The Making of ALMA

A sneak peek of the ALMA app, and how we got here.

The ALMA app is launching in San Francisco next month. Dan and I are thrilled. We can’t wait to share what we’ve been working on and hear what you think.

First, here’s a bit of the backstory on how we got here…

When we started two months ago, we knew we had a lot to learn about charitable giving. We both had a lot of ideas from our own personal experiences donating and volunteering, but we’d only occasionally talked with friends and family about their perspectives. We wanted to learn more about what was working, and what wasn’t, in the donor experience today.

To start, we donated to a wide range of charities — from our laptops, our phones, and through other apps — to see what’s out there today. We ran surveys online. We met with philanthropists, grantmakers and executives at nonprofits. And mostly, we did lots of research by talking with people (at breweries and local coffee shops!).

Four themes surfaced for how the donor experience could be improved. I’ll share a bit about each and our approach to solving them.

1. It’s hard to discover great, local nonprofits

People can easily name a cause they care about — early education, helping the homeless, animals rights, etc. But often they can’t name many (or any!) specific nonprofits, particularly local organizations, that support the causes they care about.

We learned many people donate reactively when they’re asked to by peers — often to causes they don’t really feel passionate about. There’s a disconnect between people’s beliefs and people’s charitable giving.

This was true for me too. I’m a big believer in protecting the environment and making cities more sustainable. While I was familiar with the big organizations like the Sierra Club, I didn’t know about Friends of The Urban Forest, Walk SF, or Nature in the City. They’re great organizations making an impact right in my neighborhood.

Map by Nature In the City

Our approach: Funds.

A fund is a portfolio of top nonprofits focused on a common theme. For example, our “Greening San Francisco” fund is a collection of nonprofits that protect the local environment, connect people with the outdoors, build bike lanes and advocate for sustainability measures.

Donors make one monthly contribution to the fund, and support a range of nonprofits.

Here are the initial three funds launching in San Francisco this June:

2. People don’t trust all nonprofits, and research is burdensome

Unfortunately, many people we talked with are skeptical about donating to charities overall, as they’d heard stories about mismanagement of funds or fraud. They want confirmation that the charities are high quality.

There are 1.6m nonprofits in the US and over 5,000 in San Francisco. It’s really hard to know which ones are considered the top organizations.

While some people are aware of sites like Charity Navigator that rate nonprofits, they’ve only rated about 5% of all organizations and many of their metrics don’t tell the full story.

Our approach: Panels of experts + eligibility requirements

To determine the top nonprofits to feature in our funds, we’re creating panels of experts who recommend and endorse each nonprofit. The experts represent diverse backgrounds from academia, policy, grant makers, and nonprofit executives.

Additionally, we vet each nonprofit on three dimensions:

1. We verify the organization is in good financial, operating, and legal standing with an active 501(c)3 status with the IRS.

2. We confirm that each nonprofit demonstrates a local impact. We’re starting with the nearby nonprofits helping in our community, and plan to launch more cities in coming months.

3. We want our collective contribution to make a meaningful difference to the organization. We meet with each featured nonprofit to discuss their capacity for additional budget and plans for growth.

3. Donors often dread the follow up

It seemed like no one looks forward to what happens after they donate; we heard many stories about how people were bombarded with requests for more donations.

Instead, donors want to know the impact of their contribution. Is their donation being put to good use? What impact did it have?

Our approach: Impact reports + control over your info

All donors on ALMA will receive a monthly report that shows the impact of their donation, as well as the overall impact of the ALMA community together.

To help you avoid getting unwanted mail and follow ups, we never share your contact info with a nonprofit without your permission. You can communicate with each nonprofit through the app without agreeing to get any email, mail, or phone calls directly from them. As an extra benefit, we’ll issue you one tax receipt at the end of the year on behalf of all the charities.

4. Donating feels one sided

People want more out of donating. They don’t just want to give away money, they want to make a difference in the causes they care about.

The donors we spoke with want to feel a sense of community after they contribute. They want to get to know the nonprofit, and meet other like-minded donors. Rather than solicitations for more donations, they were hoping for opportunities to dive in deeper and get more connected.

Our approach: Build community

We’ll offer opportunities to go beyond just donations through volunteering, meetups and community events. Members of the ALMA community will get invitations to exclusive events with the featured nonprofits.

Early days of the app in the making

Want to be one of our first 100 members?

We have a limited number of invites available if you’d like to join our pilot. Sign up for early access at alma.app and we’ll send you a link to the app before it’s released to the public.

Feedback is a gift, and we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Michelle & Dan