The Beginners Guide to Fundraising

First things first; if you've found yourself here, the chances are you're new to fundraising, or you've dipped your toe in the water with that first 10k or cake sale, and now you want to know more. More ideas for your next fundraising activity; how to raise more money, or more inspiration on how to spread the word and get others involved. Perhaps you have limited time or money to spend; or maybe you need help telling your story so that people can't help but get on board. Whatever your question, you'll find everything you need on Fundraising Expert, starting with this ultimate beginner's guide to fundraising.

The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Fundraising

We're on a mission to make fundraising better, easier, more effective for people like you. We know that most people volunteer and fundraise in their spare time, so what you do needs to hit the spot, and quickly! As a community of individuals who've been in the trenches - some as long-term volunteers, others who've gone on to become professional fundraisers - we have the answers and inspiration to help you build your own fundraising know-how. Before you know it, you'll be driving polished campaigns, and raising more money for your favourite cause. Here are the all-important need-to-knows to raise the bar on your fundraising.

Setting out your stall

1. Describe it! Tell them what you do

All great fundraising starts with your cause. Whether it's rescuing animals, a new playground for the school, or research to fight teenage cancer, you know what drives you to fundraise. The trick is to make other people understand why too, or better still, to feel the same urge to solve it as you do. Telling the story of your cause is crucial to getting people on board and contributing. Here are the key points you need to consider to create a compelling story:

Who or what is your cause?

Describe what they do, why they do it, and the impact they are making the money they receive. Take the Trussell Trust as an example: 13 million people live below the poverty line in the UK. The Trussell Trust runs a network of 400 foodbanks giving emergency food and support to people in crisis. Think about your cause. What problem are they solving? If it's a large charity, you'll find lots of facts and figures, and case studies to support your pitch on their website. If it's a small organisation, ask questions of the CEO, the Head teacher, the Chair of Governors - whoever first felt the need to start fundraising. Often they'll have a story of their own to tell, with compelling reasons why they need the money.

Make it personal.

Think about why you want to support your cause, and lay your emotions on the line. If you want to raise money for a charity that supports medical research because someone you love has been affected, explain something of their diagnosis, and how it made you feel. If you feel emotional thinking about your cause, use that to write your campaign description - if you felt tearful, you want your audience to feel tearful too! Or If you're excited to see the local Cubs have their first night out under canvas when you have enough for new tents.

Make it tangible.

Put facts, figures and imagery into real life situations. People call this impact (link to "How to get and use impact measurement"). What did your charity buy with the money, and how did it change someone's life? Or think about the impact you could have if you just had another £100. Have there been any big breakthroughs or high points in your cause's history. Celebrate these, write about them, paint that picture so people can really visualise what their donations might achieve.

Make it about the money!

Try and find out how much your cause has raised, and what they've achieved with that amount. Where does most of the money come from, and how is it spent? This is a good moment to ask hard questions of your charity - are they efficient, is there anything they could be doing better? It's best to be up front about this, so you can put it into context for your supporters. Is what they do impactful? If their work is expensive, now is the time to say so, and to explain how invaluable the outcomes are.

Again, it's all about the money!

It’s easy to feel awkward asking people for money, but if you do it in the right way it won't go down badly. The more you raise, the more people will celebrate with you, so let them know what you've achieved, the impact it's had, and what you're aiming for next time.


Once you feel like you know your cause, practice using that information, so you come across confidently when you talk to people about it. Don't worry if you can't get access to detailed information - you can still be a really effective fundraiser without a lot of detail. Just find what you can, and turn it into a great story that people can feel connected to. This article will give you strategies for finding information if you need it.

2. Tell them Why: Bring it alive with powerful messages

We've said it before, and we'll say it again (and probably again, it's that important!). The single biggest factor that's going to make your fundraising a success is telling the story. This may seem obvious, but there's more to storytelling (link to external resource on good storytelling, possibly this? or this?) than you'd imagine. There are lots of ways to weave a story into your fundraising efforts. Here are some of our favourites:

Inspire people with courage and a positive outlook - yours, or your cause's.

Remember Stephen Sutton? Of course you do, and that's the point. When faced with an incurable diagnosis Stephen didn't weep - he set all his efforts into maximising his life's story, raising £5.5 million for the Teenage Cancer Trust along the way. If weeping's not your thing, perhaps being an inspiration is how you'll choose to get people on board.

Appeal to people's sense of what's right.

Place2Be provides mental health support to children in the school setting. It sounds good just from that sentence, right? But what really puts their work into context are the stories they share of the children they've helped. No one believes it's right for a child to feel alienated in school, and that's what this kind of storytelling counts on.

Make your donor the hero.

