Direct Fundraising

Direct fundraising means asking and getting donations from individuals. This is the most fruitful kind of fundraising, but it is also the most daunting. You will discover, however, that the process of direct fundraising can build stronger relationships between you and your prospective donors. Moreover, it is the most efficient and effective way to raise the funds necessary for your digitization project.

When requesting donations, we encourage you to collect and manage the funds yourself and contribute them to the ODNP after the completion of your digitization project. Please coordinate with Sarah Seymore ( on the most effective way to do this or for questions about this process.

What is Your Story

To get people to donate to a cause, they need a compelling story that demonstrates one person’s passion for a project, the impact of that project, or a personal connection between the donor and the project. Telling your prospective donors why this is a worthwhile cause to donate to is half of the effort of securing donations for your digitization project.

In our Fundraising Resources Page, we have provided some text describing the impact and importance of our digitization projects. Please use this as inspiration or take it verbatim to use in letters or in conversation.

In telling the story of why this project is worth giving to, you need to be able to tell possible donors that you are also a donor to this effort. It will set you up to argue from a place of greater legitimacy if you are the first or one of the donors for the project. It is much easier to convince someone that a project is meaningful if you demonstrate that you are also invested in the project’s success. You don’t need to be a major donor to your project, but some level of contribution is necessary. If a possible donor asks you if you are contributing to the project, the only acceptable answer is yes.

Who to Ask

In this section, we differentiated between organizations and individuals. The underlying principle of all fundraising is relationshipsYour donors are going to be people who have a personal connection to either your organization or to you personally. In the end, people make donations to people, no matter how compelling the project is. You can build new relationships to find donors, but your best efforts should be placed on those you already know. 

For Organizations:

Start with your donor list. In looking to fund your specific project, this can be a great opportunity to start building a deeper relationship with some of your donors. If this is the first time you have ever directly asked a donor for funds for a project, don’t be afraid! It can be a stressful experience for you and the prospective donor, but you can build a more satisfying relationship between you and the donor through the process.

If your organization has a board, reach out to them as possible donors or at least someone that can provide further contacts to prospective donors who would be interested in your newspaper digitization project.

One of the best groups of people to find donors is your organization’s volunteers. Many organizations are wary of asking for donations from their volunteers as they are already giving their time to the organization. However, volunteers are adamant supporters of their organizations and can be great donors if asked.

An organization’s participants are also a likely donor base for special projects. Being visitors or clients, those who use the resources your organization offers are invested and connected to your work. This group can be open to appeals to further support the work you are doing.

Finally, looking to the employees of an organization can be a group who are likely to support unique projects such as a digitization project.

If you have exhausted your connections to the organization start looking to your personal relationships. Go to the Individuals section below for a guide on using your personal network to fundraise.

For Individuals:

To successfully fundraise without the support of an organization, you need to start with a list of people you know. Anyone can be a donor so make it a long list!

From this list, think about who you can easily describe your digitization project to. How can you reach as many people in your network as possible? If your close connections are on social media, post about these newspapers and see who is interested in the project. Otherwise, discuss the project among your friends and family to spark interest and support.

How to Ask

The most successful fundraising method is direct appeals or “the ask” to individuals. After building a relationship with someone- and creating their interest in the project- a face-to-face or letter appeal can be the most rewarding method of fundraising.

Before “the ask,” follow the general “Four Touch Rule.” Before formally asking someone for a donation you should have at least four interactions with someone, these can be either related to the project or just social. Try not to come “out of the blue” when asking for donation unless it is a close relationship. The larger “the ask”, the more time you will need to warm someone up to the idea of giving that amount.

One of the most important aspects of asking for donations is to have a specific dollar amount in mind. In both methods provided below you will find advice on the two primary means of acquiring direct donations: the in-person appeal and letter writing.

In-Person Appeal:

A key part of an in-person “ask” is location. The most important principle is finding a comfortable and appropriate location based on the relationship between the asker and the prospective donor. Be it a coffee shop, office, at home, or at a bar, pick whichever venue would put both parties most at ease and appropriate for your relationship with that person.

