How to Fundraise for Your Neighborhood Organization

Last Updated: May 22, 2024

As you learn how to fundraise for your neighborhood association or community organization, borrow from a menu of fund-raising events, online campaigns, dues, individual contributions, and grants. You will find tips and nine relatively easy events below.

Ideally you should ground any serious conversation about how to fundraise in a robust discussion of your need, the amount of time your volunteers or paid employees can devote to a particular project, and whether it is more important for your event or campaign to be relevant to your mission or just be lucrative.

street fair fund raiser

When your community organization begins to need money, my experience is that you have to make a decision about how much fundraising (fund raising before we started combining words) to do.

If you have an immediate demand for money, which might happen if you need a zoning consultant or attorney right now, your choices are limited. But we do give you some ideas on this page.

Other groups gradually develop their need for money, when they want to offer prizes for the most unusual finds at their stream cleanup, or they want to advertise a house tour online or in a hyperlocal newspaper.

So being realistic about the amount of money you need to raise is a good first step. If you want to renovate a building or build a bridge, you will need more than a car wash. You laugh, but it is surprising how many neighborhood associations say stuff like they are sponsoring this hamster race to raise money for building a community center.

You may be able to meet modest financial needs through imposing dues. This solves the question of how to fundraise well if people are of fairly uniform income levels and where people have more money than is needed for survival.

If dues feel fair and raise all the money you need, that is a great solution. It's the simplest, fairest, and most direct answer to how to fundraise. Don't be afraid to set dues high enough to carry out a meaningful program if your members can afford to pay.

Also don't be afraid to ask for contributions directly. Ask members who are able to contribute above and beyond their dues to bring a check to the next meeting or to make electronic deposits, and go to neighborhood businesses or organizations in person to request their financial support and talk with them about their perceptions of the community.

However, if people resist dues, dues are not sufficient, income levels differ substantially causing dues to be perceived as unfair, or members resent community members who will not join or pay dues, you will need other ideas about how to fundraise.

Our suggestion is to choose the simple over the complex, at least at first. Exceptions to this rule of thumb will be noted later.

Simple Community Fundraising Events

Below are some ideas on relatively simple fundraisers. We do not mean to imply that these suggestions are effortless, but merely that the project itself is rather straightforward and focused, as contrasted to a weekend fair that involves everything from a carnival to a talent show.

1. Sponsor a concert or other entertainment event in which essentially you hire an entertainer that your constituency will really enjoy. It is even possible to ask a theatre group or regularly recurring musical show to put on an extra show just for your group.

See if the entertainer will contribute all or part of their usual fee or expenses, and in any event, of course charge more than you need to pay them. If you have to pay the performers, though, learn well the first lesson of how to fundraise, which is: Don't Lose Money.

The most likely small-scale money maker in this arena would be asking a local musical group with at least one tie to the neighborhood to perform free; then you know that you will make at least some money.

2. Ask a local restaurant to contribute 20 percent of their receipts from a certain evening or day to your group, in return for your publicity and asking your members to dine there. A restaurant is particularly likely to participate if you choose a time when normally their traffic is slow, typically a Monday or Tuesday night.

Sometimes a restaurant that is normally closed on Monday will open just for your group, and you can perhaps even arrange a higher percentage than 20% if you are in the neighborhood. Do you see why we think fundraising could be fun?

3. Hold a raffle if that is legal in your location and if you have something to offer that will really draw attention. That means it is a fairly big item that will attract people from beyond your territory. Make it something unique and exciting.

A weekend at a condo 100 miles away will not draw the level of interest you need, if the raffle is a stand-alone event.

If you have acquired a house, raffle it. If you can offer a week in an apartment in Paris, and you have a ready supply of people who can afford transportation, offer that. Pay attention to the income tax implications for the winner, however.

Sell tickets by asking people to e-mail or call one person, if your organization does not have an office. If another organization in your neighborhood is willing to take the calls or e-mails, that will be even better.

Taking credit cards through Square or establishing an account with PayPal or other clearinghouse is so easy that you should be able to hold a raffle without having to handle cash. The record of who bought tickets also can be electronic, and no paper ticket would be required.

4. Hold a barbecue featuring the best-known barbecue artist in your area. In many communities someone has a portable set-up and can bring it to your neighborhood. The smell of smoky meat and grilled vegetables wafting over the neighborhood will catch the attention of even those who did not read their newsletter.

