Fundraising for Nonprofits: How to Build a Community Partnership

Fundraising for Nonprofits: How to Build a Community Partnership

by P. Burke Keegan

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A guide that shows nonprofit organizations how to raise funds more effectively by working with their communities.  See more details below


A guide that shows nonprofit organizations how to raise funds more effectively by working with their communities.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1st ed
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.60(d)

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Cause andCommunityNonprofits andthe Community

Why Nonprofits?

Nonprofit organizations exist to meet a need or solve a problem that exists outside of them. When the St. Vincent de Paul Society opens a soup kitchen, the problem they are addressing is not St. Vincent's problem. The hungry are everyone's problem. If that soup kitchen did not exist, someone would have to start one. If no one came forward, those hungry people would be on our doorsteps asking for food. And if we did not feed them, they would die there and we would still be faced with solving the problems of suffering and death. St. Vincent de Paul Society acts in the name of all of society to solve our common problem of how to feed the hungry.

In the nonprofit world, need comes first. The nonprofit organization exists to respond to a need or solve a problem. There is no incentive to stimulate need. For many life-and-death organizations we wish the need would go away: AIDS cured, the homeless sheltered, the cycle of battering women and children stopped. Even in the arts, stimulating need does not mean artificially stimulating the market so that people "hunger" for your productions. It may mean having to educate the public about your particular brand of art or dance or music. But the "need" for the arts exists outside of the art organizations. Since it is art that translates civilization from one generation to the next, "art" is a quality of life need that cannot be disputed.

From human need flow services and programs. Once the need is identified by the nonprofit, the strategy to meet that need is expressed by the development of a program. If the need you are addressing is child care, how doyou propose solving the problem? Offering day care is one solution. But there are other parts to the problem. Like Project Care in San Rafael, California, you could meet the need by referring parents to low-cost programs, helping to monitor the quality of day care in your community, and even running a revolving car seat loaner program. Or, like the Child Assault Prevention Project in Oakland, you could educate youngsters about what kind of touching is appropriate while they are in day care settings.

"Why do we exist?" Isn't this the simplest of questions, as it appears? No. In fact, it is the biggest of stumbling blocks. Answer this question for yourself. Suppose you are the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center. Why do you exist? Of course, "to help." To help whom? The answer to that question cannot be "everyone." You're just one organization in Los Angeles. "To help gay men and lesbians. And straight people who don't understand us." Then the question must be, "Help them do what? What needs can you meet?" The answer to that question is often a shopping list of services, but that list does not answer the why of it. Why have a clinic? an employment program? a youth group? Why do advocacy? What do you want to accomplish? What is your dream? And how much of that dream can you carry out?

Nonprofit organizations have a difficult time focusing vision on what they can accomplish because most of the work is a Band-Aid on a very large wound. Start with the knowledge that bandaging your part of the hurt is important. So long as you stay focused on the job of bandaging, you see clearly that your particular bandage is the absolute best it can be.

Once your organization has decided what you will offer to the community to get at the community's need, you are ready for the business plan. This part is sometimes overlooked by zealous and stressed nonprofits. What will happen for what people at what cost? Where will the money come from? How do you want to grow over the coming years? Who do you need to help you? Until your business plan is in place, your organization is not ready to fundraise.

The Nonprofit as a Business

"Business" may be the most misunderstood word in the nonprofit vocabulary (with "marketing" a close second). Most people who choose the nonprofit sector as their focus for a career do so to find an alternative to the business world where you make money, hustle customers, and do work that benefits the world not at all. Nonprofit work has generally lower pay and longer hours, but it is perceived as being full of passion and purpose. Where does a business plan fit into an organization that is engrossed in saving the world?

In the for-profit world, a business plan is a blueprint for production and sales. A good manager will sit down and figure out how many widgets can be produced, how much each one costs to produce, how much she or he can sell them for, and who the potential market is. Services provided by nonprofits are harder to quantify and cost out than are widgets. Community theaters often have a very difficult time figuring out how much it costs to produce a play. Of course they buy wood, paint, and fabric for costumes, and they pay the bookkeeper and the general manager. But the hidden costs are difficult to trace without diligent effort because the Board president brings the doughnuts to rehearsals, the volunteers bring their own paint brushes and use their own sewing machines, "comp" tickets are available but it is not known if they are used, media contact is made by volunteers using their own telephones, and so on. An added problem with allowing hidden costs to stay hidden is that the Board president feels that she is "giving plenty" to the organization because of her bakery bills, and the other volunteers who are quietly paying out-of-pocket production expenses feel the same. When it comes time to ask for donations to pay for the up-front expenses, fundraising falls flat.

Having a business plan for a nonprofit organization means knowing what your services cost to perform, including staff time, materials used, and figuring a portion of the rent, utilities, and overhead costs like accounting and supervising services. It is essential that you know exactly what it costs to see each client, produce each concert, or cook each meal so that you can charge an appropriate amount and then go to funding sources to make up the difference. While the general plea for "Help!" and having a fundraising goal of "as much as we can" has worked in the past, donors are getting more sophisticated and want to see that you're watching the balance sheet we well as the program.

Looking to the Future

Having a business plan also means taking the time to figure out where you are going and how you will get there. The Cancer Support Community is a new nonprofit organization based in San Francisco. It began when two women met in the hospital and agreed that they were not getting the kinds of information they wanted and needed about cancer. The "heart" of the program is enabling a community of people who are struggling with cancer to offer loving support and encouragement to each other, along with providing reliable information.

When these two women were first asked, "How many people will you serve?", the answer was "Everyone who needs us." So they began by answering every call for help at any hour of the day or night. They rushed to peoples' bedsides, they ran groups out of their living rooms, they took more and more referrals from hospitals and doctors--all free of charge. And it became a dead-end project: Without money the two women could not feed themselves, let alone help the organization to prosper. So they made time to do fundraising. When they were asked, "How much do you need to raise?", they responded, "As much as we can." The problem with that goal is that it is unreachable. Try as you might, you will never raise as much as you can. There are always more grants to write, more potential donors to see, more corporations to approach.

In addition to knowing your costs, it is important to think about what the future holds for you. To really address the problem or meet the need, it is essential to know what the need will look like in five years, or ten years, and how strong you will need to be to address that need.

Let me say here that finding the time to plan is always a struggle. I've never seen an organization with time on their hands, looking for a way to fill it. But good, realistic planning is the most important gift you can give your organization. In their planning, the Cancer Support Community looked at how big the problem of cancer is in the Bay Area and how much it was likely to grow in the coming years. They determined what they would, and would not, provide to people with cancer. They decided how quickly their staff would grow to meet that need. They systematized referrals so that getting back to the referring physician would be easier, and the doctors developed more trust in their professionalism. Since they determined that all services are free and will remain that way, they know that all costs must be covered by fundraising. With that much dependence on fundraising, they had to build in a staff position to see to the raising of money.

Still not convinced that you need to plan?

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