Module 3: Strategies of Grassroots Fundraising


Reaching Donors

The growth of peer-to-peer fundraising has been attributed to the increasing use of donor networks and affiliations. Amidst a younger generation that views peers as role models who they trust for advice, the goals of fundraising have become another topic of social discussion.(1) Peer networks have expanded across many different mediums, reaching beyond the traditional door-to-door or workplace solicitation. Today, grassroots fundraising involves extensive use of Internet websites, e-mail communication, and social networking websites to raise awareness, involvement, and even financial support. The impact of online fundraising has skyrocketed in the past decade, and we discuss the aspects of online fundraising in the next module.

Recurring Contributions

A system of monthly contributions provides an effective method for nonprofit donors. Accepting small amounts can decrease the immediate financial burden and anxiety experienced by a donor, while still amounting to large sums over time. In a study on donor decision making, 61.5% of participants preferred to contribute $120 to charity over 12 months rather than a lump sum immediately (29.8%) or later (8.7%).(2) By dividing payments into multiple increments, the act of giving evolves into a continuous process.

Increasing Credibility

The way in which a grassroots organization presents itself to the public greatly boosts or deters the contributions of potential donors. People make donation decisions based on the perceived quality and public exposure of a nonprofit through media coverage or organizational review. Effective use of previous donations may indicate to potential donors that the nonprofit has an organized history, attainable outcomes, and a sense of professionalism and public awareness about the cause. Providing records of past contributions thus demonstrates the credibility of the organization.(3) Often, the public may evaluate the quality of a nonprofit based on the level of its financial accountability: acknowledged sources of past funding, model of financial self-sufficiency, and transparency of fund utilization. The credibility of an organization may also be determined by the attainability of its goals, uniqueness of its mission, and strength of collaboration with other groups to bring about change.(4)


The Mission: Examining a Case Study

Charity: water is a non-profit organization that increases access to clean drinking water in developing nations. Currently, 1.1 billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water, and 2.2 million people in developing countries die each year from diseases associated with unsafe water and poor sanitation.(5) Charity: water works to empower communities in Africa to build water wells and sanitation facilities. To fund their water projects, charity: water recruits donors through effective marketing strategies and innovative technology to connect potential donors to the charity: water cause.

Scott Harrison, founder of charity: water, notes that the challenge in fundraising is the donor’s limited perspective. Many people do not feel connected to the act of giving money to organizations since they do not know how the money will be used.(6) To address this concern, Harrison communicates the goals of his organization through a few simple messages. He publicizes that 100% of donations go to charity, supporting his statement with photos and videos documenting the effects of contributions. He presents “the proof” of impact with a map of completed projects and a report for donors listing the country aided, number of people served, and project implemented.(7)

To combat the worldwide water crisis, charity: water lists solutions that have been made possible by previous charitable contributions. The organization specifically communicates past, current, and future projects and spotlights real donors on their website. Charity: water advertises the support of celebrities to help garner public attention on the organization’s impact.(8)

In their advertising campaigns, charity: water uses simple messages:(9)

Through this campaign, charity: water is able to effectively communicate its mission in succinct, pointed statements. With the addition of simple yet compelling images, the organization can further raise awareness about the crisis of unsafe drinking water. For instance, one advertisement pictures a baby bottle filled with dirty water as a representation of the lack of clean water for newborns. The juxtaposition of a staple baby product with unclean water shocks the viewer and inspires disgust. The use of jerry cans as water containers, carried on the backs of American school children or celebrities, parallels the practice of African women and children who must spend billions of hours walking to acquire water.(10) The application of a container typically used to hold gasoline is filled with water to provide a powerful illustration of the human challenges abroad. When used as a marketing strategy, such simplicity in text and visuals appeals to viewers logically and emotionally, eliciting a response that inspires people to join the campaign, help the cause, and contribute what they can.


