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Fundraising

How to Start a Fundraiser in 11 Simple Steps

Sonia Urlando Avatar
Sonia Urlando
Published on January 13, 2023

Fundraising is one of the best sources of revenue for nonprofits. But it’s not enough to simply set up a donation page on your website and wait for people to stumble upon it with their credit cards in hand. 

Driving donations requires strategy, marketing, relationship-building, data analysis, and constant pivoting. 

Luckily, there’s more than one way to successfully raise funds for your organization, so you can try out different strategies to find out what works best for you and your community. 

Whether you want to do a direct mail campaign or organize a fundraising event, raise funds virtually or in-person, there are steps you can follow to maximize your success. 

Read on to discover exactly what you need to do in order to plan, promote, and execute your next fundraiser to make sure it resonates with your audience and helps bring in the much-needed support for your organization. 

Step 1: Set SMART Goals

Starting a successful fundraiser requires a clear vision, a set of goals, and a deep understanding of why those goals are important.

 

When setting your goals, be sure to follow the SMART model, and choose goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Based: 

  • Specific: Is the point of this fundraiser to cover expenses, pay off debt, maintain an existing program or start a new initiative? 
  • Measurable: Is your goal to raise a certain amount of money, or bring in new one-time or regular donors?
  • Attainable: What can your organization achieve in a fundraiser, based on what it has achieved in the past? What are your donors’ habits? What’s the size of your community?
  • Relevant: How do your fundraising goals line up with your organization’s mission? What doesn’t happen if you can’t reach your fundraising goal?
  • Time-Based: If you’ve raised $5,000, and your goal is $10,000, that figure might feel a lot more successful two weeks into a one-month fundraiser than the day before the deadline!

Crafting a clear impact statement before your fundraiser begins can identify these goals and help you plan a successful fundraiser. It can also help you articulate clear goals to your donors, which can go a long way toward reaching your fundraising targets.

Step 2: Choose a Type of Fundraiser

There are many different kinds of fundraisers. When choosing yours, consider your goals, budget and resources, as well as who your target donors are. More often than not, a great fundraising campaign incorporates a few of the options below:

Direct mail

Craft a compelling letter asking your existing donors for their support of a specific cause and mail it out along with a donation form and pre-addressed reply envelope. Be sure to customize the letter for different segments based on the frequency and amount of past gifts. 

Online donation page

Craft an email (or a series of emails) to invite existing supporters to donate via your online donation page. Use social media and/or advertising to help gain the attention of new donors. Even better: set up Google Analytics so you can track which channels are actually driving donations.

Text-to-give

Invite people to make a gift by texting a code word. This takes less than a minute and will allow them to add a donation to their phone bill or access an online donation page on their mobile device. 

Peer-to-peer

Encourage your existing supporters to raise funds within their own networks. They can do this by pledging and participating in a walk or run, organizing their own mini fundraising event, starting a Facebook fundraiser, or even going door-to-door. 

Read More: Peer-to-Peer Fundraising: A Guide For Nonprofits

Crowdfunding

Use the power of social media or crowdfunding platforms to garner support from new donors. It’s much easier to get 10,000 people to donate $2 than to get one person to donate $20,000. 

Fundraising event

From a neighborhood bake sale to an elaborate gala, fundraising events can be big or small, in-person, virtual, or hybrid. You can raise funds by charging admission, selling goods, or even organizing a silent auction

Step 3: Create a Plan

A detailed fundraising plan will help you stay on track with your goals. Include things like:

Team members

Who is involved? What are their responsibilities? Will your staff suffice or do you need to recruit volunteers, third-party vendors, or agencies? 

Budget

How much money do you have to spend on your fundraiser? Think of every possible expense and create a detailed budget. This will ensure that you don’t spend more than you can afford. 

Timeline

How long will your fundraiser run? Having a clear end-date in mind will give your donors a sense of urgency and help you better analyze the success of your efforts. Once you have a list of important milestones, create a workback schedule to make sure you stay on track to reaching them. 

Step 4: Make Giving Easy

When planning your fundraiser, remember the A in SMART. Part of what makes your goals achievable is making it as easy as possible for donors to contribute.

Setting strategic giving levels is a good way to show donors just how far their dollars go. Pairing incentives with each giving level helps supporters envision their impact. 

An organization that feeds children through an afterschool program might attach the following incentives to their suggested giving levels:

  • A gift of $25 feeds a student for a week.
  • A gift of $100 feeds a student for a month.
  • A gift of $450 feeds a student for the semester.
  • A gift of $900 feeds a student for the entire school year (180 days).

Make sure you also optimize your donation pages. The best donation pages make donating a quick, easy, and secure process. 

Step 5: Choose a Platform

Regardless of the type of fundraiser you’re planning, you’ll definitely need fundraising software to accept online donations, process payments, and manage donors. 

If you’re organizing an event, you may need a platform to register event attendees. Online events might need extra support, especially if you’re running an event with more tech needs. Even if your event is in-person, it’s helpful to use a mobile device to accurately track attendance. 

For more specific needs, you may need to look into platforms that enable peer-to-peer fundraising, crowdfunding, text-to-give donations, silent auctions, etc. 

When choosing these platforms, look for something that integrates seamlessly with your donor management software (DMS). This way, new donor info will update automatically—and ta-da! Suddenly your accounting, reporting, stewardship and future fundraising campaigns will be SO MUCH easier. 

