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Mike Nellis is the Founder of Authentic, a marketing agency that specializes in online fundraising, media, and creative design, and has helped raise over $1 billion online. With a deep-rooted political background, including work for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, Mike possesses a profound understanding of engaging communities and stakeholders digitally. He’s also the Founder of, an Adweek 2023 AI Efficiency Award-winning tool designed to revolutionize online fundraising using generative AI technology.

tune in

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • [0:22] Mike Nellis’ journey in online fundraising
  • [2:57] How authenticity can lead to a political campaign’s success
  • [6:08] The essentials of effective email marketing
  • [8:31] The psychological impact of donations
  • [9:25] What direct response resources have influenced Mike Nellis
  • [16:17] How to foster a culture of well-being and productivity
  • [20:27] The benefits of shifting to a four-day workweek
  • [28:43] Techniques for managing time effectively through time blocking
  • [30:01] How leveraged celebrity power for voter engagement
  • [35:27]’s mission to assist social impact organizations

In this episode…

In the competitive world of online fundraising and political campaigns, staying ahead of the curve and maintaining a healthy organizational culture are crucial. Many organizations struggle with staff burnout, ineffective marketing strategies, and the relentless pace of technological change. Addressing these challenges requires both a deep understanding of the industry and a willingness to innovate.

Mike Nellis, fundraising and AI expert, is pioneering the space with his focus on authenticity and culture. By studying the successes of the Obama campaign, Mike recognized early on the power of personal connections and authenticity in online fundraising. He took this learning and started Authentic, where he emphasized nurturing a positive work environment and avoiding the pitfalls he experienced at other workplaces. Moreover, Mike embraced the future by founding, which leverages AI to streamline fundraising efforts and combat burnout.

In this episode of Inspired Insider Podcast, host Dr. Jeremy Weisz sits down with Mike Nellis, Founder of Authentic and, to discuss the intersection of AI and online fundraising. The two touch on utilizing email marketing tactics to elevate campaign strategies, the value of developing solid systems and processes for business efficiency, Mike’s journey from Obama’s campaign to founding a leading marketing agency, and the cultural shift toward a four-day workweek.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Special Mention(s):

Related episode(s):

Quotable Moments:

  • “Fundamentally, make sure that your email program is set up technically proficient so you can reach your people.”
  • “When you say ‘yes’ to something, you’re saying ‘no’ to something else.”
  • “We built this ugly prototype of a tool that could write quality fundraising emails; now we’ve got 100 different organizations using it.”
  • “Selling a feeling is not just politics — it’s at the core of all marketing.”
  • “Running an organization without clear vision is like swimming in different directions.”

Action Steps:

  • Optimize your email marketing strategy with personalization and authenticity. It creates a personal connection that motivates donors to contribute to the cause.
  • Introduce systems and processes to maximize efficiency and productivity. Streamlining operations helps focus on the most impactful work.
  • Experiment with a flexible workweek to reduce burnout and increase job satisfaction. Balance work and personal life to maintain a motivated and healthy team.
  • Keep abreast with technological advancements like AI, and consider their implementation to automate routine tasks. AI technology can handle repetitive tasks, allowing the team to focus on strategic initiatives.
  • Invest in understanding behavioral science behind donations and apply these insights in fundraising appeals. Leveraging the psychology of giving enhances engagement and donor retention.

Sponsor for this episode

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We’re a professional podcast production agency that makes creating a podcast effortless. Since 2009, our proven system has helped thousands of B2B businesses build strong relationships with referral partners, clients, and audiences without doing the hard work.

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We’ll distribute each episode across more than 11 unique channels, including iTunes, Spotify, and Google Podcasts. We’ll also create copy for each episode and promote your show across social media.

Cofounders Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran credit podcasting as being the best thing they have ever done for their businesses. Podcasting connected them with the founders/CEOs of P90xAtariEinstein BagelsMattelRx BarsYPOEOLending TreeFreshdesk, and many more.

The relationships you form through podcasting run deep. Jeremy and John became business partners through podcasting. They have even gone on family vacations and attended weddings of guests who have been on the podcast.

Podcast production has a lot of moving parts and is a big commitment on our end; we only want to work with people who are committed to their business and to cultivating amazing relationships.

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Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

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Episode Transcript

Intro  0:01

You are listening to Inspired Insider with your host, Dr. Jeremy Weisz.

Jeremy Weisz  0:22

Dr. Jeremy Weisz here Founder of I talk with inspirational entrepreneurs and leaders today is no different. I have Mike Nellis, he runs and And Mike, before I formally introduce you, I always like to point out other episodes, people should check out other podcasts. Actually, we are in EO together. That’s the Entrepreneurs’ Organization. We had a great conversation over one of the events dinner so he may tell some poker stories because I didn’t realize Mike has had some amazing success in the poker world, besides being an agency owner and software, SaaS business owner, but there’s some good ones and Mat Zalk of EO Tulsa, he talked about his journey.

