May 1, 2023

These Founders Pivoted From Services to Software to Scale Their Impact

Founder Stories
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When Murray Bunton and Tom Maitland, Co-Founders of Raisely, talk about scale, they don’t just mean scaling their team or their tech. With decades of experience serving clients in the nonprofit industry — first as an agency, and now as an innovative fundraising software company — the two have big goals around the impact they want to create. 

Since 2016, Raisely has helped nonprofits and charitable organizations raise $250M. In their new chapter working with Aplos and ASG, the next milestone they have their sights on is helping nonprofits raise $1B online. 

We sat down with the pair recently to hear more about their founding story, their thoughts on how software can empower nonprofits to do more good, and what they’re most excited about in this next chapter. 

An Interview with Raisely Co-Founders, Murray Bunton and Tom Maitland

Tell us about Raisely’s founding story! How did the business come to be?

Tom: Raisely was founded out of Agency, which was a creative studio for social change that Murray founded. Through our work there, we were seeing that our nonprofit and charity customers weren't really able to access digital fundraising because it was slow and expensive to set up. 

Plus, many of the platforms out there didn’t give charities any control over their own data or space for their own brand and style.

We started Raisely to try to make online fundraising accessible to charities all over the world. We wanted to build a platform that was white-label, and something charities could build and innovate on, where they could own the full supporter experience. Today, you can get started with online fundraising in minutes, for free. 

founders pivoted from services to software

We did this because as individuals we wanted to use our technical skills for good. To be able to scale out this technology meant we wouldn't just support 10 or 20 charities who had the ability to work with us as an agency. We could potentially support thousands, or even tens of thousands of charities all across the world to create these campaigns.

Murray: As Tom mentioned, we’d developed an understanding of nonprofits from our work with them as customers at Agency. I think it’s worth mentioning that a lot of the people we have on our team today — over half — also come directly from the nonprofit sector, which gives us shared, firsthand empathy for the challenges these organizations are facing. 

That's certainly my background too, as my first job was working for the 40 Hour Famine, which is a World Vision international peer-to-peer fundraiser. Building tools the 40 Hour Famine uses today really feels like coming full circle for me personally. 

What did the shift from services to product mean in terms of your leadership of the company and the team you built? 

Tom: Culturally, not much changed. The agency was built on a very strong values foundation and always worked for incredible purpose-driven clients. 

It’s freeing that you’re charging for your product, instead of your time and that you can set and control your direction. We did learn over time that to support our customers best in a product structure we needed to shift our way of thinking, and prioritize things that will scale and grow with our business. 

We've made Raisely as accessible as possible for as many organizations as possible through our pricing model, we just needed to make sure we had an incredible team who were equally impact driven to make that sustainable. 

Murray: Our agency background actually served us really well since it was all about working lean, hustling, and being ambitious about what we could get done on a limited budget. 

Nonprofits don’t have huge budgets, and investing in large software is just not something many charities have the luxury of doing. I think the attitude of working within those constraints served us well. If we had completely started over with a by-the-book product management philosophy, we would probably still be in beta.

You both just mentioned culture — it’s been so clear every time we’ve talked to you how important that is to both of you. How have you approached building the Raisely team and intentionally creating your culture?

Tom: We’re a remote company. You have to be very intentional about culture when you’re remote, otherwise, you have none, and there’s a risk of it being a soulless place to work. We pay attention to both the smallest details — like making it the norm to have cameras on during calls — to the biggest times where we interact as a team on our staff retreats.

We can’t spend our entire days on Zoom calls, so we’re a team of good writers. Fundamentally, building a great culture means treating everyone like adults — offering the trust, flexibility and space for everyone to bring their best and whole selves to work. With this approach, we quickly ended up with a team full of incredible people who are well-connected and work together towards our shared mission.

Our structure is very flat, and we try to make sure that decisions are owned by the team. We have a lot of transparency at Raisely, including transparent books, and open chats about product strategy and frank conversations about our growth with our whole team. 

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Our culture is built on a foundation of improving the wellbeing of people and planet, which includes our team and customers. It’s been very logical for us to implement policies such as flexible work, sharing Australian entitlements with our global team, and allowing our team to choose when they take their public holidays. 

