Work Smart, Not Hard: The Real World Guide To Fundraising


“I’m no good at sales.”

“There’s no way I can beg people for money.”

“I don’t want to annoy my friends.”

“Asking complete strangers for a handout isn’t my style.”

If you’ve ever uttered any of these phrases, don’t worry…you’re not alone. Even the most successful of fundraisers began their journey with a raised eyebrow and more excuses not to enter into the world of donation collecting than reasons to actually do it. And why shouldn’t they? It’s an intimidating undertaking to just jump into head first with absolutely no concept of what works and what doesn’t.

I remember being recruited for many years by local non-profits such as the American Heart Association or the March of Dimes to either walk or start a team. I honestly had good intentions…I wanted to help and I signed up right away. The good intentions remained, but the actual follow through took a colossal nose dive. I had no clue what to do next. I didn’t want to ask my friends for money…what if they got mad at me? What if they thought I was using them? What kind of sales pitch would I use to approach a large company? I mean, who was I, really, to think that some corporation would give a rat’s behind about me and my Nikes walking a 5k in southeastern North Carolina? Lastly, while my profession is public relations and my job is to woo, sway and schmooze my way into the hearts of communities for my company, in no way, shape or form was I capable of standing outside the local Wal-Mart and begging for money from perfect strangers. I might as well be standing under the overpass on I-95 with a coffee mug and a shopping cart.

Then I got recruited to be on the steering committee for a brand new walk that would change my life. Through the perfect storm of events, the Lupus Foundation of America brought a Lupus Walk to my town. Suddenly, being a team captain wasn’t about fundraising or asking for donations anymore. It wasn’t about what I would say, or how it would make me look. It wasn’t about money. It was about saving my own life.

I learned a lot that first year as team captain for Team Kennedy Krew. I learned what worked well and what to do again. I also most definitely learned what NOT to do again. Fundraising is a continual learning curve and anyone that tells you different is wrong. Fundraising is like a job and no job’s duties and/or requirements ever stay the same year after year. Technology changes and so do the tools available for team captains and team members to use to their advantage. I’m not saying that I have all the answers and I’m the all knowing Czar of Fundraisia, but my team has been the #1 fundraising team since the Fayetteville Walk For Lupus Now began in 2009, and we are currently in the #1 position for 2011. We have to be doing something right.

I’ve listed a few tips below for individual and team fundraising. Keep in mind that these are ideas that have personally worked for me and my team. I think, in the end, the key to raising enough money to blow past your donation goal is giving a purpose. Just simply asking for the donation because you are one super cool chick/dude, while quite possibly true, isn’t going to make their wallets fall open. You have to give them a reason to fork over their hard earned dollar. Let’s face it, today’s economy sucks. Gas prices are through the roof and most people are trying to conserve every penny they can. You have to convince them that giving that penny to your cause is more important than going to Starbuck’s that week. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? It isn’t. But it can be done…you just have to commit to it, and by commit, I mean consistently. You can’t be sporadic. Being in advertising, I remember one analogy that was hammered into my brain over and over by a professor and it has stuck with me ever since. He compared getting a message into someone’s head as hammering a nail into a wooden board. The first time they hear your message, it’s one hit of the hammer onto the nail. The second time they hear it, it’s another hit…then another, then another. Finally, by the tenth time, the nail is firmly in place and by the fifteenth time, you can go under the board, hit the bottom of the nail to bend it and lock it in place permanently. Your message is in….they get it.

Social Media Is Your Friend

I maintain that social media (ie..Facebook and Twitter, cause let’s face it, using Myspace is about as useful these days as trying to find a new game for your ColecoVision) is the easiest and most inexpensive ( way to fundraise. My entire 2009 donations came from social media. Yes, ALL of them. The key to using social media is to utilize your organization’s website. Once you sign up as a team captain or participant, you usually receive your own fundraising webpage with your own link. USE IT. People are all about convenience and there is nothing more convenient than clicking on a link and entering a donation. However, remember my professor’s analogy from above? One status will not a donation make, most of the time. Pick a day (usually Fridays are the best due to it normally being a payday) and be consistent with posting a donation status message. What message should that status include, you ask? I’m glad you asked that…it leads me to point #2….

The Real World: Statusville, USA

I’m not saying to be all dramatic and act like the tools on that show, but people are more likely to donate to a cause that they can relate to, or touches them emotionally. Say you are taking a stroll through your newsfeed status on Facebook and see two new statuses from two different friends. One is from “Sue”. Sue is walking for the Heart Walk. Her status reads, “Walking in next week’s American Heart Association Walk. If you would like to, please donate here…” The other is from “Mary”. Mary is walking for the Race for a Cure. Her status reads, “Last year this time, my sister walked with me, with 500 other breast cancer survivors. While she’s not beside me this year, I know she’s above me. Please help me honor her and so many others who lost their fight and those that continue to fight. Follow this link to remember Jane…” Which one would YOU be more likely to donate to? I don’t think I really need to explain this any further.

Make Them an Offer They Can’t Refuse

Email donation begging is soooo 2008. And by that I mean it is soooo easy to press delete and pretend it wasn’t there in the first place. Sad to say, but the cold hard truth is, that is probably what is happening to 75% of those emails in that mass distribution list you sent out asking for donations. It’s kind of like that famous picture of the monkeys with the hands covering the eyes, mouth and ears….don’t hear it, see it, speak it…poof it’s gone….don’t know what you’re talking about, Bob. Must’ve gotten lost in the spam filter. Here’s an idea…write your request in an old fashioned, hand written note and include a self addressed stamped envelope. Then, go to that place where the big blue box is, pull open the handle and drop them all in. It’s hard to ignore actual snail mail. Plus, you’ve included a stamped envelope, so it would be pretty hard for them to not at least mail something back to you…..and if they don’t….they should be totally taken off your Christmas card list.