If you can, have your members make and contribute the side dishes, including the baked beans, the collard greens, the goat cheese salad, or whatever falls within your neighborhood's style.

Drive as much of a hard bargain with the barbecue pit owner as you can, but of course be respectful and fair if the person is trying to make a living.

Charge enough to make sure you have a profit, and publicize the event widely. If you can manage a little extra pizzazz for the event, by making the venue unique, offering entertainment, or having your members do face painting with the kids, so much the better.

5. Find a business in your area that is paying for a service that your group could perform. To meet our criterion for how to fundraise without burning out your members, this should be a once-a-year or twice-a-year job. For instance, you might be able to rake the leaves or help them convert from summer to winter, or from winter to summer.

Or maybe you have a business storefront that badly needs painting, so you achieve more than one objective by offering to paint it for an amount that is less than a contractor would charge, but would represent a solid contribution to your treasury.

6. Trivia nights are popular in some communities. Charge whatever is typical in your community for admission.  Find the best liked emcee and get ready to urge people to form teams. Don't write the trivia questions yourselves, or else be forewarned that this doesn't fall into the easy category. Be sure to accommodate those who just want to show up, though. You also might be able to figure out a mission-related quiz program, or at least fit topics relevant to your cause into the trivia contest. Attractive snacks and maybe some adult beverages are essential to the success of this. In some communities, you may be able to get by with asking the attendees to bring their own food. Throughout the evening, you may have games and contests to break up the sitting. Silent auctions also could be part of the action. Make sure you find a serious moment or two to tell those who attend about the mission and accomplishments of your organization.

7. Tours are excellent for getting the word out about your community. If you have attractive houses or buildings, by all means gear up for a house tour or architectural tour. For the latter, you need expert speakers and tour guides but paying customers will gladly walk through a home or gardens on their own. In swanky neighborhoods, try the decorator tour, in which you challenge local decorators to contribute their services for one room of a vacant house, ideally one that is for sale. A garden tour also is possible in areas where residents cultivate wonderful private spaces. These events can defy our description as "simple," however, so think it through.

8. Online methods may fit your particular community well.  Especially if you have plenty of young people or individuals with plenty of discretionary income who can give on impulse, explore various platforms and concepts, including text-to-give services.  We especially appreciated this article on social and mobile fundraising; scroll down to the online fundraising section. Even if your residents tend to be older, you may be surprised about how well newer fundraising models work for you.

You may even want to use one of the crowdsourcing platforms if you have a big project, or simply one that is easily defined and explained.

Facebook's Fundraiser feature is free to you, the non-profit, and very easy for the donor. If you have dramatic stories and photos, use them on Facebook to attract donors beyond your usual constituents. 

In fact, we highly recommend emphasizing fund raising methods that are attractive to customers beyond your own membership. If you only sell things to one another, wouldn't it be simpler just to charge higher dues? Many of you seem to answer that question "no," but that's just the way it seems to us. You don't want member burnout just because members get tired of buying this ticket and that T-shirt to support the cause.

9. Walks or races can be fairly easy to pull off, and they can enhance the visibility of your community too, if you lay out the course in an advantageous way. These work best in cities where these events are popular; if you're trying to do the first one in your small city, be prepared for minimal results the first year or two. If you have a city where walkers and runners like to compete though, set it up so that each contestant pays a small amount to enter and put them in charge of finding sponsors and also collecting the funds raised for each mile or kilometer they walk or run. If you have to collect from a multitude of sponsors, it will be much more work. Station your volunteers at intervals with water bottles, print up T-shirts if you like, but overall be careful not to overload your members with duties.

Now notice what we don't consider easy. All kinds of auctions usually fall into the category of someone getting really stressed out. The fundraising appeal letter may be fairly easy, but you have to evaluate whether it raises the kind of money you need, from people other than your own members. Contests and galas are difficult unless you have a member who loves to do this kind of work. So tread carefully.

Principles of How to Fundraise in the Community

Now that we have described a few relatively easy fundraisers, let's talk more abstractly about important fundraising concepts to make sure you are generalizing from our discussion. Below we are showing examples that demonstrate the key principles of how to fundraise without sidetracking your nonprofit from its main mission.

• Find a project that is done once and therefore does not require continuous recruitment of volunteers. In a variation, find a group of people who stay close to home and will commit to a schedule of repetitions requiring only one preparation.

