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How to Fundraise for Your Neighborhood Organization

street fair

The best ideas for how to fundraise for your neighborhood association or other community non-profit arise from a robust discussion of your need, the amount of time your staff and volunteers can devote to a particular project, and whether it is more important for your event or campaign to be  related to carrying out your mission or just be lucrative.

When your community organization begins to need money, you have to make a decision about how much fundraising (fund raising before we started combining words) to do.

If you have an immediate demand for money, which might happen if you need a zoning consultant or attorney right now, your choices are limited. But we do give you some ideas on this page.

Other groups gradually develop their need for money, when they want to offer prizes for the most unusual finds at their stream cleanup, or they want to advertise a house tour in a hyperlocal newspaper or online.

Being realistic about the amount of money you need to raise is a good first step. If you want to renovate a building or build a bridge, you will need more than a car wash.

You may be able to meet your financial needs through imposing dues. This solves the question of how to fundraise mainly where people are of fairly uniform income levels and where people have more money than is needed for survival.

If dues feel fair and raise all the money you need, that is a great solution. It's the simplest, fairest, and most direct answer to how to fundraise. Don't be afraid to set dues high enough to carry out a meaningful program.

Also don't be afraid to ask for contributions directly. Ask members who are able to contribute above and beyond their dues to bring a check to the next meeting or to make electronic deposits, and go to neighborhood businesses in person to request their support and talk with them about their perceptions of the community.

However, if people resist dues, income levels differ substantially causing dues to be perceived as unfair, or members resent community members who will not join or pay dues, you will need other ideas about how to fundraise.

Our suggestion is to choose the simple over the complex, at least at first. Exceptions to this rule of thumb will be noted later.

Simple Community Fundraising Events

First, below are some ideas on relatively simple fundraisers.

1. Sponsor a concert or other entertainment event in which essentially you hire an entertainer that your constituency will really enjoy. It is even possible to ask a theatre group or regularly recurring musical show to put on an extra show just for your group.

See if the entertainer will contribute all or part of their usual fee or expenses, and in any event, of course charge more than you need to pay them. If you have to pay the performers, though, learn well the first lesson of how to fundraise, which is: Don't Lose Money.

The most likely small-scale money maker in this arena would be asking a local musical group with at least one tie to the neighborhood to perform free; then you know that you will make at least some money.

2. Ask a local restaurant to contribute 20 percent of their receipts from a certain evening or day to your group, in return for your publicity and asking your members to dine there. A restaurant is particularly likely to participate if you choose a time when normally their traffic is slow, typically a Monday or Tuesday night.

Sometimes a restaurant that is normally closed on Monday will open just for your group, and you can perhaps even arrange a higher percentage than 20% if you are in the neighborhood. Do you see why we think fundraising could be fun?

3. Hold a raffle if that is legal in your location and if you have something to offer that will really draw attention. That means it is a fairly big item that will attract people from beyond your territory. Make it something unique and exciting.

A weekend at a condo 100 miles away will not draw the level of interest you need, if the raffle is a stand-alone event.

If you have acquired a house, raffle it. If you can offer a week in an apartment in Paris, and you have a ready supply of people who can afford transportation, offer that. Pay attention to the income tax implications for the winner, however.

Sell tickets by asking people to e-mail or call one person, if your organization does not have an office. If another organization in your neighborhood is willing to take the calls or e-mails, that will be even better.

Establishing a PayPal account is so easy that you should be able to hold a raffle without having to handle cash. The record of who bought tickets also can be electronic, and no paper ticket would be required.

4. Hold a barbecue featuring the best-known barbecue artist in your area. In many communities someone has a portable set-up and can bring it to your neighborhood. The smell of smoky meat and grilled vegetables wafting over the neighborhood will catch the attention of even those who did not read their newsletter.

If you can, have your members make and contribute the side dishes, including the baked beans, the collard greens, the goat cheese salad, or whatever falls within your neighborhood's style.

Drive as much of a hard bargain with the barbecue pit owner as you can, but of course be respectful and fair if the person is trying to make a living.

Charge enough to make sure you have a profit, and publicize the event widely. If you can manage a little extra pizzazz for the event, by making the venue unique, offering entertainment, or having your members do face painting with the kids, so much the better.

5. Find a business in your area that is paying for a service that your group could perform. To meet our criterion for how to fundraise without burning out your members, this should be a once-a-year or twice-a-year job. For instance, you might be able to rake the leaves or help them convert from summer to winter, or from winter to summer.

Or maybe you have a business storefront that badly needs painting, so you achieve more than one objective by offering to paint it for an amount that is less than a contractor would charge, but would represent a solid contribution to your treasury.