Robert Hartline of EO, Nashville, talked about his journey building up a company to over $100 million and getting a chain of cell phone stores. He also has software too. So you know, just serial entrepreneur, type of person that was an interesting episode, and many more on This episode is brought to you by Rise25. At Rise25 we help businesses give to and connect to their Dream 100 relationships and how do we do that? We do that by helping you run your podcast. We’re an easy button for a company to launch and run a podcast. We do accountability, strategy and full execution. Mike, we call ourselves the magic elves that work in the background and make it look easy for the company, the host, so they can build amazing relationships and create amazing content. You know, for me, the number one thing in my life is relationships. I’m always looking for ways to give to my best relationships.

And I found no better way over the past decade to profile the people in companies I most admire and share with the world what they’re working on. So we thought about podcasting, you should if you have questions, go to We have a lot of free episodes and content Inspired Insider, all about podcasting if you want to learn more. So without further ado, I’m excited to introduce Mike Nellis. He’s a fundraising and AI expert with more than two decades of experience helping nonprofit organizations, political campaigns, he’s helped raise more than $1 billion online. He founded the Authentic marketing agency that specializes in online fundraising, paid media and creative design. He also founded Quiller, that’s that uses generative AI to revolutionize online fundraising and Quiller even received an AI efficiency of the Year Award by Adweek in 2023. So Mike, thanks for joining me.

Mike Nellis  2:55

Thanks for having me, Jeremy.

Jeremy Weisz  2:57

You know, before we get into the poker stories, which I want to hear, you know, just talk about authenticity in what you do for a second.

Mike Nellis  3:06

Sure. So I’ll talk a little bit about how I got to founding Authentic. So like you said, I have two decades of experience working for social impact organizations, that’s primarily nonprofits and political campaigns. I got my start working for Barack Obama in 2007, on his first presidential campaign, and I was a fellow, which was a fancy way of saying I wasn’t going to be paid to do the work. And but over time, I was able to kind of parlay that into a real job on a Senate campaign in Nebraska, which is where I’m from. And we were in a room. I was a finance assistant and finances. His job is, you know, making sure the candidate has coffee and has the numbers they need to call for, for dialing for dollars and donor calls.

And somebody in the room was like, “hey, Barack Obama is raising a lot of money through online marketing. Does anybody know how to do that?” And nobody did, because nobody had really done it before. And I was the youngest person in the room. I was 18 years old. And so we were just like, “Hey, Mike, go figure that out.” And I did, I sat down. And I basically copied exactly what the Obama campaign was doing at the time and built out a series of best practices. And we raised what at the time was like an unbelievable sum of money, which was like $700,000 over the course of a year. Now, I have clients that raise that on a good day. And so but over time, I worked my way up and became the vice president of a very large DC consulting firm that focused on online fundraising, and I got to focus on online marketing.

I really loved my clients. I love the team that I had, I love the work that I was doing was a really miserable place to work. It was a hostile and toxic work environment that was really poorly managed to run. And it’s a much longer and deeper story about that, which I’m happy to maybe not be happy about, but I will get into it if you want me to. But ultimately, I decided like Hey, I think I could do a better job of this. And so me and now my business partner, Lorenzo Shan, who is the president of our company, we both broke off from that from that company and started what would become Authentic so to us, we want to make err, that Authentic is a great place with a great culture with great people that is doing work for social impact organizations that they really care about.

And that can be nonprofit organizations, we work with the United Nations, we work with ODOT, or we work with the National Resources Defense Council. Or it can be like political campaigns, we worked with Joe Biden, I was a senior adviser to Kamala Harris for many years. So we work with other large political organizations and campaigns. And our services include online fundraising, which is like our bread and butter. But we also do digital paid media, would you advertising, we do some fun stuff with AI, which we’ll probably get into today. And we also do creative design.

Jeremy Weisz  5:37

So websites, Graphic Design Animation, so we’ll talk about like culture for a, you know, a will touch on the culture part, because you have some interesting initiatives that the company, but before we get to the culture part, with the Obama campaign, and you you, what were you seeing, and what were you modeling that was working then? And is that stuff still working today? Because you said, you know, you looked at Obama and you saw stuff working? And then you applied it? What was working? What were you modeling at that point?

Mike Nellis  6:08

Yeah, I would, I would say a couple of things. The first was, online fundraising was not necessarily new in 2008, like in 2004. For those who remember, Howard Dean’s presidential campaign had raised a significant chunk of money online. And then the Obama campaign sort of like skyrocketed that to raise unbelievable sums of money online, they broke a lot of records at the time that are now much smaller than than a lot of campaigns that we run, I think the thing that they were doing that was that was new, was they were taking tactics that had been used for direct mail, and porting them over to online. And then using CRMs.

