Developing Your Fundraising Strategy

Without a proven track record, it can seem hard to secure initial funds. Funders often support a project, and not an organization and often not an individual. They prefer activities that directly empower your clients, rather than covering your salary or time to raise even more funds. Yet, you can still raise funds from individuals and seed funders who provide funds specifically for organizations in their initial start-up phase. This section will provide some practical advice on developing your fundraising strategies. After reviewing this section, you may proceed to Identify Funders to Approach.

As you fundraise, consider your strengths and weaknesses, such as what resources you have, and what crucial ones you lack. Resources are more than just a person’s time. It can include your personal network, access to advice from other fundraising professionals, options for securing in-kind support, referrals from similar organizations, and advocates in other locations who might engage prospective funders. Equally important is the fundraising market you are working in, which will constrain your eligibility for funds.

As an emerging refugee rights organization, you will face fundraising challenges unique to fledgling organizations. The table below will give you an idea of how certain start-up characteristics might influence your fundraising efforts:

Start-Up Characteristics      

What does this mean for my fundraising?

New organization with no track record to demonstrate the effectiveness of your approach.

Focus on funders that provide ‘seed funding’, which supports organizations in their early days. Sometimes, this funding may be based on support for individual change makers or the founder.

Work solely in refugee rights empowerment, with no direct humanitarian aid services.

As a new nonprofit, it is advisable to seek out funders with a clear common interest first. These are primarily human rights funders, women’s rights funders and funders who work with a subgroup of refugees (e.g. women’s rights or victims of torture). As you develop fundraising expertise, you will be more comfortable engaging a development aid funder for example.

Work in one specific country, with limited access to key fundraising markets or long established cultures of philanthropy.

If soliciting donations is tough, consider seeking out resources through in-kind contributions instead. For example, Country Director of Asylum Access Ecuador ‘s first task was to secure donated office space. Other plausible ways of raising resources are: working with volunteers, interns or universities to provide services; organizing fundraisers through donated goods or support from individual donors in other countries who have a reason to support your cause. For example, a former refugee now living in the US might support operations in your country. With individual donors, you will have higher chances of success if someone you know makes an introduction. Think about your connections and how you might creatively enlist their support.

Fundraising also forces you to review the cost-effectiveness of your model. Funders often want to hear how you plan on sustaining your work beyond their support. Develop clear and focused answers to forward-looking questions such as:

  • What is your three-year plan?
  • Do you have a clear model or strategy to achieve this?

Fundraising is not merely about securing money, but the resources to do your work. Hence, also consider questions such as:

  • What are your options?
  • Might you offer to teach a law course that includes a semester of part-time volunteer legal advocate work?
  • Would a law firm be interested in contributing pro bono services?

 The Asylum Access model relies heavily on volunteers. Its volunteers are foreign and local law students and lawyers who work at least six months full-time in its overseas offices, helping Asylum Access leverage every dollar raised into USD 40 worth of legal services. Depending on your circumstances, you may or may not want to apply this approach. With founder Emily Arnold-Fernandez based in San Francisco, she had access to US law schools with a tradition of providing a handful of fellowships to their brightest graduates to engage in public interest work.

You may also find a case study of Emily Arnold-Fernandez, the founder of Asylum Access, below.  It details her personal experiences of fundraising Asylum Access during Start-up, including the challenges she faced, and how she overcame it.

Downloadable material: