For lesbian activists and grassroots organizers fighting the Christian Right.
OK, so not many people like to fundraise. In fact, most people hate to fundraise. Unfortunately, most long-term organizing is going to cost something no matter how bare-boned you go. The good news is that there really are all sorts of sources for money and resources, and all sorts of ways for your group to get your hands on what you need. And, as discussed in the "issues" section, developing creative ways to raise money can also allow many people to make use of different kinds of personal skills, resources, and access.
Remember, fundraising includes both "in-kind" donations and money. In-kind donations are things that are given to you directly, as opposed to money to buy those things. For example, a big box of envelopes or 30 hours of legal counsel constitutes an in-kind donation. Then there's plain old money, which occasionally is "restricted," or intended to be used for one specific part of your project (like someone makes a donation to cover your rent, which you theoretically can't spend on anything but your rent), but most often is "unrestricted," which you use for whatever you want.
In order to come up with a plan for funding your project, start by making a budget. This will help you figure out just what you need and what you already have. Also, many sources of funding require you to submit a budget, so it's a good idea to have one on hand. Your budget will change constantly. You may want several versions-a few for your own use (one if you hit the lottery, one if a few of your fundraisers are successful but a few are not, one for if you have one eighth of the money you had hoped for), one for a foundation which doesn't want to pay for travel, conferences, or general operating expenses, another for the foundation that likes to pay for travel, but not photocopying, and another for the major donor who really likes projects that use up a lot of stamps.
Include in your budget every possible expense your project will incur. You may need to pay for copying; postage; paint, poster-board and fabric for making signs and banners; gas to reimburse drivers; conference fees; lunch for the 35-hour-day; phone bills; phone bills; phone bills; and whatever else your groups must shell out money for. Because our project included traveling-leaving our jobs and apartments-we decided that our budget needed to include provisions for whatever the members of our group needed in order to go on the project-whatever they required once they quit their jobs and sublet or gave up their apartments.
We didn't want to have a project that excluded activists who couldn't afford to make those sacrifices, which would only enable those dykes who had certain financial resources to do the political work. We therefore committed to helping each member of our group secure housing when they returned-a loan to pay a security deposit, or finding subleters for them before we left.
Other personal concerns could include health insurance or child care-for example, if working on your project means giving up a job, and members of your group can go without earning their salaries but can't give up their health benefits, maybe you want to include COBRA payments in your budget. Or maybe you want to find a pool of baby-sitters so dykes with children can work with you. These kinds of expenses are as important as photocopying and gas for the car, because if you don't consider them you could end up with a project that is accessible only to wealthy dykes.
Once you have a rough preliminary budget for your expenses, you can begin to make plans for raising an equal amount of income. Money can be found from a variety of sources. Foundations (people who make grants), individuals-both "major donors" who give big money, and the women who send you anywhere from $5, $20, $100, or more-and special events, are standard places to look for money. A good long-term fundraising strategy is one that doesn't rely exclusively on any one source-you don't want your project to be devastated if your major sources fluctuates.
Direct Mail/Private Donations-a.k.a. Hit up everyone you know!
Sometimes other organizations will be willing to lend you their mailing list (a loan means they will give you names and addresses once, but not for your use forever), or will stuff your mailing into the next thing they send out. This can be useful if you think some of the people on their list are people you would reach. But do consider the cost of mailing, versus the probability of an organization's constituency overlapping with your own. You will also need to decide at some point whether or not you are willing to "trade" names-if you will give name from your mailing list to another group in exchange for some of theirs. The security of your list might be very precious to rural dykes that are coming out for the first time. LACROP does not give names from their mailing list to anyone.
Thank donors promptly and sincerely. Make it clear that you appreciate any
size contribution. Keep the names of people who contribute or even just
contact you in a database, to which you can mail in the future for more
donations or to update on your work.
So who is a major donor, and how do you get her to donate majorly? The major donor is someone with the ability to finance a significant portion of your project, and who has shown an interest in the work. We solicit these contributions the same way we solicit anyone: through an articulate and sincere presentation of a damn good political project. Also, think up a discrete part of the project that a donor could fund: "We're hoping you could underwrite our travel expenses. We need 6 round-trip tickets from New York City to Spokane Washington, which is going to cost us $xxx-thousand dollars." Or, "We need rent for three months, which is $800/month." This is a better approach than: "our total budget is xxx; do you think you could give us a bunch of that?"
