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Top 10 Fundraising Tips

Compiled from Darian Rodriguez Heyman, ed., Nonprofit Management 101: A Complete and Practical Guide for Leaders and Professionals

  1. How to get your board more involved in fundraising:

    Stage a Board Member Thank-a-Thon

    Tons of nonprofits experience frustration with getting their boards to fundraise; in fact, it's the second biggest reason why executive directors leave their posts, according to CompassPoint's "Daring to Lead" study. An easy way to give board members a chance to dip their toes in the waters of donor engagement is staging a thank-a-thon. The key is to make it easy for board members to participate, and to help them understand that fundraising is much more than making an ask. By inviting your board members to come together one evening or weekend to call and thank recent donors, they will get exposure interacting with donors and will leave feeling empowered and connected to your organization's work. This activity will also help improve relationships with your donors, who will be delighted to receive a thank you call without an attached ask.

  2. How to increase your chances of getting a grant:

    Never Apply for a Grant Without Contacting the Foundation First

    As much as you might want to believe that grants are awarded simply due to the fit of the program and the excellence of the application, it simply isn't true. In fact in our experience, the odds of getting a grant that you send in without contacting the foundation are about 5 percent-10 percent. Just as in individual (and all!) fundraising, developing relationships is critical. There are people at these foundations, called program officers, who are directly responsible for deciding who gets money and who doesn't. They care deeply about the work they are funding, and consider it an advantage to be able to scope out potential grantees. In-person meetings with program officers are ideal, but even a short phone call with a grant manager or administrator can still yield the basic information you need as well as getting your name in the mind of someone at the foundation.

    Sometimes these initial conversations can save you valuable time in applying for a grant program that was not a fit—always do your homework on their funding goals ahead of time! But often, they are valuable knowledge-gathering sessions: use the call or meeting to identify the funder's key priorities and desired language, which many times cannot be found on the organization's Web site; figure out which of your programs or initiatives is the best fit;, and determine how much money you should request. Finally, go out on a limb and ask if they would be willing to preview your LOI (Letter of Intent) or proposal before you submit it officially. This advance look will give them a sense of ownership over your request and provide you with valuable feedback. Start today by calling the offices of your top foundation prospects and seeing if you can get on a relevant program officer's schedule.

  3. How to secure a donation:

    Make Specific and Direct Asks for Money

    People give because they are asked—if you don't ask, the answer will always be no. It can be tough to look someone in the eyes and ask for money, but somewhere in your pitch, some variation of the words "I'd like to invite you to invest $100 in our work" need to find their place, ideally followed by as long a pause as it takes to get an answer. For fundraisers, you can't make the mistake of not asking because you feel greedy or you think they will know what you want. Ask with pride for the cause you are so committed to raising money for, and be honored to be the potential bridge for that donor from need to impact, donation to solution. Be sure to ask for a specific amount (something that's a stretch, but not unrealistic), and be clear about exactly what you will spend the money on and the impact it will generate. Tell the story of someone you've served who enjoyed the impact of these types of donations. Start today by calling a lapsed donor and asking for a small renewal gift, even if it's $25! Practice this type of direct and specific ask on your board members, coworkers, family, and friends, and in no time you will be a master fundraiser.

  4. How to build loyal, happy donors:

    Map Donations to Impact

    People don't give to you because you have needs; they give to you because you meet needs. Donors and prospects don't want to hear about the woes of the economy or your organizational struggles—no one wants to join a sinking ship. Instead, they want to know exactly where their donations will go, or have gone, and what impact your work is having on their community and the issues they care about. Use the power of personal stories to demonstrate how critical and important their support is to your work. Emphasize impact and stories in all of your communications with donors, both in person and in your written materials. Make sure that you send timely thank you notes, reports on progress and success, and ongoing communications to build loyalty and trust with your donors. Start by sending a handwritten note to your best donor today!

