Our Ask An Expert series features real questions answered by Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE, our very own Fundraising Coach, also known as Charity Clairity.
Today’s question comes from a nonprofit employee who wants advice on the best fundraising strategy for new nonprofits.
Dear Charity Clairity,
What’s the best strategy for new nonprofits who haven’t started to fundraise and are trying to reach new donors? We haven’t even begun to get a following. I am the only one working on the ins and outs of the nonprofit, and am pretty green. I’m excited to get a fundraiser going for our organization to further benefit our clients and their missions!
— Unsure where to start
Your question is epic, and can’t be answered quickly.
What I can say is for fundraising to work, pre-conditions must be in place. These have to do with your (1) Institutional Readiness; (2) Human Resources; (3) Markets; (4) Management; (5) Dynamic Functions, and (6) Fundraising Vehicles. As you see, you only get to the vehicles (e.g., annual appeal, grant proposal, special event, etc.) once all the other things are in place. It sounds like you may not be quite ready for a big fundraiser.
I would highly recommend a course like the one offered through The Fundraising School at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. I took it 40 years ago, and it was a life changer. It’s every bit as relevant today. In this course, you’ll learn about all of the following:
This means you’ve got (1) a constituency who cares about your mission, vision and values; (2) a relevant case for support with clearly articulated needs and goals; (3) commitment from all stakeholders; (4) a communications mechanism, and (5) processes in place to steward your resources.
This means you’ve got (1) motivated leaders; (2) volunteers; (3) leadership; (4) a board, and (5) staff. Running a nonprofit is a team effort. If you’re the only one, it’s going to be hard to get off the ground.
This means you have a range of prospective funders you can realistically imagine tapping into, including (1) individuals; (2) businesses; (3) foundations; (4) government; (5) agencies, and (6) associations.
This means you’ve got a plan and business systems in place to develop, manage and track your work. Systems would include (1) analysis; (2) planning; (3) execution; (4) control; (5) evaluation; (6) professional stance, and (7) ethics.
This means an ongoing organization-wide culture embracing (1) acceptance of purpose; (2) validation of needs; (3) preparation of plan; (4) selection of markets; (5) enlistment of volunteers; (6) team building, and (7) ethical practice.
These are the tools you’ll put in place once everything else is in order. They include (1) annual giving; (2) capital campaign; (3) major gifts; (4) endowment building; (5) planned giving, and (6) strategies like in-person or virtual meetings, phone calls, direct mail, digital fundraising, grant writing, and events.
Besides the Fundraising School course, I’d also suggest investing in some excellent books about the fundamentals of fundraising. My favorites include: Achieving Excellence in Fundraising by Hank Rosso (great overview); Reliable Fundraising in Unreliable Times by Kim Klein (basics for grassroots and social justice); Beyond Fundraising: New Strategies for Nonprofit Innovation and Investment (positioning and relationship-building) by Kay Sprinkel Grace, and It’s NOT JUST about the Money by Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry (major gifts and relationship-building).
One place I’d suggest starting is with board recruitment and development. Do you have one? Do they understand their role and responsibility. Do they represent the diversity of your community? You need a leadership team committed to your mission and willing to give and get. The easiest way to begin fundraising is to start close-in, with your own staff, board and volunteers. Ask them to give; ask them to ask their networks. Fundraising spreads out from this inside core, in concentric circles. It’s not reasonable to begin by prospecting among all the people in the universe. Without first gathering a small constituency who cares about what you do – not just you – you’re not ready for prime time.
Hope this gives you some places to start!
— Charity Clairity
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