Another way to extract big bucks is to ask celebrities to get involved. We had playwright Tony Kushner do a benefit reading of his new play for us, using various famous friends of his in each of the roles. You could ask a popular figure in the community to publicly endorse your campaign, or write a letter in their name asking for support. You could also ask one donor to underwrite all the costs of a benefit.
Have a party or a performance or a night at a club at which a percentage of money from each ticket or entrance fee goes to your group. Brainstorm a list of people you know who could contribute to such a project: poets and writers who could give a reading; fledgling or famous playwrights, choreographers, dancers and actors who will put on a play or dance; the owner of the dyke bar; the owner of the straight bar that all the dykes in your town go to . . . etc. Benefits can be extremely labor-intensive with low returns-if you're going to put a lot of work into an event for which you will only get a small percentage of the money that comes in-for instance, hosting a night at a club where you will get $2 per head but none of the money made at the bar, and you'll have to publicize the event (flyer, phone tree, press-by now you know the routine) and mobilize your volunteers to work there (set up, clean up, working the door, working the bar) and the event will be packed so it looks like you're raking it in but you're actually coming home with $84.20-maybe it isn't the best use of your time and energy. On the other hand, if an established party is willing to give you some money and all you have to do is give them some flyers, it could work out very well for you.
As a policy, Lesbian Avengers have historically charged $5-$10 for events. We wanted to make the lesbian spaces we created accessibly to all dykes. And at the door, no one was ever turned away for an inability to pay. Fundraising for LACROP raised some difficult questions for us-what should we do when someone was able and willing to host an event that would draw plenty of people for an expensive entrance fee? Big ticket special events wrought constant debate in our group. Did we want to have events that most of us and our regular supporters could never afford to attend? On the other hand, would we give up an opportunity to raise thousands of dollars through one event? These are sticky issues which your group will have to find comfortable solutions to, whatever route you go
A more grassroots approach to special events is throwing a series of house parties. These are parties thrown in your honor hosted by someone in their house-preferably someone outside your core group, whose friends haven't already given their life blood for the project. The two most common approaches are to charge people something at the door-depending on who's throwing the party, you could charge $5 to $50-for a cocktails or a dance. If you have a low-cost party it won't exclude members of your community from attending, but you can have potential money makers inside and can provide opportunities for those who can to give more. For example, you could sell raffle tickets, chocolate kisses to be delivered to that special girl, hair-cuts, tattoos, etc. The other approach is to charge nothing for people to attend, then have speakers during the evening who make a serious pitch for the project. At this point your lovely guests whip out their checkbooks and give what they can.
Try to get house parties out of your back-yard. Look for people who aren't in the midst of defending themselves from the Christian Right to take on some of this work, either organizers and allies in another state, or members of your community who aren't participating in the campaign. It isn't too effective to try to raise a lot of money from within your base of organizers. On the other hand, if you need to raise a small amount of money for a specific event, you could pair the action with a fun fundraiser, like a dance or a party at one of your members houses. Is someone you know a fabulous chef? They can throw a fundraising dinner for you.. Charge a SMALL fee, our maximum is usually $5/person, which is what someone might expect to pay for a minimal night out, and gives people a chance to be together in a social setting.
There are grants out there which, with enough lead time, your project could
get. A good place to start looking for grant-making organizations is the
Working Group on Funding Lesbian and Gay Issues' guide, "Founders of Lesbian,
Gay and Bisexual Programs-A Directory for Grantseekers." This invaluable
directory is periodically updated, so contact the working group to get the
most recent edition: 212-475-2930. Most grant applications require a few
basic elements: a cover sheet summarizing your project, a narrative
application responding to certain questions (how will you implement the
project, who does it serve, etc.), a project and organizational budget (make
those up if you don't have them), attachments including press clips,
literature you produce, or other representative material, and letters of
support. Some foundations are less formal than others; if you are just
starting a project or are new to grant-writing, it may not be worth your time
and energy to apply at this stage for giant grants that require giant
applications. On the other hand, you absolutely deserve to be funded, so
don't be daunted by the process. You may not look as slick as certain
big-budget national organizations, but you're not trying to, either. You're
trying to do an important political project and if there is money going to
lesbian and gay work, your project should see some of it!
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