The Beneficiaries

The desire to donate often depends on how the beneficiaries are presented. Both personal anecdotes and name association appeal to human emotions and frequently cause people to act more altruistically. At the same time, the use of statistics and evidence-based findings may usher in truths that ring with donors’ sense of logic and compassion. Research has shown that humans will sacrifice for others “if the situation violates their sense of fairness.” As such, the world of fundraising has seen a common link where people tend to support causes that correct human injustice.(12)

The likelihood to donate also increases with greater personal connection to the cause. For example, Americans donated 1.54 billion US dollars to help the victims of the Southeast Asia tsunami in 2005. However, this contribution was far less than the 6.5 billion US dollars contributed to help aid the people afflicted by Hurricane Katrina, even though the death toll from the tsunami was higher (220,000) when compared to the 1,600 deaths from the hurricane.

The people served by grassroots organizations are typically geographically distant. The appropriate presentation of beneficiary populations must account for the donor’s emotional appeal, along with an awareness of donor connection to philanthropic initiatives. Educated donors may also have greater knowledge of the needs of disadvantaged populations and use this knowledge as motivation for contributing.(13)

The Outcomes

It is important to balance the mission and beneficiaries with relevant outcomes. When assessing organizations, it is important to distinguish between outcomes and outputs. Outputs are the goods or services produced by programs or agencies, whereas outcomes are the impacts achieved by programs or agencies on social or economic indicators.(14) Measuring quantity of output may lead to a waste of resources if outcomes are not used to evaluate an organization’s progress.(15) Through metrics evaluation of outcomes, cost-effective programs that result in sustainable, beneficial impacts can be achieved. Presenting “simple messages” on organizational outcomes to an audience will effectively communicate the lasting effect of the organization’s efforts in ensuring quality, high-impact programs in a motivating way. For example, Unite For Sight assesses the pre-operative and post-operative visual acuity of every surgical patient who receives surgery due to Unite For Sight's sponsorship. Unite For Sight is therefore able to ensure that every cataract surgery is indeed a quality surgery and sight-restoring. Unite For Sight communicates this simple message about the surgical outcomes by tallying this number of sight-restoring surgeries on its website.


(1) Sagawa, Shirley. Annie E. Casey Foundation, Sept. 2001. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <>.

(2) Fritz, Joanne. "The Science of Giving - A Review Charitable Giving Through the Eyes of Social Scientists." Nonprofit Charitable Organizations. Web. 23 Aug. 2011. <>.

(3) Vesterlund, Lisa. "Why Do People Give?" Web. 22 Aug. 2011. <>.

(4) Robinson, Andy. "Why People (and Foundations) Give Away Their Money." National Housing Institute. Shelterforce Magazine, Jan. 1997. Web. 30 Aug. 2011. <>.

(5) "The Facts About The Global Drinking Water Crisis | Blue Planet Network." Powering a Global Community Creating Safe Drinking Water for the World. Blue Planet Network. Web. 29 Aug. 2011. <>.

(6)The Power of Simple Messages. Scott Harrison. Charity: water. NextGen Charity. Web. 22 Aug. 2011. <>.

(7) "Charity: water Map." Charity: water. Web. 22 Aug. 2011. <>.

(8) "Charity: water: Celebrity Supporters." Celebrity Charity News, Events, Organizations & Causes. Web. 26 Aug. 2011. <>.

(9)The Power of Simple Messages. Scott Harrison. Charity: water. NextGen Charity. Web. 22 Aug. 2011. <>.

(10)“Why Water.”Charity: water. Web. 16 Sept. 2011. <>.

(11)Charity: water Assets. Digital image. Charity: Water. Web. 24 Aug. 2011. <>.

(12) Robinson, Andy. "Why People (and Foundations) Give Away Their Money." National Housing Institute. Shelterforce Magazine, Jan. 1997. Web. 30 Aug. 2011. <>.

(13) Wiepking, Pamala. Resources That Make You Generous: Effects of Social and Human Resources on Charitable Giving. June 2009. Web. 29 Aug. 2011. <>.

(14) McAllister, K. 1999. Understanding participation: monitoring and evaluating process, outputs and outcomes. Ottawa: IDRC.

(15) Lim, Terrence. "Measuring the Value of Corporate Philanthropy." Social Impact, Business Benefits, and Investor Returns. Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy. Web. 29 Aug. 2011. <>.