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Social Fundraising Platform Rally Plants Its Flag in Europe, Opens Up in Berlin

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Thursday, February 7 2013

Photo: Onnola/Flickr

Rally, the San Francisco-based social fundraising platform, whose users range from Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign to thousands of more esoteric personal charitable causes, threw open its doors for business Thursday in Berlin.

Thursday's opening is the result of more than a year's work on the part of its CEO Tom Serres to understand the European market for online fundraising, which is profoundly different from the one in the United States. In the realm of politics, for example, among many other differences, it's the parties that raise money for campaigns, and not individual candidates.

To better understand the needs of the market, Serres has been traveling to Europe and also worked with a friend from Germany to set up an office and incubator in Berlin. The idea is to host startups and events in the space to become more familiar with German business and social culture, and to provide a home-base for expansion all over Europe. Serres says he picked the location because "there's a really growing, vibrant and creative class here, and a huge amount of technology entrepreneurs who are home grown, as well as coming from other parts of the world to Berlin to work on startups."

Thursday's launch is limited to fundraisers who have bank accounts in Germany. Initial beta users include the nonprofit StartUp Weekend, which organizes events to help entrepreneurs network and find talent to start companies in short spaces of time; Muzup, an online music resources startup, and G1obals, a 'social' relocation service. Local citizens of Berlin have also started a fundraising page for a local park called the Prinzessinnengarten.

While there are various crowdfunding platforms for companies in Europe, Serres has found success in the United States promoting Rally as a storytelling platform for individuals who want to use it to promote awareness of causes, whether it be for non-profits or personal causes.

The company reports that it has more than 23,000 users in the United States. One particularly interesting cause recently in the news was an online fundraising campaign to bring the young Afghan actors in "The Buzkashi Boys," to the United States to attend the Oscars. "The Buzkashi Boys" is a fictional short movie about two impoverished teenagers who dream of becoming professional Buzkashi players, a sport in Afghanistan that resembles polo. The film was the result of The Afghan Film Project, an American-born filmmaker's non-profit effort in Afghanistan to rebuild the local filmmaking industry.

Rally is celebrating the launch of its service in Germany with a party Thursday evening, and everyone is welcome. The company is also holding a hackathon called "GiveCamp" this week-end.