Marc Porter Magee Ph.D is the CEO and founder of 50CAN: The 50-State Campaign for Achievement Now. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

We created our Guide to Building Advocacy Campaigns to help grow the education advocacy movement by removing some of the barriers to entry for aspiring local advocates. The focus so far has been on how to develop smart campaign plans that will secure real results for kids, but we know another big barrier for aspiring advocates is getting those plans funded.

While many successful advocacy campaigns run completely on volunteer time and get by without money for programs or materials, oftentimes your advocacy plans need donations to turn your ideas into action.

There are a lot of great resources out there on fundraising. One of our favorites is Ken Burnett’s book Relationship Fundraising, which is particularly helpful as a “how-to” guide for navigating the small but potentially complex world of funders in which most advocacy organizations operate. While asking people for money can be intimidating, Burnett reminds us that ultimately fundraising is about the hope of a shared dream and the success of a worthy cause. “Don’t just ask people to give,” Burnett writes. “Inspire them to give. Fundraising is the inspiration business.” Your passion for a better education for the children in your community is the starting point for every fundraising conversation.

Although passion is the starting point, it is often not enough. That’s where your experience in thinking strategically as an advocate will come in. We have found that the same planning process for developing an advocacy campaign can also provide a useful structure for planning fundraising campaigns. In this post we explain how to adapt the three-part campaign planning system from our guidebook to the world of fundraising. Hopefully the steps will look familiar!

Step 1: Clarify goals

Effective fundraising is grounded in clear, measureable goals. It’s so much easier to raise money to do good work if you can clearly explain how that money will make a difference. Fortunately, your campaign planning process will help you confidently answer key questions funders will ask:

  • Why does this matter?
  • What will be different as a result of your work?
  • How will you achieve these results?
  • How much money do you need to be successful?

By working through the steps in the guidebook, you will generate the answers that will serve as the starting point of your fundraising effort. The key is to turn these answers into something you can easily communicate with others. Keep refining your “ask” until you can express it in just a few sentences.  

Step 2: Match strategy to environment

Just like in the campaign planning process, the second step in the development planning process is choosing the strategy that will increase your odds of success. It takes a little longer to explain than steps 1 and 3, but it’s worth it!

Drawing ideas and inspiration from an analysis of the funding strategies of 144 nonprofits published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2009, we have been testing out different fundraising strategies for helping new advocacy campaigns get off the ground. Through this work we have identified four strategies that get results: 

Big bettor. In this strategy, advocacy campaigns rely on major gifts from a small number of individuals or foundations, sometimes even just one. These donors connect with the cause on a deeply personal level, and serve not just as funders but as founders of the campaigns they support. They are interested in the unique and compelling opportunities for their grants to have a large and lasting impact on a pressing public problem.

Funding table. This approach focuses on securing gifts from a group of funders who have decided to work together to coordinate their giving. The donors may already be giving grants to direct service organizations but have come to the conclusion that the policy environment itself is an obstacle to their long-term success. They are interested in strong advocacy plans that work in coordination with their overall giving strategy.

Advocacy alliance. This strategy is grounded in building partnerships with direct service organizations in your field. As with the funding table, these direct service groups have come to the conclusion that their work would have more impact if it was supported and extended by better public policies. Having concluded that they shouldn’t take on advocacy themselves, they focus instead on helping a dedicated advocacy effort get the funding it needs to get off the ground.   

Peer network. In this strategy, advocacy campaigns provide a structured way for networks of individuals to come together to support a cause they are passionate about in their community. Often, these networks of donors are connected together through special events that allow them to feel part of the cause and participate as a team in the advocacy effort. These efforts are most successful when they make effective use of regular communication to build a sense of community among their supporters.

It’s important to remember that these aren’t mutually exclusive approaches. The most successful campaigns will often combine strategies to diversify their funding and increase their sustainability.

Step 3: Select winning tactics

Once you have identified your top fundraising strategies, you can turn to the third and final step: selecting winning tactics. While there are hundreds of different tactics in the world of development, there are a few top tactics that we come back to time and time again.

There is nothing easy about fundraising for advocacy campaigns. You’ll likely hit your fair share of bumps in the road and revisit and revise strategies and tactics before you find your way to success. That’s okay! The most important thing is to remember that you are traveling this difficult road for a very important reason: to provide kids with the educational opportunities they deserve. Use this structure as a roadmap to keep you focused on the path ahead and keep track of what you are learning along the way. The planning worksheet we introduced for advocacy campaigns works great as a way to organize your fundraising plan.

As you embark on your fundraising journey, we hope this common vocabulary and fundraising framework will help increase your odds of success. We also hope you will let us know what works and doesn’t work about this approach in your community, share your stories of success and setbacks and join the conversation with us online. Good luck!

Twitter: @marcportermagee
Facebook: 50CAN


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