This is one of the most powerful stories you can tell, taking your donor from his everyday life and painting a picture of a tragedy he can help resolve. It's one of the reasons why people are so willing to donate to Comic Relief on the night. Knowing that £xxx from your pocket will save that baby from starvation is a hugely compelling reason to give.

Of course, not everyone has such an emotionally gripping protagonist for their cause, but that doesn't mean you can't tell a great story. For example, let's assume your charity is Help for Hamsters. Here's how you'd follow the guidelines above to get your supporters on board:

• Articulate what you do: Help for Hamsters we save 50 hamsters a day; we're experts in our field so our hamsters get the best care possible from 30 dedicated volunteer staff members and one full time vet; each year we need to raise £25,000 to keep our hamster home going

• Explain why you do it:
...more hamsters are needing our help than ever before

• Ask for donations:
...would you consider donating so we can take care of these extra hamsters

• Now you need to make your potential donor the hero of the story:
...weave a story into the basic information, right from the beginning. Try this:

"This week a team of Hamster Heroes kept our rescue facility going. We were inundated with homeless hamsters in the post-Christmas period and couldn't take even one more. So when Harry turned up on our doorstep looking for shelter, we were on the verge of turning him away. Fortunately for Harry, our Hamster Heroes came to the rescue, donating their time, money and energy to raise £10,000 during January. This money will prevent countless unnecessary deaths during the bitterly cold winter months, and help secure a happy future for Harry and his friends. We at Help for Hamsters are endlessly grateful for the support of our donors. This simply isn't possible without your support."

...Explain what your next challenge is going to be, and how future donors can help in a similar way.

3. Decide where to tell your story

Now you have the most compelling story, shout it from the rooftops! Decide how to publicise and explain your story, how to get the word out. Think about the formats you’re most likely to use, and those which will reach the people you want to influence. This could be newsletters, mail outs, posters in the local community or at school, Facebook or Twitter posts. For each communication, decide what you want your donors to do as a result of seeing it, and make it clear to them. Watch out for articles from us on how to maximise your marketing potential.

Checklist – Setting out your stall

 Gather all your information – why your cause is invaluable, to whom, how many, and how much it costs, etc.
 Describe your cause: tell the story, with heroes and emotion. Inspire people to donate.
 Decide where you’re going to promote your story, and organise it into appropriate formats.

Next Steps – Learn about influencing your donors

4. How to find your donors

Think about how you capture your potential audience as you might a day out fishing. Start with a small net, and a local pond. These early hooks are likely to be your family and close friends, those who know you well, and want to support you in something you feel strongly about. It could also be people who are already involved in the cause, either as a trustee, or as a volunteer.

Next, choose a bigger net, and cast it a bit wider over the lake. Put a poster up in a local community centre, or ask local businesses to get involved. Perhaps people at work, or in the school playground might be interested to get involved - now that you've had some success delivering your first messages.

Eventually, you'll build up the confidence to talk to organisations that might partner with you to support your fundraising efforts, and this is where the big deep-sea nets - and the big money - come in. You might seek grant funding (possible link out to a future article on how to successfully apply for funding), or ask your employer to consider your cause for its corporate giving policy. You may even talk to donors about setting up a regular donation, or leaving a legacy in their will.

Finally, make a prospects list. This is where you next plan to go fishing. Find causes and charities that have a similar audience to your own. If your cause is Help for Hamsters, have a look on the Charity Commission for other animal charities; often they list the people who have funded them - use that to build up a list of potential donors you haven't yet attracted.

5. Getting to know your donor

The key to turning your story into donations is knowing everything you possibly can about your potential donors; how they act, and what they're interested in. Targeting your networks with information and storylines that are relevant to them personally is much more likely to strike a chord with them, and make them get behind you and your cause. Here are the basics of knowing your audience:

Demographics - age, gender, race, employment status and income bracket, and where they live. For example, if most of your audience are aged 55-70 and live in rural areas, they probably won't be up for spending a night sleeping rough to highlight the plight of homeless people. They might, however be really keen to raise funds with a bake sale, or by taking part in a silent auction.

Try and fix on what might appeal to your audience about your charity.

Think about what your audience like to do. Are you keen to the get the junior school Dads involved in fundraising? Think of an initiative that fits with how they spend their free time and you're halfway there. Can you organise a race night at the pub, or a sports event?

Can you find out anything about the giving habits of your audience? Even anecdotal evidence from your cause about where they've had successes previously can help inform what type of fundraising might help you raise more money.

Before you approach a potential donor, find out as much as you can about them. For example, if you want to talk to a local vet about partnering with you to support Help for Hamsters, see if you can find out anything about the owner. Perhaps they own a rescue dog, or are the go-to vet for abandoned kittens. Ask them to help save more animals by attending an event, or signing up for a newsletter, and in time you'll be able to ask them for a donation, or to promote your cause to their customers.

