Five fundraising tips for Wikimedia chapters

Vitruve Man

Last year, I started to document myself about fundraising. Originally, I did it because I intended to use what I would learn to improve Wikimedia France’s management of fundraising. I eventually distanced myself from Wikimedia France for various reasons, but I figured I’d still share a few thoughts that may prove useful to all chapters. Although this article is mainly Wikimedia-focused, the general principles are universal.

1. Document yourselves

You can't just improvise fundraising. You're asking people their money: you have to do your research and behave professionally.

Raising funds is like drawing: it's not a matter of innate talent. Some rare people are naturally good at it, but most people have to learn and practice regularly in order to be really good at it. The good news is that you don't need to learn a lot to be good enough to see a noticeable change in your income; it may not follow the Pareto principle, but it's still good news.

There are many books about fundraising out there. Here's a list of books I own and I read. They're short and very good to begin with.

If you follow their principles, I guarantee you'll raise more funds. I recommend you read them in this order. Experiment your newly-acquired knowledge during a few months, adapt it to your organization, and keep learning. I'd be happy to provide more links if needed. (Note: if you buy one of these books from these links, I'll get a small financial reward from Amazon, at no additional cost for you. Don't worry though, you'll hardly make me rich!)

2. Apply what you've learned

Learning is the first step; it's mandatory but useless if you don't apply what you've learned to your specific organization, your mission and your message. These books provide you with a variety of tools and with food for thought, but I suggest to take each principle or piece of advice and see 1. if it applies to you (most do) and 2. how you can apply it.

I've found the following modus operandi to be very effective: While you're reading the books, ideas and thoughts about your own organization will pop up in your head. Write them down as you would brainstorm: write everything even if it looks stupid. But focus on discovering and learning and don't try to apply it right then. When you've read several books, your perspective will have changed and you'll be more knowledgeable about fundraising already. Read the books again, but this time focus on how you can apply what you're reading to your own organization and mission. During the first pass, you're in the learning phase; during the second pass, you're in the thinking/applying phase, and the books are merely reminders.

3. Understand the importance of raising funds

Don't try to raise funds because you "should" or because "it's nice". Raise funds because you need money. You can never be as convincing when you ask as when you're passionate about a project you know you can't accomplish unless you collect the needed amount of money.

You may see fundraising as a difficult activity that doesn't bring in a lot of money. You may consider other means to collect money (such as selling goodies) because you see them as easier ways to earn money. Considering alternate means is good, but selling T-shirts won't (and shouldn't) be your primary source of money. Ever.

You're nonprofits; that means you should rely on donations and grants. If you don't learn about fundraising, you may not fully understand its potential. During the Wikimedia Conference in Berlin, Liam Wyatt likened the Wikimedia movement to a "Red cross for knowledge": people will donate to you if you ask the right way.

4. Cherish your donors

Thanking your donors one year after they donated is completely unacceptable. If you do only one thing, thank your donors and stay in touch. You can't afford to lose them. When you've read a bit about donor relationship management, you'll understand how foolish this is.

Also, try to walk in your donors shoes ("donor-centric approach"). Why should I give to these Wikimedia folks? Really?

5. Spend your money

The best way to raise funds is to spend your money. Donors don't give you money so it lingers on your bank account. They give you money so you do things; they want you to accomplish things to make the world better on their behalf. There is no such thing as "waiting for more money before spending it". If your projects require more money, then raise more money. If you don't have any projects to spend your money on, you're in big trouble. Fortunately, my next article will be about just that: how to spend your money.