Fundraising First Steps

Before jumping into specific details about fundraising plans, it is important to step back and think through a few key issues.

  1. Develop a fundraising goal. How much money will you need for the next year? This figure is typically determined by looking at the previous year’s budget and identifying any additional expenses due to new programs, increased participation rates, or anticipated one-time costs such as roof repairs, a new computer, etc.  It is also worthwhile to look at the amount of money raised the previous year and whether you anticipate being able to raise a little more (by adding an additional fundraising event) or suspect you may not be able to raise quite as much (perhaps due to a downturn in the economy or the closure of a local business that employed many of your donors). Be as realistic as possible. In general, it is better to slightly underestimate what you will raise and be pleasantly surprised than to overestimate and end the year in the red.
  2. Identify available fundraising assets. Part of fundraising creativity is figuring out how to use an organization’s unique strengths to raise money.  Each group has different resources. These could include physical assets (a beautiful location, an old gym, a truck, or a fancy computer system). They could also be skills (a volunteer who is a great cook) or relationships (a board member who seems to know absolutely everyone in town) or simply a compelling mission (teaching disadvantaged youth to train guidedogs for the blind). Identifying the full range of available resources may take some time (people are often shy to offer up skills that they think of as hobbies), but will help point the way to successful fundraising strategies you might not otherwise have thought about. This process will also naturally help identify gaps in your organization’s assets. For example, if your asset list doesn’t include grant writing experience and you decide to pursue grants as one of your fundraising strategies, you’ll need to address this lack – by finding grant writing, taking a class, etc.
  3. Consider the full range of fundraising options before deciding what to do. By all means, if you have a strategy that is a tried-and-true money maker for your organization, don’t give it up on a whim. However, nonprofits sometimes get stuck in a rut, repeating the same fundraising strategies every year regardless of how effective they are. The list of options is long, including major gift campaigns, earned income projects, grants, government contracts, web solicitation, various direct mail strategies and all the special events options from golf outings and wine tastings to pancake breakfasts and silent auctions. At least take the time to consider all your options and compare them to your asset list before making your final fundraising plan. You may want to spend some time looking on the internet for organizations similar to yours – see what interesting ideas they’ve come up with to raise money.
  4. Develop a realistic fundraising plan. Identify all the fundraising activities you plan to undertake to meet your financial goal. As with an investment portfolio, it is a good idea to include several different types of fundraising strategies. This could include two direct mail solicitations of existing supporters, three grant applications, cultivation of five new major donors, and one big fundraising event. Be realistic about the amount of money you can expect to raise from each of these activities and how much each will cost you in terms of supplies, marketing materials and staff time. It is a good idea to create a calendar identifying when activity will occur on each fundraising effort to make sure you aren’t working on 4 different things in November and nothing in August. It is also a good idea to set up a system for checking in regularly on your progress to make sure you are hitting your targets and, if not, either ramp up fundraising activities or look for places to trim the budget.

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