How to Start a Non-Profit Organization – Step 4: Fundraising

One of the most resource-intensive tasks in a non-profit, fundraising is especially critical in the non-profit start-up phase. It’s the classic chicken and egg conundrum – how do I ask for money without showing any tangible programs and how do I start anything tangible without having money?

The truth of the matter is that there is a clear right first step and a clear wrong first step in how to start a non-profit organization when it comes to fundraising. Even better news – I’m about to tell you what these are. And you’re going to love how straightforward the first step is.

The wrong first step is to hire a professional fundraiser. Spend a lot of money getting a consultant in to set up your fundraising program and provide advice into systems you need in place.

Yes, there are many excellent professional fundraisers out there. Many are well-worth their fees. However, you are not ready for that stage in your non-profit life just yet.

The correct first step is to launch and develop your non-profit website. This is the simplest way to communicate to your potential supporters and donors what you plan to do with donations. You can show tangible programming, without actually engaging in that programming initially.

Think of it like a window into your non-profit plans.

Once you have your non-profit website set up and content is built out, you can start to look for fundraising closer to home. Seek out your personal and professional contacts to set up a steering/fundraising committee who will not only advocate on your behalf but also give credibility and visibility to your cause.

Next up – tips on how to start a non-profit organization while maximizing fundraising potential.


Tips on Non-Profit Fundraising

Non-profit fundraising is not about begging for money – you are selling people on your idea. Treat donors the way you would treat a prospective customer. Donors donate for the “service” of being involved in a cause that’s important to them; you have to convince them their investment in your organization will give them more social “returns” than other non-profits. (If it helps, think of other non-profits in the same space as you as your competitors.)

Remember that you may need to familiarize potential donors with your work and cause before making the actual ask. But a lesson echoed by most non-profit fundraisers is that it is extremely important to make a definite ask.

Check your competition and find out who their major donors are. Research foundations that have funded non-profits in your field and try to cultivate contacts within those foundations.

In the last decade or so, the philanthropic community has paid increased attention to resources specifically for non-profits in the start-up phase. Here’s a helpful list of non-profit fellowships, non-profit incubators and other opportunities available for budding non-profit starters.

Other highly-rated resources for researching foundations and philanthropic funding are:


How to Start a Non-Profit Organization – Before you start fundraising

More than 30 states have laws that require some non-profits and commercial fundraisers to register prior to conducting fundraising appeals and to report on the outcome of their fundraising efforts. If your organization plans to conduct any sort of fundraising that involves broad circulation of an appeal to the general public, you will need to review the laws that apply in every area where you will solicit.

Here’s a quick start list:

This brings us to the end of this installment in the How to Start a Non-Profit Organization series.

Ready for the next part?

Click this link to go to Step 5 for How to Start a Non-Profit Organization: Operations- Build a strong foundation for your non-profit organization.