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Sustainable Fundraising

A good fundraising event should provide more than an opportunity to just raise funds!

In fact, if money is all you raise, your campaign may not be as successful as you think it is in the long term.

Despite what some may tell you, there is no one sure-fire method of raising funds for your nonprofit. No one model or idea is perfect for all occasions, and what works in your city or town may flop in another. The following information will help you focus your energies in the right direction to get the best results!



Reality Check: A recent survey showed that the average amount of time volunteers spent doing board work was only eleven (11) hours in a year. Staff needs to make sure every hour counts!

If your organization does not have enough money to carry out your mission, the ultimate fault falls on the board’s shoulders! While I am in full agreement that fundraising should be a joint responsibility between the board and the staff, in most cases I find boards often try to pass off the responsibility of fundraising to only a select few board members or to the staff itself. Most boards  feel very uncomfortable when talking about fundraising. Some boards want to ignore the fact of needing money altogether, directing the staff to find money or just apply for grants.

Grant monies should be always be seen as temporary sources of funding, as these funds may go away at any time. Likewise, nonprofits should not get in the game played by chasing after the grant. Some organizations have taken a dangerous path that leads to self-destruction. These organizations lose all focus on their current mission and mold themselves into whatever the specific grant calls for.

Likewise, private foundations are also becoming very restrictive and often ask specific questions in their grant application as to what percentage of the board is giving  – trying to weed out organizations that are not serious but just looking for an easy way to get funding.

Overall, fundraising is a major component of what a board’s role is all about. How well an organization is funded determines how extensive their programs can be for their community.

While there are countless ways to raise money these are some of the basic methods:

Annual Campaigns to raise money for operating expenses – Many times this takes the form of a “friends of” program.

Special Events to raise monies for annual operating expenses – These events are often thought of in the community as the organization’s “signature fundraiser.”

Capital Campaigns
to raise money for new brick and mortar projects or to replace or upgrade existing facilities.

Planned Giving to help secure the organization’s future.

More and more nonprofits are starting to understand the importance of starting an endowment fund, either their own or through a local community foundation. Starting a fund requires a big commitment of belief by both the board and staff of a nonprofit. A commitment like this, in many cases, is so hard to get because it requires individuals to think first beyond themselves and, secondly, to think beyond today or tomorrow and into the future. Establishing an endowment account is taking an active role in securing your nonprofit’s own future. There will always be naysayers in any organization that will tout the fact, true in almost every nonprofit, that “We need the money now.” Another common statement made– mostly out of fear of making a mistake– is, “We can’t afford to start an endowment account now, let’s wait until later.”


Direct Marketing – In most cases all of these are ways to reach large numbers of people and ask for relatively small donations from each.

  • Direct Mail (newsletters and/or individual solicitation letters)
  • Telephone Campaigns (telemarketing)
  • Paid Advertising (newspaper, radio, TV.)
  • Free Public Service Announcements (PSAs) in newspapers, magazines, radio, TV.
  • Telethons and Other Television Direct Response
  • Door-to-Door

Major Individual Donors – This category includes:

  • One-On-One Meetings with Individuals
  • Planned Giving — Wills and Bequests
  • Some Small Group Meetings

The following should help you identify several possible sources of funding for your organization:

  • Federal Monies
  • Municipal, County, Regional, including Boards of Education, Public Health, Parks and Recreation
  • Small and Large Businesses
  • Corporate Foundations
  • Private Foundations
  • Community Foundations
  • Service Clubs
  • United Way (as regular funders or for special grants)
  • Religious Groups
  • Employee Funds ( Target, Sams, Wal-Mart)
  • Professional Groups (Home Builders Association, Business Women’s Association)
  • Other Nonprofits

All of the above groups have certain guidelines you must follow in order to receive funding. It is your responsibility as an organization to be organized and be specific as to what you want when you ask. A brief plan with budgets and other supporting documentation goes a long way in opening the doors and minds of the people you wish to influence.

Think about money in many different ways:

Time Commitment
Credit Card Donations
In-Kind Donations of Goods and Services
Post-Dated Donations
Monthly Electronic Fund Transfers
Payroll Deduction Plans
Life Insurance
Endowment Funds

It is also important to think about what will bring about good feelings that will open doors for tomorrow:

Contact with People
Increased Commitment
Good Community Relations
Partnership with other Nonprofits


There are literally thousands of different ideas to raise money, and many include holding certain types of special events or selling some type of product. Unless you receive a contribution outright, all the events and sales you do to raise funding boils down to you the organization providing the “donor” value for the contribution they give you.

While everyone wants to be original in finding their signature fundraiser, you really only get credit for productivity and fundraising. Similarly, don’t get stuck doing an event you have done in the past just because you have always done it. Don’t be afraid to ask other nonprofits what has worked for them and what has not worked. Everyone wins when you share information with one another!

Tried and True Ideas for Special Event Ideas!


Get everything FREE – Get in-kind donations for every possible expense
Build a Mailing List
The Ticket Price Should be Double Your Costs or More

Concentrate on Selling Tickets
Combine Ideas to Add Income (Dinner/Dance, Auction/Special Raffle Prizes)
Put a Price Tag on Everything (Sponsor Tables, Sell Center Pieces)
Take Souvenir Polaroid Photos
Get Sponsors to Help Underwrite Your Events or Parts of Each Event


Other Event Ideas:

The `Stay at Home’ Event
The Quit-a-thon or Slim-a-thon or Anything-a-thon

The Food Fair

Parties and Galas
Educational Events
Fairs & Carnivals
New Years or 4th of July Event
Cook Offs
Haunted Houses
Mystery Cruises
Mystery Dinners
Who-Done-It Murder Parties
Treasure Hunts
Polaroid Scavenger Hunts
Road Races
Sport Tournaments

Val-O-Grams – Singing Valentines

Balloon Farm: Sell and Deliver Balloons for Certain Group

Art Auctions

Plant Sales

Pumpkin Sale/Carving Contest for Halloween

Gift Wrapping Prior To Christmas
Curb Painting

Window Washing

Cleaning Out Rain Gutters

Stadium/Coliseum Clean-Ups

Snow Removal

Contract To Clean Up Construction Sites

Removal of Political Candidates Signs Following Elections

Some Unusual Events:

Cow Pie Bingo
Corn Field Maze
Rubber Duck Race
Shoot for the Stars – get free autographed picture etc. of celebrities and raffle them off
Night at the Races – Video Taped Horse Race
Glow Ball Night Golf Classic
Hole In One Games

Below are articles by Gail Perry author of Fired Up Fundraising!

Successful Fundraising in Tough Times – What smart fundraisers need to be doing now!

No-Ask Fundraising: Six High-Impact Jobs for Board Members – How do we harness our board members’ passion for the cause and channel it into productive fundraising activities? Here are practical, easy ways your board members can open the door, connect their friends to your organization, expand your organization’s social networks, and help you find new friends and donors—without having to solicit.

Four Steps to Take Board Members from Fear of Fundraising to Enthusiasm – If you want to get your board members fully active in fundraising, you need to approach them from a new perspective. You have to change their mind-set about fundraising and redefine it from an entirely new point of view. Board members don’t understand how powerful the act of raising money can be—it’s an effort to make the world a better place.

The Myths and Realities of Board Members and Fundraising – Despite what you may have heard, most board members are trained to greatness, not born to it.

Additional Information:

Fundraising Resources | Minnesota Council of Nonprofits

DISCLAIMER: This information is not intended to provide legal or accounting advice, or to address specific situations. Please consult with your legal or tax advisor to supplement and verify what you learn here.

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