Fund Raising Dos and Don'ts


Recently and quite accidentally, my boyfriend and I found ourselves hijacking our vacation through Southeast Asia to become an International NGO on the fly.

Initially we had modest intentions of using our own resources to help get some water (a small truckload) to the Thai/Burma border for an aid agency on the inside to pick up and distribute. From there, the plans exploded with possibility, as we made contacts in Chiang Mai Thailand that turned a truck into a cargo plane load of supplies.

Over the following two weeks, we launched an international fundraising campaign, were featured on media outlets all over Canada, as well as in London, Sydney, and northern Germany. We did everything from the fundraising to working on logistics, attending local meetings, networking in Thailand, and giving media interviews.


This article is not about the Burma/Myanmar relief efforts though; it is about fundraising, and some of the dos and don’ts you can heed should you take on a fundraising campaign, large or small.




Take it One Step at a Time

Fundraising is like mountaineering – you must put one foot in front of the next, and not become overwhelmed by the initiative. One person (or one fundraising campaign) will not save the world…identify your mountain, and climb it step by step.

Big Businesses Give Big Dollars, but Small Businesses Give More Often

Although you may want to call on all the big-name corporations to meet your lofty fundraising goals, you may find that their corporate budget for charitable initiatives is spent well in advance, or requires weeks to months of paperwork to access.

Small businesses however, are happy to be approached, even happier if they can get their name shown as a donor, and have the ability to make quick donation decisions. You are much more likely to get $1,000 from five small businesses than $5,000 from one big business.


Go Local

Campaigning in your own neighborhood is a great place to start, depending on your project. Take a walk, and visit the new pizza joint that just opened. Again they may appreciate the subtle marketing plug in making a donation, and you get a chance to network with a new business owner, eager for traffic. Heck you may even find a new favorite pizza place in the process.


Do What You Say You’ll Do

If you make a promise to donors, then keep that promise. If you think there’s a chance you won’t be able to fulfill the promise, then don’t make it. People at large are jaded as it is; tired of donating money in an anonymous manner to conglomerates of aid agencies, only to find no accountability, and even worse – broken promises.

If you are a small campaign, then use it to your advantage by promising accountability to your donors. If you are working on behalf of a large campaign, find something you can promise, and keep that promise. A long-term relationship with a repeat donor is worth much more than a one-time donation with a mess to clean up afterwards.

Be Passionate (and Shameless)

Nobody will give you money if you are not absolutely passionate (almost to a fault) about your cause. You must be willing to talk to anybody and everybody about your cause, and not be afraid to suggest how they can help. Once they see the look in your eye, they will be moved enough to donate.





Don’t Get Emotional

If you are raising money for something devastating and tragic, it is easy to become overwhelmed especially if you identify with those in need. Although channeling your emotions to make your case stronger with potential donors is okay, there is a fine line between compelling people with an emotional case, and turning them off by being an unprofessional blubbering fool. If people are to trust their money to your cause, you must be strong for them.


Don’t be Afraid to Call on the Big Guns

In our quest, we were in the process of contacting the King of Thailand to help us with some of the logistics of our initiative. (That particular aspect of the project fell through before we could get in touch with the Monarchy, but we were well on our way). If you can get past the gatekeepers, people in high places will often listen to your case and would like to help. It helps their own public image, and it obviously helps your project too. There’s nothing lost in trying, and a lot to be gained if successful.


Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

One of the big mistakes we initially made in fundraising was that we created quite a buzz among fellow travelers in Chiang Mai, but we didn’t come right out and ask for money. We simply expected people to hand over the cash. And in some cases they did. But eventually we realized we had to be shameless and simply ask. If somebody thought what we were doing was great, then we asked them to put their money where their mouth was (in a more delicate way of course). When they realized that even a few dollars could make a significant difference, they were happy to give – some people had automatically assumed that we were only going for sizeable donations, when anything would have sufficed.


Don’t Judge Your Friends and Family by Their Generosity (or Lack Thereof)

You may think your cause is worth taking out a second mortgage, but your friends and family may not. Or they may appreciate the cause but not feel they have the freedom to give. Or they may just plain not appreciate your cause. You can very easily make or break friendships by holding your dear ones accountable. Don’t. Although people starving en mass in your corner of the world may be a valiant cause to get behind, some people don’t have the capacity to think this broadly, and instead their own personal tragedies (however small they are in comparison) are all they can deal with. This is fair.


Last, but certainly not least…


Don’t Wear Yourself Down!

If you are a small operation and doing all the work (as many small charities are, and as we found ourselves to be recently), you can very easily burn out. If your own health fails, then you are no good to anybody, and the project could even collapse as a result. Make sure you take care of yourself. Yes, there is always work to do, and a few more dollars to raise. Keep it all in perspective, and remember tip number one: One Step at a Time.



You will eventually climb that mountain if you heed these dos and don’ts. And the view from the top is pretty spectacular, despite the crevasses and obstacles you had to manage along the way.

Good luck!

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Guest's picture

Great article! It has many good points. However, there's one that strikes a bit of a nerve with me. In the point about not judging other people, it still sounds like you are:

"some people don’t have the capacity to think this broadly, and instead their own personal tragedies (however small they are in comparison) are all they can deal with."

So people who don't support causes in far away countries are less broad-minded that you are? In a lot of cases, it has nothing to do with being unable to think beyond "their own personal tragedies". There are people suffering everywhere in the world, and unfortunately we can't contribute to every cause out there. Sometimes we have to "choose our battles" and limit the causes we give to. That doesn't make people narrow-minded or selfish. It doesn't mean they don't believe in you or your cause.

It's great that you had to opportunity to help in Myanmar. I imagine it was hard to be turned down when you were in the face of such suffering. Try not to take it personally. It's not about you.

Nora Dunn's picture

Thank you Emma. Your point does not go unnoticed. I guess you can see I could still stand to learn from my own lessons! It is one of the hardest things I've had to learn yet, and I'm still a student. It gets pretty lonely here in this corner of the world.

Guest's picture
Mark Cussen

Wow, Nora, I'm really impressed with what you've done. You always challenge me with your articles, and with how you live. I wish you the best of luck in your efforts!

Guest's picture

Nora, sorry to be dumb; what is ngo?
I always enjoy your posts and learn a lot also.

Guest's picture

really good article..
ngo stands for non governmental organization (if im not mistaken)

Guest's picture

thanks Maria!

Guest's picture

I need to raise $4,000 in 5 months for me to go on a missions trek to Japan. No idea how I am going to raise the funds. But this article was a great help. Thanks