The Basic Principles of Fundraising

  1. You don't get money unless you ask for it.
  2. Keep it simple and fun.
  3. The best approach is the direct, personal approach.
  4. You have to give people something for their money, even if only a sense of accomplishment in knowing their funds will support your good work.
  5. When you do fundraising right, people give you money because they want to, not because they're trying to do you a favor.
  6. Funds raised in the name of a specific cause or organization are to be used either in support of that cause or organization. Your reputation is key and people need to trust you and your group.

General Tips

  • Know Where You Are Going: Identify specifically what it is you want to accomplish. Set clear, reasonable financial goals and stick to them.
  • Have A Plan: Selling bazaar items? Staging a Norouz event or concert? It all starts with a plan.
  • Draw on Your Resources: And that means you, your fellow group members, your advisor, your friends and allies. You have a lot going for you in terms of experience, enthusiasm and energy. You can also reach out to the staff at IAAB for ideas, tips, and best practices.
  • Keep It Positive: If you think you can’t do it, you won’t. You are selling something worthwhile!
  • Know Your Territory: Good salespeople know their market.
  • Exhaust Your School’s Resources: Oftentimes universities have special funds that students don’t take advantage of, whether for conferences or through specific departments. Build relationships with your student affairs staff and each department. Go talk to them in the beginning of the year even if your event is for the Spring – they usually allot funds in the beginning for the remainder of the year.

Plan Your Budget Ahead of Time

Before developing a fundraising plan and goals, estimate the amount of money your group needs to carry out its work for the next year.

Basic categories include:

  • Publicity: Costs for flyers, posters, photocopying, brochures, and newsletters. Try to find a printer who will donate the printing of flyers, or at least give you a discount. Have an overall printing budget, which includes photocopying costs. Sometimes departments within your university will let you print for free – build relationships with them and ask ahead of time.
  • Postage: Some groups expect inpidual members to absorb this cost, which is fine in the short run, but can become burdensome over time on those members who do most of the mail. Include costs for newsletter distribution.
  • Meeting Costs: Consider costs for rooms for special meetings, refreshments, audiovisual equipment, advertising, etc. How many meetings will you have? What will happen at those meetings that might affect costs?
  • Event Costs: Include transportation, "props" (signs, posters, etc.), printed materials, and postage for mailing letters or postcards.
  • Travel: You may need to send members or leaders places or bring people to help your group. Some groups cover the costs of a certain number of members to attend conferences or student trainings.
  • Speakers: Costs for speakers should include travel, lodging, meals, and honoraria. Some organizations will approach you about inviting a speaker and are able to cut down the costs or even cover all speaker-related costs.
  • Resources: Much information can be obtained for free from other organizations.
  • Fundraising-Related Expenses: It costs money to make money. Costs include publicity, advertising, facility costs, and everything things needed to do an event (prizes, entertainment, food, etc.).
  • Volunteer and Donor Appreciation: Groups may want to recognize donors and members (all or some who have worked particularly hard on an action or event) with thank-you notes, a token, or a gift certificate to a local restaurant or business.

Once your group has made a budget estimate for each category, add all costs together to determine the total you have to raise. If the amount is more than you can reasonably expect to raise, you will need to prioritize and decide which items are most important.

Fundraising Planning

After you decide what your group needs, you have to figure out how to get it. You can either raise money or have goods and services donated (known as in-kind donations).

Make an assessment of your group, asking questions such as:

  • What material resources do we have?
  • Who do people in our group know? Public officials, other types of leaders, college faculty, entertainers, and local merchants are examples of contacts who can donate time, materials, or food for your event.
  • What do we like to do? Are there group members with special talents? Are any group members artists, musicians, or experienced speakers?
  • What other organizations do members belong to that may want to collaborate?

When creating a fundraising plan, keep in mind the following:

  • Fun: Fundraising activities should be fun for the donors and for the members who have put it together. Activities that are a drag burn out your members and make people who give feel like they’ve been burned.
  • Simplicity: Keep it simple. The more bells and whistles you add to the plan, the more things can go wrong.
  • Potential Hazards: Beware of fundraising that requires large up-front investment, includes a high-risk of losing money, or could harm your group's reputation if you fail to meet expectations. Explore options for reducing high-priced overhead items, such as getting food donated.
  • Involvement: Involve members and others in a positive way, without drawing time and resources from other necessary work.
  • Donor Appreciation: Make donors feel good about giving. Thank them and, when appropriate, do so publicly.
  • Other Events: Add fundraising to what your group is already doing. Consider how you can add a fundraising element to already planned actions and activities.
  • Celebration: Celebrate successes and achievements. Reward friends, allies, and hard-working group members.

