Effective Fund-raising for Non-profit Camps

by Paula Larson, STM, MPA

Fund-raising. Who has the time or energy for it?

The camp director is CEO and CFO, personnel director
and operations manager, trainer and motivator, psychologist and troubleshooter,
and mediator and planner. Few other professions require a director who
has such a broad set of skills. Tirelessly and with a calm smile, you
manage the dozens of tasks that camp incorporates. One of those tasks
for nonprofit camps is fund-raising.

Think for a moment about what extra money could accomplish
at your camp. You could construct a new building, pay for a ropes course,
make scholarships available for low-income campers, fund a kitchen expansion,
buy program equipment, pay for a specialized staff member for a new activity,
or fund outreach activities in the winter. The sky’s the limit — if only
you had the money.

Imagine the Possibilities

Sit for an hour some quiet morning and make a dream list
of what you want for your camp. Post the list somewhere visible and spend
some time imagining where your camp would be if all the items were fully
funded. You would probably have a higher enrollment if you offered ropes
course programming. With another building, you could add another unit
of campers. With more winter outreach, you could identify and serve more

Your list of fund-raising goals should include both physical
improvements to the property and buildings and activities or programs
that can be added or expanded with more equipment or staff. It’s an exciting
prospect to consider what else your camp could offer — if only you had
the money.

Identify Fund-Raising Sources

Once you’ve listed your dream projects, identify potential
donors or sources. You could establish or expand fund-raising events.
You could institute an annual fund, or annual appeal, where you ask members,
camper families, and other friends of your organization to donate something
each year. Other sources could include corporate gifts, foundation grants,
and significant individual gifts. You’ll want to consider asking for gifts
of cash, items you need for camp, and volunteer time to provide you with
money-saving services like printing or an annual electrical inspection.

After you’ve gotten some of the basics, such as an annual
fund and several successful special events, in place, you’ll want to consider
establishing a planned-giving program so that people can leave you gifts
of life insurance or give you a portion of their estate in trust.

The task of fund-raising with all the options available
can seem daunting. To fund-raise effectively, you need to target your
efforts, maximize your time, and raise funds with quality.

Target Your Efforts

Spend your time pursuing only those funding possibilities
that are likely to net you excellent results. For example, instead of
spending twelve minutes each to prepare the same fund-raising packet for
ten local companies, use 120 minutes to write one individualized and exciting
request to a company that you’ve researched and that you think might really
want to help your camp.

Having a contact helps. Check with the members of your
board of directors to see what prominent local individuals they might
know or what companies they have contacts to. Ask if you can mention the
board member’s name in your proposal to the individual or corporation.

Partner with other organizations

Cooperate with other nonprofit organizations and work with them to partner
initiatives that will enhance your fund-raising position. If you need
another building at camp, find an agency that will help pay for it in
exchange for a few weeks of reserved time each year. Sponsor a large fund-raiser
with another nonprofit and divide the proceeds.

Maximize Your Time

Do something each day to further the primary mission
of your camp. For example, call someone and ask for help, write one additional
grant, cultivate a new potential donor, or recognize a recent donor in
the hopes they’ll support you again the following year. Maximize your
efforts and be sure to set aside time each day to take a significant step
in fund-raising.

Invest time in your public relations efforts. Get your
camp’s name in the media as often as possible. Name recognition and a
positive image in the press will help legitimize your cause to potential
donors. Contributors want to jump on a successful bandwagon.

For your fund-raising events, think big! Instead of spending
time on a fund-raiser you think might net $1,000 for your camp, spend
your time on a fund-raiser that you hope will net $10,000. You’ll be surprised
to find that it takes the same amount of time to raise $10,000 as it does
to raise $1,000.

Involve staff

Involve everyone affiliated with your camp in fund-raising. It’s a team
effort and many hands make lighter work. Your campers can help by getting
auction donations or by selling fund-raising products. Parents of campers
may have corporation contacts for you. Your board of directors should
lead fund-raising efforts with their own donations of money, items, or

If no one on your staff has the time to do fund-raising,
find a way to add some staff time or a new staff member. A lot of nonprofit
organizations are in the cycle of barely surviving financially because
there’s not enough money to hire someone to raise funds. Consider writing
a grant to get funds to employ a development professional for six months.
The results of successful fund-raising will help your entire organization
blossom again.

Raise Funds with Quality

Whatever you do for fund-raising, whether writing a grant
or planning an event, do it with quality in mind. Proposals should be
well-written and concise. Your fund-raising request can win or lose a
potential donor in the first sentence or two. Your opening needs to be
interesting, exciting, and appealing. It needs to affect the reader personally.
It needs to lead him to want to know how his organization can take action
to help.

Working with donors

Make sure the message about your camp and the projects you want to implement
are consistent. State your objectives clearly. What does your camp accomplish
for your campers and why should someone donate their money to help you?
Tell potential donors succinctly what their donation will do. For example,
a certain level of donation will pay for one week of camp for a needy
camper or pay for the climbing gear needed for a new team-building or
self-esteem-building program.

Whatever project you’re fund-raising for, develop a strong
case for the need you face. A donor may not be overly eager to buy two
dozen septic system chambers. But they might get very interested in it
when they realize expanding the septic system will mean you can serve
fifty more campers each session. It’s all in the presentation.

Recognition is vital

Remember to recognize donors for the contributions they make to your camp.
Once people support your organization, thank them in a meaningful way.
A handwritten thank you card is preferable to a form letter, and a telephone
call to thank a leading donor is very meaningful. Publicizing donors in
your newsletter (unless they request anonymity) is always a great idea.
Positive donor recognition might mean a contributor will support you on
an annual basis.

Stay educated

Staffers should attend basic continuing education classes in different
topics related to fund-raising. Excellent and inexpensive classes are
commonly available in special-events planning, grants writing, cultivating
major gifts, implementing annual funds, and others. Apply this knowledge
to your camp.

Whatever fund-raising efforts you undertake first, whether
planning a major special event, writing a capital grant, or getting people
affiliated with your camp to support an annual fund, start with enthusiasm
for your mission. Then implement the fund-raising with attention to precision,
team effort, and reaching a specific goal. You’ll find the results to
be effective and successful money-makers that will help to ensure the
future of your camp.

Paula Larson is executive director of Lions
Camp Pride in New Durham, New Hampshire, a residential camp serving children
and adults with moderate through profound special needs.


Originally published in the 1998 March/April
issue of Camping Magazine.