Right on the Money: Knowing Your Organization’s Needs Key to Fundraising


With rare exception, nonprofit organizations of all stripes have to raise money to keep their operations going and to fulfill their missions. But rather than build a strategy linked to their missions, many nonprofit leaders mistakenly see fundraising as an end in and of itself, says Justin Pollock, managing director of programs at the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations.

“Oftentimes people will come in and kind of jump the gun, wanting to raise money before they’ve done their own needs assessment,” Pollock says. Taking stock of the resources a nonprofit needs to function effectively not only informs fundraising planning, he says, but also can strengthen the fundraiser’s pitch. You can say that $1,000 will help start a much-needed GED program or pay for a new training program for volunteer mentors.

Pollock suggests taking the following steps to assess a charity’s needs and begin drafting a fundraising strategy:

Start with your board. It’s their responsibility to ensure your organization has the money, supplies, people and other resources it needs to fulfill its mission. For that reason, board members ideally should take the lead in identifying the charity’s needs and deciding how to meet them.

Consider the three types of resources. Every nonprofit needs goods, services and cash to run, Pollock says. Make a list of the things your program or organization requires. For instance, an after-school arts program would want to itemize what supplies, facilities, staff and insurance it needs and how much all of that will cost.

Think about what you can get “in kind.” There are a lot of things nonprofits might not have to pay for, if they get creative about it, Pollock says. For instance, that same after-school program could approach an art store about donating supplies, ask teachers or parents to volunteer, and look for someone who wants to donate a used van to transport students to and from activities. (See NCFY’s article on in-kind fundraising.)

Figure out how much cash you need. Even with many generous in-kind donations, you’ll most likely need cash to pay salaries and utility bills and to fill up that van with gas. Simply put, Pollock says, “The gap between what you can get in kind and what you need is your fundraising goal.”

Devise a strategy. Think about who can help you, either as partners (volunteers, clients and board members who might tell your story, make connections or ask for contributions) or as funders (government agencies and local foundations, businesses and community members, including your board). Will individuals have an interest in your mission? (If your organization directly serves youth and families, the answer is likely yes.) In addition to raising money, are there ways the organization can earn income, such as charging sliding-scale membership fees or starting an odd-job service that employs clients? One fundraising pitfall to avoid, Pollock says, is relying on a sole source of funding, such as a single government or foundation grant that may run out.


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