Take the time to perfect your pitch. Make your numbers and goals big and shoot for the moon.

Get more of the insider scoop from Taren and Cheryl by checking out the webinar, and let us know if you have questions.

About the presenters:

Cheryl Contee has started several successful companies, including cofounding social marketing software Attentive.ly, which New Media Ventures invested in early on. Attentive.ly was the first tech startup in history with a black female founder on board to be acquired by a NASDAQ-traded company (Blackbaud). Cheryl is also CEO of Fission Strategy, which helps the world’s leading non-profits, foundations and social enterprises design digital ecosystems that create change globally.

Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman is the founder of SumOfUs.org, a global corporate accountability watchdog organization that uses cutting-edge digital campaigning techniques to mobilize millions of consumers around the world. SumOfUs.org was funded by New Media Ventures and its network of progressive donors shortly after launch in 2011–2012. That investment paid off as Taren grew the budget to $5 million/year after 4 years.