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Fundraising Home


1. Who Gives Money?
2. Fundraising Ideas
3. Fundraising Plan
4. Fundraising Team
5. Staying Organized
6. Communicating
7. Technology
8. Successful Fundraising
9. Fundraising Mistakes
10. Conclusion
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Communicating Your Need For A Generous Donation

In simplest terms, fundraising is really communications work: you communicate your need for a donation. You will want to reach your donors and communicate why your non-profit group deserves money and why your purpose or efforts are worthwhile.  The groups that do this successfully generally manage to earn more money than the groups that do not.

If you want to raise money, you will have to work hard on communicating acceptable generosity with your donors.  There are several ways that you will be communicating with donors:

•Advertising: Through advertising, you will try to catch donor’s attention and will try to explain why your non-profit is crucial enough to deserve donor money.  In advertising, you will communicate through words and images and sounds (if you are advertising through radio or television).  Non-profits can advertise fundraising plans through radio, television, Internet, posters, newspapers, and magazines.

•Letters: Every non-profit uses words to communicate with donors, grant providers, and others through letters.  Letters need to be well-written and professional.  Direct mail letters may require “extras” such as photos or images to really capture attention.

•Email/Internet: Today, you can expect to use the Internet or email to give information to donors.  Use the same techniques and rules in email and Internet communication as you would in letters. You do not want to harass someone or be accused of harassment for a donation.

•Telephone: You will be using the telephone to call donors, follow up with workers, and to finalize details of fundraising efforts.  You will need to use pleasant and professional phone manners to use the telephone effectively.

•Thank-you notes: You should never overlook these.  Every person who helps you non-profit should be made to feel appreciated through a thank you.

•Person to person: You will need to speak to people in order to convince them of the importance of your non-profit.

•Grant proposals: Grant proposals are a very formal and precise way of communicating.  Grant providers will tell you in their application exactly what they want to see from you in order to make a funding decision.

•Press Releases: Press releases are sent to the media and tell newspapers, radio, and other media the latest news about your non-profit and your fundraising efforts.

•Campaigning/Marketing/Public Relations: A more subtle form of advertising, marketing has to do with gaining exposure for your non-profit’s fundraising through articles, radio spots, and interviews.

You may not use each technique each time you communicate for a donation, but you need to master all these forms of communication in order to get a steady source of fund for your group.  Luckily, learning to master these areas is not hard.  There are many books about communicating effectively at your library and you may in fact have someone in your group already who is good with words and who can communicate effectively.

Let’s consider each area of fundraising communication separately:


You may want to put advertisements in the newspaper in order to advertise your organization's donation efforts.  Whether your ad is a small ad in the local paper or a spot on the radio, you will want to make sure that you give the information and the emotional appeal you need to get your ideas across.  If you are announcing a specific event (marathon, sale, or other event) be sure that you include the basic information such as time, place, day, and details of the actual event.

It is important that you place your advertising where your intended donors will see it.  If your non-profit is a local children’s charity, you will likely not be advertising in national adult magazines.  Instead, you will want to advertise in the local paper on the “family” page.  If you can afford it, get ads in weekly papers or in the Saturday or weekend edition of a daily (more people read the weekend edition of the daily local paper, in most cases).  Radio and television ads are also great, but can be expensive.

You can try asking companies to offer advertising for free.  A local advertising company, for example, may agree to design an ad for you.  Newspapers or radios (especially local media outlets) may offer to let your non-profit advertise for free as a donation.  To ask, write a letter and follow up with a phone call to the media’s marketing director.  Even if you have to pay for your advertising (many media outlets are reluctant to give away advertising as this is how they make money), it is important to advertise your fundraising efforts if you want donors to respond with donations.

You should not overlook inexpensive or free methods of advertising:

•Bulletin board advertisements in grocery stores, schools, and on telephone poles

•Announcements in schools and churches

•Posting information on online local forums (online forums designed for people in your town or city).

•Advertising in the local community calendar. Most towns and cities have free community event listing either online or in some publication.  People frequently check here for upcoming events and news.

