How to raise funds for a non-profit

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Tue, 10/20/2009 - 01:18

Do you need to raise funds for your non-profit in these difficult economic times?

You need to fully understand the needs and interests of your audience. If you can tell the story of your cause in a convincing manner, and show your audience that it is also their cause, much of the work is done.

What is your cause? Who might be interested in joining you to provide resources?

Some years ago I was asked by an international development agency for help in raising funds for community development in Israel. It was quite a challenge because of the large gaps--cultural and geographic--that separated the prospective donors and recipients.

The communities in Israel were far from urban centers or in disadvantaged neighborhoods, and their populations were immigrants from old Jewish populations drawn from throughout the Middle East, many as refugees. They came from traditional cultures typified by cohesive, large families, a strong community, and a classic Middle Eastern custom of warm hospitality for strangers. But by and large whatever their former status, in Israel they were poor.

The prospective donors were in the United States: urban, literate and highly educated, successful, wealthy, living a modern lifestyle in small families.

All the donors and recipients seemed to have in common was being "Jewish," but the Americans expressed their affiliation by joining a synagogue, by giving money to Jewish organizations, and by making whirlwind sightseeing trips to Israel. While the Israelis lived a communal lifestyle with religion and history as a natural part of daily life, and a profound sense of having returned home.

My job was to show the Americans a glimpse of a vital community in the process of struggle, growth, and rebuilding, a chance to identify with the people making a new life, and to present the needs, the process, and the results of the development process. What I needed to do was present a clear story that was a blend of social history, sociology, geography, community development, leadership, and town planning.

I drove out to the community, met local leaders, and photographed people going about their lives. I tried to show individuals, families, and the community as they were, documentary style. I covered children and their needs for a pre-school setting; the need for youth to have recreational facilities; the needs of young adults; the needs of the elderly for social gatherings. I wrote a narrative. Then, I assembled a team of designer, editor, and production houses, and we turned out several copies of a handsome bound book showing the community and the planned development work.

In America, fund-raisers sat down with prospective donors and left with checks. We had made it very easy to make a donation because we made it easy to identify with the people of the community, their needs, and their aspirations. The key was a combination of honest documentary photography and an appeal to deep common cultural roots. We gave the donors a way to also "come home."

My approach is to work together with my clients and my audience as well as the people or community. I try to use visual and verbal story-telling to bring people together into a new perspective on a shared value, overcoming time and distance.

Fundraising for Renewal and Development in Mizrah, Rishon LeZion, Israel. A photo book/essay.