Fundraising Basics


Starting out on the right foot is essential in any business proposition. Although fundraising is usually defined as a non-profit undertaking, it is still ultimately a business.

It is the business of helping others with the use of funds donated by kind and generous individuals interested in furthering a cause they believe in.
Any type of fundraising activity takes organization and early planning to be successful. There are numerous other organizations, with causes just as worthy, that are vying for the same dollars you are, so, good planning and clear goals are necessary from the very start. This course presents the basics of fundraising start-up. Certainly, as your venture grows, so will the things you'll need to know; however, if you follow the basics mentioned in this first lesson, you will be off to a fine start.

Non-Profit or Tax-Exempt Status

If you have not already taken this step, or if your organization does not already have this status, it is vital that you do so as soon as possible. Obtaining non-profit status will allow your organization to secure many valuable tax benefits.
What is the difference between non-profit and tax-exempt status? According to the IRS "Non-profit status is a state law concept. Non-profit status may make an organization eligible for certain benefits, such as state sales, property, and income tax exemptions. Although most federal tax-exempt organizations are non-profit organizations, organizing as a non-profit organization at the state level does not automatically grant the organization exemption from federal income tax. To qualify as exempt from federal income taxes, an organization must meet requirements set forth in the Internal Revenue Code."

You have several options in regard to obtaining this special status for fundraising purposes.

    • You can go directly to the IRS and begin the procedure yourself.
    • You can hire an attorney who specializes in obtaining non-profit status to accomplish this task for you, or
    • You can peruse the many Internet sites that walk you through the process or take care of the paperwork for you.
If you decide to take on the task yourself, be sure to read the IRS FAQ on the subject, which has been provided in the Resources section of this lesson. Most organizations choose to hire an attorney for this task as it takes the difficulty and potential of delays caused by inaccurate or improper filing out of the equation. Others use companies such as Legal Zoom to guide them through the process with great results. The choice is yours; however, be sure to research all your options carefully before deciding.

Define Your Mission

So, you have your non-profit status (or it is in the works) and you're ready to get started with the meat of earning money for your cause. Well, before you pick up the phone and start asking for donations, you need to first complete some paperwork. This is an important component of building your organization into a legitimate and donation-worthy group.
Let's start this paperwork trail with the backbone of all businesses--The Mission Statement.
You may know the particulars of exactly what you are trying to accomplish, but can you clearly and definitively explain it to someone else? Can you succinctly sum up in a few sentences what your goals are with your fundraising campaign? If not, now is the time to sit down and create a written definition of what you are trying to do. Your grammar does not have to be perfect, you can always edit later on, or hire a professional to do so, the important thing is to just jot down the main ideas you are trying to convey. Once you have those elements perfected, you can then take those ingredients and create a more defined and refined case statement.
Your mission statement does not have to be very long, one or two short paragraphs should do the trick, it will later be used to create your case statement, which is the more involved document.
Having trouble getting started? Keep it simple--write three words that define your organization. Expand those three words into three active sentences which explain your fundraising vision. From your sentences try to develop a full paragraph that would briefly tell another person what your organization is about.

Making Your Case Statement : A case statement is a clear and decisive document that explains your organization's initiative in writing. If you have written a clear mission statement it will be much easier to create this more exacting document. There are two types of case statement, Internal and External.

External Case Statement

This is the document that you will ultimately be showing to potential donors. It will be a description of your organization that you may leave with others so that they can learn more.

Internal Case Statement

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Fundraising course?

This document is used in-house as a reference tool. It includes everything in your external case statement plus other information about your organization such as services it will provide, any special features it possesses, worthy achievements and future plans. Your organization's internal case statement will be the basis for all supporting documents that will spring forth from it, such as: telephone scripts, emails, letters, brochures, newsletters and press releases. You should spend considerable time perfecting this document and adding to it as your organization evolves. If you feel that writing is not your forte, hire a professional to use your mission statement to create one for you.

If you plan to take on the task of creating an internal and external case statement yourself there are several excellent Web sources listed in the resources section of this lesson that provide sample case statements. Use these samples to get ideas for your own organization, but be sure to not duplicate them exactly. You will want to set your group apart from others in order to build a unique identity within the fundraising world--which leads us to the next section of this lesson!

