Fundraising Basics

Fundraising is not just about getting money, it’s about cultivating a collaborative relationship based on common interests.
  • When foundations look to support projects, they are really looking to invest in a shared vision. Through grant-making, funders want to shape the future by empowering you to advance your mission. Funders also have their own mission statements and priorities, which outline their unique worldviews and explanations about how they’d like to improve the status quo.
Fundraising is about long-term partnerships.
  • Getting funding today would be great, but you should be concerned about sustainability. Building long-term relationships with your funders will go a long way towards financial stability, whether they grant in consecutive years or not. Foundations staff might introduce you to other funders or move to a different organization, where they may connect you with additional resources.
Effective fundraising is not just grant-writing; it involves a lot of engagement even before you submit a proposal.
  • Desk research and writing can uncover leads on funders relevant to your work. However, grant proposals are far less effective without direct engagement with foundation staff. Remember, you are one of many organizations appealing for support. What would make you stand out from the other excellent candidates? Pick up the phone or send an email to request a brief conversation and engage the funder about your work. Funder priorities also evolve and may be different from the information on their website. More importantly, you want the opportunity to engage the people behind grant-making, get them excited about your work and give them the opportunity to ask questions. You want to hear how they think about refugees and the rights-based approach, respond to misconceptions and have the opportunity to persuade them why they should care to fill a key protection gap. This can’t be done with words on a page alone.
Effective regular communications with prospective funders is critical to fundraising success.
  • After you’ve had that first conversation with funders, you also want them to remember you in the future, when their priorities might have changed. How might you do this? Most effective organizations use regular e-newsletters and social media posts as basic engagement tools. In addition to content that caters to a broad general readership, regular personalized communications will go a long way towards building healthy funder relationships, and should be considered for your top 10-20 prospective funders. This can be as simple as brief personal emails with updates, or sending your Annual Report with a note, but could also be more resource-intensive, like regular meetings in person.
Find a way to keep track of these relationships in a systematic fashion.
  • When you’ve been fundraising for a year and connected with dozens of prospective funders, you won’t be able to remember all these interactions, nor will you want to explain them individually to new staff. More importantly, you don’t want to waste staff time on re-doing research or relationship creation you started a while ago; you want them to focus on building on your efforts. Depending on your needs, you might use something simple like a Google spreadsheet or more complex Customer Relationship Management tools like Salesforce. The tool should record key pieces of information in a simple and easy-to-understand manner.

As you develop best practices for fundraising and build a larger organization with greater resources, you want to ensure that fundraising processes and expectations are clear throughout the organization. The separation of fundraising and program staff is often inevitable for medium or large organizations where fundraising for a larger budget requires more time and resources.

As Asylum Access grew as an organization, it began engaging full-time fundraising staff to allow refugee legal advocates to focus on providing legal assistance. With three offices providing legal aid and fundraising led by staff in San Francisco, clear communication was essential. Guidelines and a variation of our Grants Pipeline can help facilitate effective processes:

Even with these tools, differences in perspective between fundraising and program staff might lead to issues in fundraising. Effective communications is essential to ensure accountability and transparency both ways. Fundraising staff should respect that program staff understand the context best and know what is achievable, while program staff should understand that fundraisers know how best to frame an issue to funders who need to understand an issue and impact clearly without knowing every detail.

Avoid expanding into services outside your organization’s original mission
  • Expanding beyond your core mission, even to provide much-needed services, may negatively impact your ability to achieve your key long-term goals. Think about whether providing a new service in-house is the best solution. Is the new activity directly related to your mission? How? Will it take resources away from your primary mission? Would it be more effective to use other methods to deal with these needs, such as referrals to existing organizations already effective at this work?

Information in this Toolkit is meant to guide your fundraising process based on lessons learned by Asylum Access, but there is no short cut to successful fundraising other than trying it yourself, doing research for your specific context, fine-tuning your approach to fundraising. Use this as a resource to kickstart your activities, but remember that you’ll need to find what formula works best for your organizational needs. Good luck!

Further resources: