Organizer and Activist Resources: Raising Money
Assume everyone wants to do something to better the environment. It is your job to figure out how to let them and ask them to contribute, by offering creative opportunities that will both educate the community, spotlight your organization or committee as the catalyst, and provide a sponsoring opportunity for just the right organization. Stress always your willingness to work together - not to threaten or cast a company or organization in a bad light. Seek suggestions of activities from potential funding partners. Include them in your planning process. You will be richly rewarded for your efforts.
First, get a very clear picture of exactly what it is you need. Begin
working to make your visions a reality. Identify what you need and ask for
it - over and over. As you get more people involved in realizing the
vision, many times the resources will appear - often exactly when you need
them. The most important thing for you to do is stay focused on doing what
you have set out to do. There is a big difference between telling potential
donors that you are DOING something as opposed to telling them you WANT to
do something. With any special event, costs will be incurred. This is why
it is very important to create a realistic budget based upon the activity
ideas and production costs for the type of event that you want. Preparing a
budget may seem difficult, but it is worth the effort because it will help
you identify exactly what your needs are and will point to avenues for
filling those needs. Many times money is not needed. Many things can be
donated Here is a list to help you get started:
- Sound equipment rental (for stage and entertainers)
- Labor and delivery of stage and sound equipment (someone to run the
mixing board, for instance)
- Tents - outdoor events need tents to protect exhibitors and the
crowd from the sun or inclement weather. You can cover the cost of tents
with an exhibitor's entrance fee.
- Tables - exhibitors need tables and chairs. Usually your tent
supplier can also supply these for a small additional cost. Build that cost
into your exhibitor's fee.
- Exhibits, activities or displays - budget money for the creation of
interactive displays and activities. These can be as simple as cardboard
exhibits with flaps you lift for answers, to scale models of
environmentally sound kitchens or houses.
- Signs - banners, directional and exhibitors' signs will be needed.
- Entertainment - musicians and speakers may charge reduced or no
fees for an Earth Day event
- Landscape repair - large crowds and bad weather conditions may
leave the event site in need of landscape repair; at the very minimum, be
sure to have a clean-up team of volunteers scheduled to show up near the
end of the event to help with breakdown and cleanup.
- Security - off-duty police officers will provide security and
charge an hourly rate. If you get the City and County to co-sponsor your
event, they may be able to provide security for you for free. There are
also many private security companies available with specific knowledge of
local venues . Also, the private firms should be insured and bonded to
assume liability for their staff.
- Insurance - special events may require additional insurance so be
sure to check with the site owner. Acquiring insurance may be as simple as
getting an insurance rider on a participating organization's existing
insurance policy or having a one-day special events policy. There are very
few companies in the country that will insure special events. Expect to pay
about $1,500 for a million dollar policy.
- Port-a-potties - these are essential for a successful outdoor
event. You may be able to obtain them free of charge from your local Dept.
of Waste Management. If not, negotiate for a reduced rate.
- Volunteer support - you will want to provide your volunteers with
buttons, caps or shirts to identify them. Providing food and beverages is
nice, but not completely necessary if you are strapped for money. Buttons
are the cheapest way to identify your volunteers and are fun and easy to
- Printing - Stationery, event programs, flyers and posters - ask
around among printers to see who might be willing to donate some of this.
- Press releases & press kits - definitely needed to inform the media
and public of your event.
- Photography - document your event with photographs because they may
be used for newspaper stories and future fund raising - you can probably
get local camera and film shops to donate some or all of this.
- Postage for fund raising and exhibitors' mailings
Approach local businesses for donations of paper, copying, printing,
postage, volunteers, office space, phones, etc. (Spread out the requests so
that one company is not asked to donate 10,000 copies, but 10 companies are
asked to donate 1,000 copies.) Be specific in what you are asking for and
show them why it is a good idea for them to do what you ask. (We will put
your name as a corporate sponsor on these 1,000 activity sheets that we
will give away at Earth Day if you will have them printed for us. We will
mention you in all our advertising, we will put your name on our letterhead
if you will let us use your offices, etc.) Many businesses are searching
for ways to be greener. You can offer them the opportunity.
Always try to match the business with the activity you need funded. For
instance, you wouldn't want to ask a chemical company to sponsor a tree
planting. But you would ask a car dealership, a paper manufacturer, or a
home builder. You wouldn't ask a car dealership to sponsor your non-toxic
cleaning demonstrations, but you might ask a vinegar or baking soda
manufacturer, or a local doctor's office.
Invite city and county government to co-sponsor your activities. Spell out
clearly what it is you want for them to do. If they agree to co-sponsor
your activities, you can then take advantage of what the government can
contribute: security, signage, postage, PR, coordination, insurance, etc.
You WANT the government to join you. Including them in your planning is to
your great advantage and shows the community that environmental issues are
broad-based. Having the mayor or county commissioners on stage with you for
presentations, welcoming remarks, etc. means photo opportunities for them
and for you and serves to enhance your standing in the community. This can
only help you get out the message that we must all work together to solve
Types of Financial Support
Production costs and the desire to have an admission-free event will create
the need to raise funds.
Private foundations exist to support a variety of projects and may be
willing to provide funding for an Earth Day event. These foundations have
specific grant criteria and application processes that you should research
before applying. Your local library's reference section may have the
following helpful publications: The Foundation Directory - a complete
reference of private foundations and their criteria; listed by state The
Foundation Center's Grant Guides - A set of guides which list the
foundations by state that fund specific programs. Guide titles include
Grants for Environmental Education, Grants for Children, Grants for
Agriculture, etc. Once you have identified the foundations that may support
your event, write them to request a grant application and copy of their
annual report. NOTE: It will likely take a year from application to funding
if you are applying for grant money. Many foundations have application
deadlines and meet semi-annually to approve grant requests. September,
December and January are deadline months for many foundations. Prepare
The decision to solicit corporate support for Earth Day is up to your
committee. Corporations have funds designated for charitable donations, in
addition to advertising, and discretionary funds that can be used to
support Earth Day celebrations. Also, many corporations and businesses have
quarterly environmental campaigns in which they sponsor environmental
projects. Corporations may also designate employees to volunteer or serve
on your committee. If you decide to pursue corporate support, you may want
to be selective in which corporations you approach. Some communities avoid
petroleum, chemical, nuclear, tobacco and chemical lawn care businesses,
for instance. To solicit corporations:
- Call your local Chamber of Commerce and ask to purchase its
Directory of Membership; a listing of local businesses and corporations; or
simply brainstorm with your committee for likely candidates to approach.
- Prepare a mailing list and letter requesting support in early
August with the letters being mailed in September. Many businesses begin
preparing their budgets at this time. This will ensure that your request
will be considered and possibly approved for the January budget. Follow-up
calls should always be made to make sure the letters have been received.
- Offer businesses the opportunity to sponsor specific event
activities - such as the stage, a maze, a special exhibit, etc.
- Be specific about where and how corporations will be acknowledged.
If you want to put together different support levels, you can offer
corporate exposure through sponsorship of the stage, name in the program,
name on letterhead, logos on T-shirts, inclusion in press releases, etc.
- Request corporate involvement in fund raising activities. For
example, a company may agree to coordinate a race as a fund raiser for your
committee, or purchase t-shirts for you to sell and keep the profits while
reimbursing the corporation for the cost of the shirts.
- If a business can't contribute money, ask if any in-kind service
can be provided for the committee. For example, many businesses have
in-house printing facilities and may be able to print your programs free of
charge or at cost.
Fund Raisers and Visibility Projects
- Sale items such as t-shirts can be great fund raising products.
They can be purchased at cost for as low as $5/shirt and sold for $10. If
your committee cannot assume the expense of purchasing and printing
t-shirts, you may want to work with a local t-shirt company that may assume
the risk and provide event t-shirts with a percentage of the profits going
to your committee.
- Contests - These can generate income, publicity and interest in
your event. For example, a race can charge an entry fee, and be held
several days prior to the Earth Day celebration in order to get advance
- Benefits - These too can generate income, publicity and interest in
your event. Contact a local radio station or music group about producing a
benefit concert for your committee
- Dinner parties, bake-offs, poetry contests, poster contests,
neighborhood cleanups, stream walks, bike races, walk-a-thons, running
events . . . all can generate income and visibility for you.
- Exhibit fees - In order to help pay production costs, charge an
exhibit fee for your event. Have one rate for non-profits, and another for
corporations. Design the fees so that your tents, tables and chairs are
covered, and still make money to use to pay for your sound system, porta
potties and insurance. Get your tent prices locked in before you send out
the entry form!
Should We Incorporate?
In order to accept tax-deductible contributions, you must have non-profit
corporate status in your state. Initially, you may find a local group whose
mission is aligned with Earth Day and will allow you to operate under their
auspices (technically, you will operate as a project of their
Many groups decide to seek non-profit status by incorporating as a federal
501(c)(3) corporation. This takes time and money for filing fees. Contact
your state's Secretary of State directly for information on incorporation
and registration as a non-profit first in your own state. You will
typically need to obtain non-profit status in your home state first prior
to filing for federal approval. Some advantages of federal incorporation
are: * Tax-exempt status which allows your group to receive donations
- Supporters can deduct their donations from their federal taxes;
- Most grant makers require federal 501(c)(3) status for application; and
- Bulk-mail non-profit status.
If you decide to follow this path, you will need these Federal Tax
Publication 557 Tax-Exempt Status for your organization;
- Form 1023 or 1024 (Application for 501(c)(3) status);
- Form 8718 User Fee for Exempt Organization (up to $300);
- Form SS-4 Application for Employer ID #; and
- Form 526 "Charitable Contributions"
You must also provide your organization's charter/mission statement, and
document its history and activity, including fund-raising methods and
financial records. Acquiring federal 501(c)(3) status can take between
three months and a year.
If you don't have a lawyer in your group or on your Board of Directors, get
one person to commit to seeing the process through to the end. Ask a local
lawyer to help. Many will donate the time because of the nature of the
Don't be intimidated by the process. Describe your organization's work in
plain English. Demonstrate broad public support for your group. (Don't
acquire large proportions of your endowment from just a few sources.) The
IRS Toll-Free Help Line is 1-800-829-1040. A good guidebook: "The Law of
Tax-Exempt Organizations" by Bruce R. Hopkins, 4th ed., 1983, $25. Wiley
Publications, 605 3rd Ave., NY, NY 10158-0012 212-850-6000 or 908-469-4400.=
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This information was supplied courtesy of the Earth Day Network.