Effective Fundraising:

Against the Right

by Linda Lee Welch, Fundraising Director, Campaign for a Hate-Free Oregon
The Religious Right has used oppression against gay men and lesbians very effectively as a fundraising tool. This article is intended to give you some insight on how to turn the tables and raise the large sums of money needed to counter their distortions and lies.

Effective fundraising accomplishes several objectives:

It is essential to have high expectations for your fundraising goals and realistic means of attaining those goals. In the sections that follow we'll look at major donor development, direct mail, events and foundation/organization support.

The most important factor in fundraising is having a plan. Many organizations and campaigns spend little time developing a concrete, realistic, attainable plan. When there is no plan or when goals are unrealistic, it's easy for those responsible for fundraising to get sidetracked on other issues or to feel overwhelmed by the immensity of the job. In developing a plan, consider the following:

Get Organized!

Gather together a small committee to brainstorm in preparation for developing the fundraising plan. This committee needs to be informed on the campaign plan, especially the campaign message. Members should be people who know how to access money for your community. These are not necessarily the people who will carry out the plan, but they will provide access to people and ideas that will be invaluable. Include people from the following communities: gay and lesbian; business; religious; labor; arts; chamber s of commerce; people of color; etc. Invite large business owners, development directors, philanthropists, etc. Remember that you are building a broad-based constituency as well as raising money. Too often we try to raise all the money and votes we need from within the gay and lesbian community. Ten percent of the population just can't provide the financial support or the 50%-plus-one vote needed to win the election! Business and community leaders have a vested interest in defeating the religious right. Being against bigotry is good for business. Not all of them will accept your invitation to participate, but asking begins to raise their position on the issue. When people in these communities commit their time and financial resources, you are helping build a coalition of support which will insure defeat of your opponents.

Before your first meeting, know the following: How much money will the campaign need? What will you do if you raise all the money you want and what will you do if your fundraising efforts are not successful? Know the priorities. The people on this committee will want to know that YOU know what you are doing and the money they help raise will go to a campaign they will feel positive about supporting. Ask people for their advice and opinions. This is a brainstorming session. Don't be afraid to ask how they can help. Maybe they can provide a mailing list, a generous contribution, or will lend their name to a mailing or an event invitation.

Make A Plan!

Develop a first draft of your fundraising plan using the information provided in the brainstorming meeting. From that meeting you will know what kind of support to count on from various constituencies and how to best access their financial contributions.

Decide which sub-committees you will need to carry out your plan. Some effective ones are: House Parties, Business, Major Donor, Organizations/Foundations, Special Events, Direct Mail. Each sub-committee may choose to break down even further, i.e. Business having an Attorneys Group and a Physicians Group. The sub-committee may consist of one person or more depending on the quantity of work. When you find a capable chair, let them decide how many other people they need to carry out their task.

Next set a fundraising goal with each subcommittee. BE CONSERVATIVE! The most empowering feeling for a fundraising committee is to feel successful. Not reaching the goal can be very disheartening and make people uneasy about making further commitments.

Set up a budget for each committee and estimate how much money will be needed to make your goal. Do a cash flow time-line. The expenses for House Parties, Major Donor Solicitation, and securing funding from Foundations and Organizations are minimal and can be taken care of early on in the campaign, while big events and direct mail often require large sums of money to generate cash coming in.

Where's The Easy Money?

Who will give the first dollars, or will make loans to the campaign to get started? Are there organizations who can make sizable gifts quickly?

Brainstorm a list of potential donors (preferably people who will influence others to give) who will give their contributions at the beginning of the campaign. The hardest time to raise money in a campaign is at the beginning. While your opponent is busy gathering signatures and building a campaign base, our supporters usually take a "wait and see" attitude and don't want to put out money until the campaign "heats up." Take this into account in developing your fundraising plan.

Create opportunities for people to give to the campaign early on - monthly pledges, rallies, events, house parties, button and bumper sticker sales are all good ways to raise money and involve people in the early development of the campaign. Donors will often want to become further involved in your efforts. They may be great fundraisers, community organizers, or have just the right contact to get an important endorsement.

Treat people like they matter whether they give to your campaign or not. Return phone calls. Often large donations are the result of taking just a few minutes of your time to talk with someone who thinks they want to contribute but needs to be reassured about something. Create opportunities for giving at all levels for every constituency you can imagine. Remember that the Religious Right built their empire with $5 and $10 contributions sent in response to religious radio and TV programs. Be honest. If your state requires you to report names and addresses of donors, don't tell a potential contributor he/she can give anonymously. Sometimes you can make arrangements with a large foundation to accept these gifts. A donor can designate a large gift to the foundation anonymously, with the money to go to the campaign. The foundation, often taking a small processing percentage, acts as an intermediary and channels the money to your campaign.

