People often ask how to raise money for their small or brand-new organization.
While no one answer is right for every organization, there are some basics that will help.
But first, some hard truths:
- Going from zero to sixty is not how it works.
- Donors don’t come from fundraisers’ contacts. Donors come from your organization’s contacts.
- Grantmakers are not likely to offer significant support if they’re not convinced you will survive.
- Donors need to know about you – and CARE about you – before they will give to you.
- Your passion for your cause is important, but not enough.
- Fundraising is a continuing process – you begin, but you don’t end.
- There is no cheap and easy way to raise money.
- And there is no lazy way to retain donors.
Consider carefully whether your organization is needed
Before you even begin to raise money, before you even file the papers, you should spend time thinking hard about your reasons for starting a new organization.
- Do you fill an unmet need?
- Is your mission both compelling and unique?
- Do you have the resources to launch?
- Are you focused on community good (or your own)?
If you answer “no” to any of the above, stop here. Look at your community – is another organization doing this work or something similar?
Instead of creating a new organization, can you join forces with an established one? Could your idea work as a project of a larger organization?
Are you convinced of the need? Have you talked to enough other people to be sure your perspective has merit? Then let’s begin.
In the beginning, there are volunteers
If you cannot attract the interest and commitment of enough volunteers who can help you get started, consider that a danger sign.
Nonprofit organizations need a board of directors. They also need people to do the work. Sometimes, these are the same people, particularly for a new and small organization.
You need people willing to commit: money, skills, and smarts. You can’t berate people into giving any of those things. You need a group of people as committed to your cause as you are.
Then there is fundraising
Fundraising will need to be at the center of your plans. Yes, I know you’re eager to get to the “mission-work”. But fundraising is mission, too.
Don’t think about finding people with money. Think about finding people with passion.
You must invest
Fundraising should be a profit center for your organization. But that happens when you invest to begin with. If you’re founding an organization, plan to invest a great deal of your time, your connections… and likely, your money as well.
What to invest in?
First, people. One-person shop right now? Look for help. Check with your local community foundation – sometimes they offer grants to hire a consultant. You will save yourself so much time and anxiety if you get professional advice as you build your fundraising program.
Systems – especially a good donor database. Excel isn’t really made for this. Some of the cheap or “free” alternatives need custom coding in order to work right. No idea where to start? This should help.
Plan for more than this year. A good system will support you and grow with you. Be certain it’s easy to use and will track everything you need it to. (Think about whether you’ll sell tickets, or need a membership or volunteer module.)
Relationships. That starts with your board. Then you all need to share your excitement about this new organization with your own circles. This doesn’t mean you have to begin with solicitations – please don’t. But on a personal level, let your friends and acquaintances know what you’re doing – and why. Invite them to see your mission in action – or a talk about why your organization is urgently needed.
Work to make friends now, not donors.
Communication and fundraising plans and execution.
You need marketing to spread the word widely. You need fundraising to raise money. If you’re not an expert in those fields, or don’t have the time to really focus on them, find help. It could be a consultant. It could be a part-time employee. Be ready to pay fairly and be flexible with time.
Be consistent. Don’t give up when your first fundraising request doesn’t get the response you want. Donors need to feel they can trust you. Building that trust takes time. That goes for institutional funders (corporations, foundations) and individuals. Resist the urge to flood prospects with requests and then move on to other things for months at a time. Ignore those prospects and you’ll fall right off their radar.
Instead, plan to communicate regularly – and NOT all about fundraising. Offer prospects and donors value. A great story. A chance to feel good. Information they wanted, but didn’t have. A chance to learn more, be more involved. Win their hearts and their gifts will follow.
Fundraising isn’t all of it, of course
You will need expert help for legal matters, human resources, and fulfilling your programming. But without a good plan for fundraising and communication, your new organization isn’t likely to thrive.
Be intentional. Be consistent. Be patient.
Then be successful.