Sometimes you need to raise funds in a hurry. It's easy to think, "We should have established a fundraising plan earlier!" That may be true, but it doesn't help now. Here are some ways to raise modest funds in a pinch. Because institutions like foundations, government, and service clubs typically take more than a month to make funding decisions, your best bet to raise money in 30 days usually involves asking individuals for donations.
Each of these techniques can raise a lot or a little depending on who is doing the organizing. For example, a house party in one organization can raise $500 in one evening, while in another it can raise $100,000. In either case, the amount raised is likely to be a significant help towards whatever financial situation you are facing. Every technique is one we have seen first-hand to be effective.
1. Have a phone-a-thon three days in a row, Monday through Wednesday of one week. Get all the board members to gather at the organization's office (or one of their offices) at 5 pm. Practice how you're going to ask for donations on the phone. Provide pizza or refreshments and make a party of it -- a little food and drink can go a long way in supporting the right atmosphere for fundraising. Divide up the lists of members, donors, clients, patrons, neighbors, or whatever other lists you have. Call them. Take a break every 45 minutes to swap stories. Go home at 7:30.
2. Together, a board member and the executive director can ask government, foundation, and corporate funders to renegotiate grant and contract agreements. Everyone knows the economy is in turmoil -- it won't be a surprise to your funders if your grants, contracts, and donations are down. Ask for a meeting, for example, with a county funder, and see whether they would be willing to have you provide fewer shelter nights or fewer senior meals, without reducing your contract payment. Tell a foundation funder that the grant they gave you to hire a second librarian needs to be spent just to keep the first librarian. Many funders appreciate the significance of board leadership on these matters, and remember: obtaining an agreement for a lower amount of services for the same money is often as good as getting more money.
3. Send out a 2-page letter to your members, volunteers, and donors. Explain that you are on a 30-day fundraising campaign and ask for a donation. If you can, follow up with phone calls.
4. Give yourself a birthday party, half-birthday party, or some other party, and tell people that it is a fundraiser for the organization where you volunteer as a board member. Have a donations box at the door or food table and have a volunteer sit there and ask people (in a friendly way!) for contributions. You don't have to make a "pitch" . . . just thank people for coming and making a donation to something that's important to you.
5. At a board meeting, bring a list of the organization's 30 biggest donors and, at the meeting, divide them up among the board members. Call to get an in-person appointment with each donor to explain the organization's situation and to ask for a donation. At the appointment, ask for a donation that is twice as large as the previous donation. "We really appreciate the $500 you donated last year. Would you consider doubling that gift and making a $1,000 gift this year?"
6. Ask all board members (and anyone else) to post an appeal to their own Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn networks, saying something like: "I'm a volunteer for this organization, and we're on a 30 day blitz to raise needed funds. Please help me meet my goal by giving a contribution to ____."
7. If you have lots of members and volunteers, have a garage sale. Get a huge amount of stuff together, sell it on both days of a weekend. Have a couple of great organizers do a barbecue at the event -- perhaps with foods related to your organization's work. Who can resist the lure of the one dollar item bin at a garage sale or a one dollar hot dog?
8. Ask your biggest donor to make a challenge grant. "We need your help to raise some special money right away. Would you consider making a gift of, say, $20,000, contingent on our raising $20,000 within 60 days? That would help motivate us on the board as well as the people we ask."
And now for some "don'ts":
- Don't say you need donations because you're in a financial crisis. Say, "We are determined to get through this economic time, and we need your help."
- Don't promise that you won't ask for another donation. Instead, say, "We know we are asking you to stretch to help our clients right now. This is an unusual situation for us -- we do raise money every year, but this is an especially important year."
- Don't ask for a loan instead of a donation. If someone offers you a loan instead of a donation, say, "Your offer of a $2,000 loan means a lot to me. But I can't accept a loan on behalf of our organization. Could we ask you instead for a donation of $100 per month for 20 months?"
- Don't accept a pledge as a substitute for a donation. If someone offers to pledge $500 by the end of the year, ask for $250 now and the remaining $250 in September.
Blue Avocado editor Jan Masaoka wrote this article with New York fundraising consultant and coach Burke Keegan, who says, "If you need money right now, it's going to be major donors, honey." You can order Burke's book on fundraising by clicking here.
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