In our guide to accessing funding for your community project, we highlighted running a fundraiser as one way of raising funds. Fundraising simply means looking for financial support so your community project can get started. We generally associate fundraising with organizing events like bake sales or sponsored runs, but there can be simpler ways to go about it, depending on your situation and needs.
We spoke to Kevin Delaney to help make this guide. Kevin has been fundraising in the non-profit sector for 14 years across Ireland and New Zealand. He has worked with many large organizations such as the Irish Cancer Society and Don Bosco Care. He now runs his own fundraising consultancy company, where he provides training and workshops to help individuals and organizations to get the fundraising they need. Kevin told us that the most important thing to understand as a charity or community project is to realize that you will likely need some level of funding, whether this is a little or a lot, and that you will need to get used to asking for support.
“People have a natural reluctance to ask others for help, whether it’s funding or advice. Once you realize that you will need others to support your project or initiative, you can start asking the people around you for support. Don’t forget people are willing to help you and see your projects make a positive impact, so be prepared to ask the people in your community for help”.
Here are some other tips to help you fundraise effectively in your community.
Who to ask
Kevin said the best people to ask for funding are the people who know you. The people closest to you will likely be more than happy to support your project if they can. Whether you bump into your neighbour on the street or your cousin in the supermarket, let them know about the project you’re working on and ask them to donate something to help kickstart your project.
Local councils are also a great place to look. Ring up your local office and ask to speak to the community officer or someone responsible for local community developments. They can provide you with your initial few hundred euro to get your project off the ground.
Kevin also suggested spending a few hours researching organisations and foundations that are offering funding, especially those associated with the theme or goal of your project. For example, The Community Foundation Ireland opened the Environment and Nature Fund in 2019, to enhance biodiversity in communities throughout the country by combining the expertise of qualified ecologists with the skills, experience, and enthusiasm of local community groups. This grant would’ve been suitable for an environmental community project such as Pollinator Partnership or GIY.
Keep it simple
Fundraising doesn’t have to be overly complicated. The easiest way to get started is to call on all your friends and family, especially those who have an interest in the type of work you will be undertaking, and ask for some small donations. It goes without saying that it’s very important to make sure nobody feels under any pressure to contribute.
Kevin highlighted the effectiveness of a Fundraising Drive, where everyone on your project team calls 10-15 family or friends and asks them to support your new initiative. If your team of 5 members was able to get donations of €50 from 5 people each, you already have €1,250 raised. It’s a very simple and effective way to get your project started.
Once you’ve exhausted your fundraising options from your own contacts, it’s time to expand the pool and look at running a fundraising event or campaign.
Keep your fundraiser related to your project
A common mistake in fundraising is copying the fundraisers of other organisations because they were successful for that organisation. Kevin advised that “your fundraiser should be in line with your project theme and it should make sense to your target audience. It doesn’t make sense for a soup kitchen to host a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ as it’s not in line with their mission”.
A great example of a related fundraising campaign is Darkness into Light by Pieta House. The organisation that supports people struggling with suicidal thoughts or self-harm, hosts a charity run, which begins in the early hours of the morning when it is dark and finishes as the sun has come up. This symbolises the journey of people in mental distress and how they can come through the “darkness into light!” This campaign makes sense for their organisation and as a result has had great success, raising millions for Pieta House each year.
When deciding what fundraiser to choose, think of ways that you can engage the people who will be benefiting from the project. If you are setting up a neighbourhood network or community garden, think about organizing something that engages your locality, such as a 5-a-side tournament in your housing estate, or a community bake-off.
Make it clear why they should support you
Now that you’ve learned the importance of asking people for support, you’ll need to tell them why they should support you. It’s essential to shape the reason that you’re looking for money and expressing the benefits of this project to the people in the community. Your community is much more likely to support you if they understand how your new initiative will benefit everyone. For example, a new community garden will increase biodiversity in the community, provide people with fresh produce, and increase social cohesion. That sounds like something your community can get behind!! So, when asking for donations, be clear about the positive impacts you hope to achieve.
Virtual/COVID friendly fundraisers
COVID-19 restrictions are creating many obstacles for more traditional fundraisers. However, Kevin reassured us that you can still have success fundraising virtually, with ideas such as virtual community quizzes and challenges. He reiterated the importance of keeping your fundraiser in theme with your project and engaging for those who will benefit from it.
Thank your supporters
Always be thankful that people are willing to support your idea. Once you’ve received your funding and have begun the project, it’s a nice idea to update your donors on your progress you’ve made and thank them for their support. Call your friends and family who supported, or send an email to the attendees of your fundraiser event. They will appreciate seeing the progress and impact their donations have made and it could also incentivize them to support you again.
Final tips and tricks
Kevin also gave us an overview of some of the other biggest pitfalls in fundraising.
- You can’t match phenomena – Many groups try to create a viral campaign like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Their success derives from a lot of luck so it’s often a wasted effort trying to replicate a viral challenge.
- Ask in-person – writing emails asking for donations makes your request easy to ignore, so at least ask over the phone, and if you can, ask in person. Your enthusiasm and passion will come across stronger, and people will be more likely to support your initiative
- When running events and fundraisers, make it clear to everyone in attendance that they are there to support your new initiative and why the funding is needed.
Running a fundraiser does not have to be a complex process – keep it simple! You’re starting this project to benefit the community, so the community will get behind you. All you have to do is let people know what you are doing and why, and you should manage to get the funding you need to kickstart your new project!
Do you have any tips for fundraising? How have you helped fundraise for your community project? Let us know at [email protected]
Best of luck, stay safe, and stay connected!