Step 6: Create Your Promotional Materials

Your fundraising campaign needs a clear and consistent message that’ll motivate your audience to give! What’s the story at the heart of your fundraiser? Highlight a person in need or a program you need to create. Show your community the stakes—and the difference their funds will make! 

Promoting your campaign on a few different channels? (Hint: you should!) Make sure they all tell the same story. Seeing the same message in different places—direct mail, email, social media, etc.—helps make your campaign memorable and keeps it at the top of potential donors’ minds. 

That said, be sure to customize the message for each channel. For example, a direct mail letter can be lengthy and more detailed, while social media posts should be short and casual in tone. 

If you can, invest in compelling imagery to go with your promotional materials. Create graphics, posters, shareable social media posts and any other collateral. If email or social media are the focus of your campaign, consider making a shareable fundraising video. It’s one of the best ways to inspire people to action! 

Step 7: Add a Personal Touch

Digital communications have exploded in the past few years! That’s great news if you’re setting up a fundraiser—it’s never been so easy for your donors to contribute! But a danger of digital communications is how easily an impersonal email can make donors feel like they don’t matter to you.

Good donor stewardship can be as simple as using your donors’ names in your communications and acknowledging their history with your organization. Finding these details can be easy with the help of the right fundraising software!

Sending a thank-you letter to your donors is another surefire way to add that personal touch. Just make sure you wait a while before asking for another donation!

Step 8: Promote Your Fundraiser

According to Fundly’s crowdfunding statistics, campaign leads who give their supporters an update at least every five days raise an astounding three times more in donations than less communicative campaigns. That’s because keeping your supporters in the loop encourages them to take action! 

Keeping your community updated about your successes and roadblocks could mean the difference in meeting your fundraising goals. Use as many of these channels as you can to help spread the word:

Social media

Create shareable content and remind followers to share it within their networks. If you’ve got the budget, consider paying for social media ads, too. Graphics can really make your socials stand out—think of a donation thermometer to show your progress toward your goal!

Email

Send an email to everyone in your community (not just past donors). Get the momentum going by asking them to forward it to everyone they know.

Website

Place clear call-to-action (CTA) buttons on your website promoting your campaign and point visitors to information about your fundraiser. 

Board

Get your board involved and ask them to help spread the word to their friends, family, and colleagues. 

Public Relations

Write up a press release and send it to the local media. If you can, consider paying for ad space in your city’s newspaper. 

Google Ads

Use the Google Ad Grant for nonprofits to have information about your fundraiser come up in Google’s search results and on digital banners across various websites. 

Partners

Reach out to corporate partners, local small businesses, or even other nonprofit organizations with a similar mission to see if they’d be willing to help promote your fundraiser to their communities. 

Step 9: Don’t Forget Your New Donors

When a new donor makes a gift to your fundraiser, one of two things comes next:

  1. They become a life-long member of your donor community, staying engaged and donating every subsequent year,
  2. Or, they never give another gift again. 

Which one you experience depends entirely on donor stewardship, which begins the second that a new gift is made. Proper stewardship means:

  • The donor is thanked immediately via an email or a phone call 
  • They receive a more formal thank you letter along with their tax receipt (if applicable)
  • They receive impeccable donor service
  • They receive frequent communications from you in the form of emails, newsletters, social media updates, holiday cards, etc.
  • They receive invitations to stewardship events
  • They receive annual reports and other specialized reports that communicate the impact of their support

Step 10: Reach a Younger Generation of Donors

It’s easy to think of Gen Z—anyone born after 1996—as young kids who might someday change the world. But the fact is that they’re already changing the world! Many Gen Z-ers are already well into their 20s! When setting up your fundraiser, use these strategies to appeal to younger supporters: 

  • Assess your audience. Do you know who your younger donors are? If your fundraising software doesn’t help you facilitate this identification, it may be time for an upgrade.
  • Make donating easy and convenient. Assess your options for online giving and implement what you can. Great options include text-to-give and adding a donation button on your organization’s Instagram account.
  • Adapt your monthly giving options. Gen Z has grown up in the world of subscriptions, and the “set it and forget it” mindset can work to your advantage. An automated monthly giving program is a great way to keep donations coming in.

Step 11: Evaluate Your Success

Once your fundraiser has come to an end, go back to your original goals and plans to evaluate your results. Learning from your mistakes and accomplishments will make  setting up your next fundraiser an even bigger success. 

Answer questions like:

  • Did you meet your goals? If you fell short, how far off were you? 
  • Which efforts brought in the most new donors? What about the most donations?
  • Are there any efforts you should reconsider for next time?
  • Were you able to stay within the budget? Why or why not?
  • Did anything not go according to plan? 
  • What went well that you should repeat next time?
  • What didn’t go well and should be improved for next time?
  • How could you spend your resources more efficiently next time? 

Sharing these results with your donors is a prime opportunity to develop stronger relationships with them. Ask what they liked about the campaign, what could you do to motivate them to give more, and any other suggestions they’d like to share. 

Not only will they appreciate that you’re asking for their opinion, but they can provide an outside perspective on how to fundraise and help you pinpoint opportunities for improvement.

Bonus: Is It Time for a Professional Fundraiser?

If you’re new to fundraising, it may be worth considering hiring outside help. Professional fundraisers work with nonprofits to come up with ideas, strategy, and a promotional plan for your fundraising campaign. 

If your team is passionate about your organization and mission, but you don’t have anyone on your staff who has marketing or event planning experience, you may want to consider hiring help. 

Whether you choose to outsource it or do it in-house, best of luck with your fundraiser! 

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