Your first fundraiser: a timeline

In 2011, I co-founded the Ada Initiative, a charitable organisation promoting and supporting women in open technology and culture. Between 2011 and 2014, we ran five fundraising drives, four successfully. This article is the conclusion of a series sharing what I learned in the hope that new women in technology groups and other activist groups can skip to advanced level fundraising much sooner and spend the least time and the most joy on fundraising that they possibly can.

Timeline

Below is a possible timeline for a fundraising drive, emphasising quick launch rather than the kind of preparation you will need to do as your organisation grows. Many large organisations will have longer timelines and probably have dedicated staff planning the next fundraiser as the previous one winds up, but this timeline is designed to be do-able for an organisation aiming for their first fundraiser, which won’t have the ability to go for many months without funds while putting together the perfect fundraiser.

Two to three months before launch: form your core fundraising team or committee and begin meeting at least weekly. Make a budget for your funding needs if you haven’t already. Choose your organisation’s name and get your website and social media set up. Decide to pursue individual fundraising, Search for and engage a fundraising consultant, accountant, or lawyer, if needed. Establish bookkeeping if you haven’t already.

Begin researching and testing fundraising platforms and, if they require applications to use their platform as some crowdfunding sites do, prepare and submit them. Start planning thank you gifts.

One month before launch: decide on your fundraising platform. If you have existing donors or major supporters, have a consultant or other outsider conduct a few exploratory interviews with them. Are they happy with you? If you have existing work or projects, find any that have outcomes or major milestones that can be released during the drive. Develop a timeline for releasing them and tying them into your drive. Order thank you gifts.

Two weeks before launch: contact potential major donors and ask them to pledge a specific sum of money, or to act as a matching donor. Track the pledges that they commit to, and review your fundraising goal in light of the pledges. Test your fundraising platform beginning to end with real payment methods. Based on your pledge results and your ability to take donations, have an explicit “abort/delay campaign?” discussion with your decisionmakers.

One week before launch: soft launch your donation page if possible (crowdfunding software may not allow it). Ask key volunteers or staff to test donations for you with, eg, international credit cards and similar. (Important: do refund their test donations!) Do a test package and shipment of thank you gifts. Continue reviewing whether you should abort or delay.

Hours before launch: soft launch your banner, counter, and any explicit “we’re having a fundraising drive!” text you’re placing on your website. Make any donations you have direct control over (eg, you or your board are making them!). Email your pledged donors and let them know the campaign has kicked off with “help us off to a great start!” information.

Launch: announce your fundraising campaign in blog posts, tweets, to your email lists.

Throughout the campaign: As each donation comes in, send a brief thank you email, which will normally be a form letter although for donations from your personal friends or the very largest donations you will want to write something personal. Ask each donor why they donated and track their answers. Reshare people’s endorsements and calls to donate selectively, and like/favourite the remainder.

Ship thank you gifts at least weekly, if possible, so that early donors can share them while the drive is still running.

Every Tuesday during the drive: (and more often if you can) release some news or updates (“we signed a lease on a community space!”), an interview with a donor, a limited time thank you gift, or a matching campaign. Explicitly call for donations in any news items.

Every Tuesday and Wednesday during the drive: (and more often if you can) update your social media with information about how you’re doing, where to donate, and how to share information.

Three days before close (Monday): launch your largest matching campaign if any.

Last three days of campaign: Promote your matching campaign, and stay in touch with the matching donor. Assign fundraising team members to be paying attention to the fundraiser all day, if possible, and updating social media three times a day during your major donation periods.

Close: send out “we did it!” blog posts, emails and tweets and then stop your publicity promptly. Send thank you cards and emails to the largest donors and everyone who volunteered for the drive. Ship your last thank you gift batch. While you’re no longer actively soliciting donations, do not turn off the ability to accept donations and keep an eye on social media for people wondering if they can still donate; be sure to tell them “yes”.

Since you’re small, you almost certainly are seriously risking burnout and need a break now. Take it, but remember to check in with your donors after no more than 2 months and ideally sooner with your first news about what you’ve done with their donations.

Next time: once you’ve had your needed break, review what worked and didn’t work about your fundraising drive. If you’re going to rely on donations long-term, figure out when your next drive will be, at least approximately, and begin planning for it now.

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Lana Baldwin, Selena Deckelmann, Kellie Brownell, and Katina Bishop for their valuble advice to the Ada Initiative between 2011 and 2015. Thanks to the Ada Initiative’s board of directors, advisory board, matching donors, and other volunteer fundraisers during this time, as well as our 1400+ individual donors.

Finally, thanks to my co-founder and the Ada Initiative’s Executive Director, Valerie Aurora, who did the lion’s share of the work and worry on each fundraising drive we did.

Creative Commons License
Your first fundraiser: a timeline by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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