Corporate Donations: No Muss, No Fuss

I found this one out this year and could completely kick myself for not realizing it before if my leg could lift that high and reach around that far. I spent the better part of the winter months of 2011 wracking my brain, trying to come up with grandiose fundraising event ideas for my team that eventually left me frustrated and back to square one. Then it hit me…in my profession I know a LOT of company bigwigs…what would be the harm in asking them for $50 or so? Really, in the scheme of things, what is a couple of bills to them? Much to my surprise it really wasn’t that hard to get them to say yes. Even the most resistant ones caved when I threw in the added incentive of their logo on the back of my team t-shirt and/or their banner sign up at my team tent at the walk itself. (hey, I’m not above shameless product placement, if Coca-cola would give me a few thou, I would tattoo the Diet Coke logo on my forehead). Before I knew it I had hundreds of dollars lined up just from a few phone calls that would have taken me hours of labor at team events to pull off. Mama didn’t raise no fool.

Glitter and Beads and Boxes, Oh My!

I’m not artsy or crafty. Let me reiterate that for the masses. I am NOT artsy NOR crafty. However, it’s amazing what you will discover you have a talent for when you are bored and have access to a hot glue gun. I had a pill box. It was actually bigger than your average pill box…if it had a handle and rollers it could have doubled as a carry-on for my next flight to see the in-laws. But, it was boring. It was plain white and ugly. I had just had surgery, out of work for 6 weeks and bedridden. What’s a girl to do? Obviously, the answer was to bedazzle the bling out of it. A trip to the craft store, a package of jewels, stickers, ribbons and a few hot glued eyelashes later, I had a work of art. One publishing on social media and I also had a side business. RxBlingBoxes had been born and all proceeds have been donated directly to Team Kennedy Krew. To date, I have made over 30 pill boxes that have been shipped across the United States. The point of this paragraph is this…find something you like to do and that people will buy and sell it! Take the profits and donate it to your walk fund!

Stir The Pot

This last section, I saved until the end for a reason. Don’t let the title fool you…it’s not meant to be argumentative. A little friendly competition is healthy for the soul and lucrative to the team fund. Again, I found this little trick out by accident (this seems to be a common theme here with me). My husband posted his donation link to his facebook page and overnight received $130 in donations. Upon my commenting about it the next morning, and how he “just got lucky” he laughed and issued the challenge. “Yeah? I’ll bet you that you can’t raise $130 on social media by midnight tonight.” Never one to back down from a dare, I gladly accepted and we mutually decided upon conditions and stipulations of the winner/loser agreement. I don’t think I’ve begged like that since I was 5 years old and had to have a Cabbage Patch Doll for Christmas or I would most seriously drop dead. I whined about losing to him, I pleaded for help…I whined some more. At the eleventh hour (yes, literally, 11pm) I hit $170. I won. Not only did I win, I stomped him. I realized at that point that deadline induced competition not only fuels team members, it fuels potential donators. “Please donate” is open ended and allows them the option to think, “oh, I still have time, next week.” However, “Please donate by 11pm or I have to scrub the tile with my own toothbrush,” pretty much lights one hell of a fire under their hineys.


I hope at least one of these tips will help you all as you begin fundraising season for your own personal cause. Now, when you end up the #1 fundraiser, just remember, these are our little secrets, m’kay?


Article written by senior editor, Stephanie Kennedy

Stephanie lives in Fayetteville, NC and was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus in 2001 and in the time since has added Scleroderma, Hashimotos, Celiac and Degenerative Disc Disease. She has served on the steering committee as Events Donation Chair and Marketing and PR Chair for the Fayetteville Walk For Lupus Now since 2009. As team captain, she has lead her team, Kennedy Krew to top fundraising honors for the past two years, as well as top fundraising individual honors. Further information on her fundraising efforts can be found at . Find her on twitter at @Steph_in_NC.

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  • Andra

    Oh my goodness! These are fantastic ideas! I am doing my second fundraising walk this year, for Crohn’s and Colitis and just happened to stumble across this, I can’t wait to use some of these ideas, thanks so much!

  • cassthekeeper

    This is awesome. Your articles are my favorite Steph, and between me, my cousin, and my niece, we have plenty of needs to fundraise, because as our family likes to say, we just want to spend more time with our friends in every speciality in the hospital. I needed the fresh ideas for fundraising! Thanks!

  • great article, thanks for this.

  • Tammy

    I needed this article bad. We recently found out my son has brain cancer, and I have been trying to think of ways to raise money for his treatment. I ordered the rubber bracelets with a phrase on them and I was wondering how to go about selling them. Your ideas are great! Thanks so much!

  • @happyturtle Sure thing! Just shoot me an email to [email protected] and I will send you the order form and some sample pics!

  • Cami Solberg

    I just signed up as Team Leader for the Iowa LFA’s walk in September. Thank you so much for the tips!

  • Great article! Thanks for all your successful ideas.

  • Super helpful Stephanie. Again you knock another one out of the ballpark. I’m coming up with my own not for profit and this was just what I needed to see. Thanks! 🙂

  • happyturtle

    I want a blingbox! Where are you selling them?