Fund-raise like a Pro- Tips & Strategies to raise lots of money in a fun and creative way

Raising money for a cause that is not considered to be an emergency is hard work but it doesn’t have to be boring. Think of it as an adventure. You have everything you need at your disposal to raise the money. You just have to connect the things that are available and accessible to you in a way that will help you to reach your goal.

Following the success of my Sindikiza SnoLegal Campaign (read more about how I crowd-funded for my master’s degree here, here, and here) I have received several requests from individuals and institutions to give them tips on how to raise money in a fun and creative way. 

The information I am sharing with you is a result of months of thinking, consulting, planning, testing, readjusting and implementing. I made a lot of mistakes along the way and some of the things that I had initially set out to do failed…miserably.   However, I learnt from my mistakes and got some amazing advice through reading other blogs and talking to some of my acquaintances who have had successful fundraising events.

Given that I have tasted both success and failure in fundraising, I have some practical insights guaranteed to produce phenomenal results if applied. The only catch is – you must be willing to put in the personal effort.

I am certain that you are either reading this out of curiosity (yeah, what would a lawyer know about fundraising?) or because you are genuinely looking for guidance. Either way, this is free information that could change your entire outlook on fundraising and you have 2 choices:

  1. Read, be inspired, comment on how helpful & inspirational this post is, share it to your social networks, email a link to your mum, then go eat a chapati and hope for the best; or
  2. Take the advice, pick out whichever you think is most relevant to you, customize it to suit your own situation and then execute like a boss!

Alright, lets get into it.

1. First things first- What are you fund-raising for, and why?

This is a critical step because it sets the tone for your entire fundraising campaign. It is also the first thing that your potential contributors will ask you. Your task is to get to the core reasons of why you are fundraising; do not stick to the plainly obvious ones.

As uncomfortable as it will be, getting to the core reasons will expose some of your vulnerability but it will help to create a genuine impression of why you are seeking financial assistance.  Potential contributors are most comfortable when giving to a good cause that they think is genuine, worthwhile and that they can relate to. They may not necessarily have a personal connection to you, but your story or your core reasons for fundraising should be compelling enough to trigger either a memory of a similar experience that they went through or a powerful emotion that will motivate them to want to give to you. 

Here is an example of what my thinking process was:

Plainly obvious; I am raising money for my masters degree in International Sports Law abroad because-

  1. I need the expertise for my career path.
  2. It is very expensive and I cannot possibly afford it on my own right now.

Core reasons; I am raising money for my masters degree in International Sports Law abroad because-

  1. I need the expertise & so does my country– Sport in Kenya is an emerging industry lacking local legal experts, yet no local university offers this course. As much as we don’t want to admit it, a masters degree has now become a basic requirement for the Kenyan job market and a masters degree is a necessity if I want to be taken seriously as an expert in my field. 
  2. It is expensive– the cost of my studies abroad includes not just tuition fee, but lots of travel within Europe as part of the curriculum and not to mention accommodation and living expenses. Also the cost of living abroad is much higher than in Africa.
  3. I cannot afford it on my own right now– I am not a high rolling advocate who earns hundreds of thousands. With the amount of money I make and even after pooling my savings I would not possibly be able to afford paying for the masters degree on my own. There are also no scholarships available for my demographic- I have struggled to find them. The other alternative would be to postpone my studies to a future date, but…
  4. I do not want to postpone my studies- it’s important for me to learn while I am still young and unhampered by the responsibilities of family life. Plus, it’s better to learn at a time when the most important changes are taking place in the Kenyan sports scene so that I can make positive contributions to the developments.
  5. Getting a loan would be detrimental- I fear that loan repayment would become a priority after my studies and this will take my focus away from developing sports law in Kenya. There is the risk that I would have to settle for a job in a more traditional law field for several years in order to pay off the loan, which beats the purpose of my studies in the first place. Settling is not an option. Starting my career debt-free is crucial for success as a pioneer in sports law in my country. 

Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Waithera Kabiru– a digital diva, proud soccer mum, breast cancer survivor and all-round cool Kenyan. A simple conversation with her made me realise the importance of getting to the core reasons for fundraising. She organised a fun treasure hunt around Nairobi in order to raise money for her chemotherapy because her health insurance would not cover her cancer treatment. Read more about her remarkable story on her website 2nd Chances.

You might also like to take a look at Wish4Mama  initiated by 4 beautiful Kenyan sisters who are living in different countries but have organised some really cool fundraising events  so that they can raise money for their mum’s colon cancer treatment. You go girls!

2. Play around with the numbers- How much do you need to raise and by when? 

This is yet another crucial step that is often over-looked. The amount of money you need to raise and the period of time you have to raise it is directly related to the fundraising activity you will choose to employ. 

Here’s a practical example; if you need to raise 10,000 Kenya shillings/10,000 bob (a little less than 100 USD) in only 1 week then you have to think along these lines:

  1. Who do I know who would be ready & willing to contribute the entire amount of 10,000 bob?
  2. Which 10 people can I reach out to who can comfortably give me just 1,000 bob each?
  3. How can I convince 100 people to happily give just 100 bob each?
  4. Of the above options, which one is most likely to succeed and is worth my effort  to pursue given I have  only 1 week to raise the money?

Sounds simple doesn’t it. We use this pattern of thinking all the time.

I mean, if you’re a guy in uni and you want to impress a hot girl by taking her out for a fancy first date but you’re short on cash you will most likely approach your dad, uncle, older bro, close friends or all the above for a “soft loan” (you know…the kind of loan that you are at liberty not to pay back). And if you’re a girl and you spot “the handbag of your dreams” or “that pair of shoes” which were speaking to you while you stood outside the shop window utterly mesmerized, eyes transfixed and saliva practically drooling from the corner of your mouth- oh, you KNOW who to go to for the cash, and you know the exact phrase to use that will get you the money too. Desire is a powerful motivator.

My point is- if you can be savvy enough to raise money (and do so quickly) for trivial items in your life, why not harness your desire and refine your strategy for the things that count?

So here’s the main insight based on the practical example above; for small amounts of money to be raised in a short period of time, a personal and direct approach to potential contributors is best. Focus on the fewer people who are guaranteed to contribute to your entire amount. But for larger amounts of money with longer periods of time (for instance 1,000,000 bob in 1 year), you have the luxury of creativity and choice- and you can employ a variety of activities and methods to raise money.

3. Who are your target contributors?

You are part of a community. Actually, you  are part of several communities: your family, circle of friends, neighbours, classmates, colleagues, members of your church choir, the folks at your gym, the people you meet and gossip with when you go the barber shop or hair salon…you get the point.

Your first few potential contributors should be those you know within your communities. If you can convince those you know to support your cause, then it will get easier for you to get people in your communities to reach out and convince people in their networks and so forth. It’s a ripple effect.

Within your own communities you will come across the following categories of potential contributors:

  1. The heroes– individuals who are capable, ready and willing to freely give to you. Bless them!
  2. The angels– individuals who are willing to give freely but unfortunately are not in a position to offer any money. Not to worry, you can ask this category of people to offer you their skill sets instead of money e.g. if they’re good in graphic design they can design posters or cards for your campaign, if they can DJ they can provide music for your event etc.
  3. The skeptics– those who are capable but have serious doubts about giving to YOU. (You strange and unusual person, you!) To turn a skeptic into a contributor, you need to engage them and find out the reason behind their doubts. What are their concerns and fears about giving to you and how can you assure them that you are not a con?
  4. The tough crowd– these individuals will listen to you, sympathize with your story but are not willing to part with their hard-earned cash just like that. You can turn them into contributors by giving them value for their money. This can be done by either organizing a fun event they’d be interested in and charging an entrance fee, or by offering to do a service or task for them which they will find valuable (For instance, I’m not a trained translator but I once spent an afternoon translating a document to French for someone who needed it to be done fast. The guy was happy with the outcome because it saved him time and effort looking for someone else and I earned a decent amount of money).
  5. The traders – those who only want to give to you because they want to get something else from you in return. Their contributions will come with strings attached. Proceed with caution when dealing with them. Assess whether their contribution is worth the item of trade involved. (For instance, I had one contributor who wanted an introduction to some people in my networks in exchange for his contribution. Done deal. I had another potential contributor who wanted to give a size-able contribution in exchange for me going to work for his company after my masters… Sounds good, but his job offer was not in line with my career path so I turned him down. And I had another potential contributor who wanted to make a size-able contribution, and give me an introduction to a corporate that may or may not be interested in contributing to my campaign in exchange for my “company”[Read between the lines]. No trade here – no amount of currency is equal to the worth of my dignity.)
  6. The corporate world– as a general rule, corporates rarely contribute money towards a cause for an individual  – they only support organizations or institutions which align with their corporate strategy. They will probably quote a line from their company policy stating this. However, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try approaching them. They may not give you money but you can convince them to contribute either goods or services towards your cause. And if  that’s not the case, ask for a meeting with their marketing department. At this meeting you can learn a lot about the criteria they use when selecting the causes they support for their corporate social responsibility projects and more importantly at what time of the year they make this decision.  This knowledge might prove valuable to you in future.

4. Connecting with your contributors

This is where it gets interesting because you must now shift your focus to the interests of your potential contributors instead of your own.  What do they admire, or what do they desire? And what can you offer them that is too tempting to ignore?

Use your creativity to come up with fun activities that will make money. But you must match your fund-raising activities to the respective demographic.  Think of it this way:

  1. What are the characteristics of the people you are targeting- age, gender, socio-economic back-ground?
  2. Would they be interested and willing to participate in this activity?
  3. Do they have the ability to pay for this activity?