Think about how this project connects to you and how it connects with the prospective donor. People give donations to people. Emphasize your relationship and the impact their gift will have on your digitization project.

Always ask for more than you are expecting. You may be surprised by their generosity and donors will often counter offer with how much they would be willing to give.

Example Script: *Start with small talk

Thank you for meeting with me today. I’ve talked to you before about my/our efforts to digitize (Oregon Newspaper). I/We are really excited by this opportunity to preserve the legacy and history of the (Oregon Newspaper) for perpetuity. By digitizing these newspapers we can make available these stories and our history for current and future generations to be able to easily access this information. From our previous conversations you have seemed to feel similarly about how important it is that we make these resources available for the public, free of cost. To make this possible we need donations to pay for this effort. I was hoping you can join us in making this effort possible by giving the project $__. We would greatly appreciate your support for this project.

*Now stay quiet and let them think and answer. It’s easy to keep talking and avoid hearing their response.

  • If yes – celebrate! Thank them and set logistics for how donation will be received
  • If maybe – give them some time, talk about if the amount is a problem and what they would be comfortable giving
  • If no – thank them for their time and ask what isn’t appealing about the project. Use this as a learning opportunity to better understand who your donors might be. Nos are a chance to learn how to better identify your donors and communicate about your project.

*A “no” from a donor can also turn into a future “yes” with continued communication, but give space and respect their answer in that moment.

Letter Appeals:

Letter writing is one of the most powerful tools in fundraising. Physical mail is hard to ignore and when personally addressed. If you are an organization, you can send appeal letters to anyone on your mailing list. Also, if you have an advisory board, have the board send appeal letters to their networks, describing their support for the project and why they should give.

If you want to appear very organized, provide an already stamped, or at least addressed, envelope with your appeal.

Example Letter:

Dear _____,

I’m writing to you to tell you about my/our efforts in raising funds to digitize (Oregon Newspaper).

I/We are excited by this opportunity to preserve the legacy and history of the (Oregon Newspaper) for perpetuity. By digitizing these newspapers we can make available these stories and our history for current and future generations to be able to easily access this information. To make this possible we need donations to pay for this effort.

I am asking you for a gift of $__ to support my/our efforts.

Please consider giving today to help make this project possible

Thank You,

(hand signed)

*Note on Email – Email is easy to ignore and doesn’t offer an easy way for cash or checks to be received from a donor. They are also less personal. If your prospective donor prefers emails over letters, send an email, but the default for an appeal is a physical letter.

*Showing Gratitude*

If you receive a donation, you need to send a thank you note. One of the most important skills in successful fundraising is learning how to meaningfully thank your donors. You can never thank your donors enough. They are putting their trust in you that their donation is going to a good cause. On top of that, donors need to be reassured that their money is doing good work and be shown that their contribution makes a difference.

Aim to thank you donors as quickly as possible, but it is never too late to send a thank you.

Also, a thank you letter can serve as a tax receipt as donation to Oregon Digital Newspaper Program are tax deductible.

Elements of a Thank You

  1. Thank them with dollar amount given
  2. Describe the project
  3. How their donation helps the project
  4. Impact of project
  5. Thank them again

Thank You Note Methods

Email – Fine for smaller donations if time and funds for mailing is limited, but not the most genuine method, will have lower impact on the donor.

Note card – Find a nice stationary note card and hand write a short message to your donor. Appropriate for most donation levels, taking the time to handwrite a message to someone can make a large impression on a donor. Can be on the shorter side text-wise, but make sure to add some level of personalization.

Full Letter – If you have the time, a typed letter hand signed, can show a high level of professionalism and gratitude. This will give you the most space to flush out the five elements of a donation thank you. Also this is most appropriate for you higher level donors, who need to be shown that their larger gift is taken seriously and fully appreciated.

Other Fundraising Methods

Besides directly asking your contacts for donations, there are a few other strategies that you can use to raise funds.