Have Fun!

Now that you have your fundraising plan and a few early dollars to generate more moneyIhave fun! It is likely that the campaign will be stressful, difficult, perhaps frightening and probably depressing at times. Find ways to have fun with the work you do. Thank people. Let them know they're appreciated. Find ways to take care of yourself. The work you are doing makes a difference for all of us.

Major Donor Development

The definition of a "major donor" varies among organizations and campaigns. For some $50 is considered a major gift while others consider $5000 the minimum amount required to be listed as a major donor. In setting your own standard, consider what amounts people have given for similar projects or campaigns in your community. If there is a list of donors from a prior campaign, start with that and analyze what percentage of people gave gifts above $100, $500, $1000, etc. This will give you a start in setting goals for your major donor campaign.

Setting up an effective major donor committee is the most critical piece of your major donor campaign. While it is possible for people to make successful "cold calls" on prospective donors, it is more effective to have donors solicited by someone they know. Peer to peer fundraising is the most effective, so it's important to invite people onto your committee who know people with money. It is also very effective to have people with sales experience on your committee, whether or not they have wealthy contact s. The work to be done by your major donor committee includes:

Goal Setting

Many major donor committees make the mistake of setting unattainable goals and then become overwhelmed. It's much more empowering for your committee to set a goal they can realistically meet and exceed than to perceive that they have had a huge failure.

In addition to a dollar goal, it's important to recognize the value of building supportive constituencies both within and outside of the gay and lesbian community. Securing a financial contribution may only be part of your solicitation.

An additional goal may be to have donors commit to securing contributions from five other people or funds to match their gift. Or, a call to a major donor prospect may not result in a financial gift, but in a phone banking location to be used by your field staff. Be alert for other possibilities from your prospects.

The Prospect List

The chair or staff for this committee should bring to the first meeting a list of all prospective donors known to the campaign. This list can be compiled from past campaign contributions on similar issues, major donors from progressive organizations, table sponsors from dinners for progressive organizations and candidates, and others suggested by the staff and steering committee. Ask each member of the committee to send you their list of prospective donors prior to the meeting so that you can merge all the names into one list.

One way to organize this is to create a computer database including fields for prospective donors' names, addresses, telephone number, giving history (codes for other campaigns, candidates, etc.) , target donation requested for this campaign, name of solicitor and result of call. (You can do all of this with an index card system, but if you have access to a computer it's much easier!) At your first meeting, provide a printout listing the following columns:

Make enough copies for each of your committee members. Give the committee 15-20 minutes to review the list and put their names by the people they feel comfortable soliciting and the amount to ask, if they know. Then review the list name by name and have people indicate if they have signed up for that prospect and the target amount. Record this on a master list.

When a prospect has more than one potential solicitor quickly determine who has the better connection or if this should be a joint call. If a prospect has no potential solicitors, mark the name and return to that individual later. At the end of this process have committee members count how many prospects they have taken. Have each person prioritize five calls to be made within a specific period of time (the shorter the better!) and commit to making five more calls by a second deadline. When people take too many prospects they often end up doing few, if any, of the calls because they feel overwhelmed by the task. Again, help people set attainable goals so they will feel successful.

Take the information back to your computer or card system and add the solicitors' names and target amounts. Give each solicitor a list of their prospects with all the information you have compiled: name, address, telephone number, giving history, etc.

Make follow up calls to each of your solicitors midway to their first deadline. This phone call will often be the reminder they need to get their calls done!

The Presentation Packet

Major donor fundraising is sales in its highest form! You do a presentation, noting the Features, Benefits, and Advantages of contributing to your cause, overcome their Objections and Close the Sale! You are presenting a product to a consumer Q an opportunity to be a part of a social change movement. It's your responsibility to show how the donor will be affected by participation in your campaign. By the end of your presentation the donor should see this as his/her campaign and be fully invested in ensuring its success.

Your presentation packet should contain:

Make it easy for the prospective donor to find out:

The Pitch

Have your committee participate in a brainstorming session on why a prospective donor should contribute to your campaign. Establish the key selling points, identify possible objections and persuasive responses, how to actually ask for the contribution and how to thank the prospect regardless of the outcome. Do role plays so that people get used to hearing "NO!" Encourage committee members to be as outrageous as possible in both their requests and their responses so that they can experience a full range of potential scenarios.

Making The Calls

The most effective way to solicit most donors is in a face to face meeting. Most people do not respond to a mail request and it's much easier for people to say no on the telephone than in person. When it is not possible to secure a meeting with a prospective donor, call and ask to set up a time for a telephone meeting indicating that you would like to talk about his/her potential contribution to the campaign. This respects the donor's time and allows time for the donor to consider how he/she would like to be involved.

It is most important to set a strict timeline for yourself. Make your calls for appointments, follow up on phone calls that are not returned, go prepared to your appointment (knowing what amount you would like the donor to contribute to your campaign), and follow up with a thank you note regardless of the outcome of your meeting.

Remember that a donor seldom gives everything possible in the first contribution. On the other hand, it's most annoying for a major donor to receive weekly requests for additional contributions. Choose your timing of requests judiciously. Be sure that you have followed up the first request with a personal thank you note and wherever possible some "inside" information about what's happening on the campaign that was made possible or enhanced because of your donor's contribution. (You were able to purchase time on a particular radio station, printed door hangers, etc.)

More than an any other kind of fundraising, developing and nurturing a relationship with your donors is necessary. These are the people who will be able to assist the campaign if, in its final stages, additional funds are urgently needed.

Direct Mail

Direct Mail is a multi-purpose fundraising tool. Done well it not only raises money for your cause, but raises awareness of your issue. One of the most expensive forms of fundraising, it must be approached with some caution and realistic expectations about the results.

Successful direct mail solicitations often yield at best a 3% return rate with varying sizes of contributions. With careful list selection and well written letters you will probably see the return rate rise and contributions come in at a fairly substantial rate.

In developing your direct mail plan, consider the costs involved. The bulk of the expense comes in printing and postage. If it's possible to get printing donated, direct mail becomes more attractive early in the campaign than if you have to pay all the up-front costs.

Next consider how the printed material will be assembled and stuffed in envelopes. If you have a large enough space to accommodate volunteers, this is a task suitable for large numbers of people who don't need any particular skill. Mailing parties are often the first access for a campaign volunteer. Many volunteers choose to become further involved in the campaign after an initial positive exposure folding and stuffing.


There are many brokers who will sell lists of names to your campaign. Always check references on these companies. Some will provide you with wonderfully accurate lists and others with less desirable ones. Purchase lists only when absolutely necessary. Many organizations, candidates, and businesses will gladly negotiate a one-time use of their list for a one-time use of the campaign list at the conclusion of the campaign. Present list exchange proposals as early as possible in the campaign. Many organizations require board decisions on mailing list usage and waiting for a board meeting can take more than a month. Get your agreement in writing to protect both parties. Have both organizations articulate when the lists may be used and for what purposes, when the campaign will receive the list, and when the campaign will produce its list for the other organization's use.

If the list you acquire is large, test a portion of the list before sending out the complete mailing so that you have some idea of how the list will perform. If you're getting a 1% response rate with your test section, you'll have to decide if the size of the gifts is large enough to warrant a full mailing.

The decision to use in-state lists as opposed to national ones depends on how much visibility your issue is getting on a national basis. If you have a statewide initiative that is attracting national media attention, national lists will do much better for you than if you have a local ballot measure that is not receiving much coverage. In any case, it's usually better to use the best in-state lists you have first. You will almost always have a higher rate of return than with national lists.

Experiment with national lists and see what the crossover issues are. Women's rights and pro-choice organizations often have lists that perform well for gay and lesbian civil rights causes. Other civil rights organizations may perform well on your issue. When using a national list, mail to prospects in your state first, then to adjacent states who will feel a vested interest in keeping your ballot measure out of their back yard.

It's also a good idea to develop a sample letter for people to mail to their own lists. Many people have large personal or professional lists that will produce good results with a well-written letter. Encourage people to mail to their own lists. It's a good contribution and helps people feel more involved in the campaign as well.

The Letter

There are scores of books and consultants to assist you in writing your letter. There are just as many philosophies regarding the number of pages, the variety and number of ink colors, placement of bold and underlined passages, etc. The key issue is to make the reader feel emotionally connected to your campaign. You may be able to do that in two, four, or six pages and in one, two, or three colors of ink.

Communicate your passion for the issue in language the recipient of your letter will understand. The letter you send to your state's gay and lesbian community should be different than the letter you send to a pro-choice list. Don't miss the opportunity to build bridges between constituencies. For example, illustrate how gay and lesbian civil rights and choice issues are integrally connected and why supporting lesbian and gay issues ultimately results in advances for the reproductive rights movement.

A cover letter or quote from the spokesperson or candidate whose list you're using gives your letter added credibility. Find a way to illustrate the broad-based coalition supporting your campaign. One way is to list the board, steering committee or community council on the letterhead. Another would be to have quotations from people whose support of your campaign will be meaningful to the recipients of your letter.

The Envelope

Think about the direct mail you receive in your home or office. What gets some opened while others go directly to the trash? Often a compelling statement, question, or image makes the difference. Take time in designing your envelope so that it gets opened!

The Response Device

A fancy name for the return envelope you'll include to make sure that contributions come rolling back in! It's easiest to use an envelope with all the information printed under the large flap. Be sure it's designed so that you won't lose any information required by your state- - name, address, occupation or employer if needed, amount of contribution, method of payment (give VISA and MASTERCARD options whenever possible), and terms of payment (one time, monthly, etc.).

Be creative with this envelope as well. Sometimes people scan the response envelope before they read the letter. If you're in the media phase of your campaign, list the amounts requested next to the television or radio shows on which ads bought by that contribution will run. If the pressing need is development of door hangers or hiring of community organizers, use those as illustrations of what their gift will purchase for the campaign. People will often stretch a little more to help purchase the piece of the campaign they think will make the biggest difference.

Tracking Responses

Remember to code response envelopes so you can tell how the lists are performing. If a list produces exceptional results in the beginning of the campaign, you may want to mail to that list again during the final stretch. Color coding the response envelopes is an easy way to track lists. One way to do this is to take a stack of envelopes and a thick marker and draw across the bottom. Keep a master list of the color codes for your bookkeeper and for the people coordinating the folding and stuffing.

Cash Flow

Once you are able to produce and send out your first direct mail piece, you will begin to see a consistent flow of cash into your campaign. Large direct mail campaigns usually produce many contributors who you can then approach for additional gifts, but it's essential to be sure that direct mail gives you the best rate of return for your investment. Ask people for money more than once. Few people give as much as they can the first time they are asked.

Constantly evaluate the rate of return, size of gifts, profit margin, and the educational benefits of your mailings. A well-run direct mail campaign is a big asset and a poorly managed one is a drain on valuable resources.

Telephone Follow-up

You'll greatly increase your rate of return if you are able to follow up your mailing with telephone calls. You can do this with your own phone banking volunteers or by hiring a firm that specializes in telephone solicitation. You won't have this option with all of your lists but try it whenever possible.

The Essence

Use a good list. Write a passionate letter designed for your audience. Include a response device which gives people a variety of payment options and articulates how their contribution helps the campaign. Include the letter and color coded response device in a creatively designed, compelling envelope that is sure to be opened by most recipients. Wait for the cash to roll in. Do follow-up phone calls to the people who let this opportunity to participate in contributing to your campaign get by them!

Organizations and Foundations

Part of your campaign fundraising plan may include soliciting organizations and submitting proposals to foundations. This kind of fundraising is very cost-effective as there is little overhead involved in writing letters of request and meeting with staff and boards! Make your requests early in the campaign so that you're sure to meet deadlines!


Approach local, state, and national progressive organizations that share a similar agenda first. Keep in mind several things you might ask for in addition to a financial contribution. Office space, use of a computer, copier or fax machine, a mailing list, technical assistance, the loan of a staff person or key volunteer are just a few of the ways an organization can assist you in addition to a cash contribution.

As you build a broad-based constituency you will become aware of other organizations who have an interest in your campaign. As you develop a good working relationship with representatives of local organizations, find out how they can assist you in approaching their national affiliate if they have one. A request for financial or technical assistance from a local organization often carries more weight than a request from your campaign.

It's important to keep organizations informed about the progress of the campaign and to suggest ways for them to continue their involvement. Co-sponsoring fundraising events is sometimes a good way to lend credibility to your campaign and gives an organization a focused way to give additional financial support. They can promote the event through their usual outlets, giving you faster access to people who will be interested in the event.

Nurture your relationship with organizations. Too often we forget about an organization after we've received its financial contribution. There's much more that an organization and its membership can provide to a campaign. Find out what each organization can best contribute. Ask your media committee to regularly submit updates for organizational newsletters to keep their members informed on the campaign. People need to know what's going on and how to get involved. Newsletters of organizations are a great way to spread the word.

