Starting from Scratch

Starting from Scratch

Sara Thomas | 25 June 2015

I love working with small charities, especially those who are just beginning fundraising.

Maybe you’ve had a change of funding circumstances, or a change in direction. Maybe the current economic and political landscape has meant that you’ve needed to diversify your income streams. However, it is that you’ve ended up here: you now have a wonderful opportunity to build a fundraising culture from the ground up. Challenging, yes - you’re starting everything from scratch. But you have a big beautiful blank slate. No baggage, no “we’ve always done it like this”.

During my first fundraising job, I studied for my IoF-accredited Diploma in Fundraising, and since I got it, I’ve used the knowledge I gained there, combined with my professional experience, to help a few small organisations build a fundraising culture within their organisation. I heard from one of those just recently that they’ve seriously smashed their target for the year – brilliant news! 

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Build an evidence base for your strategy

SWOT analyses may seem old hat, but they’re worth their weight in gold, especially if you need to present your rationale to a Board of Management who don’t understand fundraising. This is a voyage into the unknown for them, and you’ll be asking them to take a lot on trust. You may also be asking them to spend money, which they may well not understand, given that you’re the person they’ve asked to bring money in.  So you need to be able to show your working. A SWOT analysis, Ansoff and Portfolio matrices give you a recognisable and easily-digestible way to present your argument.

  • Cost/ Benefit is your friend

It’s likely that you’re going to be extremely resource-poor, and with little to no data about your supporters. So when you’re designing your strategy, think hard about the cost/benefit. Sure, it’d be lovely to do everything; but when you’ve no fundraiser, little to no budget and no idea what will work, you need to concentrate first on those options with the highest return.

  • Fight for a reasonable fundraising target

Fundraising is not a magic wand. Fundraisers are not magicians. If you have no budget, and a ridiculously high target for the first year, it’s likely that there will be disappointment all round. So which pots of money do you want to fundraise for the most? Is this a reasonable ask? Don’t be afraid to stand your ground.

  • Build sustainability in from the beginning 

Who is going to be responsible for the fundraising?  If it’s just you, is your role sustainable? It’s all well and good to volunteer to do some fundraising work for a charity, but if once you’re gone the fundraising stops, the organisation could find itself with serious problems. For a small charity, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to argue successfully for a fundraiser on staff, but having a staff or board committee who will take on responsibility for fundraising can be a great place to start. Building in accountability is also crucial – a scheduled report to the Board of Management, for example. 

Happy fundraising!



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