For instance, one of my fundraising ideas was to host a Zumbathon [activity] for working women aged 24-50 who love to work out and dance [characteristics] from middle and upper-class backgrounds [ability to pay]. 

The Zumbathon was a good idea and a good match. However, I thought of another activity- Crazy Olympics which in my opinion would be fun for adults to let loose and get in touch with their inner child because it was no different from activities that are done during office team-building events. That was a bad match. One of my neighbours explained why perfectly…

“Listen, I’m not going to pay money to make a fool out of myself. But I have 4 kids and I am willing to pay money for them to have something to do for an afternoon. If you change this into a kids’ activity  it’s a win-win because the kids are kept busy and entertained, the adults get to relax, and you will be smiling all the way to the bank.”  Boom!

Adaptability is key. Listen to the concerns of your potential contributors and be willing to adjust your plans or ideas to suit their needs or desires. In the case of the crazy olympics a parent would want their kids to engage in fun and healthy activities but at the same time they want a quiet afternoon to themselves. So essentially, they would be paying for peace of mind. To ensure that their peace of mind is fully covered you would have to set up your activity in a safe venue with enough vigilant helpers to ensure safety and security of the children.  And to cover yourself against liability you would need to have a consent form with an indemnity clause for the parents to sign .

5. Timing is everything

If you are approaching potential contributors for direct contributions- catch them at a time when they are most relaxed. Call them up, and ask for a face-to-face meeting at the time of day that is most suitable to them, and at a location that is most convenient to them. Tell them that you are flexible with time and can work around their schedule. They will appreciate your effort. If they insist that they are too busy, the best way to handle it is by saying “I know you’re super busy, but all I need is just 10 minutes of your time and if what I say does not interest you, you will never have to hear about it again.”  This phrase got me not just meeting after meeting, but also more than 10 minutes of time with the people I met.

In terms of timing for fund-raising events and activities these are the insights that I have:

  1. Cocktails-best done on Thursday evenings. Any other day of the week is too hectic because it’s a work day; Friday and Saturday nights people are more inclined towards partying than fund-raising and Sunday is usually reserved for nursing hangovers or spending time with family.
  2. Family events- best done on Saturday afternoon or Sunday afternoon. Do not plan it on a long weekend or a weekend with a public holiday as this is the period in which most people travel out of town.
  3. Best months for fundraising- this will vary depending on where you live, but generally months with major holidays such as Christmas, New Year’s and Easter are a little tricky as people tend to focus more on family. Although you might be lucky with Christmas- tis’ the season for good cheer and all. Also months when kids have to go back to school can be difficult.
  4. If your event is outdoors, be aware of the weather/ seasons. An outdoor event during a rainy season is uncomfortable and off-putting. However, if your event is during hot season use that to your advantage and sell things like refreshments, ice-cream, face towels, wet-wipes etc.

6. Location, location, location! 

For your fundraising activities location is important for several things if you are trying to save money while you raise money:

  1. Get a location which is easily accessible by public transport.
  2. You might also want a location which will allow you to have enough space for your main activity and also related activities such as selling snacks or other small items.
  3. Get a location which already has its licenses and permits in place (like music license-MCSK, noise license from NEMA, city council license), you can then piggy-back on these licenses without having to pay extra for your event.
  4. A location with its own amenities such as ladies & gents rooms, security and parking also cuts back a great deal.

7. Surround yourself with influential people

Involve people in your community who are influential in order to create more awareness for your cause. This does not necessarily have to be a celebrity but think along the lines of people who are either well respected or can mobilize others to give towards your cause.

I found that bloggers and folks on twitter with large groups of followers were very helpful in my campaign.  Surprisingly, I also found that some of your own family members can be very influential at weddings or other family gatherings. I have 1 uncle who managed to convince tens of guests at a pre-wedding ceremony, most of whom I did not know, to make contributions to my campaign. At first I was apprehensive about his approach, but he did it at a time when everyone was already well fed and had a few drinks in them, so they were in a jolly mood to give!

8. Be memorable/ be at the fore of people’s minds  

Learn how to become a story-teller. Treat every encounter you have with a potential contributor as a chance to pitch your fundraiser in the most exciting and thought-provoking way possible. Be enthusiastic about your cause and let your enthusiasm be contagious.

Make good use of your e-mail list to keep in touch with the people you know. Update them on your developments as you move along. Also, be gracious and grateful to all your contributors and send them thank- you messages. Personalize them if you can. Gratitude goes a long way.

Na kwa hayo maneno machache (And in those few words) I hope my nuggets of wisdom will help you in your own fund-raising campaign wherever you are. I wish you the confidence to pull it off and the resilience to see it through.


Best wishes, and may the force be with you!


Sarah Ochwada,

International Sports & Entertainment Lawyer.


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