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How to raise money for our movements: taking the stigma out of fundraising

Vignettes from Bike S.A., the High School for Public Service Community Farm, and Crash Detroit

For many of us, talking about money—and by extension, asking for it—is something that we’re seriously uncomfortable with. It makes us anxious, embarrassed, and some of us straight up refuse to do it. That’s understandable. Our approach to money is often informed by our upbringing, our economic background, and often a cultural veil of secrecy, discomfort, and maybe even shame. It certainly doesn’t help that when we think of money, it’s easy to associate it with the way it can be used to further exploitation, oppression, and inequity. But it doesn’t have to be that way, we can take the stigma out of fundraising!

As ioby’s community and growth manager, I spend lots of time thinking about how to grow our movement for positive civic change—and how to encourage our community to give financially to support it. But it took time, and hitting the phones, for me to feel comfortable fundraising.

A number of years ago, before I had much experience with making direct asks, I was running a community organization that had a sudden need for funds because a grant that we were counting on fell through. Without the grant, we were facing a steep shortfall. I was forced to step up and hit the phones and the emails to ask, ask, ask. It wasn’t easy, but I got over my fear and thought hard about how critical it was that we get over this hump and how committed the community was to our work.

There were yeses, and also plenty of nos. But soon enough, the donations began to pile up. After a month or so of making asks, I realized that I wasn’t just raising money, I was building and deepening relationships with friends and donors at all giving levels. People appreciated that I shared how important the work was to me, to our members and partners, and they felt a more profound connection to the organization because I told my story.

They wouldn’t have been able to feel that had I not reached out to them, and they wouldn’t have stepped up to give in that moment if I hadn’t asked. At the end of the campaign we were not only able to stay afloat, we had even raised extra funds and were even more ready to build our movement than before our moment of crisis! I had overcome my apprehension with asking for money, and it had strengthened our organization. We’re going to explore a bit about how you can make fundraising more approachable too so you can fuel your movement for positive change.

How to raise money for our movements

Bike S.A. volunteers holding signs advocating for clean and safe streets

When you ask for money, you’re giving people an opportunity to participate in something meaningful.

You are invested in your change-making project, and you’re focused enough to commit significant—and valuable—time to it. It is a gift to ask others in your community to be a part of it with you, and share a role in the project. That’s why it’s very important that you lead with what has been most impactful for you about being a part of the work, and share your enthusiasm authentically.

Asking for money is like asking for volunteers

If you’re like me, you probably don’t have the same feeling of dread when calling volunteers to ask them for their time and expertise as you might when you ask them for donations. But asking for money is just a different kind of necessary resource that makes it possible to realize your goals.

Two young Black women holding freshly picked carrots

People can say no, and that’s ok.

The people who most often give to a project give because they are asked. And the people you ask are always allowed to say “no,” and that’s ok. You aren’t forcing them to do anything they don’t want to do, and they can still care about and be interested in your work. Refusals are hardly ever personal; there are a million different reasons someone may not be able to give at that time. On the flip side, if you never ask, they can never say yes!

No matter how much money your community has or doesn’t have, people can contribute something meaningful in some way, and everyone has a role to play. People who have less often give more, proportional to their income, than those with more wealth! Even when folks can’t give, there can be other ways for them to show their support. Maybe it’s through doing something creative, like getting ingredients donated to bake a cake for a bake sale. The whole point of crowdfunding is to get somewhere big through small steps taken together with lots of people. That’s also how grassroots movements are built, piece by piece, and step by step. The truth is, if you can name 25 people, you can very likely raise $1,000!

Musicians playing at Crash Detroit

Movements aren’t built in a day. They take hard work, commitment, and (most) movements will take at least some money. Whether it’s for something as big as buying a new building, or as small as buying supplies for signs at your next rally, money is an important resource to keep our movements going and our doors open while we fight for causes we care about.

It might sound awful to call up some friends and acquaintances to ask for money to bring your project to life. But if you keep at it, it almost always pays off in both strong relationships with your community of supporters, and in the resources you have to keep at it. After jumping in, you might even decide you like it! Can you imagine asking for money becoming something you look forward to instead of something you dread?

Want to learn more?

Join me and my colleague Dawn Arrington on September 17 at Candid’s webinar “Diversify your fundraising with a powerful crowdfunding strategy.” You’ll learn how to plot your own crowdfunding strategy and how crowdfunding can fit into a larger fundraising plan. Register for the webinar.

Reprinted from ioby.


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  • Dora luna says:

    August 21, 2020 10:32 pm

    Loved the idea of calling up people to ask. I'm fundraising for an organization that helps families out when their child is fighting a terminal illness. They helped my son in many ways that in his memory of my son, Richie I'm doing a virtual run fundraising. Thank you!

  • April Miles says:

    August 20, 2020 10:31 am

    Great article. It helped me look at fundraising in a different light.