•Classified ads cost only a few dollars, but if your non-profit is holding a sale, classifieds are the perfect place to advertise as this is often a key place serious “flea marketers” will check when deciding which sales to go to.

•Walking Advertisements: Volunteers can hand out printed ads or carry ads on themselves in the form of printed t-shirts or printed boards.


No matter what your fundraising strategy, you will likely not be able to escape letters.  Even if you have already decided on a specific event to raise money, you will likely need to write letters in order to request space or services, and you will want to write letters to the media or to others who can help promote your event.

Writing good letters is not a hard skill but it does take practice.  Letter writing is a formal way of communication, meaning that there are certain rules you must follow.  You need to include the contact information of yourself and the person you are writing to at the top of the letter.  You must include a date, a salutation (“Dear Mr. Jones:”) and the text of a letter.  You need to include your signature at the bottom of a letter.

While those are the mechanics of a letter, many non-profits are still mystified about what to put in a letter when they are fundraising.  What you write will depend on who you are writing to and why.  If you are writing to a business for support (and this includes the media), then you will want to keep things professional and short.  You will want to communicate who you are, what you are asking, how much is usually given and why your letter is important.  Consider the following example of a letter asking for support:

J. Doe                                                                          James Do
Felicitations Child                                                         Acme Company
134 Acme Ave.                                                            14 USA Drive
London, ST USA                                                         Anyplace, USA           
(555) 555-5555

3 December 2005

Dear Mr. Do,

I represent Felicitations Child, a newly registered non-profit organization in London.  We are aiming to provide children in our area with reading materials and the tools they need to become lifelong readers.  To accomplish this, we are trying to have bookmobile set up to provide children in disadvantaged areas with the benefits of a library.

We are planning on hosting a book sale on Feb. in order to raise money for this project.  We are hoping that your publishing company will be able to provide some unused or unsold books to donate for sale.  We will be able to provide signs noting that the books are from your company and we will be glad to distribute your catalogue to book buyers as well, if you wish.

I will telephone you next week at 3:00 in order to discuss this project and your possible donation or other contribution.  We are very excited about this project, as it would fix the problem of lack of libraries in London; a problem that you yourself noted in a recent interview is a “terrible shame.”

I look forward to speaking with you and I hope we can count on your generous support.


J. Doe

This letter, although not perfect, does several things:

•Explains clearly who is writing and why - people are busy today and appreciate not having their time taken up.

•Explains exactly what is expected (donations of books) by when (Feb.)

•Gives a follow-up possibility.  By telling the owner of the company when she will call, J. Doe makes it clear that she will follow up.  By the time she calls, the company owner will likely have decision made and they can discuss the project.  If the owner has not looked at “J. Doe’s” letter, even, she has an instant “in” to talk to the owner of Acme Company - “I am calling about the letter I sent to you a week ago concerning the Felicitations Child book project.”

•Asks for something feasible - rather than asking for money, J. Doe asks for something that is more likely to be given - books that a publisher may have a surplus of anyway.

•Targets the donor. From what J. Doe says, the owner of Acme is a supporter or literacy (or at least someone who want to appear as a supporter in an interview).  By reminding the owner of this, J. Doe suggests why Acme might want to support the project.

•Suggests value added.  J. Doe mentions that donating books will provide Acme with some free publicity.  The owner may like knowing that his company will be supported.

•Maintains a professional tone. The letter is friendly but not overly familiar.  It reads like a business letter, which is the appropriate tone for this sort of letter.

In general, if you are writing to other groups, keep it professional.  If writing to individual donors, you will want to add “extras.”

For example, if you are putting together a direct mail appeal to donors, be sure to include anecdotes, pictures, and small cards or other items in the letter to show donors the importance of what you are doing.  J. Doe from the above example may begin a letter to an individual donor by stating: “Have you ever wondered what books mean to a child?  For six year old Annette in London, books are her best friend.  The little girl loves to read, but unfortunately can only do so once a month, when her class visits the local library across town.  You can help Annette read the books that make her world come alive.  Felicitations Child is currently working to bring a bookmobile to the inner city where Annette lives...” This anecdote and the appeal to the “you” help make it clear to the donor why he or she should be donating.  When writing to donors you will want to:

•Use anecdotes or tell in stories why the donor should donate to your cause.

