In my final year of my undergraduate program, I assumed the role of fundraiser alongside one of my peers for our graduating class’s exhibition. From the very beginning of my degree, I knew that this exhibition would be a major part of my undergraduate career. And I knew that I wanted to take on an important role that would shape the exhibition’s final presentation and ensure its success. For me, the role of the fundraiser — the one who might secure ample funds for the exhibition to function — seemed like the best option. What I didn’t know was that the role of the fundraiser was actually much more than raising money for a project. Fundraising for this exhibition pleasantly surprised me in so many ways and hopefully I can share with you the importance, excitement and crucial role that the fundraiser plays.
Here are some key fundraising terms that I learnt while fundraising:
A partnership is a professional relationship that might consist of individuals or groups monetarily funding your project or offering other resources and help. For example, a group with well-established social media platforms and a large following might partner with you and promote your project on their online channels. In return, your project would advertise the partnership and that organization. Using the term partnership is the norm for acknowledging organizations offering financial support to your project.
A donor is any individual or group who provides financial support to a project or organization. When advertising or marketing your project, you might list your donors in a catalogue or on your social channels, coupled with acknowledging some sort of partnership.
Funds simply refer to a project or organization’s total amount of financial resources.
Sponsorship can mean many different things depending on the context. In fundraising, it typically refers to a group or individual who covers costs associated with a project. Sometimes, organizations do not want to be referred to as a sponsor, but would prefer the term partnership.
In fundraising, a pitch is a concise (and sometimes very quick) way to discuss your project to anyone who might be able to provide financial support for your project.
Trust, Respect and Connections: The Key to Anyone’s Wallet
Fundraising for any project can seem like a daunting task. The most important thing to keep in mind is that fundraising is a form of development— developing your project further by setting up various communication channels with individuals and groups, and establishing a reservoir of resources that you can dive into whenever you need it. To do this, you have to focus all of your main goals around three themes: building trust, respect, and connections.
While fundraising, you’ll find that you will need to create connections with your team, potential donors and other partnered organizations. You will want to create a connection by tapping into shared goals and interests. Get to know your team and your partners so that you can establish a professional relationship where both of you are acting from your similar goals. Likewise, you have to make it clear to your team and partners that you hope to build a relationship of respect. This basically means that you need to make it clear that you respect the work and goals of your partners or donors and you want their support because they believe in the same values and ideas as you do. More specifically, you want to reassure your partner that you appreciate their support and that you want to find ways to help them as well. If you make your intentions clear from the beginning, they are more likely to trust you as the project manifests and offer more support if needed.
Fundraising and development often crosses into the other operations of your project. When I was fundraising for my class’s exhibition, I realized that by making strong connections with groups who were skilled in social media promotion or creating books and catalogues, I could secure additional assistance for our exhibition that didn’t just include money. When you’re working on development, you work to support your team as much as the project overall.
As I continue to fundraise for various projects, the themes of building trust, respect, and connections became an integral part of successfully completing the following fundraising steps:
1.Be Passionate, Know your Project
- When you’re passionate about a project and determined to see it come to fruition, you’re more likely to prepare all of the meticulous details and be able to express general themes with ease. Quite frankly, it is very clear to people around you, especially potential donors and partners, if you do not believe in your project and don’t care about it. If you express your project with a sense of urgency and determination, you can show people why they should care about your project, too. If you’re lucky enough to have a very timely project that focuses on an issue or idea that many are currently concerned about, then this will be easier. But, as long as you show that you are passionate about building a successful project, then you’ll notice partners popping up out of the blue.
- Knowing your project well is key for making effective proposals and pitches to potential partners and writing a coherent grant application. Whether you’re writing an application or speaking to someone, you should know the five W’s + H (who, what, where, when, why and how) associated with your project’s execution— you should prepare to answer questions such as:
- Who is on your team?
- Who will benefit from your project?
- What is your team’s main goal?
- What do you plan on doing with support?
- How will you execute _______ part of your project?
- How will you ensure that funds are spent responsibly?
- When will your project take place?
- When will you require support?
- Why is this project important? Why now?
- Why should x’s organization be interested?
The explanation of your project should be easy-to-follow and consist of simple phrases and words. Grant applications will sometimes have maximum word counts, so being concise is crucial. When you’re in a meeting with a potential donor, you want to be able to explain your project as quickly as possible so that they do not lose interest. You should leave room for any questions and make sure that you’re having a conversation. Sometimes you only have 30 minutes to meet with someone, or sometimes you meet someone by pure happenstance, like in an elevator or on a plane. In those situations, you should discuss your project within 1 minute.
When you’re making a pitch, you need to practice as much as possible beforehand. Try timing your pitches for 1 minute, 2 minutes, and 3 minutes. Any more than 3 and you’re likely to lose their attention.
2. Don’t just focus on the money
- Do NOT only focus on securing financial support for your project, but look into other forms of assistance. If you’re meeting with a publishing company, perhaps ask for assistance creating pamphlets or posters. If you’re meeting with an artist who is skilled in image editing software and photography, perhaps you can ask them to do some work for you at a reduced fee and in return offer to promote them on your social media.
- In this situation, you will have to reach out to your team and ask them what kinds of assistance they need. If you approach people knowing about their skills, expressing interests in their ideas and asking for advice, they will be very flattered and more likely to help you! They might even offer to cover costs associated with a certain part of the project or offer to do things for free. This brings me to my next and final step…
This might be an obvious step for anyone planning a project, but I don’t want to underestimate the capacity for researching to completely transform your fundraising.
- When you begin fundraising, start by searching for any relevant grants that might be able to support your project. Local grants can be significantly easier to receive because you’re competing with less people, whereas federal or provincial grants cater to larger populations. Indeed, you should look for grants that are directly relatable, but you should also try to look for grants that might not seem to totally related, because it might be a good way to extend the operations of your project. For instance, let’s say that you’re organizing a donation drive that is hoping to collect and distribute old and working tablets and laptops to low-income youth. Of course, look for grants that are focused on helping youth or at-risk groups. However, maybe an arts grant exists at a gallery that will provide exhibiting space for an artist that supports youth. If you apply for this grant, not only will you secure funds, but you can look for an artist who can work within the theme of helping low-income youth stay connected in an increasingly virtual world. In this way, you start to extend the overall operations of your project.
- If you’re a student, young person, or member of a minority/marginalized group (i.e. women, Black communities, Indigenous Peoples, People of colour, immigrants, persons with disabilities, etc.), you might qualify for additional grants for your project. Look for these any grants and don’t be afraid to take those opportunities! As a woman of colour myself, I have taken advantage of these opportunities because it has broken down barriers that others with more privilege haven’t had to face.
- Spend a fair amount of time researching for and about organizations who can serve as partners, providing financial support and additional guidance. One of the ways to do this is by looking into the goals and desires of organizations and making that the focus of your conversations and how you approach pitches. In your pitch or meeting, mention how much you know about the organization or what you appreciate about their work. This establishes a positive foundation from where you can develop the partnership. Try to think about how specific parts of the organization can benefit from your project.
- When you’re looking for partners or donors, dive into your local community first. Organizations are always trying to find ways to support projects happening in their communities —it’s just good philanthropy. You might need to broaden your project’s goals so that it can fit into some of the aims of a partner, but only to a certain extent. If you’re a student, look into groups at your university that might be willing to help. If you’re an artist, look for smaller museums and galleries who are easy to contact.
Contacting Donors & Partners
When you’re contacting a potential donor or partner, send them well-written, hard-copies of personalized letters if possible. And make sure you drop it off to the office of the organization you intend to contact. This usually works for smaller organizations or departments, but it can work well in a bigger organization if you know the exact person you wish to contact. Below, I have briefly written out some guidelines for writing letters:
- Addressing the individual: “Dear (Dr/Ms/Mr. Or just their name), (role in the organization, organization’s name);
- Don’t forget the punctuation here — two commas and a semicolon
- Paragraph 1: include a catchy and attention-grabbing opener like, “In 2020, the world was thrusted into a new virtual society as the Covid-19 pandemic forced us indoors”
- This paragraph should include a very brief description of your project, what you’re asking for and, if necessary, where you are coming from
- No more than 3-4 sentences
- Paragraph 2: Go into more detail about the project, but only add very important, general information.
- If your project is going to be seen by hundreds of people, add that here.
- If your project is receiving support from a notable organization or individual, mention that here, too.
- No more than 5-6 sentences
- Paragraph 3: This will be your final paragraph. Ask for support again, politely. If you know what the funding will be used for, mention it here (ex. “With your support, we will be able to purchase name tags, badges, refreshments, etc.”).
- You will want to offer to place their name and logo on all of your marketing and promotional materials and mention again how many people will see those advertisements.
- Include your contact information, too (email and/or phone number).
- No more than 3 sentences.
- Sign-off: This is the end of your letter, so write something memorable, like “Thank you for joining us in our fight against climate change”.
- When you sign off the letter, use “sincerely” or “with great thanks” and sign your signature underneath your printed name, and below that, write your position and your organization.
- General Format
- Font: size 11 or 12, Arial or Times New Roman. A serif font would be okay, but nothing super fancy.
- Header: this area should include your logo or the name of your project in bold and big letters.
- Margins: 1 inch x 1 inch.
- Spacing: single-spacing is fine, though I typically use 1.25-1.5 spacing to make the page look less crowded. Double-spacing would be hard to read.
Two general ways to acknowledge support:
My last piece of advice is regarding acknowledging your partners and grant organizations. To avoid any miscommunication, always ask and confirm how they would like to be acknowledged. Grant organizations usually send a very specific list of requests for acknowledgements. Individual donors or small group donors will sometimes send an email, but it’s not always guaranteed. This the general “rule of thumb”:
If you receive any support from an organization or group, ask them if they have any logos that you can place on any marketing or promotional materials associated with your project. Remember to ask how they would like their logos presented. Sometimes organizations ask for their logos to be placed on the footer of a poster or request that the logo is sized in a specific way. It’s always best to ask for clear directions and instructions to maintain a good, mutual and trustworthy relationship with your partners or donors.
In some cases, your partners will request that they are acknowledged with very specific terminology or phrasing. You should always ask if the organization prefers to be referred to as a donor, partner or sponsor. Try to include a variation of the following sentences wherever you can— it will surely impress your partners:
“Our project has been generously supported by __________”
“Our project would not have been possible without the generous support from______”
“We are honoured to have received generous support from the following organization(s): ___________”
I hope that you’ll be able to take all of this fundraising advice to your own projects and see your hard-work finally pay off. Here’s to well-funded, passionate projects!