Once you know more about the different ways you can fundraise and feel like you have a good handle on some of the emotional challenges that come up when artists ask for financial support, you’re ready to start putting together your fundraising campaign(s).
Decide Which Fundraising Method Is Right For You
As we’ve already covered, there are several different ways to fundraise. You can crowdfund, seek recurring donations or general support, and apply for grants.
To decide which fundraising method or methods you should use, think first about what it is that you’re trying to accomplish.
If you’re looking to fundraise to support a specific project, consider a crowdfunding campaign or a project-based grant. If you want to fundraise for ongoing work beyond the confines of a specific project, you should explore recurring donations, general support, or look for grants that support general operating funds.
These different fundraising methods aren’t mutually exclusive, but deciding ahead of time which method or methods are right for you will help you fundraise more successfully.
Build a Fundraising Budget
The next step to fundraising, once you’ve figured out what kind of fundraising you want to do, is to figure out how much money you need to raise.
When applying for a grant or setting a crowdfunding goal, don’t just set a random number. Here’s how to get started with your budget.
First, consider all of the resources you need to accomplish your goal. Start with these aspects:
- Venue: Where will you want to have your performance, rehearse your work, or gather with your team? This may include rehearsal space, performance space, storage, fabrication space, display space, or even administrative or office space. Not sure what kind of space is right for you? Here are some things to think about when renting a studio space. Plus, here’s where to find studios to rent!
- Technology: This may include apps, programs, remotes, microphones, integrated software, cameras, and computers.
- Staff and Contractors: Everyone that contributes to your project in any way should be listed including vendors, consultants, developers, fabricators, performers, and crew.
- Equipment: This may vary widely depending on your project and often includes lights, dollies, cameras, tools for assembly purposes, musical equipment, and uniforms.
Shop around to see the costs associated with all of the resources you need. We encourage you not to just pick the cheapest options. Low-cost items can be poorly made and typically cost you more time and money in the form of increased labor on your part. They also can be unreliable and don't come with the warranty provided with higher quality items that cost a little more. Working with low-quality resources can lead to frustration and burnout, which you want to avoid.
As you’re building your budget, you can create a full budget and an austerity budget before finding the middle ground. The full budget which will reflect the cost of all of your dream resources without any discounts or deals. The austerity budget will reflect the opposite side of the spectrum; the least amount you could spend on each item, or the minimum number of items you need to reach the finished product. Your actual budget will be somewhere in the middle.
There are plenty of tools to help you create a budget and stick to it. We recommend that artists check out tools that are easy to use, and either free or low-cost. If you really don’t consider yourself a numbers person, it can be intimidating to start budgeting or to invest time and energy into learning how to use a new platform or app. If that’s the case, check out the budgeting template from Google Sheets or from Airtable. It’s likely that you’re already using some G-suite tools like Gmail or Google Docs and are familiar with G-suite’s general operations. Airtable is a nice choice because you can also use it to manage projects, stay in touch with donors, and more.
If you want a more hands-on budgeting tool, check out You Need a Budget or Mint. YNAB allows you to link bank accounts to your account and set up a monthly budget for various types of expenses. Mint, which is owned by Intuit, will create a budget for you, letting you know how much you spend in a given category a month based on your own activity, past spending patterns, and average spending in that category.
Once you have your budget and a tool or two to help you manage that budget, building a fundraising strategy is next on deck.
Set Your Fundraising Goal
Related to your budget is your fundraising goal. How much do you want to raise? Setting a goal ahead of time is helpful for artists for several reasons.
If you have a specific target you’re trying to hit, it can help you create a narrative around your fundraising asks. Instead of asking for support in a broad sense, you can ask your donors to give you $50 to help offset the cost of moving into a new studio space or $15 per month to help pay your electricity bill. Successful fundraising campaigns tell a story about who you are, what you are trying to accomplish, where your roadblocks are, and how your community can come in and support you. Specific goals can help you frame that story.