•Include photos or pictures that capture the eye.

•Include a pre-addressed stamped envelope for donations (and provide several ways to make donations)

•Use a less formal tone than you would use in a business letter (you do not have to follow the business letter format covered above, either.

Do not overlook paper.  Whether you are writing to a donor or a business or group, use a good quality paper that is white or cream in color.  A heavy bond is best.  Your letter or note should have plenty of white spaces, rather than being “cramped” onto the top of a sheet. Make sure that your envelope matches the paper of your letter and ensure that the envelope contains all the materials the person you are writing to needs.  The easier you make it for someone to help your non-profit, the more likely your group is to get the support it needs.


Email and Internet communication is becoming more common. Despite spam, it is not unreasonable to expect a donation. It is quite possible that donors and supporting companies and groups will contact your non-profit via email or other online means (such as Instant Messaging) in order to ask you questions about your fundraising efforts and to find out more about your group.

In general, email and Internet communication is similar to letter writing.  You will want to begin with a salutation, add a body of text, and close off with your name or a sign off of some sort.  However, online communication tends to be more casual.  It is perfectly ok to use a casual salutation such as “hello,” Also, the body text of online notes and messages tends to be shorter. When writing online, use smaller sentences and paragraphs, as people often only skim online communications.  The formal formatting and closing of a letter are also not necessary.  A simple “thank you” or “best wishes,” is often adequate to close.

One thing about email and online communication is that it is not completely safe.  You do not quite know who you are speaking to online or who else may be monitoring your transmission.  For this reason, you should not share personal information over online channels and never allow donors to pass on their credit card numbers, banking information, or other personal data in an email or instant message.  It is best to keep online communication general.  Offer the donor or person you are “chatting” with online some basic information and provide contact information (such as a telephone) for further contact.


If you are telemarketing, you will need to worry about telephone communication a great deal, but even if you are not you should strive to make your telephone communication with others as effective as possible. Always identify yourself and your non-profit group when you answer the phone or call someone in regards to fundraising business.

Modulate your voice so that you are speaking neither too loud not too quiet.  Also strive to speak at a good pace - one that is neither so fast as to be incomprehensive or so slow as to be annoying.  Be polite on the phone and take care not to keep someone waiting on the line.  If you are not sure how you sound on the phone, tape yourself and evaluate how pleasant your phone is.  A little practice can help you alter your phone manners and phone voice enough to make a very good impression.

Thank-you notes

Few non-profits send thank-you notes to their donors, citing high costs.  This is truly a shame.  Thank you notes can make anyone feel appreciated, especially if they are handwritten.  It does not cost much to have notes printed and then to take the time to sign each note.  Donors will remember your non-profit with a smile.

If you want future fundraising to be effective, and if you can at all afford it, do send thank you notes.  Even if this is not possible, do find some other way of thanking those who support you. At the very least, send handwritten thank you notes to the groups and companies who support you (and to your volunteers!) and find some other way to thank the many individual donors who help you fundraise.

“Thank you” is a word you need to say often while fundraising for a donation.  You need to remind others that their efforts are a valuable gift and one that is well appreciated by your non-profit. When thanking donors and supporters, be sure to note your non-profit group’s name and purpose and offer a reminder of what programs or facilities generous support will be able to ensure.  This will help make those people you are thinking rightfully proud of what they have contributed.

Person to person

Talking to another person is one of the most challenging forms of communication for most us, especially if we are naturally shy.  However, if you are fundraising for your non-profit, this is a form you will have to master (especially if you are canvassing door to door!).  You need to make sure that each person in your group who deals with the public (this includes sellers at the bazaar, door to door volunteers, and marathon organizers - anyone dealing with donors and potential supporters) has good personable manners.  Attributes of good person to person contact include:

•Eye contact: Making occasional eye contact (not staring) lets people know that you see them and that you are listening to them.  It makes the people you are talking to feel more comfortable.

