Collaborative Fundraising

Dear Kim:

We’re a regional nonprofit covering 4 states. We work through partnerships and collaborations at the program level, and we would like to expand our collaborative approach with fundraising. We’ve partnered successfully with other nonprofits on a few foundation grants, on a small scale with corporate sponsors, but not with raising money from individuals. Do you know organizations that have successfully collaborated to fundraise from individuals? Any advice?

~Hoping the whole sum will be bigger than the sum of the parts

Dear Wholesome:

It looks like you could write a small book or at least a long article on collaboratives since you have had success in a number of ways in both program and fundraising. That’s great and I congratulate you. You are in a good position to explore some joint individual donor fundraising efforts since you have probably built a good deal of trust and social capital with your other partner organizations.

Here are some examples I have seen:

–Special events are the most common, where two or three groups jointly work on a conference, big gala, auction, street fair, etc. Usually one organization takes the lion’s share of responsibility in return for a larger amount of the net. One of the most successful takes place in Marin County sponsored by the Center for Volunteer and Nonprofit Leadership (CVNL). It’s called The Human Race and it is a 5K run/walk with a lot of other elements. Over 100 groups participate and CVNL returns 90% of everything that is pledged to the participating organizations. For more information, go to their website at It is a great fundraiser and friendraiser for everyone.

–Joint list rental for direct mail: direct mail lists are usually a certain price per thousand names and a minimum order of 5000. Going together on a list rental allows you to sort for a number of variables and still get enough names. For example, let’s say you want donors to animal rights causes as well as the arts. If you ask for that for one or two zip codes, you are probably not going to get 5000 names, unless perhaps you are in Manhattan. However, if you are able to sort over four states, you will get the minimum number sorted with as much precision as possible to insure a decent return. Some organizations have gone together to rent several thousand names, then divided them up by zip code. (Make sure this is OK with whoever you rent the lists from.)

–If you are looking for something BIG, joint capital campaigns are an option. Several organizations go together to buy a building which suits all their needs. They have a common meeting space, kitchen, bathrooms and equipment. Each group gets much more than any of them could afford on their own. Organizations that have the best success with this are those who have overlapping donor bases to begin with, so a donor can give $25,000 and help all the groups at once.

–Joint staffing: this is of course, trickier and more things can go wrong, but I have seen two organizations with similar goals share a development director, a communications and marketing person, a database manager, and other development positions, and I know several instances where two, three or even five organizations have shared a webmaster. If you do joint staffing, make sure the executive directors like each other, the boards of each group approve of the arrangement, and that there are written agreements about how much time the person will spend with each group. Check in regularly, especially at the beginning, to resolve any problems before they get too big.

Keep in touch with what you try, and do consider writing up what you have done already: why it works, what cautions you have for others! Collaborative fundraising is a great way for several organizations to raise way more money than any of them could have done on their own, but, of course the opposite is also true, and organizations need to enter these relationships with their eyes wide open.

If other readers have stories of fundraising collaboratives—good, bad, or ugly, please send them along!

~Kim Klein