Fundraising goals can also give you and your community a shared sense of accomplishment when the goal is met. It’s a way that you can know that you’ve been successful and it’s a way for your donor pool to know that they have been instrumental in that success for you.
On the flip side, fundraising goals can also be instructive when they aren’t met. If you only met 70% of your fundraising goal, you can use that as a learning experience. Was your goal too lofty? Try taking another look at your budget and your plans for the next year or two.
Did you not share your fundraiser enough with your network? Set a communications cadence for your next fundraiser. Is your network just not big enough to support the goal? Work on growing your email list or social media following. Unmet goals can show you where you can refine or shift your approach.
A specific fundraising goal can help you practice solidarity and abundance. If you’ve met your goal, perhaps you can encourage donors to redirect their donations to similar artists or organizations. You can use it as an opportunity to reflect on what you need to create your work freely without hoarding or falling into the trap of thinking that fundraising is an end in and of itself.
There are many ways that you can think about setting your fundraising goals.
Goal 1: Pay Your Operating Expenses
Your operating expenses include rent, bills, accounting services, payroll, and other regular fees.
It isn’t usually considered particularly “sexy” to fundraise for these kinds of expenses. The general wisdom goes that people are more excited to donate to big splashy events or ambitious projects rather than more quotidian expenses. However, these donations are essential for artists and arts organizations! Paying for your operating expenses through fundraising can take a big mental load off your mind so that you can focus more of your efforts on those big projects instead of trying to scrape by and keep the lights on.
Plus, if you communicate your operational needs to your donors, it can be an effective fundraising narrative. People want to know what their money is going to support. If they believe in you, they’ll want to help you pay your internet bill as much as help you charter a bus to take your show on tour.
Goal 2: Receive Recurring Donations
One way to think more specifically about fundraising for your general operating expenses is to shoot to receive a specific amount of money in monthly recurring donations. Recurring donations can add up over time and can give you a better sense of your overall budget for the whole year. Recurring donations don’t just give you a one-time source of funds, it gives you a pot that replenishes.
One benefit of a recurring donations-based fundraising goal is that it can seem easier to achieve. For example, $100 per month in recurring donations sounds more manageable than $1,200.
Goal 3: Fund a Specific Project
This is the kind of goal that you are probably most familiar with for your fundraising efforts. Often, artists (as well as everyone else) will fundraise in order to bring a specific project to fruition. The project itself can be anything from moving into a new studio space, filming a documentary, publishing a book, choreographing and performing a dance piece, or whatever else it is that you do.
Two benefits of fundraising for a specific project are that donors are very used to donating to support these kinds of discrete efforts and these projects are often what go beyond what you and your team can afford on your own. We’ve got donor familiarity plus demonstrated need, a winning combination for a fundraising strategy!
Goal 4: Bring in New Donors or Hit Donor Number Target
Your fundraising goals can be less about dollar amount and more about donor engagement. In addition to your financial goals, you might aim to receive donations from a specific number of people or a specific number of new people. Or, perhaps converting social media followers or newsletter subscribers to financial supporters.
For example, you might aim to get a total of 200 donations for your spring fundraiser with at least 75 new donors.
Ultimately, creating a broader pool of donors will serve you well in the long run. Donors are people who are likely to come to your performances, share your work with their networks, donate again, or become a part of your funding community in other ways. Repeat donors are a crucial part of your fundraising strategy, but so is an infusion of fresh attention.
Goal 5: Receive Donations from Specific Percentage of Your Audience
Not everyone who sees your campaign, who follows you on social media, or who receives your emails will donate to your fundraiser. As much as we wish that wasn’t the case, it’s the world we live in. There are plenty of different things competing for your audience’s attention and not everyone will be able to support you every time you ask. Which is okay!
According to statistics shared by Fundera, 53% of email shares of a campaign result in a donation whereas 12% of Facebook shares and 3% of Twitter shares convert to donations.
One way that you can set your goals and measure your success is to aim for a particular percentage of your audience to donate. For example, 15% of your Instagram following or 60% of your email list. This goal is about how you successfully engage the audience that you currently have.