  5. How to raise more money online:

    Make Your Donation Button Shine

    Online fundraising is a critical component of any individual fundraising strategy. It's the fastest-growing piece of the development pie, plus when people hear about your organization, want to learn more, or seek updates on your work, they will visit your Web site. It is critical to make sure that visitors can find your donation button within two seconds of clicking on your home page. This means that the button should be sizeable, colorful, prominent, and "above the fold," meaning it's visible on the page without the need to scroll down. Play around with different iterations if you can and carefully note the impact on conversation rates and donation amounts—Network for Good performed a test on their Web site and witnessed a 30 percent greater conversion when they changed their donation button from gray to red. Conversion at the last mile is key, so analyze how many people click on the button versus how many actually donate. If the link doesn't go straight to the donation page, fix it! You should also get creative and use images or different words to relate a donation to something tangible, e.g. "donate a mosquito net" or "save a litter of kittens."

  6. How to raise money on Facebook:

    Create and Tap Your Social Network

    If you've been avoiding getting your organization involved in Facebook, here are three good reasons to rethink that decision:

    1. Facebook has an audience of 600 million and growing, making it equivalent to the population of the world's third-largest country.
    2. Meet them where they're at: it is extremely likely that a considerable amount of your wired network is already engaged on the platform.
    3. More and more donations are happening online.

    Here are a few guidelines for getting started with Facebook:

    First, create a "Page" for your organization—this is similar to a personal profile. It allows members to become a "friend" of your nonprofit, allowing them to subscribe to your updates and engage in dialogue with you and other supporters. To set up your Facebook Page, visit

    Second, create a Facebook Group: If you are interested in sending direct messages to the in-boxes of your supporters (and you have fewer than 5,000 followers), setting up a group is the way to go. Without a group, you are limited to posting status updates and having your supporters read them via their Facebook News Feed. To set up your group, visit

    Once you are established on Facebook and your supporters are accustomed to communicating with you through this platform, it is time to start raising money. "Causes" is a tool (application) built for Facebook that allows you to fundraise within the Facebook network. Although it's difficult to build a community within Causes, it's worth exploring as a fundraising supplement to your Page or Group. Get a better feel for this tool at

    Once you are set up on Facebook, a great tip for integrating fundraising activities is to use the platform generously and frequently to express thanks for member contributions—public recognition helps spread loyalty and reinforces generous support.

  7. How to secure corporate support:

    Pursue In-Kind Donations, Contributed Media, and Technical Expertise

    Especially since the economic downturn, it's become much more common for nonprofits and corporations to enter into partnerships that are less focused on direct financial support. In business they say "profits equals income minus expenses," and similarly for nonprofits, reducing operating costs is just as important as bringing more money in the door. Even in tough times like those we're going through, many companies are able to provide non-cash support that can be just as crucial as a monetary donation. Here are three budget-relieving examples we encourage you to pursue:

    In-Kind Support: Make-A-Wish Foundation of America has been particularly successful at developing what are called "cause-related marketing" partnerships with a variety of airlines, hotels, and travel providers. In their case, the nonprofit receives travel services that can be used in granting wishes. These donations save money that would have otherwise been expended, and is critical to fulfilling, the foundation's mission of granting wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. Whether it's donated beer and wine for your next gala, free computers, or getting your airfare comped, how can corporate in-kind support advance your efforts and add money to your bottom line?

    Contributed Media: The U.S. Fund for UNICEF has developed an innovative partnership with top advertising agencies. The agencies approach the companies they normally buy ad space from and ask them to donate time to support UNICEF's Believe in Zero campaign. Each year UNICEF receives more than $10 million in donated media to raise awareness for mission-critical initiatives, allowing them to deliver a call to action to targeted audiences. This relationship has been critical to the UNICEF and has resulted in them saving 2,000 lives every day—that's direct mission impact. But you don't have to be a huge global player to secure contributed media—call your local TV or radio station and ask if they're able to produce a PSA (public service announcement) for you and air it!

    Technical Expertise: As part of their relationship with United Way of King County, the Seattle office of a global accounting firm reviewed United Way's IT infrastructure. They provided pro bono recommendations on how multiple databases could be integrated to provide more timely, accurate information, thereby improving United Way's service delivery. Although United Way isn't a mom and pop shop, they wouldn't have been able to pay for this kind of support. At the same time, the accounting firm enjoyed engaging employees in community building, building team morale. Whatever your size, look for a pro bono lawyer and accountant as well as technical support providers and other volunteer roles that may be filled by talented professionals.

