Fundraising for Nonprofits

By: Ingrid Tischer

Fundraising – Whose Job Is It, Anyway?

In a well-run organization, everyone fundraises because there’s a culture of philanthropy that welcomes everyone’s service. Board members are centrally involved in fundraising, especially when there’s no dedicated fundraising staff.

Money and covering the annual budget are huge concerns for almost every non-profit and that means they’re huge concerns for you as a board member. Raising money is one of your main responsibilities, along with setting organizational policies and managing the Executive Director.

Fundraising covers a broad range of means by which an organization brings in revenue – grants, contracts, corporate donations, events (sponsorships, tickets, and donations), and individual gifts (individual and major gifts, and workplace giving.) Capital campaigns, planned giving, bequests. And so many more. Because you carry fiduciary responsibility as a board member, you’ll be given regular financial reports about all of these. The good news is that many areas, like workplace giving and bequests, won’t need your active involvement.

Your fundraising participation will probably be focused on working on major gifts, end-of-year gifts, and on event sponsorships. In addition, you’ll likely be asked to fundraise independently within your networks, which is called peer-to-peer fundraising. These areas are what these materials focus on.

Your role as a board member is a platform for expanding your organization’s scope and fostering relationships with people who want to support the organization and have an authentic connection with its mission.

What to expect when they’re expecting you to fundraise:

When you’re fundraising with your nonprofit you can expect information, guidance, and a clear sense of what you’re fundraising for. All the information that you receive about a donor is strictly confidential and materials should not be shared outside the organization.

It’s very unlikely that someone will be offended or angered by being approached for a donation. Sometimes you’ll encounter a donor who’s unhappy about something that the organization has done. At that point you’re the representative who listens, offers help, and then lets the donor decide how they want to proceed.

There are conventions and norms about how to go about fundraising tasks. The idea, for example, that a handwritten note is the best kind of note. Or that having a face-to-face meeting is the gold standard for how to make the fundraising request. That sustained eye contact it is essential.

Feeling like you need to adhere to these methods can drag you down if they’re not accessible to you or just don’t feel right. Do it your way! Fundraising methods are very revealing of your board’s culture, which I touch on in the Toxic Board Culture and Fundraising video.

Asking someone for a donation is a demonstration of respect because it signals that you think they share your values and that they have something to give. When you come from a marginalized community this can be an affirming experience.

Deciding that someone doesn’t seem like they would be a donor because they don’t appear to be wealthy or from a privileged community denies them agency and is paternalistic.

There are some people who you should not be asking for money. These include:

  • People on the organization’s staff. It’s lovely when staff-people donate to the organization but it should never be presented as mandatory or even strongly encouraged. This includes purchasing tickets to events.
  • Prospects and current donors who have asked not to be solicited.
  • Any donor who has asked specifically not to be contacted outside of a certain time of year or for a certain purpose. The donor database should have the information, for example, that a donor wants only one gift request at the end of the calendar year.

Sample Criteria for How a Non-Profit Defines Its Major Donors

  1. Individuals (includes couples)
  2. Have given a one-time gift of $250 or more within the last 2 years
  3. No “do not contact” note in record

Tip: If any fundraising terms are unclear, please see if the Glossary can decipher the jargon!

The Three C’s for Assessing a Prospective (New) Major Donor

This is an almost-unlimited number of people who theoretically could become donors to your organization. There are three factors that need to be present in order for you to justify devoting your time and energy to pursuing a donation from them at that point in time:

  1. Contact Information: Do you have any way to get in touch with this person directly?
  2. Connection: Does this person have any connection to the organization, relationships with its people, and a compelling interest in the work that it does?
  3. Capacity: Do you have reason to believe that this person currently has the financial means to make a donation?

How they work: Imagine you’re participating in a brainstorming board session where you’re all suggesting individual prospects. The prospects called out include Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, a well-known area attorney specializing in one of your non-profit’s issues, and someone’s friend of a friend whose grown child once faced issues like the youth you serve. How do you decide whether any are worth the time to pursue?

Assessment using the Three C’s:

Bill and Oprah: Huge capacity! But a quick check shows that no one has contact information. More importantly, neither has any known connection to the organization or its work. Note: Even if there were a known interest like “health” or “education,” these are too generic to be considered compelling.

  • Result: 1 C only = NO
  • Next step: None

Attorney: Easy to find contact information and probably capacity for a major gift request of at least $250. The strength of the connection is promising but lacks anything personal.

  • Result: 1 C for sure, 2, 3 C have potential = MAYBE
  • Next step: Ask your networks if anyone knows the attorney so you can learn more about them.

