Grassroots Fundraising and Stewardship Techniques

One of the best ways to ensure financial sustainability for any project is to have a dedicated strategy for local fundraising. When people understand that you're trying to create something unique for your community that both addresses its needs and reflects its culture, doors will open that may have been closed before.
Here are a few tips for developing a local fundraising strategy:

  1. Include community members in creating the museum or project's new vision. A collaborative, inclusive process that acknowledges and responds to expressed community wants and needs is perhaps the most important starting point.

    At MCM, community advisers are part of planning every project. For our new museum, we invited more than 100 people to participate in listening sessions in six different content areas, and developed the museum’s exhibits and programs based upon the outcomes of those sessions.

  2. Create a comprehensive and enticing vision about your local approach and what it means for the community.

    When donors learned of our vision to collaborate with more than 120 local artists and 14,000 school children, and to acquire our materials and supplies locally, everyone wanted to be part of the community effort.

  3. Ask your biggest donors to be involved in personal ways, through donations of an item of personal significance, as artists, or as investigators. Asking them to help you find an object or contribute something they have created makes their investment more intimate and personal.

    Several of our largest donors contributed in fun ways that connected them to our larger project. Two donors, also artists, created letters for our artist alphabet project; another donor found a beauty parlor chair when we mentioned in passing that we were on the lookout for one.

  4. Create a tiered fundraising approach that starts with children. This could be a penny campaign, a dime drive, or something with a catchy twist.

    At Madison Children's Museum, children brought in old socks filled with coins to contribute to our "Sock It Away" campaign designed especially for kids. We then commissioned a local artist to create a sculptural "Sock Bicycle" from the emptied socks.

  5. Be creative about offering acknowledgment for every size donation possible.

    Capital campaign donors who contributed more than $10,000 were honored on an interactive gear board near the front entrance, while those who contributed especially to our Only Local initiative or Great Green Fund were recognized in our elevator lobby. In place of the traditional buy a brick capital campaigns many organizations do, people who contributed between $175-$1,000 were able to purchase a permanent photo tile of a loved one for our Step Up campaign (now called Snapshot Square).

  6. Determine which manufacturers in your area make things that you will need for your project. Solicit those manufacturers to showcase their products as part of your "Local Museum." They are much more apt to donate or discount when they understand that your museum is only using local products and people, and that their company will be recognized. In turn, the museum setting offers a photogenic installation for their own company's promotions.

    The Bradley Corp., a Milwaukee-based company, provided a free upgrade for our museum's bathroom fixtures, including 100 percent recycled wall partitions and photovoltaic-powered sinks. Bradley then featured the museum's restrooms in its company literature as an attractive case study of product use.

  7. Involve all of your staff, board and committee members in local fundraising, using viral campaigns via email marketing and social media to reach new audiences.

    One MCM education staffer secured a $50,000 donation through social media, just by letting her email contacts know that we were soliciting funds to match a grant.

  8. Come up with other nontraditional ways to raise money.

    Once we opened our new building, we capitalized on the fact that it's a really cool space where adults like to visit as much as kids. Our "Adult Swim" nights that cater to the local adult crowd, ages 21 to 90, always sell out, becoming a significant, unanticipated revenue stream for the museum.

    seeking adult swim tickets

  9. Collaborate with other local nonprofits. The National Council of Nonprofits has a directory of state associations that may be good strategic partners, or have strategies and resources specific to your community. The directory could aid your fundraising efforts with studies that explore local trends in
    Consider this example from the state of Wisconsin: Wisconsin 2009 Philanthropy Report (PDF download)
    Sustain Dane, a local sustainability nonprofit organization, donated water barrels to our Rooftop Ramble exhibit, and in exchange, uses many photos of the museum to advertise our green community. The City of Madison Recycling Center donated a free compost collection service to the museum as part of a pilot program, in exchange for us testing the program and publicizing it to our audience.