Knowing your donors is at the heart of everything you do as a fundraiser. Think of it in terms of a relationship. Those you're closest to in your family who will do the most for you, right? It's the same with a donor. Think of your time getting to know them as an ongoing investment. Of course, the wider you cast your net, the more effective your time has to be, so keep records on what has motivated them to get involved previously, and what actions you want them to take next.

6. Keeping your donors engaged

At the very centre of every cause should be a plan to keep talking to your audience. Once you've captivated their interest make sure to keep them involved, with regular updates and reasons to stay with you. After all, it's much easier to keep your old friends than it is to find new ones! Nurture your donors with regular updates, and make sure to thank them for their support. Play it right and you can even get them to spread the word for you! Here are some things you can do to keep communicating with your supporters:

An email newsletter

This may sound daunting, but it's easier than you'd imagine. Sites like Mailchimp will give you a free template to fill in with your latest news and pictures. You might want to send different updates to different groups in your email list, depending on where they are in the journey with you - but remember, every update is an opportunity to keep your story going, to make your supporters feel the same way you do about your cause.

A snail mail newsletter

Some people prefer to receive updates by post (this is where knowing your audience will help you decide how best to communicate with them). If so, a monthly print newsletter could work to update your supporters on your latest celebrations, and what you've got planned next.

Local Press

Think about contacting your local paper with your story. Editors are often keen to highlight local success stories, so use all those compelling emotional triggers in your narrative. Keep it succinct and tell people what you'd like them to do once they've read the article.

Social media

It might sound daunting if you're not already a regular on Facebook, but people of all ages use social media to chat and share ideas every day, and it's really not that complicated once you get started. Set up a Facebook page, and maybe a Twitter account, and start by posting your events and key updates there whenever you have them. In time, your online audience will grow, and you'll find you can post daily updates about your progress, or even ask followers for their ideas on what to try next to raise more.


Again, local newspapers are a good place to publicise upcoming events, but think about putting posters or fliers out at your school, the local library or shops.

In each case, think about who you're speaking to, what's most likely to resonate with them, and what you'd like them to do after they've read your update. Always make sure your post, or advert has a call to action; it might be click to donate, sign up to the newsletter, or put a date in the diary for your next event. Whatever it is, make sure you've told some more of your story, asked your audience for an action, and give them a compelling reason to say yes!

We'll be posting more guides on communicating with your audience soon, so keep an eye on Fundraising Expert for updates.

7. Using your influence to raise more

In every single exchange with a potential donor, you're looking to influence them to a positive action. That's why you give them a captivating story (did we mention the importance of storytelling..?!) right from the start. It's also why you think about what you want the achieve with every piece of communication thereafter. If it all seems a bit daunting, don't worry. It really boils down to 6 key things:

1. The relationship you have with your donor - if they feel like they're getting something out of being engaged with you (whether it's a cuddly otter keyring or a sense of doing some real good in the world), they're more likely to keep supporting you. It's a two-way street that makes them feel invested in your cause, and keen to continue the support when you ask.

2. Commitment - if a donor has already signed up to something, or supported your cause on a previous occasion, they're likely to do so again. This is why it's so important to keep communicating with the people in your contact list, and reminding them of how much they've done for you so far.

3. Social proof - if people see others doing something, there's a good chance they'll join in, especially if their friends or other contacts are involved. Tell your potential supporters how many people have signed up to your cause already, and what they've achieved, and you'll find that your numbers soon start to mount up.

4. Authority - people tend to support causes that are backed by an expert, or a celebrity. Try to get some expert advice or feedback on your initiatives into your marketing approaches, or a retweet from a celebrity involved in the area you're fundraising in. It carries weight with potential supporters and makes them more likely to join in.

5. Do they like you? People find it much easier to support a cause that they like - and importantly if they like the individuals involved. That doesn't have to be you! In fact, if they're told about your cause by a friend, they're much more likely to get involved themselves. This is why social media can be such a good source of influence, as it encourages people to share their news with their online friends. Celebrate your donors online or in the news, and they're almost certain to tell their friends about it. And that's where influence really starts to snowball.

6. Scarcity - donors are more likely to hit the donate button if there's an urgent need for them to do so. Giving them a deadline gives them another compelling reason to donate now, rather than procrastinate, and possibly miss the boat. So if time is running out to buy that ticket to your charity karaoke evening, shout it from the rooftops as loud as you can!

To find out more about the 6 Principles of Influence read this article.

8. Nurture your donors - the power of thank you

Research suggests that if you thank your work colleagues for a job well done, you’ll get 50% more help from them in the future. Imagine if those ‘colleagues’ were actually your supporters, and the extra help was a 50% increase in donations! In fact, a simple Thank you is such a great motivator that your supporters are likely to feel even more invested in your cause, and donate again the next time you ask.

