May 11, 2022

Proven Fundraising Ideas for Small Nonprofits — and How to Make Them Succeed

When you work for a small nonprofit, you don’t have time or money for a failed fundraiser. But sooner or later, most fundraising professionals experience that pain. Tireless hours spent crafting the perfect event or campaign only to barely break even — or worse.

So today, we’re going to talk about some of the best nonprofit fundraising ideas. But we’re also going to do more than that. We’re going to tell you how to make these fundraisers actually work.

We’ll give you tips on how to prepare, how to make the fundraiser special, and how to keep donors coming back. 

Preparing for Your Nonprofit Fundraiser

Woman preparing for nonprofit fundraiser by writing ideas on paper

While these fundraisers are all different, some key preparations are always the same.

Set Your Goal

You may be tempted to say, “We’ll just raise however much we raise.” But goals are good guides for you and your donors. Most (though not all) fundraisers will cost some amount of money. Determining a realistic goal helps you set a realistic budget. On the donor’s end, it puts their gifts in a financial context. When they understand what you’re aiming for, they can better judge how much to give.

Cast Your Vision

What are you going to do with this money? This may seem obvious to you — there are a million things it could go toward! But donors like to understand how their money will make a difference. So think through the impact they’re making. By giving to your cause, who are they ultimately helping? What will this money do for your community? Why is their gift important right now?

Get in the Right Headspace

Too often, we enter into fundraisers with a negative mindset. We’re afraid we’ll bother people, so we feel apologetic before we even start. But in reality, you’re inviting people to be part of something exciting. Remind yourself why you love being part of this cause, and then share the joy! This piece has some great tips on how to overcome your fundraising fears.

Picking the Right Fundraiser

Man and woman reviewing nonprofit fundraiser options

Picking the right fundraiser is all about knowing your donors and your nonprofit. What can you get your people excited about? What resources are available to you? We’re going to dive into some of the best nonprofit fundraisers and how to actually succeed with them.

Nonprofit walkathon


You can hold a walkathon at a school track, at a park, or even in a mall. Your supporters sign up and then gather pledges for every lap or mile they walk. Simple $3 or $5 pledges can add up fast.

Tips to Succeed:

  1. Give some incentives to the walkers. Do you know of any minor, local celebrities who care about your cause? Ask them to open the event. See if you can offer free T-shirts to participants. The perks don’t have to be huge. A little goes a long way.
  2. Communicate with your walkers regularly to keep building energy. Share stories about people you’ve helped and people who still need to be helped. Remind them how they’re making a difference.
  3. Create a fundraiser toolkit with talking points, social media graphics, and other resources to help them share the cause.
Family having picture taken at nonprofit fundraiser

Portrait Fundraiser

Companies like Knickerbockers offer portrait fundraisers. Your team sells certificates for $10 portrait sessions and packages of prints. Then, Knickerbockers helps you organize a portrait session weekend for all your buyers. You don’t pay anything for materials, making this fundraiser completely risk-free! (See the full process here.)

Tips to Succeed:

  1. Promote the fundraiser online. Create an event page on Facebook and/or on a platform like Event Smart. These pages make it easy for people to sign up for your event and share it with others. Knickerbockers will help you set things up, or you can use this list of tips!
  2. Expand your reach with some local advertising. Ask your local radio or news station to announce the details of your fundraiser or have you on for a short interview. Hang fliers at local businesses. Make sure you’re clear about what the fundraiser is for and how getting a portrait will help.
  3. Motivate your sellers by telling them about Knickerbockers’ incentives. Anyone who sells 10 certificates or more gets a free portrait session and prints!
  4. See the rest of Knickerbockers’s selling tips.
People at a nonprofit open house

Open House

Want to build trust with your donors? Give them a look behind the scenes. Invite your community to visit your office or facility between certain hours. Serve simple refreshments, offer tours of your facilities, and be ready to give a clear call to action.

Tips to Succeed:

  1. Invite beneficiaries to speak at the open house, sharing the impact your nonprofit has had on their lives. Their stories will bring to life the work you’re doing and inspire guests to get more involved.
  2. Coach your staff on talking points, your mission statement, and FAQs. An open house can only succeed if your staff feels confident welcoming and engaging with guests.
  3. Have giving cards with QR codes ready for your guests. Be ready to tell them how their gift will build on the work they’ve heard about that day.
Woman writing fundraising letter for nonprofit

Fundraising Letter

Fundraising letters are a classic for a reason: Done right, they really can work! Find a compelling story of someone who needs your organization’s help or someone you’ve helped in the past. Use your letter to tell that story and show how donations will help!

Tips to Succeed:

  1. Use the word “you.” People give because they want to help, not because they want a charity to help. Instead of puffing up your organization, tell them, “You will help these people in this way.” Give them credit for the ultimate impact they’re making.
  2. Be straightforward. Your donors know you’re writing to ask them for money. Just be honest about it. Clearly share the need, how much money you’re trying to raise, and how their gift will help. Don’t make them work to figure it out.
  3. Use bullet points, short sentences, and small paragraphs. People are busy, so make it easy to skim your letter and understand it. Make sure whatever you’re writing is at the sixth-grade level or lower.

Making Your Fundraiser’s Impact Last

Once your fundraiser ends, don’t make the mistake of simply moving on to the next thing. You’ve put a ton of work into making genuine connections with people. Now, it’s time to nurture those relationships. 

Woman calling nonprofit supporters to thank them

Thank Your Supporters

A study by Bloomerang found that if you call donors within 90 days of their first gift, 41 percent will give again. If you don’t have time to call, craft a thank you email to send within 48 hours of receiving each gift. Reiterate how your donors are helping people, and thank them for their compassion. Don’t shy away from telling them how much their support matters.

Mailing an update to nonprofit donors

Send Updates on Your Nonprofit’s Work

People want to know that their donation mattered — especially if this was their first interaction with your nonprofit. Make sure to send them updates about the project they helped fund. Tell them how their gifts made a difference. Share the individual stories of people they helped. When people can see their dollars at work, they’re more likely to give again.

Woman with black hair smiling at another woman

Ask Again

It’s far easier to retain donors than to find new ones. So don’t be afraid to keep asking for gifts throughout the year. If you’ve done a good job of thanking and reporting back to your donors, they’ll be eager to give again. 

Woman signing a paper at a nonprofit fundraiser

Start Your Next Nonprofit Fundraiser with Knickerbockers

When you hold a portrait fundraiser with Knickerbockers, we work to make it the most successful event possible. We give you all the materials you need and coach you through the whole process. Our professional photographers make sure each of your buyers walks away with beautiful portraits they’ll cherish forever.

Ready to get started? Connect with us today!

Created by The Social Brand
linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram