How to Start a Fundraiser: Everything You Need to Know in 8 Simple Steps

Fundraising September 17, 2021

Sayana Izmailova

By Sayana Izmailova

Fundraising is one of the best sources of revenue for nonprofits. However, 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 is 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 Your Goals

Every successful fundraiser starts with 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: choose goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. For example, if your organization is an animal shelter, an appropriate goal might be to raise $25,000 in one month to go towards purchasing new medical supplies. 


To help you set meaningful goals for your fundraiser, answer the following questions:


Why do you want to fundraise? 

Do you need funds to cover expenses, pay off debt, maintain an existing program, or start a new initiative?


What does a successful fundraiser look like to you? 

Is your goal to raise a certain amount of money, bring in a certain number of new one-time donors, or gain a certain number of new monthly donors? What amount do you need to raise and what could you realistically raise, given the size of your organization and your community?


What will you use these funds for? What impact will they help create?

Craft a clear impact statement from the start, because it's what you'll this is what you’ll use in all your campaign materials convince potential donors that they should make a gift. To make your calls-to-action even more compelling, be clear about what will happen if you don’t reach your fundraising goal.


Step 2: Choose a Type of Fundraiser

There are many different kinds of fundraisers. Consider your goals, budget, and resources to help you make a decision. 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: 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. Even if your event is in-person, it’s helpful to use a mobile device to check guests in so you can 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, try to find something that integrates seamlessly with your donor management software (DMS) — this way, information about your new donors will automatically be imported into your DMS, making accounting, reporting, stewardship, and future fundraising campaigns much easier. 

Step 5: Create Your Promotional Materials


Your fundraising campaign should have a clear unified message that will compel your audience to act. Center your fundraiser around a single story about someone in need or a program you need to create. Tell your community what difference the funds will create in their life and what could happen if you don’t reach your fundraising goal. 


If your campaign includes a number of different channels — direct mail, email, social media, etc. — make sure they all tell the same story. Seeing the same message in different places will help make your campaign memorable and keep it at the top of potential donors’ minds. 


That being 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 shorter and less formal. 


If you can, invest in acquiring compelling imagery to accompany 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, be sure to create a shareable fundraising video. It’s one of the best ways to inspire people to action! 


Step 6: Promote Your Fundraiser

Your fundraiser’s success depends on how many people hear about it. This is where promotion comes in. Use as many of the below channels as you can afford to help spread the word:


Social media

Create shareable content and encourage your followers to share it within their own networks. If you’ve got the budget, consider paying for social media ads, too. 


Email

Send an email to everyone in your community (not just past donors). Ask them to forward it to their networks. 


Website

Update your website to include prominent CTA buttons (call-to-action) 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 7: Don't Forget Your New Donors

When a new donor makes a gift to your fundraiser, one of two things comes next — a) they become a life-long member of your donor community, staying engaged and donating every subsequent year, or b) 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 8: Evaluate Your Success


Once your fundraiser has come to an end, go back to your original goals and plans to evaluate your results. This will help you learn from your mistakes, as well as things that went well, to make sure your next fundraiser is an even bigger success. 


Answer questions like:

  • Did you meet your goals? Why or why not?

  • 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? 


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! 

Related Resources



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