It’s easy to give a simple thanks when you’re receiving support in person, but how do you thank those people who donate online, or through a third party? Well, there are lots of things you could do, like an email letter, or a post on Facebook. You can make it visually appealing, especially if you’re talking to a group of supporters, but the most important thing is to make it heartfelt, and specific. Don’t just thank them for donating. Thank them for what they did and what they gave, if you can.

Let them know exactly what their donation means to you, and what you can achieve with it. Knowing the impact they’ve had on your story will make them much more likely to continue supporting you. (There we go with the storytelling again – it really is a huge part of the whole process)!

If your cause is one that involves lots of contact with your supporters, or a team element where supporters know each other, you might consider a monthly award for your best supporter. It doesn’t have to be costly, just a public recognition of someone who has gone the extra mile for you might be enough to make others want to do the same.

Checklist – Managing your donors

 Find your donors
 Get to know your donors
 Keep getting to know your donors
 Communicate with your donors
 Use your influence to increase your donors
 Keep your donors

9. Get organised

Now is a great time to start thinking about the way you collate your information. Is there a database or filing system of useful facts, stories and statistics you can use to illustrate future fundraising projects? Do you have a website to refer people to for more stories and information? And make sure you keep a spreadsheet of donors - past and potential, so you can find the people you need, when you need them.

You can use these records to plan future activity, based on success criteria that has worked before, to organise and schedule ongoing communication with your supporters, and to keep track of existing and potential fundraiser opportunities.

Getting organised also brings really easy ways to increase donations. Are you collecting Gift Aid? Subscribe to Fundraising Expert to get regular updates and advice, including a forthcoming article on the ins and outs of claiming Gift Aid. This is where you’ll need to be meticulous at keeping records of who has donated what; if they’re taxpayers, and you use the right forms and wording, you’re set to increase every donation they make. Start now by asking if your cause is registered for Gift Aid – their accountant will know.

Being organised also makes it easier to comply with fundraising law with regards to raffles, collections, telephone fundraising and data protection. The Institute of Fundraising has all the information you need on this, as well as a code of conduct.

Checklist – Get organised:

 Start a fundraising database (watch out for more articles on how to do this effectively_.
 Plan your activities – we have lots of suggestions for fundraising activities that work
 Plan your communications strategy
 Keep good financial records, and make sure you’re complying with the law where relevant

Now Make Money!

It might seem like stating the obvious – after all, isn’t that why you’re here in the first place? But it’s worth reiterating that everything you do needs to have the end goal of making money for your cause. It’s what drove you to fundraise, and it’s what keeps you focused on moving towards your goal. There are lots of things that could hold you back, but at Fundraising Expert we want you to overcome whatever obstacles you come across, and focus on your ultimate goal. Here are some things you may not have considered that might be preventing you from being as successful as you’d like to be:

• Lack of time or money to invest – use our tips to work smart on your cause activities. We have lots of ideas for saving you time and making sure that your resources pack a punch.

• Fear – stop worrying about what other people think! You might be surprised to know that all of us have felt scared to ask people for money for our causes. But if you go about it in the best way, you’re bound to have lots of successes. And every success will give you more confidence to put yourself out there the next time.

• Loss of motivation – again, this is normal, and totally surmountable. It can help to keep focused on what motivated you in the first place. For example, if you’re raising money for Cancer Research, because your mum died of breast cancer, put her picture up in your home where you’ll see it every day. Write “Do it for her!” across it, and soon you’ll find your motivation back on top.

We have lots of support for you on your fundraising journey. We know how daunting it can feel at the beginning. We also know how fabulous it feels when things start to come together. Here are some great tips for taking those first steps:

• Don’t work alone. Recruit a team, or a partner at least, and act as each other’s coaches. Advertise for likeminded individuals to join you, or get people you know have an interest more involved. Think of fundraising as a team effort, and use your network as your support.

• Don’t try to reinvent the wheel – at least not to begin with. Look back at what has worked for you (or others) in the past, and go back to people who have helped you previously for support in the future.

• Similarly, don’t worry if you don’t have the time or resource for an elaborate event. Some of the simplest fundraising concepts are often the best. Often persistent and targeted communication yields great results, and once you have more supporters you can fly higher. Think about online fundraising or a basic collection box. Whatever you decide to do, keep talking about it, keep telling the story.

• Always ask for money. Set targets you’d like to achieve – it will keep you focused on your goal – and let people know about them. Use every trick you’ve learned here to get your story across to the right people, at the right time, and give them the right reasons to donate.

Above all, be brave! You have nothing to lose, and you might just change the world.

You may also like to read:

Fundraising Events Guaranteed to be winners for your cause. 

The Ultimate Ideas for online fundraising.


Fundraising Expert

Fundraising Expert is a driving force for effective fundraising and increasing donations. Helping you raise more!
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