Build a Fundraising Strategy
Having a strategy that you outline ahead of time (even if it changes!) will help you stay focused and keep boundaries on your fundraising work. It’ll help you clarify what your goals are and how you are going to achieve them. Your strategy should include considerations for the following:
Timing is key to a successful fundraising campaign. For one thing, you should think about when it is that you need to have raised a particular amount of money, especially if it’s for something time-sensitive. You should also consider your own capacities. You should plan for your fundraising efforts to happen when you have the capacity to give them the attention they deserve. It’s also important to consider your potential donor pool. When are they most likely to be interested in giving or following your work? If you’re planning multiple waves of fundraising (for example, a crowdfunding campaign and a push for grant applications), consider the order in which you will do them. Thinking through timing in advance will prevent you from feeling like all of a sudden fundraising has taken over your whole life, indefinitely.
In order to successfully fundraise, you need to figure out what your story is. What makes you and your work unique? You can think about this as crafting your elevator pitch, the way that you distinguish yourself and your work from other people seeking funding for similar projects. This messaging will come together as you fill out grant applications, film your crowdfunding video, and talk to people about your work, but thinking through the first steps of your messaging strategy in advance will help you move forward and not reinvent the wheel every time you’re asked to present yourself and your work.
One way to think about developing your messaging strategy is to create a mission statement. In one or two sentences, a mission statement can help you clarify the effect that you want your work to have for yourself, for your audience, and for donors. Missions statements are used to help others understand why you do what you do rather than what exactly it is that you do. Mission statements are about the “why” instead of the “how” or the “what.” A great mission statement is broad enough to encompass the ways that a project or organization changes over time, but specific enough that someone reading it will know what exactly it is that you want to accomplish. Mission statements can also help you communicate about your work in other ways. Going through the process of crafting that statement can help you clarify the ways that you talk about your work to collaborators, peers, partners, and your audience in addition to potential donors. Once you have done that big thinking and soul searching about why exactly you feel called to make the work you want to make and what impact you want it to have, it’ll be easier for you to share that information in succinct and meaningful ways, both in-person and in writing.
How are you hoping to get the word out about your fundraising campaign? If you say “word of mouth,” how are you encouraging that word of mouth spread or making it easy for people to share you and your work? Are there particular people, organizations, or institutions that you have a relationship with who you could ask to share your fundraiser with their networks? Think about who you want to know about your fundraising efforts and how you will tell them.
Following directly from your outreach strategy is what’s known as prospecting.
We, like you, first thought that prospecting just referred to old timey guys looking for gold in them thar hills. But, it’s more than that!
Prospecting in fundraising refers to the way that you can think about who might be a prospective donor to you. It’s finding out who your “targets” are. This can make prospecting sound mercenary or heartless, but prospecting is really just about figuring out who in your network is most likely to be excited about supporting your work, and determining what’s the most impactful way for them to help you out.
Individual donor prospecting is when you think about your personal connections and how they could best support you. The overall goal is to have a better understanding of donors and whether or not they might be interested in making a donation. It also helps with knowing how much money (or non-financial support) to ask for.
There are three fundamental attributes by which we can measure the likelihood of a donation from potential donors: affinity, propensity, and capacity.
- Affinity: How well connected is the prospect to you and your project?
- Propensity: How accustomed to supporting artists and organizations are they?
- Capacity: How much time, money, or other resources do you estimate that they can give?
A distant wealthy relative might have low affinity but high propensity and capacity. Your best friend might have high affinity but medium propensity and capacity. Or maybe the opposite! Every person is unique, and these three areas of measure help to quantify something which can be difficult to predict.
To get started with individual donor prospecting, look at mailing list recipients, past donors, professional connections, current and former collaborators, family and friends, and social media followers.
Check out our guide to DIY donor prospecting for your next steps.
You can also consider looking for corporate donors or institutions as part of your prospecting work. If you are looking at working with institutions, don’t be afraid to call them!