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5 tips for how to start a fundraiser successfully

Adene Sanchez/Getty Images

When generosity is an intentional part of your life, you strive to make a positive difference in your community. If you're wondering how to start a fundraiser to help others, understand how beneficial it can be to hone certain practical skills that build on your existing commitment of time and talents.

With these tools on hand to effectively rally donations and support, you can feel more confident about your potential success, whether you've never run a charitable event or want to try again after previously receiving an underwhelming turnout. Thinking ahead, putting in a little prep work and coordinating efforts can make a world of difference.

5 foundational steps for how to get donations & generate excitement

1. Set specific goals & think realistically

You'll often get better fundraising buy-in if you can tell people exactly where the money is going. Make the goal and the donations' impact clear to your audience. For example, let's say you're planning to give gathered donations to a local nonprofit. Rather than being vague about how the money will be used, you might instead focus your fundraising goal tightly on, say, covering the operating costs of their biggest project or paying for annual supplies they need to provide a service.

The early planning stages of a fundraiser should involve crunching the numbers, understanding what your goals may cost to achieve and putting together details so donors know what you need and how they can help.

It's important when you're doing this to be realistic, which doesn't mean your fundraising goal or standards have to be low. In fact, sometimes setting an ambitious goal garners a following of people who are inspired by your energy. Being realistic in this case means finding data on what you're aiming to achieve as well as what you might reasonably expect based on previous turnouts. For instance, rather than guessing an animal shelter needs $10,000 for a year of dog food, find out the exact cost and what success they've had with other fundraisers before you set your goal.

2. Pull together a leadership team

Sometimes, people launch simple online fundraisers by themselves—it's an easy option for sure. But these often aren't as effective as efforts run by a small group of caring folks who've bonded over a shared interest. Members of a team can use each other's unique skills and networks to combine and multiply their efforts.

While every fundraiser looks a little different, your team will need all kinds of talents and skills:

  • Detail-oriented and responsible people to keep track of assignments, deadlines, expenses and deposits
  • Research-oriented people who can gather the info you need, from facts about the organization or cause you're supporting to finding the best prices on supplies
  • Planners who excel at managing in-person or online event logistics
  • Networking-minded people who can draw in others to participate and spread the word

Within your team, make sure people know what tasks are their individual responsibility versus which tasks will be handled together as a team. This way, everyone feels ownership and input in the final results.

3. Figure out your ask & share it widely

Anyone who has been involved in fundraising knows it's easy for people to scroll past a broad call for donations on a social media page. Successful fundraisers usually take a more personalized, interactive approach.

First, you'll want to create a consistent message about your request, along with an inspiring explanation of your organization and its needs. This shared vision will help you run an effective and organized fundraiser.

Consider these factors to ensure your message stays clear:

  • Avoid doubling up on outreach. Make a spreadsheet or other shared document that outlines exactly how your team will approach donation requests so everyone has a defined area or list of people for whom they're responsible.
  • Enlist passionate donors to share the opportunity with friends. There's something compelling about a personal invitation from someone you know and trust to participate in something they care about.
  • Create a time-bound experience to reduce "maybe later" responses. Whether you're doing a "40 days of giving" or a Thrivent Action Team event, creating a time frame and urgency helps potential donors commit right away.
  • Reach your donor base where they spend their time. Instant messaging may work well for a tech-savvy social media donor base, but some audiences are more responsive to a tangible, mailed letter or an in-person event or visit. Tailor your requests to work for specific groups of people.

4. Remove roadblocks and make giving easy

Just as you want your request for donations to be clear, you also need the donation process to be seamless and attuned to your donors' needs. Many people give money to fundraisers on a compassionate impulse. If your credit card reader doesn't work and you ask them to donate online the next day, there's a good chance that donation may never happen as the inspiration fades.

Test your donation platforms and have backup plans for taking donations in the moment. Accepting checks and cash—and offering functional online payment methods—will help you avoid frustrated donors. Even simple things like putting as many volunteers as possible at the donations table so no one has to wait long in line can have an impact.

5. Encourage involvement even if people can't give money

Most of us, at one point or another, have not been able to give money to a good cause even if we appreciate the group and its work. A great way to see long-term organizational growth from your fundraiser is to look for nonmonetary ways to give back and connect.

Thrivent has identified five generosity expressions that are part of people's generosity stories:

  • Giving monetary support
  • Giving gifts
  • Hospitality
  • Emotional/relationship support
  • Volunteering/service

Most organizations need more than just money to function. If you can make space for volunteers, ask friendly supporters to show hospitality or enlist event attendees to share information with their friends and family about your cause. You'll be investing in the future of your organization and potentially driving a long-term source of charitable giving.

Having these opportunities available at the same time as a request for donations can help people to give you an enthusiastic "yes, I'm in!" even when they don't have money available to donate.

Empower your giving at Thrivent

Generous people often see a need where others do not, so your fundraising might take a new and exciting shape. Thrivent has generosity at the core of its mission, and many clients are already making a difference in their communities. We have resources that enable and boost your giving at every stage.