• Find a task that an expert already is doing and engage them to do it another time for the benefit of your group.

• Find an effort that is already organized by others, and your job as an organization is to publicize and bring in customers for a known commodity.

Another important point in deciding how to fundraise is that where possible, you want to combine fundraising with increasing awareness of your major issues. In this category you would find work-intensive but very worthwhile fund raisers such as neighborhood tours, fairs, and so forth.

If you have interesting architecture or a local historic district, organize a house tour or tour of a museum, historic place, or university. Of course you can charge admission. If you have great restaurants, have a progressive dinner, with each restaurant donating a percentage of their profits or gross revenues.

If you are rural but your group is concerned that the rural way of life is being ruined by intrusive development, hold a pig roast, barn dance, or other event that educates people about the agricultural heritage.

Similarly, if you live in a neighborhood where you are aware of a rich history of cultural background, but most of the current neighbors don't know or care, tailor a fund raising event to educate your own residents while still having fun.

If you have lots of kids and a safe park but not many other community assets, have the kids do a really amazing show in the park every Saturday afternoon all summer, followed by homemade ice cream. Charge for the show, the ice cream, or both.

But if you have a dilapidated neighborhood in trouble, consider carefully whether you want visitors to know that. If you do, bring people in to see how bad conditions are and to try to shame City Hall into giving you more attention. Try a walking tour, followed by barbecue and ice cream offered at a price that will make you some money. If you don't want extra attention on condition of the neighborhood, then hold your fundraiser in a well-known park or venue  outside of the neighborhood.

But get to work on a feasible and fun idea for how to fundraise.

Attract a New Generation of Donors

Fairly often non-profits have learned to rely on people who are middle-aged and older to meet their need for donors. A few master the art of designing fund-raising events that appeal heavily to millennials, but many lag behind in this area. But you can attract a new generation, especially if you are willing to accept smaller donations given somewhat more frequently.

For instance, you can and should cultivate the art of online giving via text messaging. Then send texts to remind your younger supporters that it's time to chip in. With younger folks, usually more frequent reminders to send small amounts is more successful than asking once a year for a larger amount.

You might pursue something such as Google Ad Grants for non-profits, which would allow you free ads to promote yourselves. If you are clever, you can do this in such a way that your advertising helps you sell tickets or products. You would need to create a Google for Nonprofits account to take advantage of this; the benefits of Google for Nonprofits vary by country.

In addition to overall online fundraising discussed above, you should explore crowdfunding platforms once you have a specific project in mind.  Kickstarter is an example of a crowdfunding platform, but others, such as ioby, may offer a better value for U.S.-based community organizations. Be aware that you usually need a good video to succeed on these platforms, you need a specific reason you want the money, and you also need to support the campaign with a considerable amount of your own social media so that you seed the campaign with local donors.

Online platforms and apps come and go all the time. For instance, we used to recommend the Google One Today app, but that was shut down abruptly in early 2020. We suggest that you ask whatever 20-something and 30-something people are involved in your organization for their ideas about how to cultivate new donors among younger people.

Grants for Community Organizations

When your neighborhood association has gained some sophistication, has a few community development accomplishments, has a solid organizational structure and a representative board, and has either staffing or a board member or benefactor with time to supervise a project, you may want to apply for grants.

Start with understanding any grants that your local government and local corporations or foundations award. Then find small projects that can be completed through the award of one grant.

If you need help understanding the world of grants, you are not alone.  You will find everything from elementary hour-long sessions offered by your local public library, to elaborate online courses and university evening school courses.   Check local resources first, and be reluctant to spend big bucks without plenty of information about exactly what you will learn and the value that prior participants describe in the course or seminar.

We're starting to add a few grant-writing resources to this site.  See the page on community development grant narratives for some writing tips. Also our entry about program and project evaluation presents essential information once you obtain any grant funding.

Many big box stores will donate materials for a party or a community garden. Other stores will make sizable donations only in return for major recognition--and be flexible in working with them to find the recognition they want.

Grants often skew the program of an organization, so before you apply for a large grant, always ask yourselves if this is something you really want to do, or is it money-motivated only? Only you can decide if it's worth a deflection from your mission to receive some extra funding. If it supports other goals of the organization, or if the topic represents a logical expansion of your organizational mission, go for it.

Sometimes after a group gets a taste of living on a grant, they forget how to fundraise in the grassroots, ordinary ways. Try not to allow that to happen in your group.

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