6. Online methods may fit your particular community well.  Especially if you have plenty of young people or individuals with plenty of discretionary income who can give on impulse, explore various platforms and concepts, including text-to-give services.  We especially appreciated this article on social and mobile fundraising; scroll down to the online fundraising section. Even if your residents tend to be older, you may be surprised about how well newer fundraising models work for you.

Facebook's fundraiser feature is free to you, the non-profit, and very easy for the donor. If you have dramatic stories and photos, use them on Facebook to attract donors who beyond your usual constituents.

Principles of How to Fundraise in the Community

Now that we have described a few easy fundraisers, let's talk more abstractly about important fundraising concepts. Below we are showing examples that demonstrate the key principles of how to fundraise without sidetracking your nonprofit from its main mission.

• Find a project that is done once and therefore does not require continuous recruitment of volunteers. In a variation, find a group of people who stay close to home and will commit to a schedule of repetitions requiring only one preparation.

• Find a task that an expert already is doing and engage them to do it another time for the benefit of your group.

• Find an effort that is already organized by others, and your job as an organization is to publicize and bring in customers for a known commodity.

Another important point in deciding how to fundraise is that where possible, you want to combine fundraising with increasing awareness of your major issues. In this category you would find work-intensive but very worthwhile fund raisers such as neighborhood tours, fairs, and so forth.

If you have interesting architecture or a local historic district, organize a house tour or tour of a museum, historic place, or university. Of course you can charge admission. If you have great restaurants, have a progressive dinner, with each restaurant donating a percentage of their profits or gross revenues.

If you are rural but your group is concerned that the rural way of life is being ruined by intrusive development, hold a pig roast, barn dance, or other event that educates people about the agricultural heritage.

If you have lots of kids and a safe park but not many other community assets, have the kids do a really amazing show in the park every Saturday afternoon all summer, followed by homemade ice cream. Charge for the show, the ice cream, or both.

But if you have a dilapidated neighborhood in trouble, consider carefully whether you want visitors to know that. If you do, bring people in to see how bad conditions are and to try to shame City Hall into giving you more attention. Try a walking tour, followed by barbecue and ice cream offered at a price that will make you some money. If you don't want extra attention on condition of the neighborhood, then hold your fundraiser in a well-known park or venue  outside of the neighborhood.

But get to work on a feasible and fun idea for how to fundraise.

Attract a New Generation of Donors

Fairly often non-profits have learned to rely on people who are middle-aged and older to meet their need for donors. A few master the art of designing fund-raising events that appeal heavily to millennials, but many lag behind in this area. But you can attract a new generation, especially if you are willing to accept smaller donations given somewhat more frequently.

In addition to overall online fundraising discussed above, you should explore crowdfunding platforms once you have a specific project in mind.  Kickstarter is an example of a crowdfunding platform, but others, such as ioby, may offer a better value for U.S.-based community organizations.

One idea that may merit exploration for those of you in the U.S. or the U.K. is the Google One Today program. The concept is that donors are urged to contribute $1 USD daily to a non-profit, and to ask their social networks to match their gift. You need to be accepted into the Google for Nonprofits program to take advantage of One Today. Google for Nonprofits offers various programs in many countries, so explore that as part of your discussions of how to fundraise.

We suggest that you ask whatever 20-something and 30-something people are involved in your organization for their ideas about how to cultivate new donors among younger people.

Grants for Community Organizations

When your neighborhood association has gained some sophistication, has a few community development accomplishments, has a solid organizational structure and a representative board, and has either staffing or a board member or benefactor with time to supervise a project, you may want to apply for grants.

Start with understanding any grants that your local government and local corporations or foundations award. Then find small projects that can be completed through the award of one grant.

If you need help understanding the world of grants, you are not alone.  You will find everything from elementary hour-long sessions offered by your local public library, to elaborate online courses and university evening school courses.   Check local resources first, and be reluctant to spend big bucks without plenty of information about exactly what you will learn and the value that prior participants describe in the course or seminar.

We're starting to add a few grant-writing resources to this site.  See the page on community development grant narratives for some writing tips. Also our entry about program and project evaluation presents essential information once you obtain any grant funding.

Many big box stores will donate materials for a party or a community garden. Other stores will make sizable donations only in return for major recognition--and be flexible in working with them to find the recognition they want.

Grants often skew the program of an organization, so before you apply for a large grant, always ask yourselves if this is something you really want to do, or is it money-motivated only? Only you can decide if it's worth a deflection from your mission to receive some extra funding. If it supports other goals of the organization, or if the topic represents a logical expansion of your organizational mission, go for it.

Sometimes after a group gets a taste of living on a grant, they forget how to fundraise in the grassroots, ordinary ways. Try not to allow that to happen in your group.

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