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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:

Production List

  • 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 make. Publicity Expenses
  • 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

Administrative Expenses

  • Postage for fund raising and exhibitors' mailings
  • Telephone

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 environmental problems.

Types of Financial Support

Production costs and the desire to have an admission-free event will create the need to raise funds.

Grant Funding

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 accordingly.

Corporate Support

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 publicity.
  • 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 organization). 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 tax-free;
  • 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 documents:

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 organization.

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.

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