We also started a four-day week, which has been going incredibly well for a year. We’re so proud we can offer this, but it only works because our team takes ownership over their work and our culture at Raisely. It’s a very productive four days! 

You’re the second ASG company with a four-day week, and it’s such a hot topic right now. How did you decide to go for it, and what have your learnings been so far? 

Tom: I love that we're the second company; I really want to learn more about the first because that's pretty remarkable!

We’ve been doing the four-day workweek for a year. I think Raisely’s always been a company on the forward-looking side of work culture and benefits. We were remote before that was the normal thing to do. We've had flexible leave policies and embraced flexibility before that was the normal thing to do. So the four-day week very much followed that trend for us. 

But it also came out of us looking at some of our staff who wanted to go part-time. We've got people with all different circumstances, and we’ve always had some people who were working four days, even in very senior positions. These people were our early-adopters, proved that a day less work didn’t mean less responsibility, but wore the cost personally. 

It was a conversation with our Head of Customer Success, Jordan, that prompted us to think about offering a Four Day Workweek to everyone. We did our research, and every company that has done this said it was amazing, so we gave it a punt. 

Murray: In Australia,  ‘give it a punt’ means ‘give it a go, have a try.’ And also, every time we say ‘organisation,’ those were s’s, not zeds.

Tom: We proposed a trial and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. We kicked it off, and ran weekly surveys asking all of us, how we were feeling, and how it was affecting our work, life, and mental health. After three months, we did a full evaluation of all the data we had collected over the trial. We found that productivity hadn't dropped. Our energy, mental health, and happiness at work had all  gone up substantially.

There really wasn't a reason for us to not continue at that stage. We're always evaluating it. We don't want to slip into old habits, but it holds us to a very high standard of productivity for the four days a week that we do work. 

Murray: It was a pretty easy decision, given the effect it had on the team's productivity. As a leader in a business, if you have the opportunity to do this for someone and the numbers show it works, why wouldn't you? It's amazing. 

Being able to leave work on time and having a full personal life made a huge difference for me personally. And so, collectively, we all had that experience and knew the positive impact it could have on our team. In terms of competitiveness in the hiring process, why wouldn't we want to take advantage of that?

When you work as hard as you are to build a culture, hiring people who can do the work but also share the values you’ve built on becomes really important. How do you approach hiring?

Tom: We want to build a diverse team and we’re very upfront about our mission, vision, values, and the fact that we are a remote company. 

When recruiting, we look for an incredible skill set and someone who will bring more than just their role to Raisely. If someone is just looking for a job or a generous leave policy, that's not enough. We need to see that they are committed to our values and mission to build the best fundraising software for charities before we make the decision to hire them.

Tell us a little more about meeting the ASG and Aplos teams. How did you decide we would be your best partner for your next phase of scaling, considering there were many options available?

Murray: We went into that process intentionally, knowing that we couldn't achieve the breadth of product we wanted to scale to on our own. We recognized that building a Salesforce challenger, an email automation tool, and an accounting tool for charities all in one product was beyond our capacity as a bootstrapped company. 

Although there is an opportunity in the market for an all-in-one product, the incumbents who offer them don’t do things optimally, so there’s room for improvement. 

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So, finding a partner was necessary, but finding the right partner who shared our values and ethos, and who would build on what we've built rather than change our core values, was imperative. That's why a values match was so important to us. 

You've been very candid about having some concerns around American work culture. How did you gauge that when you were interviewing us or other potential partners? 

Murray: You just seemed different from our assumptions of what a firm like ASG would be, as well as our assumptions of what American workplace culture would be. 

My sister lives and works in America, and the four minutes of leave that you get from many companies for the year is tough, especially by European or Australian standards. You miss out on a lot of life just by doing that. 

So yeah, I think meeting you all and knowing that there's a genuine commitment there, and knowing that you are humans outside of work with hobbies and interests is really important. We got to know that with everyone we met across the teams from early on. That plus your people-first culture has certainly shown through.

