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A guest post on fundraising for community media.

For this first post about fundraising for my NFCB brothers and sisters, I thought it might be helpful – and provide a good introduction to the sorts of things I will write about – for me to share a recent experience

Just last week, I was asked to speak to the leaders of a small nonprofit that had lost a $60,000 grant. They had been almost entirely grant-dependent for decades and had raised very little from individuals. They needed help and they needed it fast.

I spent about 90 minutes with them, providing a quick roadmap of what they need to do. In broad strokes, it is the same advice I would give any organization wanting to significantly boost their fundraising (as an example, it is exactly the path KOPN community radio just followed to raise $150,000 in 100 days.

First, at the most base level, there are exactly two things you should care about most – gathering lists of fundraising prospects and asking them for money (in many different ways).

That’s not so hard, is it?

Your plan might look any number of ways, but those are the two foundational components. There is no need to make it more complicated than that.

Here is the basic outline of the plan I suggested to the nonprofit. What you have here is the overall, without all of the details and explanations, but it should give you a good idea of the sorts of things you should be/could be doing.

  1. Create a fundraising committee of the most influential people you can find (1 week). Maybe some or even all of these people can come from your board of directors, but likely not. You want to get the highest profile people you possibly can, related to the groups from which you plan to raise money. This group will help you establish fundraising credibility, generate and find lists of prospective donors, and help in any number of other ways (sign fundraising letters, host fundraising events, etc.).
  2. Hold an event (3-6 weeks). You want to be careful about relying on events and need to be smart about this first one and others, but the reason to do it right away is that it can happen quickly, it provides a focus for your efforts, and it can help you send a message that you have a significant need.
  3. Start making calls to ask for money (immediately, and for the foreseeable future). For those of us in community radio, the best person to do this is the general manager. Start by calling past donors – even those who have not given for many years – and then move on to other lists of prospects (progressive political donors, givers to other charities, etc.). Personal calls are the fastest and most effective way to raise money and they absolutely should be a part of your overall fundraising mix.
  4. Write a plan for the next x months. With a solid fundraising foundation in place and money coming in the door from steps 2 and 3, your longer-term plan can kick into gear. It should have a mix of direct mail, events, Internet/social media, and direct asking. Your plan should follow a specific timeline and have goals and deadlines. Some of it will go well, some of it will not, and you should be constantly adjusting it based on the reality of your situation, whether success or failure.

The outline above is pretty much what anyone should do and can work very well for organizations of any size. The devil is in the details, of course, and we will get into those in future posts. If you have questions about your specific situation and want an outside perspective, feel free to e-mail me at

Sean Spence is general manager of KOPN community radio in Columbia, MO. He has been a professional fundraiser for the last 25 years.

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