So like the monetary equivalent of that would be Salesforce, but at the time was probably Blue State Digital, I would imagine. And they were also doing a great job of injecting authenticity and personality into that campaign. I mean, if you go back, if you’re someone who is old enough to remember what 2007 2008 was, like, we were in the middle of the Iraq war, people were really frustrated with our politics not dissimilar from today. And people wanted to kind of turn the page into something new and interesting. And I think a lot of people resonated with Barack Obama at the time, he was a new fresh face, he had young kids, you had an awesome wife, people wanted to connect with him.

And so they let that lead through and shine through in their program. And ultimately, to me, that is the most important thing for any marketing period. But it’s certainly important for online marketing, there’s going to be a lot of people here who are like, Mike, I get political emails all the time. And most of them are terribly written. And they’re very impersonal. And they’re just trying to scam and scare me into giving donations. And that’s true. That is how 80 to 90% of online fundraising programs are run, even in the nonprofit space, a lot of programs are run that way. And it’s not right.

What the Obama campaign pioneered and proved to me is like if you can build a connection between the candidate and the cause, and the and the user, or the or the voter, or the activist on the other end, you can actually just create rocket fuel from an online fundraising and an activist and an engagement standpoint. And so that was what we were copying. So I was working for a candidate named Scott club, who, frankly, had no chance of winning that Senate race in Nebraska. But he had an interesting personality. And he had a nice, beautiful family. And he had interesting things to say, and a lot of things resonated with a lot of people. And so we were able to build an email list of a couple 100,000 people who were really engaged in the race nationwide, and were willing to part with their dollars, you know, $5, $10, $25 at a time. And when you do that, you can kind of build something really special together.

Jeremy Weisz  8:31

I love what you said there. And this applies to all businesses, right? I mean, a lot of people study what the political landscape is when they’re doing marketing, right? When you look at direct response, you look at email, when you look at, you know, all the stuff that people are doing online. What were you finding? What have you found our do’s and don’ts of email? You’ve sent a tremendous amount of email. And it’s, I mean, the goal, the emails to raise money, it’s to have people donate, right in the case of the political campaigns, so which is not an easy thing to get someone to take their wallet out and entered in and in donate, and, you know, it’s for support. They’re not getting a good or a service with it. So what has worked and what are mistakes people make with email? Well,

Mike Nellis  9:25

I would push back on one thing you just said, yeah, right. There’s no good there’s no service, but people make donations because of the way that it makes them feel, right. There’s a lot of behavioral science to suggest that when people volunteer with an organization or when they donate to the Red Cross or any other NGO like that they’re doing it because it gives them a value and a self worth and an identity that they care deeply about. And I think that a lot of times when we’re in the weeds doing fundraising for you know, one of our nonprofits or one of our campaigns we sort of forget that we are like doing social marketing and we are selling like a feeling we are creating much And that’s a double edged sword.

So when you talk about do’s or don’ts, the do to me is focused on like lifting people up building something that’s sustainable, driving up intensity with a smaller group of people opposed to what I see a lot of campaigns doing what I would recommend not doing, which is trying to build the biggest email list possible. And then sending hundreds and millions of fundraising emails that are awful and lying and deceptive. And this is very common practice in the industry. And the truth is like, you can raise more money in the short term that way, but you raise way less money in the long term that way. And that leads me to sort of like the other like do on this as you have to make sure if you’re doing any email, and I know there’s lots of people, you know, working on like commercial entities and corporations and stuff like that, who are worried like with all the changes that are happening with with Google, Apple over the last couple of years, that it’s harder for them to get their marketing emails out.

It’s hard for them to do their outbound marketing, like, you have to fundamentally make sure that your email deliverability, which is your ability to reach people, so it doesn’t matter whether or not you send a good email or a bad email, if I press send in my CRM, to email, you know, 100,000 people, and 99% of them go to spam, you’re not even able to reach your people. And so it’s lowering your open rates, lowering your engagement. So you have to make sure that your program is set up technically proficient. So your demark records are set up, and you’re working with your CRM, and your domain provider to get all those things set up.

And political campaigns have actually been on the forefront of doing that, right, because we first wanted to get crack down on because frankly, a lot of our a lot of others in this space were abusing the leniency of the way that email had been operating. So now all these companies are cracking down on these, you know, Jeremy, you probably get a million of these b2b, you know, emails that people send where they’re like, hi, I really love your business. It’s so cool, and they’re generic and stupid. And they probably work at scale, I imagine but you’re gonna get cracked down on. So I think the number one thing you have to do is run a technically proficient program in order to be able to do everything else you got.

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