4 Simple Steps to Raising All the Money Your Nonprofit Needs

Guest Author: Sandy Rees, CFRE

In the world of nonprofits, it’s all about fundraising. You can’t do much in the way of service delivery or mission fulfillment without money.

For fundraising staff, it IS all about raising money and sometimes it can be a challenge. I’ve spent years raising money for all kinds of nonprofit organizations and I know what works and what doesn’t. One thing I know for sure is that we must aim high.

I learned early on in my career to shoot for the stars. This came from my unwillingness to settle. I saw so many people waiting to be helped at the rescue mission and at the food bank, and I knew that if I raised more money, we could help more of them. So, I started working toward fully funding my organization. I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure that people had a warm bed and a hot meal.

I call it Getting Fully Funded. It means that your nonprofit’s staff have everything they need to deliver service. It means that all the bills are paid and you have a rainy day fund established. You have lots of happy and engaged donors. You have diversified revenue streams and fundraising is fun. It’s a wonderful place to be!  (I’ve been there myself and with my clients many times!)

Before you can Get Fully Funded, there are a few things you need to have in place. You must have:

  • The right mindset. Your attitude must be positive and you must believe that the support you are looking for is out there.
  • Passion for the cause. You must be passionate for your nonprofit’s cause. If you don’t care deeply, how do you expect others to care and to donate?
  • Strong leadership. Your nonprofit must have a strong Director and a strong Board who embrace their roles. Without strong leaders, fundraising will be tough if not very impossible.
  • Compelling mission. I believe that most nonprofit missions are compelling. More importantly, YOU must believe your nonprofit’s mission is worthwhile and deserves attention, and you must be able to communicate it to others.
  • Donor-based fundraising. Your fundraising must be focused on your donors, and your activities must seek to build relationships with these partners in your work.

Once you get these five criteria established, you’re ready to start raising money.

To make it very simple, I’ve boiled it down to 4 steps. If you follow and fully implement these 4 simple steps, you can raise all the money your nonprofit needs to fulfill its mission.

  1. Tell your story. Since childhood, we’ve been conditioned to listen to stories. Telling your story engages your listener and educates them at the same time. Start with a powerful elevator speech – a 30 second version of who your organization is and what you do. Focus on how you’re changing lives. Leave out the jargon. And be prepared to share a story about a specific person your nonprofit has helped. Remember that the best stories are short and interesting so don’t firehose information at people.
  2. Ask for a gift. No matter how wonderful your nonprofit is, you must ask for a gift. I suggest you ask several times during the year, and use a variety of strategies (like events, letters, and face-to-face asks). Tie the ask to something tangible if possible (“your gift of $1.81 will provide a homeless person with a hot meal”).
  3. Thank the donor. If you don’t get anything else right, get this piece right! Send out a thank-you letter to each donor within 2 days if possible. Add a hand-written note a few days later or a phone call and you deepen the impact of the recognition, plus you subconsciously let the donor know you’re on the ball.
    A timely, warm thank-you letter serves many purposes. First, it lets the donor know you got their check. Second, it builds trust and relationship, which are two keys to fundraising. You can include a short paragraph about how you will use the donor’s gift to further engage the donor.
  4. Build relationships. You must build relationships with donors if you want to Get Fully Funded. Our donors are not ATM machines. We can’t just show up whenever we need to withdraw money. We must engage our donors as partners in our work and treat them with respect. One key to building relationship is to maintain regular communication. Have you ever had a friend that the only time you heard from them was when they wanted something? Do you want to show up like that to your donors? Create a plan for how and when you will communicate with your donors.

These four steps are simple and you’ve probably heard them before. The key is to go deep into each step to make sure you are doing the best job you can possibly do. And when you do that, you’re on your way to raising the money of your dreams.

Want more help in fundraising? Join us for the Fundraising QuickStart, a series of 4 webinars that will show you how to ramp up your fundraising. Get all the details and register here.


Sandy Rees

Sandy Rees is a nonprofit fundraising coach who specializes in helping nonprofit leaders who are struggling with fundraising to learn how to raise all the money they need to fulfill their mission. She is the creator of the Get Fully Funded system and travels around the United States (and sometimes other countries!) teaching people its principles. To learn more about her and her system, visit www.getfullyfunded.com.


About Greg McRay

Greg McRay is the founder and CEO of The Foundation Group. He is registered with the IRS as an Enrolled Agent and specializes in 501(c)(3) and other tax exemption issues.

