Fundraising for Conservation Advocacy Organizations

This paper explores the idea of sharing an events fundraising strategy that could increase our resources and efficiency

Events and Auction Concept Introduction

Diversifying our funding base and reducing the percentage of foundation support is very important to our organizations. Events, including speakers, auctions, raffles, concerts, etc. offer the opportunity to raise funds and increase participation. This paper explores how our groups might be able to collaborate on events and looks at the benefits and pitfalls of such efforts.

 What is the Fundraising Potential for Auctions and Events?

Auctions have raised our group as much as $45,000 net, and multimedia events have raised $15,000. We have sometimes worked with other non-profits in our area on events.

Underwriting has proven to be a successful way of gaining business support, providing up-front money for events, and can add 50% in net to events. It involves building an ongoing relationship with businesses in your area and asking them to sponsor your event, such as auction or speaker. They get a banner or table at your event and appear in advertising.

 What Types of Events are Possible and What are the Potential and Likely Outcomes?

  • Auctions – The potential net income is $3-$50,000 Up front costs are 20-30% of gross income and a considerable amount of pre-auction work is done. It is possible and even desirable to contract out the auction to a team who can take care of procurement, invitations, auction logistics, bookkeeping, and the actual event. We have used a contract team for the past several years, and it is critical to have high energy, detail oriented people take this on.
  • Board involvement is a key to successful auctions, as they can bring friends who are ready to spend money. The lead-time is at least six months. A downside is the general unpredictability of spenders and the increasing number of auctions that are competing with each other.
  • Raffles – $5-10 tickets, one scenario would have several prizes, but with a theme. There are specific State rules regarding raffles that must be followed – Washington State requires 15 Board members. Raffles have the potential to raise several thousand dollars, particularly if a successful procurement can be made (car, trips, boat, etc.). A raffle has the potential for multiple groups because of more sales, more prizes, and a larger pool of purchasers.
  •  Concerts – Local musicians or traveling environmental musicians will often play for free, but the take will be at most a few hundred dollars and often less. Well known bands are more difficult to arrange, one almost has to have an in with the group. A popular band might be an attractive option for a venue that would support several groups with one concert around a common issue – such as the one Bonnie Raitt did for water issues in our area. Concerts require a promoter type person who can get in touch with handlers, and hustle the event with local media, posters, radios.
  • Speakers – Progressive speakers, such as Michael Moore, Jim Hightower, Al Franken, Molly Ivins, etc. tour around book or film releases. We made $5,000 on two different speakers by attracting 4-500 participants. The key is getting the speaker to do the event free, or as a part of sales – some will and some won’t. Speaking engagements are relatively easy to set up, the names can often sell themselves, partnering with local bookstores is often possible. This has a high potential for working with other nearby conservation groups, which would lower travel expenses. Speaking events are a good membership development as well, we offer special membership rates, t-shirts, etc. at events to gain new members.
  • Sporting events, such as bicycle races, runs, etc. – this would often be done with a partner, such as Round and Round for bike events. They are costly up front, but potential for underwriting is high. Often, many volunteers are needed. Potential for income is probably low, at least for the first year or two, and set up effort is high. Insurance could be a concern, but visibility can be high. The two key parts to a successful auction are procuring lots of items and getting people to the event who will spend money. The Board can be helpful in getting people to events, but procurement is hustling on the phone and keeping track of items, just like with auctions. These events can build great name recognition.
  • House parties – This is an event that works best if a known person can speak at the event, we have had reporters, wildlife biologists, a former governor, etc. Often organized by a Board member, at their house, TLC has raised between $300-$3500 at these events. Usually the Board member cooks and staff helps clean up – and the Board member invites potential high donors and offers money her/his self to start off the ask.
  • Road shows – Environmental artists and others do tours. While the net on this is low, the outreach and organizational building can be quite high and it is important to support our good starving artist environmental friends.


These tips came from one of the following sources:

RichTips Non-Profit Management Newsletter

Training Resources for the Environmental Community (TREC)

and, The Lands Council