How to run a fundraising campaign

Working in the third sector, you regularly come across individuals throwing themselves out of a plane and into the challenge of raising money for a cause they believe in. I have repeatedly seen fundraisers achieve greater success than they expected to, disproving the economic climate’s murmurings that now is not a good time. So how do they do it?

© Philly Graham - Fundraising in action

The heart of the matter

The most important lesson I have learnt is that fundraising is all about people. The reason people want to raise money and the reason people give money is down to a personal connection with either the fundraiser or their cause. Put simply, people are the centre.

This is also the secret behind two of the country's biggest fundraisers. Now in its 90th year, The Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal aims to raise an awesome £40 million, and all simply from the sale of a paper poppy. Having raised £18 million last year, Children in Need’s 32nd appeal night may well reach a similar level of support. They are very different in approach. One sells a product; the other relies on community fundraising events. But there is a common dominator, their power to make people feel they are part of something.

At Alzheimer’s Society we recognise this only too well, and our work with Tesco over the past year has been successful largely due to the high engagement of their staff in what we are doing. With almost half of their staff knowing a loved one with dementia, there is an immediate level of understanding in the difference their money could make. And we have seen the result of this, with over £4 million raised so far, a large majority of which is down to staff fundraising.

But it is here I recognise there could lie a potential challenge for the heritage sector. Fundraising for servicemen, children in need, or people with dementia are emotive causes. Raising money to restore a church, run an oral history project or produce a new interpretation are arguably less easy sells.


So how can you go about it?

If fundraising is about people, ask yourself what it is about your campaign that would make people care. Perhaps there is some family history caught up in your building that could lead to you getting some support from those associated; or if your building had a history of performances or a relationship to music, perhaps you could enlist the support of your local drama or music groups. I like the Birmingham Conservation Trust's idea of bringing the Newman Brothers' Coffin Fittings Works to life with a specially commissioned theatre production. Try to find a hook that can fire up people's imagination and helps people connect with your place or project.

Friends and family are a really good place to start, as they will already be more likely to care about the work you do and as such are more likely to support you and spread the word. Don’t be afraid to ask for their help. It is the group you identify in this way who will be the key to helping you get your campaign off the ground.

The next question is, what could your campaign look like? With less grants around for heritage projects, perhaps you could look at the other options open to you, such as running an event.

Earlier this year, I led the organisation of a bucket collection in Tesco stores across the country. The challenge was to recruit thousands of volunteers to help collect over a two-day period. Those we got involved were current supporters, members, friends and family, but also people further afield who saw our advertising, recruitment materials or press coverage about the event. The collection ended up raising almost £320,000. Although this was on a large scale, the key steps we went through remain the same.

Get practical – some top tips for running a successful campaign

1. Make a plan

Firstly, decide how much you are aiming to raise. Then break it down into a step-by-step guide of how are you going to do this. Your plan should include things like:

  • Timings: When is the activity going to be? Give yourself plenty of time for the planning stage.
  • Budget: How much you are going to have to spend to raise the amount you have committed to? Be realistic here. A good ROI (return on investment) is 1:4, so for every £1 you spend you will raise £4. If you can get costs covered/donated by local companies then all the better.
  • The event itself:  What activity will you plan? You can raise money through many different ways – from sponsored events, like a sponsored silence or walk; organising a bring-and-buy sale or putting on a benefit event or a ball. Your activity does not have to be connected to your cause. Movember, the global event which sees men grow moustaches to raise money for prostrate cancer, has nothing to do with the actual cause. So is there an activity you could put on which would get people in your community engaged?
  • Communications: Who do you want to communicate your activity to and what are all the channels you could do this through? Don’t forget about social media which is an ever growing channel and a great way to access support and raise awareness.
  • Your fundraising mechanism: The final but most important area to think about is how you will actually raise your funds. This could be a donation on the night, through ticket sales, through raffles or auction participation or sponsorship.

2. Who can you get involved

As mentioned before, working out who you can get involved is a vital stage to any campaign. This should include individuals who would care about your cause; friends and family who could help organise the event or donate their skills in exchange for donations. You could also ask local companies to sponsor the event, donate a raffle prize or help with volunteers on the night.

3. Pick a theme

The best fundraisers are fun and exciting, and offer something a little bit different. So once you have your activity set, think about an interesting way to theme it. If you are going to do more than one activity, having a symbol or an emblem associated with your events can be a good way to become recognisable to your supporters.

4. Publicise your event

Even if you have planned the best activity ever, unless you spread the word, no one will know about it. Local newspapers and notice boards in local shops are a great way of getting your message out there. Talk to your local printers and see if they could sponsor some printing in return for some advertising.   

5. Adhere to fundraising regulations

Ensure all your fundraising is legal. This is vital even though sometimes rules and regulations can seem weighty and hard work. To help there are some great websites you can visit, which list easy guides to raffle and auction regulations or information on organising collections. Here are two: and

6. Thank everyone involved

After the event, before you do anything else, remember to thank everyone who supported you in the run up and on the day. Let them know how much you raised and restate the difference this is going to make. The more they feel their role had a part to play in the event’s success, the more likely they will support you in your future activity.

A big thank you to Philly Graham for contributing this guest blog post. Philly works as a Senior Corporate Account Executive at Alzheimer’s Society, currently part of the team managing the Tesco Charity of the Year 2011 account with a fundraising target of £5 million. She also managed the Society's first national collection in May 2011, raising £318,000.