Foundations: Profit & Non-profit

Developing proposals to submit to foundations can be time consuming, so it's best to work on this at your earliest opportunity. Determining deadlines and gathering the material for a proposal can be done by volunteers. Write a core piece that can be modified according to the requirements of the foundation. Include a description of the political climate and the issue (ballot measure, initiative, recall, etc.), an analysis of what needs to happen to effect change, and a list of the steering committee and the participating coalition groups. The foundation will request other information and you can tailor your proposal to meet their needs.

Because many foundations are unable to contribute to organizations participating in the electoral process, some campaigns find it useful to form a non-profit entity to carry out educational activities. The political organization creates and implements the campaign while the non-profit focuses on short and long term educational goals.

Separate organizations meet several needs. One is that donors have an option of supporting social change and getting a full tax deduction. Having an educational and political component also gives people the option of participating, both financially and with volunteer hours, in the kind of work that most appeals to them. It's important to separate the short-term goals of winning elections and the long-term goals of educating people about gay men and lesbians. Both can be done concurrently, but there are different strategies that achieve each set of goals.

Check with other campaigns to find out which foundations have given money to political organizations. By doing a little networking you'll probably find untapped resources that no one ever had time to get to in the heat of their campaigns. If you don't get the proposals ready in the beginning of the campaign, it's not likely that you'll find time and energy to write a thoughtful, articulate proposal, gather all the supporting documents and submit it by the deadline. If you have all the pieces ready as suggested above, you have a better chance of being able to get a proposal off to a foundation when you find one willing to fund political activities.

Event Fundraising

In a political campaign, fundraising through special events can be fun and profitable. It can also be your worst nightmare and a drain on your financial resources. Special events usually require an up-front financial investment that is sometimes difficult to obtain at various stages of the campaign. Events require careful planning and detailed follow-through to insure the best results. One of your goals should be to have fun creating the event. If your committee loves what they're doing, this will translate to the people in the community you hope to attract to your event.

Your budget will give you an indication of what size fundraising events you need to hold. If you have a small budget you'll want to produce smaller events than if you're trying to fund a $2 million campaign. Because events are so time consuming and volunteer intensive, many organizations put their energy into just a few large events a year. The key is to choose carefully and appropriately for your needs. If you are in the middle of a time-limited campaign, you don't have the opportunity to make many costly mistakes.

There are people who love producing special events. Find them! Form a small committee to brainstorm the kinds of events that will be successful for you. Invite people with event production experience and anyone else who loves "details" to serve on this committee. Develop realistic budgets for the events that are most appealing to your committee and determine how many you need to hold to meet your financial goal. Do a cash flow time-line so you know when you will have expenses and when you expect to receive income.

You'll need advance money for things like printing, advertising, and postage. If you have a large donor or a business who can afford to loan you the up-front production expenses, you may want to consider this option. Other organizations can occasionally help with this as well. You may consider co-sponsoring a few of your early events, giving the campaign added credibility and the co-sponsoring organization recognition for supporting your campaign. You could also solicit contributions from underwriters for your event. Typically an underwriter provides a large contribution and, in exchange, you promote their business on all of your advertising material.

Events do more for your campaign than raise money. Many people feel like they want to "do something." Participating in a rally, a house party, or a walk-a-thon are ways to give people the opportunity to meet that need. Just writing a check is not satisfying enough for some donors. They want something in return for their money Qan auction where they can purchase something, a fun party, a way to be more involved in the campaign. For others, an event is a way to "check you out" before making a larger contribution. If you do the event well and deliver an effective message, you'll have many more prospective donors available. Some of the people who turn out for events will be people whose names won't appear on any lists. They may not belong to any other organization but felt a strong need to participate in this campaign. Your event can be the point of access for many people new to your issue or to the political process.

In your brainstorming session, make sure you know what you want from your event in addition to money. Do you want maximum media coverage? Are you looking for volunteers? Do you need to boost the spirits of your supporters? You can craft an event to meet all of these needs and more, but only if you know what you want. Don't be afraid to articulate what you want to accomplish. It doesn't matter whether you want people to be emotionally moved or to just have fun...your planning will create the response. Be su re you know which one you want!

Keep a clear focus on creating your event. Set conservative, attainable goals, plan carefully, and you'll succeed in creating an event that meets all of your expectations.

For more information or to request a complete Fight the Right Action Kit, call NGLTF at 202-332-6483, TTY 202-332-6219.