  8. How to bring more donors to your cause:

    Apply for a Google Grant

    Getting new potential supporters into your pipeline is a key concern for any nonprofit—cutting through the clutter and marketing yourself is a key component of bringing new donors to your organization. Google provides many free tools and opportunities to help nonprofits spread the word about their good work: Google Grants for online advertising, expanded YouTube channels, Google Apps software, and premium Google Earth features. And now U.S.-based nonprofits can fill out a simple application to access all of these free services at as well as access tips on how to make the most of Google's software, and their new nonprofit marketplace, which lists companies that offer free or discounted services to nonprofits.

    At the very least, definitely sign up for a Google Grant ( A Google Grant will get you $10,000 per month in free "AdWords" advertising, so people see your link above the other results when they search Google. It's an easy way for you to get more exposure for your cause, which is key to raising more money.

  9. How to produce a profitable fundraising event:

    Create a Winning Budget

    Ensuring that an event is fun, profitable, and not overly taxing on your staff is no easy task. Approach events with the same methodology used for capital campaigns or strategic planning: with ample time, realistic goals, and a clear sense of the desired outcome. Anyone who has planned an event knows they are like home renovations—they seem to cost twice as much and take twice as long as you expect.

    Let's talk next about money. Many nonprofits fall into the trap of poor budgeting, investing time and money, only to break even or incur a loss at the end of an event. A budget that is realistic, detailed, and carefully managed is one of the best tools in your toolbox. Envision all aspects of your event, account for every component that has a cost associated with it, and think through how you're going to raise money and what's realistic. Identify items and services you need to get donated, but be very conservative with your in-kind donation estimates. Notwithstanding our comments in Tip 7, organizations often erroneously assume that they can throw an entire event based on donated goods and services. Finally, add a 5 percent–10 percent contingency line item to cover unexpected costs without breaking your budget.

    Consider the 2-to-1 ratio. If you raise $2 for every $1 you spend, that's considered a respectable expense/income ratio. Even if you're planning a modest fundraiser with the goal of bringing in $500 for your project, you still need to create a realistic budget and time line, just as you would for a large gala.

  10. How to fundraise for your social enterprise:

    Understand the Social Capital Market

    Nonprofits and social enterprises need money to start their businesses, but they often can't go to the same sources as a small business operator. The "social capital market" is a very different world, with different rules.

    "Social capital market" is a term widely used to describe loans, program-related investments, and other financing tools that are made available by foundations, government agencies, corporations, and individuals to support nonprofit ventures. Unfortunately, though, it's not well coordinated or organized.

    Also, the social capital market is much smaller than traditional capital markets, which include bank loans, venture capital, and private equity. Traditional money is usually unavailable to nonprofits since they cannot issue equity (ownership) in their businesses without spinning them off, which creates a series of other considerations and challenges. The social market focuses on social impact—hence the term "impact investor"—before financial return, which is inherently much harder to gauge and monitor. As such it does not have the innate efficiency or discipline of the traditional market.

    If you are going to start a social business, be prepared to spend an inordinate amount of time raising money. By most estimates, traditional businesses invest 3 percent–5 percent of leadership time raising funds for a venture, with the rest devoted to making the business work. Many social enterprises spend 20 percent–50 percent of their leadership time raising money, a potentially significant distraction from the actual work of the organization. Be aware of the need to spend this amount of time raising funds, and check out relevant forums such as Investors Circle, Social Venture Network, and SoCap for leads—knowing what you're getting into is half the battle.

© 2011, Compiled from Darian Rodriguez Heyman, ed., Nonprofit Management 101: A Complete and Practical Guide for Leaders and Professionals; printed with permission. delivers practical insights and easy-to-implement solutions for professionals and organizations seeking to meet mission and maximize impact. The site is a companion resource to the new book Nonprofit Management 101: A Complete and Practical Guide for Leaders and Professionals. Edited by Darian Rodriguez Heyman, the former executive director of Craigslist Foundation, Nonprofit Management 101 is a comprehensive handbook that features actionable insights from 50 leading practitioners across 35 topics.

Topics: Fundraising