The Fives “Rs” of Fundraising
By Melissa Dewey Brumback
Melissa Dewey Brumback is an assistant editor of The Affiliate and practices with the firm of Ragsdale Liggett PLLC in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Proper fundraising is at the heart of any service organization’s success. Without capital, many great ideas are doomed to failure. Although many people do not want to think about the money, if you can master the five rules of fundraising essentials, you can accomplish just about any reasonable goal.
Rule No. 1: You Must Believe in Your Cause.
Asking for money is much easier when you truly believe. Raising money for school supplies for needy children? Providing housing for domestic violence victims? Whatever the cause, you must believe in it. This will provide you with both the motivation and the will to succeed. A corollary rule: your team must also believe in your cause. As part of the first strategy session, discuss your project’s objectives. Make sure everyone understands the goals, so they too can believe in the cause.
Rule No. 2: You Have to Ask for the Money.
Nobody, with the possible exception of Grandma, will give you money just because they like you. You have to ask. This seems like a simple concept, but many people abhor discussing business among friends. In the same way that job-seekers are advised to tell everyone they know that they are looking for a job, you must be prepared to tell everyone you know that you are raising money for your worthy cause. But, do not just tell them about your grand plan—ask them to help you out. Many people do not believe that their little $5 or $10 contribution will go far. Your job is to assure them that it will. “Every little bit helps” should be your motto. And asking for money does not have to be a formal process. Consider as straightforward a statement as: “Hey, I’m raising money for the domestic violence shelter. Can you spare a few bucks to help?” The worst they can say is “no.”
Rule No. 3: You Will Not Always Get the Money.
Just because you ask, does not mean that you will get it. This rule is perhaps the biggest reason many people never even try to raise money for worthy causes. People hate the feeling of being rejected. In the fundraising world, you will be rejected time and time again. Think of it as collecting “nos” until you get to the one person who says “yes.” People will surprise you—some you thought you could count on for money cannot or will not help; others you ask almost as an afterthought will become contributors. “You never know” should be part of your mantra.
Rule No. 4: Plan Your Fundraiser Before You Begin.
“Even the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” to paraphrase Robert Burns. Just think of the plans that are poorly made! At the beginning of a fundraiser, take some time to think about your objectives and how the fundraising itself will proceed. Even if you are dying to get out there and knock on doors (unlikely even among the most motivated fundraisers), take the time to plan. Consider the following:
• What are the concrete, specific goals of this fundraising effort?

• Who are the likely contributors? Businesses looking for good publicity, members of our service organization, the community at-large?

• What are the means we will use to raise the funds? A specific event for money (think spaghetti dinner), a silent or regular auction, a lottery?

• How will we ask for the donation? Telephone calls, mail, in person? (For hitting up corporate sponsors, who can get us “in the door” to meet with a decision maker?)

Rule No. 5: Be Creative in Your Fundraising Effort.
Consider unusual fundraising efforts. Mix it up a little. If your organization has only raised money through members, see how you can get the community involved. If your organization has never approached local businesses, now is the time. If you have some hardy souls willing to lend a hand, try your first dog wash or yard sale. The possibilities are endless. Consider the following:
• Will a local business donate a big ticket item such as a child’s playset that you can raffle off? (Your pitch to them: good public relations and/or a tax write-off.)

• Will a number of businesses donate smaller items for an auction or raffle, such as gift certificates to their establishments? (Pitch: a chance for new customers to be exposed to their company.)

• Will a church or civic center allow you the use of their building to hold a spaghetti supper? (And, can you sell raffle tickets or have a silent auction going at that dinner?)

• Can you obtain free (or low cost) mailing lists of potential prospects for a mail solicitation? (Chamber of commerce mailing lists can be gold mines.)

• For a one-time event, can you establish varying levels of sponsorship and recognition?

If you follow these five basic “Rs” of fundraising, you will be well on your way to meeting your fundraising goals.