How to raise money for charity: nine lifelines

John Baguley gives nine lifelines available when raising money for charity.

Last week I was giving a talk on how to raise money for charity to an audience of experienced fundraisers and at the end, one of them asked me, “All that is very interesting and useful but very sophisticated. How on earth do you start from scratch?”

So this is how you do it! Like a cat you have nine lives or at least nine lifelines.

1. Ask your friends, family and colleagues – let’s face it, if they won’t help you, no-one will.

This is the step where you first begin to refine your case for support, and it better be a good one because these people know you well and won’t support anything that you really cannot accomplish or anything that you can’t clearly show is a great cause. Support from these people is a great step to build up those funds (£5,000) that you will need in the bank to register your charity.

2. If that isn’t enough then look at holding fundraising events.

These need not be very sophisticated but will rely on your personal drive and commitment. Let’s look at three examples:

  • Firstly, you can take on a ‘challenge’ – anything from running a long way (not necessarily a marathon), or climbing a mountain (not necessarily Kilimanjaro) to keeping absolutely silent for a long time (I have seen classes of children do this for several hours) and ask everyone you know to sponsor you per mile etc. But remember to give them a hint of the amount you are looking for – whatever the first person gives, the rest will too. See or
  • Secondly, you can run a garage sale from your house. We all have tons of stuff we really don’t need any longer which is still in good condition and which someone else might value. You might even end up talking to your neighbours!
  • Thirdly, why not up your game and see if your local Bishop, Lord Lieutenant, MP etc will let you run an event at their house? Then ask a local musician and poet to perform for your charity in a ‘words and music evening’. All you need to provide is some light refreshments and to stand up at the end and ask for a donation, preferably with direct debit forms to hand out for a small monthly gift.

3. The next step, assuming you want to raise money for a charity which is set up and registered with the Charity Commission, is to search for grant-making organisations that are looking to support your kind of cause.

Google is a great help here but the Directory of Social Change has both a magnificent online compendium of trusts and well researched books. Personally, I am a bit old school here and prefer sitting down with a pen, paper and cup of tea to leaf slowly and carefully through their books, rather than rely on a search engine to locate perhaps the one trust I really need. The cheapskate’s option is to look online at the report & accounts of any similar charities to yours and to see from their accounts who they thank for making a grant. Will that trust fund your first staff post? Do read up about making applications to trusts or you will get nowhere.

4. By this time, you should be thinking about creating a buzz around your charity before approaching the wider public.

Talk to your local paper and bring them photos, both of you and your events, with local supporters easily recognisable and your beneficiaries showing as clearly as possible how you are or will be helping them. Take journalists (don’t forget radio and TV) to lunch is the quickest route to publicity, but then use that exposure to set up a line of patrons (actors, singers, musicians, poets, artists etc) who give their name as supporters of your cause and “attend one event per year at their convenience”. Go for a handful, not just one. Then use them to hold events for you, based on their professional expertise, and to bring in their supporters. This will also help to build your social media presence as they will have lots of online followers.

5. Building a social media presence is a great way to raise money for charity but requires setting up and developing supporters through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram – don’t argue about this, just do it!

Then you will be in a position to launch a crowdfunded appeal which can transform your charity. Essentially, you should use a video to ask for a certain amount of money to be pledged to pay for something by a certain date. If the total is raised, then the pledged amounts are sent to the charity usually after a small deduction. Research lists of possible crowdfunding sites and read their terms and conditions carefully. Some allow charities to keep all the money raised and some only if the total is reached etc. Make a video (this can be the key expense, though iPhones have been used very effectively) which really moves people’s hearts and emotions but also satisfies them intellectually by telling them exactly how you will help people or the environment.

6. Lots of local businesses and local branches of national businesses have a small grants programme for local charities and many other ways of raising money for charity.

This aspect of corporate social responsibility should not be overlooked. Most businesses are quite approachable and contacting the CEO or Chair is not difficult. Make sure you emphasise your local credentials: beneficiaries, supporters and events to show you are a really vibrant part of the community as well as an obviously good cause. Company giving and sponsorship are not usually big bucks, but are useful and can lead to great gifts-in-kind (donations of whatever the company sells) and even to their staff helping out with things like painting your premises.

7. Wealthy people – wealthy people have all the money now, don’t they?

So, it makes sense to ask them to help. It is said that everyone knows at least one millionaire, from the friend of a friend to the unobtrusive person running a local business who has put their money in the bank year after year. You can also research the truly wealthy through the Directory of Social Change, but don’t despise chatting to an estate agent about the really expensive houses near you. You may be very surprised who turns up. Asking for advice is much easier than asking for money and a local entrepreneur’s advice can open a few gold mines, but at some stage you are going to have to ask for a very large sum face to face. Practice, practice and practice again but then leave the script at home. Always ask for a set sum for a real need. Mention the need first, then ask. Then thank, but most importantly also set a date and method for delivery of the gift.

8. Government is increasingly withdrawing from its social commitments but if your beneficiaries are or were part of a government programme you may be able to bid for a grant or even to take over part of this service.

These funds are usually given under a contract for delivery which you must fulfil, so never underbid and always include an amount for overheads (10%?) or your programme will inevitably collapse. Better to build up your income slowly before going for a large grant or to run services. An initial discussion with your local council can reveal all kinds of interesting possibilities so do take the time to do this.

9. Reach for the stars!

It is said that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. But it is equally true if you don’t have ambition, you won’t grow. In the early stages doubling your income each year is not difficult, but then maintaining growth year on year once a few staff are in place is not so easy. We tend to grow cautious when salaries have to be met and even your senior staff may be less adventurous than you and lack your drive and entrepreneurial spirit. Don’t let this hold you back from meeting your dreams, rather be a leader, not a manager and map out the frontier your organisation is heading for, and the milestones you will pass on the way. If you can use that spirit in your fundraising it will be exceptionally useful in winning those large bids and reaching your goals.

Have I missed anything? Of course, I have. There are countless ways to raise money for charity and new ideas are constantly arriving, especially as technology changes how we live and especially how we pay for things. Make it really easy for your supporters to give, especially at events (for example, by using a contactless device) but look for ways to engage them in the long term critically by a monthly gift – build a long-lasting relationship.

Be proud to be fundraiser and good luck!