Fundraising from individuals on a limited budget

Many groups have very tight budgets and are dedicated to putting the money they do have toward their mission. So it is important to review the most cost effective techniques for fundraising and plan activities that require very little upfront and ongoing cost. The most cost effective forms of fundraising include grant applications, major gifts, corporate partnerships and community based activities. Overall, the more you can get someone else to do for you and limit the financial and staff involvement of your organisation, the more cost effective your fundraising will be.

Grant applications/major gifts

The techniques required and types of grants available are covered in detail at (link to Applying for Grants).  When fundraising on a limited budget, the advantage of these two techniques is that you don’t have to spend much upfront, other than the investment of staff time. If you have your case for support (link to Preparing a Case For Support) and have done your research, the same application can be sent to numerous grant-giving bodies or be adapted quickly and easily where required.  

Likewise, raising major gifts from high net worth individuals is a low cost activity focused on spending time building relationships and inspiring individuals to give on a personal basis (link to Raising Funds From High Net Worth Individuals).

Corporate Sponsorship/Donations

Companies are keen to promote themselves within the local community and linking with a respected voluntary organisation can bring benefits to both parties. Companies can sponsor your work, pay for costs such as printing or advertising (if that is the area the company works in) and encourage their own employees to raise money and awareness in your local community.

Events which gain local, regional or national media coverage are attractive to companies who are often interested in sponsoring some or all of the costs in return for profile in front of your audience and in the press.  A sponsorship proposal to a company can include key elements about your work taken from your case for support, but should also very clearly outline the opportunities for recognition and promotion that the company will have if they fund your projects or events.

There are legal aspects in many countries around taxation and other related issues, so take time to check your local legislation.  Ensure too that you get value for money and don’t end up helping the company more than they help you.

Community Fundraising

Again, the techniques and types of community fundraising are detailed elsewhere (link to Community Fundraising entry). This is a relatively low cost fundraising option as volunteers outside of the organisation can fundraise on your behalf from their families and friends, without using much resource from the organisation.

Direct Mail

One of the most popular methods of fundraising from individuals is direct mail. It often brings good results but requires an initial investment that can be difficult to commit for organisations with limited budgets.   High cost or low return activities such as this should be avoided for the short-term but can help build supporter numbers and increase income in the long-term.

Direct mail involves sending  appeals for small amounts of money to large volumes of individuals either from your own database of supporters, or from lists of cold individuals rented from direct marketing agencies.  The key costs in a direct mail campaign are the creation of the appeal materials themselves (usually written and compiled by external marketing agencies); the renting of names and addresses to mail, and the postage for the mass volumes of appeals.

If you have the budget for the above activities, ask other voluntary organisations in your country or community for recommendations of agencies they have used successfully in the past. Invite those agencies in to explain how they can help you, bring examples of previous appeals and quote for your work.

If you don’t have sufficient funds for a professionalised direct mail campaign on that scale, you could explore the following options;

  • Write a direct mail appeal internally. Use your case for support as a starting point, but emphasise the case study and emotional content of the appeal. Ask for samples of appeals by other voluntary organisations to give you an idea of tone, length and gift prompts.
  • Build your database of contacts and supporters for future mailing appeals by ensuring you always utilise opportunities to data capture new names and addresses at community events, through your website etc.
  • If you have a small supporter base already, explore opportunities for reciprocal mailings with other local organisations. This involves ‘swapping data’ with another organisation for one appeal. They are able to mail your supporters with their appeal and vice versa.
  • Without a significant number of supporters or contacts to mail, you could use volunteers to post your appeal through doors locally.
  • However you choose to write and mail your appeal, ensure it contains opportunities for further data capture, such as a name and address form; gift prompts; a reply envelope with your address on it.
  • Bear in mind that because response rates for direct mail are relatively low, it is important to mail large volumes of people to see any significant income.

Most importantly in any of the above direct mail activities, ensure you are familiar with data protection legislation in your own country and that you observe the rules on how data should be stored and used.

Good data management is crucial to the success of your appeals. Ensure you keep records up to date and include information about supporters mailing preferences and areas of interest in your work. Rather than sending ad-hoc mailings, develop a mailing plan for the year so that appeals are part of a focused strategy. That said, emergency appeals are often the most successful so be responsive to media stories or disasters that affect your work and in those cases consider sending a very targeted appeal.

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