Fundraising Ideas And Suggestions

In-kind Donations

Look at each expense and think about ways you can get those needs met for free or at a discount. Examples of in kind donations include food from a restaurant, printing from a printer, and a free hotel room from a hotel. Always remember to thank donors (with a letter) and with free publicity if they don't want to remain anonymous (e.g. an ad in your newsletter or a letter to the editor after an event).

Membership Dues

Membership dues should be a basic part of your fundraising plan. They are an easy, dependable source of income from your constituents - the people who most want you to keep doing what you're doing. You'll hear many arguments against group dues: "Volunteers give time, they shouldn't be asked for money." "Those who can't pay will feel left out." Time, however, is not money. Group members know you need both to do your work. As for leaving people out, you can design a system that won't offend any volunteers. Many people who appreciate your work cannot attend meetings; dues give them a chance to invest in the group. If your members absolutely reject the idea of dues, offer them opportunities to donate for specific projects or costs.

Hints for determining and collecting membership dues:

  • When determining a membership fee, be sensitive to different economic levels among your members. Groups could have lower membership rates for the elderly, students, and people on fixed incomes and a regular rate for other members.
  • Invite people to join at each meeting and event. Wherever you display your group materials, make a membership coupon available. Put one in your newsletter.
  • If you have a newsletter, start with a reminder: "Please renew your membership before December, to receive our special Shabe Yalda newsletter."
  • Determine what membership in your organization means. Are there going to be a particular rights, privileges, or benefits members get when they pay dues (such as voting rights)?

Offer members a concrete benefit as a thank-you. Include items such as:

  • Newsletter: a newsletter is a great benefit that keeps members informed of your work and is also a good forum for further requests. Each issue should include a coupon for gift memberships or donations.
  • Bumper stickers, button, or note cards
  • T-shirts
  • Discounts on ticketed events
Special Appeals

Some groups separate the funds used for regular operations from special appeal needs. It is often easier to raise larger sums of money if you can tell donors exactly what the money is for. Large donors in particular like to be able to see their money at work. If your group has an action or specific event coming up, use it as an opportunity to make a special appeal to your regular donors and others.

Selling Merchandise

Selling T-shirts, pins, and posters requires initial funds to purchase the products.

What to Sell

Start with low-priced items. For groups just starting out with merchandizing as a fundraiser, start with small-ticket items like pins and stickers instead of t-shirts. For such small items, request donations and then give items away. For example, you might be able to sell buttons for 50 cents, but if you request a donation for that same pin, many people are likely to put a dollar or some larger amount into your collection jar.

Local Vendor Merchandise

Your group can also design and sell its own products, produced by a local vendor. Be sure to discuss design elements, which will affect the price of the merchandise (e.g. number of colors used, number of sides of a T-shirt on which there is printing, etc). Be creative with your design, but make sure that it communicates your group’s message. When making an order, be sure to have a written agreement with the vendor, with dates for payment and delivery.

Group Products

Special Holiday Merchandise

Many small items, such as flowers, cookies, and cards, can be sold for Holidays such as Halloween, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day, and cultural holidays. Your group can be creative in marketing items for each holiday.

What to Charge

A general rule of thumb is to charge double what you pay. When deciding your price, be sure to look at "full cost accounting"; in other words, consider any costs associated with selling the shirts such as cost of booth and table space, as well as number of shirts you give away to volunteers, guest speakers, or others. If people complain to you about the price being too high, don't lower it. Always politely explain that the sales are for a good cause. Don't set your price too low. For instance, if shirts cost you $7 and you sell them for $10, it will take you 34 shirts to make a profit of $100. If you sell them for $15, it will only take you 13 shirts to make a profit of $100.

How to Handle "Start-up" Costs

By ordering in bulk, your group can save money on the cost per item, but it is difficult to come up with the money for this up front. To determine the size of your order, assess the number of potential buyers and the amount of funds available. To get the money, if your group does not already have it, allow members to pre-order items such as T-shirts and have them pay in advance. Consider all possible sources for funding. A group member might front the money or student groups may be able to receive funds from their student association. Wherever the money comes from, if it is borrowed, be sure that all the money you collect goes immediately to paying those people and organizations back!

How to Set-up

Attractive displays always help to sell merchandise. If people can see the items you are selling, they are more likely to buy them. You can sometimes use clothesline and clothespins or make some sort of simple rack for T-shirts and other items. If you pin or tape shirts to a back wall, make sure you don't damage the wall.

Tax-Exempt Status
  • Except at a very small number of private schools, groups affiliated with schools are always tax-exempt.
  • If your school requires your group to keep funds in a pool managed by school administrators, keep careful records of income and expenses. All groups should ask more than one person to review the bookkeeping ledger. Bookkeeping is tough, and two heads are better than one.