Look to individuals–not foundations–for big money

According to our November Page to Practice, Reliable Fundraising in Unreliable Times, by Kim Klein, the majority of money given from the private sector comes from individuals (both living and through bequests). Only about 10 percent of all giving to nonprofits comes from foundations, and only about 5 percent is from corporations. Furthermore, of the money given by individuals, the majority of gifts come from households with incomes of less than $90,000 — which is 80 percent of U.S. households! Clearly, the myth that nonprofits need to go after wealthy donors or foundations and corporations for money doesn’t match reality.

Instead, Klein argues, this myth keeps many organizations from doing the work they need to do to get their funding from the most likely source: people in their communities. This is exactly what Obama did when running for president — and it is easy to see why his strategy worked. Sure, he had his big donors, like all presidential candidates have — but he also ran a strong grassroots fundraising campaign that solicited donations of $25, $10, or even $5 from lots of people. I know, because I was one of them!

According to Klein, the term “grassroots” is used to denote any kind of effort that derives most of its power and reason for being from a community and from common, ordinary people. Grassroots fundraising simply means that an organization uses a range of strategies to invite as many people as possible to give donations of widely varying amounts. A lot of people are involved in raising the money needed.

That’s what Obama did — and not only did he raise millions of dollars by reaching out to people via the Internet and door-to-door solicitations, but those same people then felt invested in this campaign. He started a movement. It seems so simple — if you feel the work you do should be supported by the people who most benefit from it, and you want to be as independent as possible about what you do and how you do it, then you will want to have your money come from as many people and places as possible.

Of course, grassroots fundraising doesn’t preclude organizations from receiving corporate or foundation support– but rather than spend the majority of your time writing grants and soliciting corporations, Klein suggests focusing your energies on the people who are most likely to give: the members of your community.

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