What is the quickest, easiest way to fundraise for my organization?
Securing the funding necessary to operate your organization is one of the most important and relentless parts of administering a non-profit organization. While there are no magic answers, there are strategies to enhance your success, but it will require constant work, by you and your staff and your board. Sorry, there is no easy answer to this one!

What is a fundraising plan?
Your fundraising plan is the way you will achieve your organization’s budget. A successful plan will have a number of different strategies to reach the overall goal. You want to be careful not be become overly dependent upon any single source of funding, so diversification is the key to success.

The basic steps are:

  • Assessment
  • Cultivation
  • Solicitation
  • Stewardship

The approach for each step will vary depending on which type of funding source you are developing, but they are always the basic steps of fundraising. Most people think the process ends with stewardship, but in truth, that should be where the process begins. The real goal is build a partner, not just a funder. A partner is someone you can count on; a funder is not.

Before You Begin – Part One
Identify the project you are seeking funding for and then set up your strategy.

Some considerations:

  • Who will be the target audience of your project? Who will be impacted and in what way? These should be general categories like families with young children, senior citizens, incarcerated youth, etc.
  • Use this assessment to think about potential donors for your project. Who has an interest in impacting your target audience? Foundation libraries have resources that let you research funders by their interest areas.
  • Make sure that your list is broad, including donors on a national, statewide, regional and local level. Again, these should be general categories of partners like toys stores, grant-making foundations with an interest in arts and education, etc.
  • Establish a fundraising goal. Use a project budget to show total anticipated expenses and the funds that you hope to raise against these expenses. Keep in mind that for most fundraising purposes, you will always want to show your project as a break-even proposition. Your organizational goal may be to surpass that break-even point and use the excess revenues as seed money for your next project, but if you show that on a budget, it appears that you have a lesser need for outside support.
  • Establish a fundraising strategy. Use your list of potential donors divided by category (corporate, grant-making foundation, government, etc.) to create a strategy. Don’t forget to include earned funds that will be generated through ticket sales, special events and concessions. 
    see Sample Fundraising Plan
    (PDF)Template (PDF)

Before You Begin- Part Two
Once you have identified your potential donors you need to put your plan on a calendar.

Consider the following option and their respective timelines:

  • Individual Contributions(most flexibility in terms of time frame)
    Individuals in your community, particularly those with an interest in arts and/or education related events, will contribute to your event as well. These donors will need to be recognized in printed programs and advertisements for the contributions that they have made. You will also want to provide them with additional benefits relative to the size of their gift such as a small gift on their reserved seat before the performance, opportunities to meet the artists and staff following the performance or at a reception for the event. You should automatically put this person on your mailing list so they continue to remember you and your organization. 
  • Public Funders(time frame typically ranges from 3 to 12 months)
    With government grant programs (city, county, state, federal), you typically apply far in advance of the project. Your first step is to identify the funding categories that might be a good match for your project and put those deadlines on a calendar. Once you have done your homework regarding their grant programs and have a nice synopsis of your proposed project, you can contact these institutions and solicit advice from the program officers. Listen to the advice they give, take notes, follow their advice and thank them for their help. You should automatically put the program officers on your mailing list so they continue to remember you and your organization.
  • Corporate/Business Contributions (time frame typically ranges from 3 to 6 months)
    Some corporations will sponsor/underwrite events in their community as a marketing tool. They will require a proposal format similar to the grant-making foundation, but few have official application forms. Of particular interest to sponsoring corporations will be the advertising and marketing benefits that they will get – listing in the program, on posters, in media advertisements, etc. The application process is often much shorter than that required by a foundation, but many corporations allocate their non-profit contributions during a specific time of year (relevant to their own fiscal year). In some instances you can access this calendar information through your foundation library. You should automatically put anyone you speak with on your mailing list so they continue to remember you and your organization.
  • Corporate Foundations (time frame typically ranges from 4 to 6 months)
    There are many corporations that have affiliated foundations (example: ABC Corporation distributes their philanthropic dollars through the ABC Corporation Foundation). These applications should be treated as foundation proposals, following the appropriate guidelines and reporting procedures. Corporations with a large employee base in your community will be most willing to support your events. As with foundations, many corporate foundations take approximately 4 to 6 months to complete their application reviews, so this funding option should be pursued well before the scheduled arts event. You should automatically put the grant officer on your mailing list so they continue to remember you and your organization.
  • Private Foundations and Trusts (time frame typically ranges from 4 to 6 months)
    There are many grant-making foundations that support events. Each foundation has its own specific funding profile (what/where it funds), application procedure (how it funds) and deadlines (when it funds). Be sure your organization and your event are both good matches for their areas of interest for funding. Applicants should contact foundations and request a guideline packet. Typically, applicants must be a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization to be eligible. Foundations usually require few marketing/advertising benefits but will require a final report/evaluation at the conclusion of the funded event. Many foundations take approximately four to six months to complete their application reviews so this funding option should be pursued well before the scheduled arts event. You should automatically put the grant officer on your mailing list so they continue to remember you and your organization.
  • Fundraising Event (very small, intimate events can be planned in 3 to 4 months; most take 6 to 12 months of planning)
    You may choose to host a special event such as a luncheon, dinner or gala with proceeds going towards your upcoming event. This is a good way to generate some buzz for the event too. If you can get a celebrity there (the artist for the exhibit, the dancer for performance, etc), it will have a much better draw.

Now you are ready to begin fundraising. Use these steps.

  • Assessment – Use your general list of potential donor categories to identify specific targets, again at a local, regional, state, and national level, that you can feasibly cultivate for this project. This means that they must fit within one of your potential donor categories and that their geographic focus and giving time frame must fit within your needs. It is also very helpful if they have some history of interest and/or giving to events like yours. Board members and current donors can be helpful in identifying these targets, particularly at an individual or corporate level. Look at who already gives to similar projects in your community.
  • Cultivation – Potential donors become real donors through cultivation. As you build a relationship with them, they will begin to take an interest in and ownership of your organization and project. They must feel that they are involved in a collaboration and that their participation is crucial to success. Cultivation can happen in a variety of ways, depending on who you are trying to reach. A key component of all cultivation is the gathering and utilization of knowledge about the potential partner. Find out as much as you can about them as an individual, a corporation, a foundation, etc. and use this information to make a compelling connection between their interests and your project. People give to people, so the more personal you make the relationship, the more likely you will be to succeed.
  • Solicitation – If you have done careful assessment and good cultivation, the actual solicitation (the “ask”) should be easy. The way in which the solicitation occurs will vary depending upon the kind of donor you are asking; it can range from a formal written proposal to a personal, verbal invitation to “join the team.”  Make sure to utilize your board resources and other donors for this process.
  • Stewardship – This is perhaps the most important part of fundraising and, properly done, will ensure that you build a consistent base of funding support, allowing you to build on the success of each event. Each donor will require and respond to different kinds of acknowledgement and thanks, and it is important to identify these requirements early in the partnership and keep them at the forefront of everything that you do as you cultivate them. Be creative, sincere and as personal as you feel is appropriate. Partners need to feel that they are integral to the success of the project.

Adapted from Ballet Austin Tool-kit