Setting Your Group Apart

It is assumed that you have given serious thought to why your particular fundraiser is needed prior to continuing forward with your goals. If groups who raise funds for the same cause as yours already exist, we hope that you have established that a competing group would be a welcome addition. The reason you decided that your fundraising efforts are truly needed and/or required must become your organizations defining character.
Today's savvy donors want answers. They want to know why they should give their hard earned dollars to you in addition to (or instead of) other groups. It will not further your cause to be vague about your goals or melt into the crowd. Write down those things that set your group apart, write down why your fundraising mission is clearly important and allow that to set the tone when communicating with potential donors. Are you raising funds for a local school? Then tell your neighborhood donors how this will uniquely benefit the community they live in. Are you organizing a food drive before Thanksgiving when three other groups are doing the same? Tell potential donors why your group is needed when others already exist; what is special about your fundraiser or organization? Be specific!
Building Your Team
Odds are that you already have at least a few people on board who are willing to help and take part in your endeavor. If you don't, you had better sit down and go over your address book and start making calls. Fundraising is not a venture for one person alone! Even smaller efforts need at least one extra set of hands. If you try to do it all on your own, you will burn out very quickly and defeat your purpose. That said, there are several things to keep in mind when building your fundraising dream team:
    • Don't be afraid to ask family and friends to assist, hey, what are friends for?
    • Don't hem people in, take what they can offer. You may have a relative or friend who cannot devote many hours to your cause, but they might be willing to create a flyer or brochure for you during their lunch break.
    • Take out an ad in the local paper or post one in a grocery store, (or other high traffic area), calling for like-minded volunteers.
    • Build your expanded team from your nucleus. If you have a small group together ask them to call upon their friends and families to help.
    • For larger fundraising efforts it may be necessary to pay specialized individuals to assist. Be sure to narrow down those things that absolutely can't be accomplished by the volunteers already on your team.
    • Keep the "work" atmosphere fun. High morale is key in keeping your unpaid helpers happy.
    • Thank those who do agree to volunteer often and lavishly; let them know that their help is greatly appreciated.
    • Celebrate milestones and accomplishments with a pizza party or some other small gesture of festivity, (perhaps even donated by a local business!).

Organizing Your Team

No one wants to devote several hours of their week standing around wondering what the heck is going on! Before you even begin planning your fundraising campaign, you must have a meeting with your group. Be sure to have your mission and case statement ready and provide copies for all involved. The first meeting should have a clear directive--who will be doing what. It is up to you to have a precise list put together before hand of what will be needed to accomplish your fundraising goals. Get input from your team on who is qualified to do certain jobs. If several people are qualified you may be able to split the work between them or create a "mini-team" of two or three. Don't be discouraged if you end up with jobs on your list that no one seems qualified for; these may be the things you will need to hire that expert for, or get out there and rustle up another volunteer with that specific skill set.

Some other points to help keep your team organized:

    • Be forthcoming; do not "selectively" provide information to your team.
    • Keep everyone involved.
    • Welcome ideas and suggestions.
    • Audio record meetings, or, at the very least, assign one person to act as "secretary" and write down decisions made during meetings.
    • Set up a regular meeting schedule to ensure that everyone stays current on progress and goals.
    • Train new incoming volunteers well. Take the time to get them up-to-date on what has transpired so far and introduce them to the rest of the team.
    • Be sure to handle personality conflicts between team members promptly and with care to avoid hurt feelings, or worse, the loss of a helpful volunteer!
    • Gently let your volunteers know if they are off track or confused about their particular job.
    • A sense of humor goes a long way; don't be too stringent with your "rules."

Facilities, Equipment and Technology

The last part of Lesson One concerns is about things that will make the difference between a smooth start or a difficult one.
First and foremost a gathering place is of utmost importance. For small groups or focused, infrequent campaigns, your home or a volunteers home will serve the purpose, or, alternatively, the place of "business" for whom you're are raising funds if a school, church, synagogue or other such organization. Medium sized groups can inquire at local places of worship (the denomination is not important) to find out if they rent basement space or rooms to non-profits. Other options are private/political halls such as a local VFW, ethnic club or Rotary club who owns or rents space and are willing to allow you paid or free access to their headquarters. If your group is larger and your efforts more involved, it might be worth the investment to rent an office space to serve as headquarters. Be sure to ask landlord's if they offer rent discounts for non-profits!

Once you have a meeting place designated and secured, be sure to provide your volunteers with provisions that they will need to accomplish their tasks. The most obvious and simple are notepads and pens, refreshments, and use of bathroom facilities. However, depending on how involved the fundraising campaign or group is you may also want to consider some of the following:

    • Access to telephones with multiple lines
    • Computers with Internet access and printers
    • Copy and fax machines
    • Basic office supplies, such as: file folders, paper clips, pens, paper, staplers, printer ink, postage, envelopes and the like
    • Software such as Microsoft Office, MS Publisher or Adobe Acrobat

Make a list of the equipment and technology items you think you will need. This list may become more extensive as your development plan (Lesson Two) becomes more defined. As a basic reference use the list above. Browse your local Office Supply store and Internet supply stores to get the best prices on larger items.

In Lesson Four we will discuss computer software and technology in more detail including several software titles that will make your volunteer's lives much easier.


Starting out on the right foot with your fundraising endeavor is the key to on-going success. Plan well, make strong and convincing case statements, put together a dream team of like-minded individuals and organize them. Taking these steps will help put your fundraising goals within reach. In Lesson Two we will discuss Developing Your Fundraising Plan, but before proceeding, please complete the assignment and test so that you are ready to move on to the next lesson.