Karen Brooks-Hopkins: Thoughts on Fundraising

Returning to New York, USA after her recent trip to Australia where she presented ‘Successful Fundraising: Your Board and the Path to Glory’ in partnership with Creative Partnerships Australia, the Adelaide Festival and Festivals Adelaide, Karen Brooks-Hopkins, one of the world’s leading arts philanthropy and fundraising experts, shares her thoughts on fundraising.

Reflecting on our remarkable trip to Australia it seems like a good time to think about… fundraising!  When we return to our busy lives, we will need it more than ever so our skills must be sharp. Remember, a fundraising campaign is akin to a military operation.  Define your goals, map out your battle plan, prepare to take casualties and proceed with purpose.

Let’s get started:

The KBH Fundraising Guide

The Personal and The Practical


  1. Don’t take it personally. It’s not about you.  Rejection makes you strong. Resilience is your mantra.  You can do this!
  2. Those who succeed in fundraising can do anything! She who brings the money has a lot of clout.
  3. Remember, it’s their money. They can do with it as they please.  If your organization is chosen, give respect and show gratitude to your donors.  Credit is easy – money is hard!
  4. Good service is everything. No one gives you money to sit in lousy seats.
  5. It’s that extra touch that makes you great. Send a note when your donor is quoted in the Times or, even better, when their child is quoted.  When you get good reviews, share them.  Good manners and common sense always win the day.
  6. Attention to detail makes a difference. Are your proposals and letters coherent and concise?  Don’t waste anyone’s time.  People are busy (especially in New York when they have to get to their next meeting or, more importantly, to lunch).


Who do you raise money from?  Define your constituents – The Who

  1. Foundations (they are dealing with the big issues and trying to save the world).
  2. Corporations/Small Businesses (they are dealing with their own issues and trying to improve their image).
  3. High Net Worth Individuals and smaller family foundations (these are proliferating – you want them as Board members and donors. They don’t have guidelines and sometimes they are also trying to save the world!)
  4. Lower Level Members (These are your people. They live in your neighbourhood, believe in your programs and you want to keep them close and move them up the food chain.  It’s a cradle to grave operation – get them in as a member and stay with them for life … and after-life … bequests build great institutions.
  5. Galas and special events – Yes, the seating and the menus are misery but great honorees and glorious events build your organization’s legend. Hosting an original fundraising event can win your organization many new friends and donors.
  6. Government – City, State and Federal – Pay attention to those elected officials. They have power and they can deliver the big capital appropriations for buildings.  (In New York City, capital funding has actually grown).
  7. Other – (art, auctions, raffles and manner of crazy (but legal) schemes. Be creative!  This is where new ideas are born.
  8. Pay attention to your projections. Add the new prospects.  This is your Bible.  Let’s look at the chart:

The What

  1. General Operating Support – The hardest money to get but the most essential. This is the cash you need to keep the place open, pay salaries, cover electric bills, maintenance, cleaning, etc.  It’s not sexy to the donors but it’s the desirable for organizations.
  2. Project Support – Donors usually respond to this more than any other category. It’s about the programs, new initiatives and iconic capacity building projects.  If general operating support is the body, then projects are the beating heart of your institution.  But … be smart when you develop a project budget.  Allocate some of the funds to cover some administrative costs that actually get the project done.  This is how you have your general operating cake and eat it too.
  3. Capital Support – These are funds appropriated and donated for buildings. Capital support generally comes from government sources but also high net worth individuals.  These are major projects.  Make sure you are ready and can afford to run your new building once it is finished.
  4. Cash Reserves – Every organization should optimally have a reserve of 8-10% of its annual operating budget to cover the lean times and the capacity to borrow from itself with no interest or invest in a special unplanned project or problem. The trick here is to create rules – use it and pay it back.  Otherwise, it’s not a reserve – it’s just spent.  Board members and some Foundations will support cash reserves.
  5. Endowment – The holy grail of fundraising. Don’t’ take this on until you are ready.  Endowment generates longevity, passive income, and is the key to building a great institution.  (Think universities, hospitals, etc.).  Big gifts are the name of the game.  You invest, you make more and you live forever.  Invade it at your peril and it is gone.  High net worth donors are the heart of an endowment effort.  A good starting goal is to raise double your operating budget.

Once these elements are in place, you are prepared for the challenge.

Good luck!