Using a crowdfunding site can be tempting as a solution for finding donors and overcoming the stress of asking others for money, but these sites are more work than you would expect. To run a successful crowdfunding campaign from one of the many sites (Go Fund Me, Fundly, Plumfund) you will need to promote the page within your social network, asking supporters, friends, and family to contribute. Putting out a fundraising page and hoping strangers will donate is a recipe for disappointment. You should only use a crowdfunding page if you feel you need a central place for your contacts to donate and they are technology savvy. Keep in mind these pages take a percentage of all donations, so you will either need to get more donors or ask for larger gifts to make up the loss.

When setting your donation goal, think about the capacity of your network that will click on the link and make a donation. If your goal is $2000, how many donors do you expect to have donate? If at best you think 20 people will donate that would mean each would have to give $100 for you to reach your goal. Try to be honest about your expectations and what your network might be able to give.

Crowdfunding pages also require a significant amount of set up to make the page appealing and demonstrate the seriousness of the project. A best practice for crowdfunding pages is including a minute long video describing and selling the project. At the very least you will need copy and pictures to add to the page to promote the project and convince people to donate after following the link you send out to your network.

Promotion of the page is key to success. Inform your network that the crowdfunding page is upcoming and continue to promote the project with how much has been raised and how much is left until the end date of the campaign.

If you do end up choosing to use a crowdfunding page, one of the most important aspects of a successful campaign is to have seed donations. Before starting the campaign, you need to have donors lined up that will accomplish 50% to 80% of your goal. It is difficult to get a random person to be the first donor to a crowdfunding page. When someone follows the link to your crowdfunding page, they need to see that the project is being supported. Also seed gifts are going to be the only way to have confidence that your crowdfunding campaign will successfully raise enough money, as crowdfunding relies on your network making unplanned gifts towards your project. It can also be discouraging for donors to contribute to a fundraising effort that is far away from its goal. By getting seed gifts you can demonstrate to donors that the campaign is being well run and has a chance of success.

Additionally, if the platform allows, think about having challenge goals to excite your donors. If you can secure additional seed gifts beyond the 50% of the overall goal, you can establish challenge goals. Challenge goals are a certain number of donors or a certain dollar amount raised that will “unlock” an additional major gift for the overall project. This can excite donors to help reach your overall goal.

Depending on your time and funding resources you could offer “swag” or other promotional prizes to donors that give a certain amount to your campaign. This would require getting the address of donors and being able to ship those items in a timely manner.

A final event can be planned for the last night of the crowdfunding campaign. Many bars or similar venues will allow such events for free or even give a portion of proceeds from sales towards the campaign. This can help you cross over the finish line and create more excitement about the project.


Events are a common fundraising method, but often take the most work for the least reward. Events are often more useful as a promotion method and means of expanding the network of an organization, then as a way to fund the work of a nonprofit. All events cost money, so you need to be extremely confident that the event will raise more money than it will cost. Depending on your possible donors, there are a variety of events you can hold to raise funds.

Dinner Party – Inviting friends or relevant individuals over for a dinner under the pretext of talking about the digitization project (tell guests to bring their checkbooks). Near the end of the meal explain the project and ask for your guest to contribute to the project to make it possible.

House Party – Host a house party at your home (or board member if an organization) and have a cover fee with a bowl to collect additional funds. Invite all friends, family, neighbors, and relevant individuals. At one point in the party, ask everyone to quiet down and further explain what the fundraiser is for and invite people to give additional funds. A party can be a fun and more relaxed way to fundraise. (Fundraising parties tend to have 1/3 of the invited people actually attend)

Raffle – (This can be combined with a house party.) Putting on a raffle at your organization or in your town can bring in a surprising amount of funds. You can do a simple 50/50 structure, where half of the money goes to the winner and the other half goes to the project. Another option would be to get in-kind donations of items that would be desirable in a raffle and raffle off those items.

Be Creative! Events are a chance to do something new and exciting, so don’t let this list limit your options.

Further Reading and Resources:

Mobile for Good: A How-To Fundraising Guide for Nonprofits, Heather Mansfield, McGraw Hill Education, 2014

Fundraising for Social Change, Kim Klein, 6th Edition, Jossey-Bass, 2011

A Beginner’s Guide to Fundraising :

National Council of Nonprofits guide to Fundraising:

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