Let’s talk about the nonprofit sector. You’ve both worked deeply in this space for more than a decade, and you’ve been vocal about it being a sector that’s underserved by technology. What are the challenges you see nonprofits facing today and what are the gaps you still see in tech to address them?

Tom: I’d still say nonprofits are underserved by technology, but the world has come a long way. Certainly, we've played a large role in that, and there are other software companies like Aplos serving the nonprofit world that are doing incredible things, too. 

One of the challenges is that nonprofits are often forced to use scraps of commercial tools that weren't designed for them. 

This held nonprofits back because the back-of-house team at a nonprofit are always time-poor generalists, responsible for everything from finances to website development. They need tools to help them achieve more, in a short period of time, without being an expert in everything.

We’re focusing on online fundraising because it should become the majority source of revenue for nonprofits. All of the other fundraising sources are very expensive, time-consuming or unreliable. I think that's important for the sustainability and growth of the industry as a whole.

Let’s talk more about fundraising specifically. Peer-to-peer fundraising has exploded in recent years, and there are so many well-deserving causes pulling for people’s attention. Do you feel like that's shifted how nonprofits do fundraising work?

Murray: I was talking to a charity in Ireland last night, and they were discussing this very issue. They had launched a large peer-to-peer campaign, but then a much larger charity came out with a very similar campaign. 

While competitiveness can add noise, charities have always had to navigate significant challenges. During COVID, everyone had to reinvent their operations to be virtual, and now they need to reinvent them again as people want to meet up. 

Even before the internet, peer-to-peer fundraisers had a lifecycle, often lasting three years before losing momentum. The 40 Hour Famine, which I mentioned earlier, has been going since the mid-70s, which is an impressive feat for any fundraiser, but reinvention and regular refreshes are always core business for charities.

Tom: I’d add that having an incredible donor experience is crucial to the success of fundraising, much like any kind of marketing. 

If a business invests in getting customers to visit their website but the website is terrible and none of them convert, it's a lot of wasted effort. On the other hand, if the website is amazing, the customers get a huge amount of value from the effort. 

Charities are trying to do the same thing — they're trying to find people who care about their cause and convince them to get involved in some way, whether it's signing a petition, participating in a fundraiser, or making a donation. But if the experience isn't good, people won't do it. 

If we can get that software in front of thousands of charities and iteratively improve it, even small improvements in things like average gift or conversion rates can significantly amplify the impact of that technology across the entire user base. 

For example, when we introduced Apple Pay and Google Pay to our donation flow, we were able to improve the mobile conversion rate for our customers overnight. This kind of change would be much harder to achieve without the support of unified software. 

We're currently working on some donation form upgrades to increase regular giving and average donation amounts, and the fact that we can test and roll out those changes to all of our 2,000 customers is a significant lever of change. We're excited for that to be 10,000 or 20,000 customers as we grow in this next chapter.

Let’s talk about the next chapter. What are each of you most excited about?

Murray: For me, we've had ambitions to grow in America, and joining Aplos in ASG’s nonprofit vertical gives us a chance to accelerate that. Knowing that there's a great opportunity down the line with Aplos means that we're able to serve the biggest charity market in the world. 

We've got a great product, but we're not very well-known. We were talking to a potential customer yesterday and they were like, "How come I haven't heard of you guys?" But once we show our product, by the end of the call, they're planning their first campaign. So, I think there's a huge opportunity both with Aplos, and generally in America for this kind of software to make a significant impact on charities. 

Tom: I’d echo Murray, and for me it’s also the chance to be part of a bigger community. It’s evident that ASG and Aplos have an incredible group of people who have done this before, who are familiar with the industry and scaling companies of our size to the next phase of growth. 

I think we have a lot to learn from those people. I know we could figure it out ourselves, but it would be harder, and it would take longer. I don't want to miss the opportunity that we have in front of us to serve tens of thousands of charities globally. 

I'm excited that joining this community will help us access that quickly and effectively, and we can learn from the mistakes of past companies and past careers of everyone in that community. So, I think it's a huge opportunity here.

Looking for the right partners for your next chapter?

If you're a software founder thinking about the next chapter for your business, we’d love to connect and answer any questions you might have. Get in touch.


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