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The Best Music on Hold Ever

Fundraising Advice to a Start-Up Charity

I recently received a letter from a woman who wanted to raise funds for her newly formed organization. She asked for advice without being specific as to her needs other than the need to raise funds. This was my reply:

My specialty is Major Gifts fundraising. I’ve always thought time is better spent cultivating people who have an affinity to your cause rather than putting on events that engage a small group of volunteers and raise a small amount of money from a larger group.

I don’t know if you have a board of directors yet, but building one is a great way to engage people in your cause as well as to cultivate and prospect for major gifts.

There are no short cuts. Individuals and Foundations that have funded other organizations affiliated broadly with your cause is the place to start. Pick up the phone, write letters, and connect (which you seem to be very good at.) You may know this already, but basically a fundraising campaign looks something like this:

  1. Plan your campaign with a total goal, pyramid, and with goals for number of gifts at each level. Yes it is a pyramid. No, you don’t raise $100,000 by getting 1000 people to give you $100 each. You will want to tweak this based on your prospects and feedback, but roughly it looks like this:
  2. 1 gift of 25% of goal
    2 gifts of 10% of goal
    4 gifts of 5% of goal
    8 gifts of 2.5% of goal
    15 gifts of 1% of goal

  3. Make a list of qualities you want on your board which might include the following: wealth, connections to wealth, connections to the community, time to invest, connections to foundations or others involved in your cause, leadership…
  4. Make a prospect list of potential donors. Ideally 3 prospects per gift on your pyramid. Foundation fundraising is much like individual fundraising except with more paperwork and more information available. Ultimately individuals will make the decisions so do your research and meet with people who make those decisions.
  5. An old adage is “if you want advice, ask for money. If you want money, ask for advice.” So call/write and follow up asking for advice. Tell people you created a new organization to achieve X and are building a board and raising funds and would love their advice.
  6. When you meet, tell them about your organization. Ask them about their connection to the cause. Ask what excites them most about it. Show them your plan. Ask them advice. And then ask if they can see themselves as one of your supporters. If they are leadership material, ask if they will help you by joining the board. Ask if they know others who might support you in your work.

That’s it! Easy peasy! Hope it was helpful.

Of course if you have more money than time, then you can hire a consultant to help you do all that.

Good luck!

If there is anything else I can do for you, please let me know.



An Important TED Talk on How We Think About Charity


Major gift fundraising is all about connection. Commitment is important, but it has to be the kind of commitment that leads to connection. In Seth Godin’s blog he talks about a different kind of commitment, but the same kind of connection that we are looking for. From Seth’s blog:


Marketers want commitment. They want the big finish, the closed sale, the new customer. Buy Now!

The goal then is to create tension, to escalate need, to amplify conflict until action is taken. Escalation causes us to commit to our original need, by reinforcing it.

It goes beyond the retail store, of course… it’s deep within our culture. Noir novels show the hero goading the guy in the bar until a small dispute escalates into a beat down. Movies create drama (and entertainment) by escalating the small-time heist into the next world war. And commercials, retailers and demagogues take every opportunity to find the smallest thread of disclocation and amplify it into real commitment to action.

But what happens when we do the opposite? If we think about connection instead of power, if we think about abundance instead of scarcity, we can turn this on its head. …