Frequently Asked Questions


Q: Help!I need to raise $5,000 fast for my nonprofit food bank/day care/school/AIDS walkathon/whatever.What should I do?

A: Absolutely the best, most effective way to raise money is to personally ask people for it.You might start by asking (in person) those who can make the largest gifts.Think about the size and number of gifts you might need and create a gift chart.A typical gift chart for a program that needs to raise $5,000 would look like this:

1 gift @ $500
2 gifts @ $250
4 gifts @ $125
10 gifts @ $35
20 gifts @ $20
50 gifts @ $10
Many gifts @ $1 to $10

Start at the top of the chart and try to figure out who might contribute $500.Maybe your favorite aunt?your grandparents?your organizationís biggest donor?a local business?You will need about four good prospects to get each gift near the top of the chart, two or fewer prospects for each gift near the bottom.After youíve got your list, meet with each prospect, tell them about the program and why they might want to contribute and ask them for the money.You must say the amount."Would you help out by contributing $500?"Then keep quiet until they answer.They may say no, they may give you less than you ask for, but somebody is bound to say yes!

Also, you might think about how you will acknowledge contributions.Since the organization is tax-exempt, they should get a receipt, but they should also get a thank you from you.If youíre raising money to participate in a walkathon, marathon, bikeathon, or other Ďthon, you might send them a report or photo when youíve completed the event.

Q: I need help writing an appeal letter.What do you suggest?

A: There are several good books that you may find helpful.The one that might be most helpful is How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters by Mal Warwick.It's published by Strathmore Press.Mal is known nationally for his expertise in direct mail.Lots of case studies and examples of mailing packages with insightful critiques by Mal.The "Letter-Writer's Toolbox" gives hundreds of examples for you to use when you're stuck writing a letter.You might also check out Malís website at

Another good book is How to Write Powerful Fund Raising Letters by Herschell Gordon Lewis.Lots and lots of examples - with the author's insightful critique of each - and an easy-to-read style make this book a powerful ally any time you need to raise money through the mail.

Finally, there's Lautman, Kay Partney and Henry Goldstein, Dear Friend:Mastering the Art of Direct Mail Fundraising.This is a ďnuts and boltsĒ book; it will answer all your practical questions about how to do direct mail.Lots of case histories and sample mailing packages.

My last suggestion is that you start collecting examples of good fundraising letters.We all get them in the mail - from the schools we went to, from our church or temple, from the local youth organization, etc., etc., etc.Start saving the ones that you find appealing.Then when you need to write a letter, you will have a whole kit of examples to review to help you get your creative juices flowing.

Q: Iím having trouble raising money for equipment.Do you have any suggestions?

A: One important thing to remember is that most donors (foundations, corporations and individuals) are not really interested in the needs of the organization, but in meeting the needs of the community the organization serves.So you will need to talk about how the new equipment will benefit those you serve.

Q: Can you tell me how to get money from foundations and corporations?

A: Below Iíve listed several books that you might find helpful.Check with your local library to see if they have these titles.You can also check the website for the Foundation Center.The URL is site has lots of good information on how to apply for grants.You can also find out where to find the nearest Foundation Center cooperating collection.They are sure to have some of these books.

Here's the list of books.

Clarke, Cheryl, Storytellling for Grantseekers: The Guide to Creative Nonprofit Fundraising. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2001. Based on the premise that good fundraising starts with the ability to “tell your story”, this book uses a creative writing approach to the grants process. Of recent books about proposal writing, it is the best of the lot in my opinion.

Carlson, Mim, Winning Grants Step by Step: Support Centers of America's Complete Workbook for Planning, Developing, Writing Successful Proposals.San Francisco, Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995.Clear text and workbook format make this ideal for the beginner as well as the seasoned professional.

Geever, Jane C. and Patricia McNeill, The Foundation Center's Guide to Proposal Writing.The Foundation Center, 1993.A good overview of the grant process including researching prospects and writing the proposal.Good sample letters and proposals.

Kiritz, Norton J. and Jerry Mundel, Program Planning & Proposal Writing.The Grantsmanship Center.This is a comprehensive review of the essential parts of a proposal.A classic, it has been updated recently and is available in a 12-page Introductory Version ($3 + $3 shipping) or a 48-page Expanded Version ($4 + $3 shipping).Order from the Grantsmanship Center, PO Box 17220, Los Angeles, CA 90017, 213/482-9860;

Q: We'd like to hire you to help us win some grants, but we just don't have (or can't risk) the funds. Can you work on a percentage of grants that are received?

A: I never work for a percentage of the funds raised because it is strictly against the code of ethics of my professional organization - the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) as well as that of all of the major professional fundraising organizations. There are several reasons for this, among them the following:

  1. It tends to distort salaries -- that is, it can take just as many hours and just as much expertise to raise $500 as it does to raise $500,000. Yet the person paid on commission will receive 1000 times as much for raising $500,000!
  2. It tends to make fundraisers focus on short-term gain rather than your organization's long-term relationship with the donor.
  3. Most donors don't like the idea of having a percentage of their gift go to line the pocket of the person who asked them.
  4. As a consultant I need to make a living based on my full-time work. If your cause is a good one and attracts funding and you are paying me on commission, you are actually underwriting the time I spent working on unsuccessful efforts for lesser causes!

Q: Can you recommend some basic texts on fundraising?

A: Here are my suggestions:

Keegan, Burke P., Value for Value:Confessions of an Itinerant Fundraiser.Partners Press, Corte Madera, CA, 1990.This is a light-hearted, amusing look at the elements of successful fundraising.This may be out of print, but itís worth looking for.

The Grassroots Fundraising Journal, Chardon Press, Berkeley, CA.An excellent periodical with very practical advice for smaller non-profits or the beginning fundraiser.At just 11 pages of editorial content, youíll read every word, every time.A one-year subscription (six issues) is just $32 and well worth it!

Klein, Kim, Fundraising for Social Change.Chardon Press, Oakland, CA, 1994.A comprehensive, practical manual that tells you what you need to know to raise money from individuals.

Seymour, Harold J., Designs for Fund-Raising:Principles, Patterns, Techniques.Originally written in 1966, this book was reissued in 1988 without a single change.This is a classic text on fundraising.

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