•Manners: Being polite and kind helps put people at ease and allows them to focus on what you are saying.

•Good body language.  Good body language means that your movements and posture (the way you use your body) is pleasant rather than jarring.  Smooth movements and a minimal of hand movements put your listener at ease and allow him or her to focus in what you are saying.  A hunched posture, shoulders raised nervously and jerky movements will make your listener uncomfortable and may cause him or her to try to avoid you - not exactly the reaction you want if you are fundraising!

•A smile.  Smiling gives a listener the message that they are liked and accepted.  It also makes you seem less threatening.

•Good distance. Standing too close or far away can put your listener on the defensive.

•Congruence.  If your voice is pleasant and kind but you are scowling or your movements are agitated, you will not seem very trustworthy. Your movements, body language, voice, message, and appearance should match.

•Pleasant voice: A well-modulated voice that is easy to hear and understand will go a long way in making someone listen to you.

•Pleasant speaking style. If you are personable (making small comments or engaging with a listener in some way) will put your listener at ease and will help ensure that your request for fundraising is listened to.  Simply listing your group’s mission and request for money will not inspire anyone. A lively speaking style, a joke, or even a comment on the weather will make you seem less like an automaton and more like a person who should be listened to.

•Appearance.  Although looks are obviously a personal issue, a clean-cut and pleasant appearance is still most likely to result in “yes” responses to fundraising.  People simply do not trust people who look dangerous or frightening to them.

For some lucky people, these basics of talking to others are automatic - they seem to make friends wherever they go.  For everyone else, person to person contact is a learned skill.  You may not think it has much to do with fundraising. But if your style of communication is unappealing to people, you will not be able to make much headway in fundraising.

If you can appeal to people by communicating with them, you are more likely to succeed as a fundraiser.

It does not take much to acquire people skills that can help you fundraise.  Practice talking, smiling, and making eye contact in the mirror (yes, it feels silly, but it really works).  Better yet, video tape yourself and note what areas of personal communication you need to work on. There are toastmasters clubs that can help give you some tips and practice with oral communication, and these are well worth checking out if you want to become a master communicator who can convince donors to support your group.

Grant proposals

Grant proposals or applications will be an important part of your fundraising, as often you can get large sums of money for writing an effective grant application.  Grant applications often have several components, which may include:

•Letters of reference

•A formal proposal of what you intend to do with the grant money

•A formal explication (with supporting evidence) of what your non-profit group is

•Plans for your programs or group’s facilities

•A business plan for your group

•Information about resources you have and a list of resources you need

•Information about your workers/group members/volunteers

•Future plans and goals for your group

•Financial papers that show what your group needs

The grant application will tell you what material you need to submit.  It is vital that you follow all directions for filling out the application to the letter.  Many grant providers will automatically throw out or reject any applications that do not follow application instructions.

If you can, look at an example of a successful grant application to get a sense of what sorts of applications get a specific grant.

Grant providers want to make sure that the money from the grant is used as well as possible.  That means that in your proposal you need to prove that your group is focus, organized and responsible enough to use grant money wisely.  Grant providers also want to make sure that their grant money goes to a group that uses the money in a useful way.

In your application, stress how many people your group can help with the money and how the grant money will be used to create a better life for people in some way.  The more compelling reasons you give grant providers that you will use the money carefully and effectively, the more likely you are to get the grant.

Press Releases

Press releases are essentially announcements to the media about an important even that is taking place.  You should be able to write good press releases in order to cheaply advertise your non-profit’s fundraising efforts.  In general, you will want to write a press release to announce the start of your group, another press release to mark the opening of facilities for your group, and other press release to announce fundraising efforts such as marathons or fairs.

