Your first fundraiser: why fundraise?

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.

Why you should have a fundraising drive

In 2014, in the Ada Initiative’s article on choosing a funding model we wrote:

Often activists will reach for every funding opportunity they can: individual fundraising campaign, yes! Government grants, yes! Selling stickers, yes! Sucking up to wealthy potential donors at lavish one-on-one dinners, absolutely! But it is crucial to pick just two or three funding sources and concentrate on them.

Raising money in any form takes time, practice, dedication, and skill. Pursuing too many forms of funding will just mean that you’re bad at all of them. Some diversification of funding sources is often recommended, but the base requirement is a reliable funding source[…]

Since mid-2011, the bedrock of the Ada Initiative’s funding has come from a few hundred individuals within the technology community. Being accountable to donors who are primarily interested in culture change even when it has no direct benefit to themselves allows us to take on more radical programs. This includes work that is not directly connected with hiring or careers, or that is connected with gift and alternative economies like media fandom with little direct connection to corporate profits.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to adopt an individual donor funding model is that donors often become advocates for diversity in tech themselves…

These are great arguments for individual fundraising. Another one is that individual donors are often the most willing to take a risk on a new, untested, project; corporate donors/sponsors are more conservative and often want to see at least an informal track record to figure out what they’re associating their brand with.

If you’ve chosen individual fundraising for these or other reasons, the next question is: why do a drive as opposed to popping a donation form or Paypal donate button on your website and waiting for donations?

The first reason is simple: a drive will earn a lot more money. The Ada Initiative was a reasonably well known organisation with a reasonable amount of web traffic, but spontaneous donations outside a drive were at the rate of one or two donations a month. Our last few fundraising drives on the other hand earned hundreds of thousands of dollars and attracted as many donors in a day as we would get in the entire rest of the year. Our experience was that fundraising revenue exceeded spontaneous donation revenue by a hundred times.

There’s a tempting line of thinking around passive fundraising — I’m prone to it — which is that if your mission was truly great and your approach to it truly excellent, then the world would discover it spontaneously. Asking for money would then prove the inferiority of your mission or your organisation. Here’s a counter-argument: in order to be successful, you need to be the most invested person. If you aren’t committed to your mission, your donors won’t trust you to fufil it. Taking a risk by openly asking for money, explaining why you need it and what you’ll do with it, is one of the best ways to convince your potential donors that you have a chance at doing what needs to be done.

As we wrote in 2014, a good fundraising drive has a complementary goal: raising awareness of your organisation, and getting people involved. There’s at least two possibilities here. If you’re raising funds from the same community you’re going to benefit, your launch donors are likely to be among your key volunteers or members shortly thereafter. If you’re raising money from a different community from the one you’re going to benefit, your launch donors will be key in reaching other donors, and developing your fundraising strategy in future.

In designing your fundraising campaign, you will raise the money you need, and building a community of members and volunteers, or ongoing donors, at the same time. Good fundraising is hard work, but it isn’t a tiresome distraction from your mission. It’s how you will build the community you need to fulfil your mission.

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Your first fundraiser: why fundraise? by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://adainitiative.org/2014/06/10/the-ada-initiative-founders-on-funding-activism-for-women-in-open-source-from-model-view-culture/.

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