7 ways to fundraise on a shoestring

fundraising ideas fundraising strategy small charity fundraising ideas Sep 19, 2023

I recently delivered a workshop on this topic for the 'Fundraising Now' conference for the Directory of Social Change, and it was a great hit. I've outlined here the key takeaways. To get the best advice possible, I consulted widely with other fundraising colleagues, so these ideas represent years of collective expert fundraising experience. I hope they resonate and are useful.

1. Sticking to basics and avoiding novelty

By avoiding novelty, I mean not getting side-tracked by activities that may not yield a good return on investment. For example, events can be very time consuming and less lucrative than sticking to bid-writing which in general yields better financial results. The success of trying new kinds of more ‘novelty’ types of fundraising activities can be subject to so many external factors- for example, attendance, weather, engagement, the time it takes to organise. The adhoc nature of some fundraising activities means they are not always based around your organisations strengths- they can be a flash in the pan and not necessarily lead to a sustainable method of fundraising.   Taking time to examine which strategies are going to be most successful based on your own strengths, weaknesses and opportunities will help you to make informed choices as to where to direct your efforts to produce the best return on investment.

Taking a strength-based approach to choosing your fundraising methods will mean less resistance and more alignment with your charities people, skills, resources and assets. For example, if you have an active and engaged community, then peer to peer, community based fundraising, where you empower others to fundraise on your behalf, could be a sensible strategy to develop.

2. Sharing the load

It seems obvious, but it always surprises me how many fundraisers, or people with a fundraising responsibility, work in isolation. Some charities employ a fundraiser and think 'job done'- that is the issue solved. But whether or not you have the luxury of a dedicated fundraiser, then you're missing a trick if you are not engaging other people to support you in your fundraising activity.Some ideas include reaching out on social media for fundraising volunteers, or doing a shout out to your email list. You can also use volunteer recruitment platforms like Reach Volunteering and also see if you can recruit other staff members (and Trustees) to help you, even if it is low level support.

Playing to people’s strengths is important- where is the hidden talent in your organisation? You may have someone who loves researching online and could turn their skills to finding prospects, or someone who loves being in the limelight on social media.  You could also try and access free mentoring to help gain expert support to help you. Organisations such as the Cranfield Trust, Tony Elischer Foundation, Human Lending Library, Digital Candle, Embrace Finance (Free peer support club around finance) @law works, NCVO, Charity Excellence Framework, Fair Development, @gettimetospare (Monitoring and Evaluation), @Collecttoreuse and  Facebook Fundraising Chat Group, all offer free mentoring.

3. Plagiarise!

I use this word lightheartedly, but really what I am suggesting is looking sideways and around you at what is working well for other similar charities to your own. Spend time undertaking a little competitior analysis.

Read about other fundraising success stories and ideas-SOFII- Showcase of Fundraising Innovation and Inspiration (https://sofii.org/) is an excellent source of fundraising ideas from around the world! You can also look at other people’s social media posts, fundraising packs and downloads, donation pages, legacy giving pages and general fundraising tactics for inspiration.Check out the accounts of similar charities to yours, on the charity commission site, to see who has funded them- equally check out funders accounts, to see if they have given out grants to organisations like yours. 

Test out being a donor- what is their donor journey like?Make fundraising friends who can help you and share ideas and experiences-! Meet for a coffee or ask to run something past them- creating a peer support network is hugely valuable and can up everyone's game.

4. Trusts and Foundations

Trusts and Foundations can offer one of the best returns on investment of time, which is why so many small charities rely on them. An application could take two days to write but illicit a grant of £10,000, but a fundraising event for example, might take up a month of staff time to achieve the same amount, and carry a much greater risk.There's a missed opportunity amongst some organisations that feel they are 'locked out' from successfully applying for grants, often due to low confidence and overwhelm, as well as fear of rejection. 

However it should be noted that many funders prefer applications that are written by non-experts where their authentic voice and lack of professional ‘speak’ can be refreshing. Spend time researching the grants you apply for, and it will not be wasted. Pick up the phone to filter out dead ends, create a solid list of well researched prospects, and, if time is an issue, select funders where there is a simple application process or letter of application, so that its not too overwhelming.

A key issue, and gap for many, is lack of evidence of impact to populate application forms. Two simple things you can do is firstly to write two or three case studies illustrating the impact of your work. These can be mini case studies- short but impactful examples, if word limits are low. You can also create a list of specific activities or indicators relating to your work that you can count or measure. For example, they may include numbers of sessions delivered in the last year, number of people you have supported, number of meals delivered, or number of qualifications achieved. Having plenty of powerful testimonials from beneficiaries (and partner organisations) will also help to give depth and resonance to your applications. 

5. Opening the door to Legacy Fundraising

Legacy giving can be daunting especially for a charity with no track record of this type of fundraising.  Click here to watch a webinar with legacy fundraising expert Clare Sweeney. With legacy Income set to grow more than any other type of fundraising over the next decade, and, at a time when people are cash poor, legacy giving is a window of opportunity. It is good because it enables people to pledge for the future, when they may not be in a position to donate now. Even if you do nothing else than start to advertise that you are ‘open’ to legacy gifts, you can start to plant a seed, and build messaging into your charity communications.

Gentle messaging across your media, on your website, via your email communication, and physically via posters and leaflets on your premises (if you have them) can start to flag up this opportunity. Hosting an event to tell people about your work and introducing it as an opportunity, can be a great way to start the conversation.

6. Email Fundraising

Email List building and email marketing is one of the simplest and low cost ways of developing an Individual Giving programme for small charities, yet is often a missed opportunity. Having a subscribe button on your website and social media, and collecting emails at events and on your premises, will help you to build your contacts database and forge relationships with your supporters when combined with an effective communications strategy. 

Using your email list to grow your individual giving in this way can be 'low hanging fruit'-sometimes there will be potential donors in your contacts list who have simply never been asked to donate. The launch of a simple donation campaign to your current networks could illicit a surprising result.So developing an email fundraising plan to engage and build your donor base is a great opportunity for small charities.

Segmenting your audience and giving them appropriately targeted information about your work, can build engagement and rapport with your supporters over time. 

7. Contactless Fundraising

Contactless fundraising has more or less replaced traditional tin collections in most instances and offers huge scope for charities of all size to encourage on the spot donations in a range of situations. From placing contactless points in public spaces, to having handheld contactless machines at public events, there are low cost and accessible solutions for any size charity to diversify their income this way. Give a Litte, has produced a video guide to creating your own lowcost DIY solution using their software which can be viewed here.

I'd love to hear your ideas for fundraising on a shoestring- do get in touch if you'd like to share them- you can email me at [email protected] 

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You may also like to read my other recent fundraising blogs including:

How to use a mobile phone to create videos for your charity:


How mindset can help to improve your fundraising outcomes:


How to get started with Individual Giving:





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