There is a specific way of writing press releases.  Sometimes, the media will use actual quotes from the pres release in their articles or news items, so you need to make sure that your press release is written in an engaging style.  Consider the following press release:

Media Release
J. Doe
Felicitations Child
134 Acme Ave.
London, ST USA
Phone: 555/ 555-5555
FAX: 555/555_5554
Email: j.doe@felicitaions
August 12, 2005

New Non-Profit Group Defends Childhood Reading from Development

(London, ST, USA) - Felicitations Child, a new non-profit organization established in London, has announced a fundraising effort to bring a Bookmobile into the inner areas of London.  According to J. Doe, director of Felicitations Child, “This is a very exciting time for us.  We have long noted that our city does not support many libraries, and children’s literacy skills seem to be falling as a result.”  Recent reports on the state of education in the inner city have suggested that literacy among children is quite low and test scores in reading and writing are well below average. A donation does help this.

J. Doe blames development, which three years ago claimed the old library building, which was torn down to make way for new condo complexes.  Annie Law, a volunteer at Felicitations Child, notes that the newly developed organisations “have received many calls from worried educators and parents who feel that the children on inner city London are not reading enough.  A library is badly needed, as many of the children in these areas come from families who simply cannot afford to buy books.” According to Law, the bookmobile would travel to all the neighbourhoods between Upper Ninth and Upper West a few times a week in order to bring reading material to these areas.  Although children’s books would be plentiful, reading material for adults and non-fiction books would also be made available.  In the future, Felicitations Child hopes to raise enough money to bring books to house-bound readers and to outlying areas of the city.  As Law notes, “In the future, we imagine several book mobiles that will bring books to anyone who needs or wants them in our area.”

Felicitations Child was founded by Doe three months ago after the director of the current non-profit group read about the falling rates of book reading in London.  As Doe notes, “I grew up on Upper Ninth and we had an old library there.  I can’t believe it’s gone, and I can’t believe no one seems to have cared about the tearing down of the library.”  Incensed, Doe founded Felicitations Child to encourage literacy among school-aged children.  Already, Felicitations Child has found some support in Acme Company, publisher of Children’s books.  Felicitations child will be holding a book sale on Feb 18 at the Old Town Hall and will also host a marathon on March 19 in the Old House Park.

This press release does several things that you will want your own press release to do:

•It provides full contact information for the non-profit so that the media can contact J. Doe with questions

•It provides a title that can be used “as is” as a newspaper or article headline

•It gives a date for the press release and notes that the release can be used at once.  This means that the media can use this report at once.

•It immediately tells the reader what the press release is about.

•It provides quotes that media outlets can use in their reporting

•It is short enough to be readable but provides enough information for a short article or news report

•It lists the major fundraising efforts (including dates and locations) so that readers can take part in these.

Campaigning/Marketing/Public Relations

Marketing and public relations are similar to advertising but more subtle.  Advertising is clearly identified as advertising.  We all know what an ad looks like.

Marketing, PR, branding, and other like ways of advertising something, though, are more subtle.  Consider some of the more subtle ways to let people know about a non-profit or a fundraising venture:

•Have possible donors read about the group in an interview or newspaper article about new non-profit groups in the area.

•Have possible donors notice the group’s logo and name on caps, t-shirt, water bottles, and other items

•Have possible donors overhear people talking about a group in the elevator or on the street

•Have possible donors notice art work or street chalk drawings of a group’s logo and name

In most cases, this is a very sophisticated form of advertising used by large business corporations that have huge advertising budgets.  On a smaller scale, though, you can do your own donation marketing.  Consider the following ideas, which are possible even for a small non-profit:

•Appear on a local radio or even college radio show for an interview.  This may take some setting up, but some stations will agree.  During the interview, mention your group’s name and upcoming event.

•If any member of your non-profit group has a DJ friend, have that friend mention your non-profit at a club, gig, or on air.

•Offer to write an article for the local paper, a local online site, or a local magazine.  Refer briefly to the group and any fundraising efforts that are upcoming.

•Have caps or t-shirts with your non-profit’s name and logo on them and distribute these to people who will wear them.

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