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Most non-profits rely on in-kind donations and fundraising campaigns to sustain their operations and provide them with the means to grow.  The role of your organization’s fundraiser or development team is to translate the dedication of your organization’s mission to donors to encourage them to support the cause.

Fundraising is simply the process of soliciting and gathering contributions, money or resources from donors.  There are many different ways to solicit these funds and many different audiences you can approach to secure funds.


TYPES OF FUNDRAISING- which will you choose?

There are countless ways to fundraise.  Traditional methods include auctions, dinners, dances, walkathons, marathons, bake sales, car washes, health fairs, e-solicitations, memorial/in-honor of gifts, employer matching programs, federal campaigns, and more.  Some organizations establish membership programs to collect dues for participation.  These programs can target individuals, families, professionals or corporate contacts.  If doing so, be sure to carefully determine what the benefits will be and how you’ll ensure renewals.

  • Websites are great tools to solicit and collect donations
  • Social Media allows you to quickly and easily deliver fundraising campaigns, host silent auctions, secure pledges and more to a larger audience.
  • Corporate Sponsorships and Grants can support specific programs, initiatives, and projects your organization may be interested in implementing. Remember: you should not solicit grants or funding from corporate entities to support individual salaries. 

NORD assembled a fun A-Z Fundraising Guide to help individuals and nonprofits come up with clever ideas for raising money. 


HAVE A PLAN– what are your goals?

Organizations will be most successful when they’ve developed a fundraising plan that provides a roadmap for fundraising goals and objectives.  Consider this your blueprint for success.

What should be included in your fundraising plan?

  • Determine your need
    • How much will it take to deliver service this year?
    • How much will it take to grow and expand?
  • Identify your assets
    • What has worked for us in the past?
    • What hasn’t worked for us in the past?
    • What is our “sell” – in other words, why should someone donate to us?
      • compelling mission, name recognition, well-known staff or board, innovative programs or services, etc.
      • great relationship with your donors
      • high traffic to your website
  • Set your goals
    • Think S.M.A.R.T.E.R. about your goals. Make sure they’re specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic, time-bound, ethical and recorded 
    • Define the amount you want to raise, the number of donors you want to renew, and the number of new donors you want to acquire
  • Create a plan of action
    • Decide on your strategies for raising the money, such as: grant writing, special events, direct mail, major gifts, sponsorship, online campaigns, foundation support, etc.
    • Write the plan down! Create a document that can be shared with your team that outlines your goal, the strategies you identified for reaching that goal, the description of activities for each strategy and their target audience, amount they need to raise , what each strategy will cost, who is responsible for leading that project, what steps are needed, and when the deadline is
  • Monitor and Evaluate the results
    • Planned vs. Actual – how did you do versus what you planned? 
    • What can you adjust now? What would you differently next time?

Campaign Ideas:


FOLLOW THE RULES –  don’t break them!

Rule 1: The most basic rule for 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organizations is that donors must actually be donating to receive a tax exemption; they cannot receive goods and services in return for their gifts.  A small token of appreciation is sometimes appropriate, but not a monetary return.

Rule 2: Fundraising activities are regulated by each state.  40 states require charitable organizations to register before they solicit any donations.  The requirements vary from state-to-state, which is why it’s important to know where you need to be registered, what the requirements are, and how to file.

  • Ensure you register in your own state
  • Keep your financial documents up-to-date and on-hand as the application period is different among states
  • Include the costs to file for each state in your annual budget that’s approved by your board
  • Don’t forget to include where you are registered to fundraise in your 990 or 990-EZ
  • There is a Unified Registration form that is accepted in 38 states, but the documentation needed still varies among them so customization is required
  • Some states consider online “Donate Now” buttons on websites and e-solicitations to be considered solicitations and therefore require registration
  • Each state has its own agency that receives and processes registrations
  • Some nonprofits may be exempt, but this varies from state to state

To learn more about the requirements for charitable solicitations visit:

NOLO’s Nonprofit Fundraising Registrationa 50-state guide to nonprofit fundraising registration that explains how to register in each state, the initial and annual filing requirements, and rules for professional fundraisers. 

Affinity Fundraising Registrationprovides services to nonprofits to handle the paperwork involved in filing each year.

The Unified Registration Statement (The Multi-State Filer Project) – provides information on the unified registration statement and how to use it. 

National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO) – provides list of each state’s charity office and their contact information.

In 2012, The National Association of State Charity Officials (NASCO) revealed a proposal for a single point website that would allow charity or fundraising to complete the necessary registration requirements and select each of the states they need to register in without duplication. Learn More About This Effort >


FIND YOUR DONORS – they won’t always find you first.

Most organizations solicit donations from a variety of audiences including individuals, corporations, foundations and government.  For smaller rare disease groups that may not have companies interested in their disease yet, the best place to start is with your core network – patients, families, friends, co-workers, relatives, neighbors, and previous supporters.  Encourage your core network to help share your fundraising campaigns – word of mouth will help your cause grow.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask! Remember, the worst they can do is say no
  • Leverage connections. Every person is only six degrees of separation away.  In other words, with the support of your core network you can connect to potential new donors every day
  • Most corporations have giving policies to streamline their commitment to charities. This will vary from corporation-to-corporation. Some have outlined the specific areas of interest that they are willing to extend support to and what their guidelines are for submitting proposals. Before you submit be sure to know this information to increase your chance of success
  • Foundations are more likely to provide annual funding to charities that they have an established relationship with. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t receive funding, but take that opportunity to build a relationship with them and find the common thread in both of your missions


THANK YOUR DONORS- and they’ll come back

There are many reasons an individual might make a charitable donation to your organization, and there are just as many reasons that they may stop. The IRS requires that before a donor can claim a tax deduction for a charitable contribution the donor must have a bank record or written communication from the charity.  Regardless of the IRS’ requirements, its appropriate to send your donor an acknowledgement letter after each donation thanking them for their contribution, no matter the size.

  • Make it a priority to send each donor an acknowledgment letter within 3 days of receiving their donation.  Online donation systems can be set-up to provide an immediate acknowledgment letter/e-mail to the donor that you can choose to follow-up with a hard-copy when appropriate or requested
  • Acknowledgement letters should contain the following information:
    • Donor’s name, address, gift amount, date of receipt, purpose of donation (was it for a campaign, research fund, event, etc.)
    • A statement that the nonprofit is recognized as tax-exempt by the IRS under section 501(c)(3)
    • A description of the property donated, if not monetary (tip: do not place monetary value on property)
    • The statement, “no goods or services were received in return for this gift” unless the donation was made in purchase of a good, such as a ticket to an event. In that case the letter should include a good faith estimate of the value of the goods/services provided (market value of ticket, or actual cost of the dinner per person)
  • For gifts over a certain amount, say $1,000, your organization might consider adopting a policy to provide a “thank you” phone call to the donor. This gives you the opportunity to learn more about their connection to your disease or cause, the reason they donated, and to build a relationship with them for ongoing support


How To Write a Better “Thank You” Letter 


RESPECT YOUR DONORS- and they’ll respect you

  • If a donation is made to a restricted fund, respect the donor’s wish (i.e. a disease-specific research fund)
  • Provide opportunities for them to donate in honor or in memory of someone
  • List your donors on your website or in your annual report to acknowledge them
  • Respect their desire to remain anonymous if requested
  • Do not solicit if they have opted out of solicitations by checking a box in your e-mail or removing themselves from your mailing list
  • Consider adopting practices consistent with the Donors’ Bill of Rights as developed by the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP)