As you drive through Salem you often see overly enthusiastic students, freezing and waving signs in their cheerleader or football uniform to sell you a box of overpriced doughnuts or to provide a “free” car wash. At the end of the day, cold and tired, they may have made enough money to send one member of the team to their national competition or buy a couple new helmets. Let’s do the math. If the parents’ volunteer time is included, the dollar per hour income can’t hit more than 50 cents.


Doing the math sort of takes the “fun” out of fundraising. So how do you raise the real money it takes fulfill your organization’s dreams?  What if you need millions? Here’s the model that is used by fundraising professionals to get you there:


  1. Create a written business plan that has a compelling case. Why are you raising the funds and what problem are you trying to solve? (i.e., building a new center for the YMCA to help youth in our community).


  1. Have an executive director, leadership team, board and broad donor base that will make major donations of both time and money. If your leaders cannot or will not contribute their money or time, you should end your project here. You can’t ask the public to invest in something your own leaders will not. Prepare your leaders with the tools to make the case for donations. First, make sure a few of your leaders are trained and able to speak to groups about the cause.


  1. Have some funds already dedicated to the cause before launching the fundraising effort. The saying, “It takes money to make money,” applies here. The guide, “Achieving Excellence in Fundraising,” by Eugene R. Tempel suggests you should plan to spend between 5%-15% of your goal on fundraising expenses. “The better measurement is return on investment (ROI). Campaign costs of 12.5 percent, for example, should be shown as an ROI of 8:1. In other words, every dollar invested in the campaign budget will produce eight dollars of gross income or a net of seven,” it states.


What makes up the fundraising costs?  Tempel says over 50% of that should be in fundraising personnel, with the rest on materials, events and overhead. This might be the time to consider hiring a fundraising professional, especially in a large capital campaign. He or she will know the steps to take and help time your campaign and practice and refine your pitch. This isn’t the time to engage inexperienced volunteers (no matter how passionate) as a way to save money. Costly mistakes in research, planning, events and messaging can sink your campaign dreams. Also, poorly run campaigns can reflect badly on your organization’s image.


  1. Much of the work is done behind the scenes. It’s suggested you raise almost 50% of your funds before you even launch the project from a small percentage of lead donors who will kick off the campaign. Research prospects and create a schedule so you can engage donors at many levels. Plan ways to recognize your best contributors and volunteers. Then you’re ready for your rousing community kickoff!


Your attention to planning the fundraising campaign will get you closer to your goal and it’s certainly more fun to fundraise when you are successful.


  1. Harvey Gail is president of Spire Management, a nonprofit consulting, association management and event planning company in Salem, OR., @HarvGail

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