Friend of a friend, etc.: Contact information is available. Connection is clear and personal. Capacity unknown.

  • Result: 1, 2 C for sure, 3 C has potential = YES
  • Next step: Reach out to the intermediary friend for an introduction.


  • Don’t let capacity alone, especially if you don’t have direct contact info, tempt you into putting time into pursuing people who don’t have a strong, clear connection.
  • Of the three C’s, connection is the most valuable. People give because of relationships. Connection, to a person in the organization or with its values, or both, are how those relationships begin.
  • Is connection enough if you don’t have contact information and the prospect is known to have a limited giving capacity? Sometimes. Contact information can usually be found and building a long-term relationship can start with a smaller first gift.

How You Prepare for Asking a Major Donor or a New Prospect for a Gift

Nonprofits often – but not always – run a coordinated campaign each year that focuses on people who have given or may make major gifts. Board members play a central role as the solicitors and are usually supported by staff. To the extent that it’s possible, you will be matched with people you have a connection to but many times you will not know the donor at all.

You can see what a fundraising request conversation can be like in the video about Making The Ask. However it goes for you, please remember that by simply making a clear request, you’ve drastically increased the likelihood of getting a donation.

But before you contact the current donor or the new prospect, here are the materials you can expect to be provided with by your organization and how you prepare.

Your organization provides you with:

  • Contact information and notes for all your people
  • Giving history to your organization, if applicable
  • Fact sheets about current programs
  • Talking points about recent accomplishments and service numbers
  • Information about how the donor can make the donation (where to send a check, how to give online etc.)
  • Group training (sometimes)

To be prepared for your conversation, you will have:

  • Already made your gift
  • Set up a time and means for talking with the donor or prospect (this can take some time!)
  • Reviewed the donor or prospect information
  • Reviewed the program and other information
  • The materials handy for reference during the conversation
  • A script to refer to (if it helps you)
  • Something to make notes on so you can report back on what happened

The ideal steps you take in fundraising with all individuals are

Communicate ➔ Engage ➔Solicit

You don’t have to know everything about your organization before you talk to a prospect or donor. Your power as a board member isn’t subject matter expertise; your power is that you’re a leader of the organization. Meaning that you care enough about the organization’s work to take on fiduciary responsibility and volunteer a significant amount of your time and resources. If they ask you something you don’t know the answer to, ask if you can follow up and get back to them.

What you should be ready to explain is why you care about the organization and its mission. Sharing your connection will help you connect with the people you’re asking for help.

The video about finding your fundraising origin story may help you identify what motivates you in fundraising.


A high percentage of donations are received by organizations in the last two months of the calendar year. Giving is associated with the holiday season and even when donors don’t itemize gifts as tax deductions, they often think of December 31 as the deadline for donating. Added to this are online events like Giving Tuesday, the National Day of Philanthropy held on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

  • How this fundraising is typically done: Mailings (print and digital) and targeted follow-up to major donors, non-major donors, companies
  • How board members are involved: You may be asked to be a signatory on a year-end letter; thank donors who has given the gift; follow up on requests to major donors; share year-end materials with your networks; promote Giving Tuesday through your social media

Events are great for building relationships, raising the profile of your organization, and demonstrating your values. They’re also an area of fundraising that board members typically work on, and in some organizations, lead.

Events are also very difficult to predict as fundraisers because organizers often have trouble keeping expenses down, which eats into the net profit. Very little is more demoralizing than working on an event from months and having a great turnout but realizing afterward that you lost money!

These are some of the types of events that are run and financed by the organization or a professional fundraising firm* that the organization pays for:

  • Luncheons
  • Dinners
  • Auctions
  • Walkathons
  • Golf tournaments
  • Performances
  • Shows
  • Fairs

How this fundraising is typically done: Sponsorship requests (print and digital) and targeted follow-up to major donors, non-major donors, companies

How board members are involved: You may be asked to be a signatory on a sponsorship letter; thank sponsors; follow up on requests; promote with your networks; promote through your social media

*Professional fundraising firms and event planners look appealing if you’re hosting any event with many moving parts, such as a golf tournament, walkathon, or auction. But a strong word of caution – fees add up very fast. So if you want to have an auction and you want to hire a company to run it from start to finish, first assess whether your donors are likely to spend freely on higher ticket items. If not, you may lose much of your overall net revenue to the firm you hired to help you raise money. Firms don’t provide the donors. If you don’t think your donors will respond, don’t be swayed by a hard sell packaged as a can’t-lose promise.