4 Simple Steps to Raising All the Money Your Nonprofit Needs

Sandy Rees, CFRE is a nonprofit fundraising coach who has a particular knack for simplifying complex concepts in a helpful way. She’s distilled her ideas into a book: Get Fully Funded: How to Raise the Money of Your Dreams.

Her book breaks the fundraising process into a number of steps that many fundraising professionals are likely to find familiar while the territory might be new for chief executives and board members. But, not satisfied with providing just a review of the fundamentals, Sandy does two valuable things:

1. She includes a step that is often taken for granted, and thus overlooked, by many authors: preparation. In this section, she looks at things like how to: make fundraising a priority, manage time, get organized, be ethical, and build an infrastructure that will allow fundraisers to be successful.

2. For each step of the process, Sandy drills down into the subject to get readers to address issues and ideas they may never have considered.

I appreciate that Sandy has chosen to share some of her insights here. Those new to fundraising will certainly appreciate Sandy’s accessible approach. Readers with fundraising experience will find that many, if not all, of the overarching ideas in the article will be familiar. But, from time-to-time, it behooves us all to not only review the fundamentals, but think of them more deeply. As we gain experience throughout our careers, we’ll be able to gain new insights as we revisit the basics.

Want to raise the “money of your dreams”? Read on:


In the world of nonprofits, you can’t do much in the way of service delivery or mission fulfillment without money.

For fundraising staff, that means it is all about raising money. Sometimes, it can be a big challenge. I’ve spent years raising money for all kinds of nonprofit organizations, and I know what works and what doesn’t. One thing I know for sure is that we must aim high.

I learned early on in my career to shoot for the stars. This came from my unwillingness to settle. I saw so many people waiting to be helped at the rescue mission and at the food bank. I knew that if I raised more money, we could help more of them. So, I started working toward fully funding my organization. I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure that people had a warm bed and a hot meal. 

I call it “Getting Fully Funded.” It means that your nonprofit’s staff have everything they need to deliver service. It means that all the bills are paid and you have a rainy day fund established. You have lots of happy and engaged donors. You have diversified revenue streams and fundraising is fun. It’s a wonderful place to be!

Before you can Get Fully Funded, there are a few things you need to have in place. You must have:

The right mindset. Your attitude must be positive, and you must believe that the support you are looking for is out there.

Passion for the cause. You must be passionate for your nonprofit’s cause. If you don’t care deeply, how do you expect others to care and to donate?

Strong leadership. Your nonprofit must have a strong CEO and a strong Board who embrace their roles. Without strong leaders, fundraising will be tough, if not impossible.

Compelling mission. I believe that most nonprofit missions are compelling. More importantly, you must believe your nonprofit’s mission is worthwhile and deserves attention, and you must be able to communicate it to others.

Donor-centered fundraising. Your fundraising must be focused on your donors, and your activities must seek to build relationships with these partners in your work.

Once you get these five elements established, you’re ready to start raising money.

To make it very simple, I’ve boiled the fundraising process down to four steps. If you follow and fully implement these four simple steps, you can raise all the money your nonprofit needs to fulfill its mission:

Step 1–Tell your story. Since childhood, we’ve been conditioned to listen to stories. Telling your story engages your listener and educates them at the same time. Start with a powerful elevator speech – a 30 second version of who your organization is and what you do. Focus on how you’re changing lives. Leave out the jargon. And, be prepared to share a story about a specific person your nonprofit has helped.

Remember, the best stories are short and interesting, so don’t fire-hose information at people.

Step 2–Ask for a gift. No matter how wonderful your nonprofit is, you must ask for a donation if you want one. I suggest you ask several times during the year, and use a variety of strategies including events, letters, and face-to-face asks.

Tie the ask to something tangible, if possible. For example, you might say, “Your gift of $1.81 will provide a homeless person with a hot meal.”

Step 3–Thank the donor. If you don’t get anything else right, get this piece right! Send out a thank-you letter to each donor within two days, if possible. Add a hand-written note a few days later or a phone call and you deepen the impact of the recognition, plus you subconsciously let the donor know you’re on the ball.

A timely, warm thank-you letter serves many purposes. First, it lets the donor know you got her check. Second, it builds trust and relationship, which are two keys to fundraising. Third, you can include a short paragraph about how you will use the donor’s gift which will further engage the donor.

Step 4–Build relationships. You must build relationships with donors if you want to Get Fully Funded. Our donors are not ATM machines. We can’t just show up whenever we need to withdraw money. We must engage our donors as partners in our work and treat them with respect.

One key to building relationship is to maintain regular communication. Have you ever had a friend or relative who only contacted you when he wanted something? Do you want to show up like that to your donors? Create a plan for how and when you will communicate with your donors.

These four steps are simple, and you’ve probably heard them before. The key is to go deep into each step to make sure you are doing the best job you can possibly do. And, when you do that, you’re on your way to raising the money of your dreams.


That’s what Sandy Rees and Michael Rosen say… What do you say?

[Publisher’s Note: From time-to-time, I will invite an outstanding, published book author to write a guest post. If you’d like to learn about how to be a guest blogger, click on the “Authors” tab above.]

5 Responses to “4 Simple Steps to Raising All the Money Your Nonprofit Needs”

  1. Michael (and Sandy),

    It amazes me how the basics seem to escape so many in the fundraising field. Every step that is mentioned is a building block for successful continued fundraising, but so many development departments seem to forget one or another along the way. Some will tell their story and expect the donor to magically open his or her wallet and give the expected amount when they don’t’ make a specific ask. Then, they are surprised when the gift isn’t as large as they hoped. They thank once when they get the check, but don’t follow up and increase the engagement. When the next year comes around, the hand is back out, but the gift is not there. Fundraising is a continuous process and all the steps need to be taken to be sustained successfully.

    • Richard, thank you for commenting. I completely agree with what you’ve stated. When I’m out speaking, there are always a few folks in the audience that I can tell are a bit frustrated with me. Judging from their questions and/or comments, I can tell that they were hoping for some sort of new, wiz-bang shortcut. After one seminar, I even had someone approach me and say, “I guess what you were saying was just pretty much common sense, right?” I thought a moment and then responded, “Yes, it was all pretty much common sense. When it becomes common practice, I’ll stop talking about it.” When folks don’t appropriately follow a sound development process, it just leaves money on the table for the rest of us.

  2. I’m also seeing donors asking about collaborative relationships.

    They want to know who the nonprofit is partnering with because having working relationships among other agencies and groups is an indicator of organizational leadership and using teamwork to meet needs.

    This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but it can indicate the organization isn’t working in a silo-mentality.

    • Janet, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Collaboration has long been something that funders have encouraged. Many, many years ago, the Pew Charitable Trusts commissioned a study of nonprofit collaboration. Then, they provided grants to specifically encourage collaborative efforts. Some of the collaborations that were spawned were pretty worthless while others were creative and helpful. Unfortunately, when the funding went away, much of the collaborative spirit did as well. However, the smart nonprofits continued to engage in worthwhile collaborative efforts.


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