Starting a nonprofit from scratch is no small task. It takes courage, conviction, and a never-ending supply of patience. That’s why nonprofit founders are some of the most dedicated people we know. If you’re reading this, and you’re thinking, “that’s me!” take a moment to congratulate yourself on how far you’ve come. Chances are it's long overdue, and you deserve it.
You’re already aware that running a nonprofit is much more than developing and executing programs in your community. A big part of what makes running a nonprofit organization possible – from sustaining your impactful programming, to keeping the lights on, to paying your staff – is the daily work of fundraising. But fundraising isn’t always easy, especially when your rolodex isn’t filled with immediately obvious connections, like wealthy friends and family members. This makes fundraising a challenging strategic puzzle.
If you are struggling to crack this puzzle, know that you’re not alone. Furthermore, with the right tactics in your toolkit, you can build a realistic and sustainable fundraising plan to support your brand-new organization. Here are 4 tips to get you started:
Hone your message. Develop the language you are using to talk about your work. Think about what it is that keeps you up at night, what problem you are trying to solve, why it is important, and how a donor’s dollars could make success a reality. Take those ideas and verbalize them. Practice writing them and practice saying them out loud to your close friends and family who can give you honest feedback.
Go out and talk to people. Once you have a clear and impactful message, go share it with the world. Attend networking events, introduce yourself to new people in social situations, seek out potential partners and other interested parties through content-specific professional associations or meetup groups. With a clear message and the passion to back it up, it will be easy to identify who is genuinely excited about your work, and who you will be able to bring along for the ride.
Game out your revenue channels. Most contributed revenue budgets have the following standard lines: Individuals, Board of Directors, Foundations, Corporations, Government, and Special Events. There is a common misconception that corporate, foundation, and government grants are the low hanging fruit with which to get your fundraising started. In fact, it is near impossible to build up a portfolio of institutional funders until you have a multi-year track record of programming. Individual gifts from friends, family, and those in your close networks are going to comprise the majority of your contributed funds in your first few years of operation—so make sure to set your expectations accordingly!
Enlist Ambassadors. Remember that you don’t have to do this alone. Once you have identified a group of people who are becoming just as passionate about your work as you are, enlist them to start honing their own messages about why your nonprofit is important to them, and how others can get involved in supporting its work.