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Starting a Fundraising Project

  • Fundraising is done inside-out

  • Donations start with the board

As a fundraising consultant, I am often asked how to start a fundraising project. Most organizations know what they need funds for but do not know from where the funds will come. Whether it is a first fundraising project or a new initiative in an established fundraising program, they all start in the same way - you start asking those closest to your organization for support. For a visual aid in the fundraising strategy, picture a dart board. At the center is your board of directors. In separate concentric circles moving away from the center are staff and volunteers, vendors, community businesses and individuals, and finally foundations.

Not all organizations will have all the circles and some may even have more. New nonprofits may start with fundraising from family and friends of those who started the organization. Whoever they are, always start with those who are closest. That is the point. They are the most likely donors and they are critical to building additional support. The more you move away from those closest to your organization, the more time and convincing each fundraising prospect will take.

If you approach someone who is unfamiliar with your organization, one of the first questions they will ask is what other sources of funding do you have? They will look to see if those with a stake in the organization have come forward with support. If the board does not support the project, why should anyone else? As for staff, the goal is not to raise a great deal of funds but rather to build a high percentage of participation at any level. This show of support can go a long way in convincing other prospects about the dedication of the organization and its people.

Vendors of an organization, those with whom you do business, should be asked to participate in a fundraising project. Some have policies against giving to organizations with whom they do business but you will never get less than zero which is worth the ask since you probably are already getting nothing. Sometimes you will be surprised to find that contacting a vendor may lead to a gift from a larger corporate foundation. Other times it may lead to a reduction in price for the services or products you are already receiving from the vendor but either way, more funds will be available for your organization's mission.

Now that your entire organization and those with a direct connection have been solicited for support, hopefully you have garnered a high level of participation. Reaching out into the community for fundraising, the ability to show that you have done all you can from your own people will add great credibility in seeking sources of funding from the outside.

Local business and community leaders have the next closest stake in your work and should be contacted next. Present the value of your work in the community and be prepared to discuss ways that you can help publicize the generosity of local businesses. While philanthropy is a primary motivation, businesses, and politicians, are also pleased to have opportunities for good public relations.

Finally, foundations should be approached with grant proposals. Start with local foundations first before moving on to national foundations. I have my own way of approaching foundations for clients and you should develop your own through trial an error. Pay attention to guidelines and deadlines, provide what is requested, make personal contact whenever possible, look for relationships that can tip a funding decision in your favor and write with conviction from your heart. Some people may not agree with my strategy, but I have found that it works for me and believe substance, commitment and conviction outweigh a professionally polished proposal.

No matter the fundraising project, I believe it is smart to always be prepared to prove that you have done all you can with the local resources you have before seeking additional support from afar. As you work your way through each circle, don't forget to ask those who make gifts to also become fundraisers by recommending others who may offer support and even making contacts to open doors for you.
 

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