How to Create a Fundraising Strategy for New and Small Nonprofit Organizations

This week we have a great article coming to you from Kelsey Bradley. Kelsey currently sits as the executive director of a nonprofit organization as well as owns her own consulting business for nonprofit organizations. Check out her website HERE.

How to Create a Fundraising Strategy for New and Small Nonprofit Organizations

Planning and strategizing is an important part of any business or organization but it can be pretty freaking hard to do when you are just starting and you have no previous history to refer to.

When I tried to put together my first fundraising strategy it was painful, and I gave up halfway through. In hindsight that probably wasn’t the best idea. Although I knew the plan wasn’t going to be that accurate when I did it, I completely neglected the fact that having some sort of plan in place, even if it was super fluid, would help me understand what, when, and how I did what I did to raise the money we needed.

Now I’m not exactly clear on every detail of the process to reach my goal and am back to square one trying to put together a fundraising strategy for year two, when it should be pretty straight forward.

When things start to come together and fall into place it can happen fast and having something written up that’s organized and highlights everything you did will be very helpful down the road. It just might help you with your actual fundraising too 😉

So how do you actually create a fundraising strategy?

When I was starting out I did what everyone else on earth does and went straight to my trusty friend google. As the trusty friend he is, google gave me a lot of options to choose from. What I quickly realized though is that all the templates and articles about how to write a fundraising strategy were WAY beyond the level I was at with my organization.

There was an entire section about what assets our organization brought to the table. Now i’m not bashing this because it’s extremely important to understand, but the thing is when you are just starting out you don’t exactly have a lot to offer others. I know that seems a little harsh but, at least in my case, it was very true.

It was sections like that and consistent referencing back to old years of financials (which I just didn’t have) that made me feel intimidated by the entire process and eventually give up on it.

I’m realizing though that there is a simpler way to handle doing a fundraising strategy when you are just starting out or very small that isn’t intimidating and can really help you organize your campaigns and keep track of what you have done.


I have broken down this simple strategy into steps-

Fundraising Strategy for new and small impact-driven business 

(I hate the term nonprofit)


Step 1- Your Support Structure

This section is devoted to the people in your organization and network who can help you execute and achieve your fundraising goals. Examples of these supporting members include, team members, volunteers, assistants, family friends, family members you can easily rope into helping you, random people you run into on the street who said they might help you, etc etc. These people don’t have to be definitely able to help but they should be people you could potentially reach out to if you needed assistance with specific things.

If you don’t have any team members or volunteers it’s ok! A lot of the time when you are starting out and small it’s a one person show. There will be times when you need help though and having an idea of who you could call will be very important and beneficial to you.


Step 2- Fundraising Goals

This is one of the big parts of creating a fundraising strategy. You need to make sure that you have a very clear idea of how much money you need in order to reach your target and do your mission’s work.

The easiest way I have found to do this is to break it down into sections. Here are the sections I usually include: cost of project, contingency for project, operational costs, any other costs, and total costs. From there I break it down line by line.


Cost of project– This is the specific cost of your organization’s initiative. If you are working to set up an after school program for autistic children (for example) what are the specific costs associated with that. Do you need to pay teachers or chaperones? Are there school materials you need? What about the cost of renting the space? Get really specific.

This is also a great place to see if maybe you are missing some of the prices of some things. If you are, just leave it blank and go back and fill it in later.


Contingency for project– This is really a safety net but i’m a big fan of having a contingency in place. If unexpected costs come up (which they do 90% of the time) It’s great to have something in place so you don’t have to go crawling back to your donors and tell them that you didn’t budget enough. You don’t want your donors doubting if can execute your initiative because you messed up the budget!

I like to implement a contingency of 10% of the total cost of project (just the project cost not the total fundraising goal) but it’s really up to you. Maybe you prefer 5%, or 15%, or you may feel that you don’t need a contingency at all, in which case you can leave that section blank.


Operational costs– This part can be deceivingly tricky. When you are just starting out you might way over budget for this (like I did). I was told I would need money for advertising, salaries, online marketing, creating a website, making print materials, events, the list went on and on. What I found was that I needed a very low advertising budget and I didn’t pay a cent in salaries. The largest operational cost I had was government filing fees, which I knew nothing about and didn’t budget for. These little guys sneak up on you!

Other potential costs include, events, website and domain name, brochures and other print materials, thank you cards, and small gifts for donors. Software costs and technical support/maintenance can also be included in this section.


Any other costs– Again this is very dependent on your organization’s initiative. I didn’t have any additional costs but this is where I would include legal and accounting fees, consultants, emergency operational costs, and emergency technical support (like if your email list get hacked or your website goes down).


Total costs- This is the section where you add up the totals of all the other sections and come up with the total fundraising goal for your organization.


Step 3- Fundraising Strategies

Now that we know how much money you need it’s time to figure out how you will raise that money. This part was really challenging for me when I was starting out. I would write out five strategies and include so much detail and then not one of the strategies would work and I would be lost.

If you don’t have a good idea about what will work and what won’t (don’t worry this is totally normal!) I would suggest writing out 10 fundraising strategies that seem exciting to you. Then go through your fundraising goal, a cost estimate, what support you will need, and your best estimate for the amount of time required for each of the 10 strategies. No need to get crazy with details here!

From there you can tie things together by calculating the amount you expect to fundraise from your top five initiatives (don’t forget to subtract cost) and see if it will give you enough to reach your total fundraising goal.

Don’t get too emotionally tied to any of the campaign ideas or estimated fundraising amounts. If I know anything about fundraising when you are small and just starting out it’s that you can’t really predict anything. You are trying to find what works. Once you do the money will start to roll in.


Step 4- Figure out the Timeline

Again this step could go into extreme detail and you could plan out what you are going to do each and every day of your campaign, but when you are starting out I think that’s not an effective use of your time. You would be better off setting general timeframes for each strategy and then an overall timeline for reaching your total fundraising target.


(optional) Step 5- Executive Summary

If you feel that going through everything and writing out an executive summary would be helpful by all means go ahead! In this section you are essentially just condensing all the work you did throughout the fundraising strategy. There are no real guidelines to this but make sure that you include, the fundraising goal, at least five strategies you think will enable you to reach that goal, who can support you in reaching the goal, and what your ideal timeframe for achieving it is.

So there you have it. The key elements to making a fundraising strategy when you are just starting out or very small.

Keep impacting the world with your work!

– Kelsey


About the Author

Kelsey founded Design Cause Inc. nine months after graduating from university. As founder and Executive Director, Kelsey structured the organization, managed all volunteers and campaigns, and singlehandedly raised the $35,000 that was needed to complete Design Cause’s inaugural project in under a year. She then moved to rural Cameroon and oversaw construction of Design Cause’s first project, four classrooms she personally designed. Kelsey has spoken at The Good Festival in Lausanne, Switzerland and continues to work with new and struggling nonprofit leaders through her blog and as a consultant.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Love this! But, are there templates she recommends in order to create these 5 steps? Just Google Sheets, or something like that? Also, what about the timeline? Gantt Timeline, or, no? Thank you SO much!