Your first fundraiser: how long for, when, and how much?

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 part 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.

How long for?

Aim for a campaign length of 3½–4½ weeks, beginning on a Monday and ending on a Wednesday. The Ada Initiative donors told us that they often donated after seeing around three calls to donate from different sources; if your fundraising drive is much shorter than three weeks there’s not time for people to see two or three people telling them to donate, and beyond that and you’re just tiring all the volunteers out and making onlookers wonder when they’ll finally stop hearing about this. Expect almost all donations to come in on weekdays and most between Mondays and Wednesdays; hence a Monday launch and Wednesday conclusion.

Try to straddle a month boundary, ideally finishing the campaign in the first or second week of a month. Some of your donors will need to wait on their payday to donate, particularly if you are asking for donations of significant size, and many people are paid towards the end of a month. Starting on the 1st and concluding on, say, the 25th would miss these donors.

When?

This series is aimed at organisations running their first fundraiser, and the best answer to when is as soon as you can because you need the money to achieve significant goals. Don’t hold off your fundraiser for months trying for the magic right month to run it in.

As a caution: it’s best to just launch a fundraiser, and not announce the dates publicly to donors in advance. There’s two reasons for this: it’s quite likely that your dates will slip (the Ada Initiative’s major slips involved being rejected from Kickstarter on one occasion, and needing to fix payment processing issues on two other occasions); and, as discussed later in the series, you should never encourage people to wait until later to donate, unless you are willing and able to personally follow up with them, because short of personal followup they won’t not come back to do so.

That said, for future fundraisers, when you have time to plan a little more in advance, the conventional wisdom that was passed onto us was, in the United States, to hold fundraising drives very close to the end of the calendar year. In the US, the tax year ends on December 31 and so the time when people want to maximise their tax deductions coincides with the lead-up to Christmas when observers of the holiday are focussed on giving and the pleasure of giving. In Australia, where our tax year finishes on June 30, and Christmas coincides with expensive summer holidays, I am less clear on whether there’s a single best time to run a fundraising drive. A time of year that’s reasonably predictable for your regular donors will be useful; the Ada Initiative settled on the September/October period and had good success despite conventional wisdom around delaying until November/December.

We were also advised that it’s considerably harder to raise money in the US in a presidential election year, as many people direct their donation budget to candidates for office. While it’s not possible to skip fundraising every fourth year, it’s worth having a look around you and try and avoid overlapping with any shorter predictable major political events.

On the other hand, if your donors come from a group that has a significant source of money at a certain time of the year (eg, they work for an industry that pays bonuses at the end of the year), that is a good time to aim for!

How much?

This is where your needs meet your donors’ ability to give. For needs, you should prepare a budget. The details of budgeting are out of scope for this series, but remember: don’t be original! You can look up the budgets of similarly sized organisations in their sponsorship prospectuses, their tax filings (eg, the US 990 tax filing for charitable organisations), and many business and non-profit resource websites. For the Ada Initiative staff salaries were the major expense, as is usual for service organisations. As a very loose guide for small service businesses that are paying staff, your total expenses often come out around twice your staff’s salaries. However for volunteer organisations, or organisations that are going to make extensive grants or do development, salaries will be a much smaller part of your budget and other expenses will loom larger.

To estimate your donors’ ability to give, it’s time to start asking people for money. Specifically, you need to figure out who is very likely to donate, and begin asking them to pledge to donating once your campaign kicks off. The pledge total will comprise a reasonable fraction of your donation total, somewhere between 10 and 25%. Once you have your pledges in, multiply the total by four. Is that enough to do what you need? No? Then you’re at serious risk of not reaching your goal, and you need to either bring your goal down, or figure out who else to ask for pledges.

Building a prospect list and asking for pledges is covered in my next article!

Creative Commons License
Your first fundraiser: how long for, when, and how much? by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *