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Establishing a fundraising strategy

Asking for money is never easy, but it is nonetheless a necessity for most community groups.

Although it's undoubtedly hard, fundraising can – and should – be a fun and exciting experience. It is also an experience that should be shared. For leaders of community organisations one of the challenges is ensuring that everyone in the group has some involvement in raising money.

Designate a fundraising coordinator

As a first step, it is important for an organisation to assign the overall responsibility for fundraising activities to one person. Even if you have a fundraising committee or outside consultants, one person in your organisation still needs to be in ultimate control of what you are doing in fundraising.

While everyone seems to acknowledge that getting money into your organisation is important, the role of the fundraiser is often under-valued. It shouldn't be. Without sufficient funding coming in, groups can struggle to get their important message across, provide their services or indeed survive as a group at all.

Establish a fundraising strategy

The development of a fundraising strategy needs to be an annual exercise and should be evaluated and tweaked throughout the year as well. A fundraising strategy needs to have the flexibility to react to new opportunities or to curtail activities that are either not practical or not profitable. The best thing is to schedule some time for those interested in fundraising to get together and thrash around some ideas and establish some goals.

First steps:

  • Outline your goals. What do you hope to achieve?
  • Research past fundraising activities – what has worked? And just as importantly, what hasn't?
  • Work out who your friends and potential friends are and who is willing to support your organisation – businesses, government departments, individuals, families, philanthropic trusts and foundations.
  • Conduct market research with members, friends, etc., collecting their good ideas and examples of what has worked in their groups to raise money.
  • Detail a case to support each prospective fundraising activity.
  • Describe and decide on the methods you plan to use to raise funds.
  • Set an estimated target for each method.
  • Set a timeline and a year planner noting good times for the organisation to raise funds. Pay attention to grant deadlines.
  • Document your progress so that if you are struggling, the bells start ringing early enough to change tack.
  • Establish an evaluation strategy.

Remember, if you are asking for money, it is easier to raise money for a specific project or activity than for the organisation as a whole. Most people would rather know exactly where their money is being spent.

What are the options for fundraising?

There are virtually countless sources of funds that your community group might be able to tap into but all of these fall roughly under one of six headings:

  • Grants
    Grants are a very important source of funds for most not-for-profits. Billions of dollars is provided each year by local, state and federal governments, as well as philanthropic, community and corporate trusts and foundations. The trick is knowing how to get your share. You need to know what your group wants to do, and you need to know who might provide the sort of grants that could fit those aims.
  • Donations
    Smaller groups often think it's too hard or they're not worthy to get donations. That's not true - if you have supporters, then you can have donors.
  • Memberships / Alumni
    A membership program (or, if you're a school, an alumni program) can provide a handy source of regular, predictable and renewable funds for your organisation. Friends-of schemes serve much the same purpose. Of course, membership schemes are first and foremost about fostering a sense of belonging among your supporters, but the fundraising potential is also important.
  • Special Events
    Special events are the lifeblood of many not-for-profit groups, though they can take a lot of time and energy to be truly profitable. Examples include car-boot sales, fetes and festivals, trivia nights, fashion parades, balls, dances, discos, film nights, games nights, various 'athons (walkathon, runathon, readathon, skipathon, etc.), and themed weeks (Movember, FebFast)
  • Sales / Earned Income
    Almost every not-for-profit organisation has a number of items or services it can exchange for much-needed revenue. Earned income refers to the money you make through selling what you know, what you do, what you have, or what you can sell.
  • Community-Business Partnerships / Sponsorships
    Creating a successful community-business partnership brings benefits to both the business and the not-for-profit involved, and often for the wider community as well. Sponsorships are just one type of community-business partnership. Other models include volunteering, donations schemes (money, goods, services), pro-bono or discounted services and products,sharing/donation of premises/infrastructure, etc.

Your organisation will need to explore which of these fundraising avenues are feasible, achievable, and profitable (though you should aim to do something from each of these headings).

For each event or initiative, try to incorporate other fundraising initiatives. For example, if you have a special event, set up a stall to sell your organisation's merchandise, or conduct a raffle, and always make sure programs or invitations have a donation form attached as well as information on how people can join as members.

Legal obligations

When making an appeal for public funds there are certain laws you must abide by. There are different rules for each state and territory applying to different methods of fundraising. These rules are separate from the tax and incorporation laws that you are also obliged to observe.

To find out how fundraising rules will affect you, click here.

What next?

  • Send your draft fundraising strategy to the board/committee of management and a cross-section of the organisation before a final version is signed off. Incorporate comments and suggestions into the final strategy.
  • It is important that the strategy is not drawn up and then forgotten. Have regular updates at board/committee meetings and ensure your newsletters and communications carry articles featuring various milestones or fundraising activities.
  • Ensure the strategy is updated and changed as circumstances are. 
  • Ensure your organisation and leadership team are alert to new fundraising ideas and lessons learned from your own experience. If you see an idea that works, grab it and try to adopt and adapt it to work for your own club. Subscribing to the Funding Centre will ensure you never miss a grant and that you're always up to date with the latest fundraising ideas and trends.
  • In your planning, ensure that you have the ability to walk away if something is not working or looks as though you will lose money. It is better to walk away and lose a small amount than go ahead with an event and ensure you lose a far larger amount. If you have planned well and have a strong risk management plan  the alarm bells will start ringing long before it gets to that stage.
  • One of the main lessons of fundraising is to ensure that you appropriately acknowledge those that have assisted you, either as volunteers, donors or sponsors. Acknowledgement can be expressed in your newsletters, on your tickets, in advertising, or in a personal letter from the CEO or Chair. If the donation/sponsorship is significant, consider providing a plaque, framed certificate or some form of permanent acknowledgement (signage, dedication).

Fundraising activities can determine the future of your organisation. A strong fundraising effort can ensure there are adequate funds to support all of your activities; a poor performance can drain money and threaten the very survival of your organisation.

Our Community has a huge array of information and tools that can help community groups move their fundraising efforts up a notch or two. Visit the Funding Centre to find out more.

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