11 Responses to “4 Simple Steps to Raising All the Money Your Nonprofit Needs”

  1. Shannan Hohensee September 9, 2014 11:48 am #

    thinking of starting nonprofit for our two sport teams. We have a baseball and basketball, can we do one nonprofit exempt for both teams?

    • Greg McRay September 9, 2014 10:00 pm #

      You should be able to do both with one. Two just adds major administrative headache with no real benefit. Hope that helps!

  2. Pastor James Melton September 9, 2014 7:22 pm #

    Please help! :-(

  3. Brenda September 12, 2014 11:37 pm #

    Hello there,

    I am looking for information on how to start a non-profit organization in order help young ladies ages 19-25 who are homeless but does not fit the criteria for living in a homeless shelter and want to be self sufficient. I am wanting to begin this organization out of my home and use my home for educational, motivational classes, financial assistance, etc. How to I go about determining whether I can use my home which is located in a residential area. What permits or leg work do I need to do?

    • Greg McRay September 22, 2014 10:35 am #

      Great question, but one that is pretty much outside our scope. I suggest checking with your local codes and/or zoning authorities. The should be able to point you in the right direction.

  4. Chad September 19, 2014 9:55 am #

    Hi Greg –

    Thank you for your website. It is very helpful. In another post you mentioned that unsolicited donations for a specified purpose would not result in restricted funds for the nonprofit. Everything I finds states otherwise. Could you please cite some legal authority for this proposition that I could present to my board? Thanks!

    • Greg McRay September 22, 2014 11:02 am #

      It all depends on the actions of the charity itself. Designated gifts ARE restricted, even without solicitation, unless the charity informs the donor otherwise. For example, if a charity receives a designated gift, but tells the donor it may be used elsewhere, the charity is free to do so…that is, assuming the donor agrees to it. It’s all about mutual understanding between the donor and the charity. If the donor doesn’t agree, then the charity should either accept the gift and consider it restricted, or refuse the gift. If the organization accepts the unsolicited, designated gift and says nothing, the money is restricted.

      Hope that helps.

  5. Teacher looking for Advice September 19, 2014 12:06 pm #

    Hi Greg,
    I need some help. I have so many unanswered questions.

    I am a middle school English Teacher who recently started a non-profit to empower girls to pursue STEM careers. The District of Columbia recently approved the form I submitted for articles of incorporation, but I still have not spoken with my registered agent.

    1. Can I still move forward in asking for donations and promoting my organization without having met with my registered agent?

    2. Can I still create and market a website for my non profit even though I am only incorporated?

    3. What exactly are the limitations of being incorporated versus having 501c3 status?

    4. Can I request funding from my principal / the district to support my institute?

    5. As an educator, what kind of opportunities do you think I should be trying to take advantage of?

    Answers to these questions would be GREATLY appreciated.
    Thank you,
    DC Educator

    • Greg McRay September 22, 2014 10:53 am #

      Let’s try to tackle these in order…

      1. Having “met” your registered agent really isn’t a material issue. The bigger issue is that you need to have 501(c)(3) status in order for people to donate tax deductibly. The other issue is that DC requires charities to register with the Division of Charities prior to soliciting. Usually registration requires 501(c)(3) status to be in place.
      2. You can certainly create a website. You cannot say or imply that your organization has charity status, however, without 501(c)(3) approval.
      3. The IRS considers any corporation to be “for-profit” and taxable unless is has been granted 501(c) status, regardless of what your Articles say.
      4. You will not likely experience good success in requesting funding until the issues above are dealt with. In particular, you cannot fundraise with registering (see Q 1 above).
      5. That question is probably better answered by those in your particular arena who have “been there, done that!” I’ll stick to what I know (regulatory issues).

      Good luck with it all. If you need assistance with getting 501(c)(3) status, give us a call.

  6. amy September 19, 2014 1:46 pm #

    I have a non profit my goal is to help children living with mental ill parents…. I have found that places like this do not exist where I live. Now im wondering do I apply for 501c status before I start fund raising or after?

    • Greg McRay September 22, 2014 10:57 am #

      Kind of a chicken or the egg question, right? Really, you need 501(c)(3) status to effectively fundraise. You are not a legitimate charitable organization without it. Also, you will need to register with your Division of Charities after getting 501(c)(3) status. The key is research to know your community’s need for this and planning to determine how you will pull it off (program outline, recruiting help/board members, etc). Once you know what you going to do, formalizing with incorporation and 501(c)(3) is the next logical step.

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