Much of the work you will do as an activist requires no more (and no less) than caring and motivation. On the other hand, making flyers, setting up tables and forming groups also requires some money to cover costs.
TARGET YOUR EFFORTS
People like to know how their donations will be used. It's always more effective to target your fundraising efforts for a specific purpose. Make it clear what the proceeds from your raffle or flea market will be used for.
ACTIVITIES THAT RAISE FUNDS
Product sales: If you have some money to invest, you can purchase T-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers and books to sell when you set up tables and hold meetings.
Food sales: Vegan bake sales can do well either as an independent fundraiser or when combined with another event. Groups should appoint someone to be in charge and to get each member to contribute a baked item (or try offering tofu hot dogs or veggie burgers). Choose a busy spot or a craft fair or festival and check ahead with the police and health department about permits and food regulations.
Garage sales: You'll make more money if your goods are clean and well displayed. Tag clothing with size labels and make sure prices are clearly marked.
Thrift shops: Setup an ongoing thrift shop at a church or unused garage. You'll need a staff of volunteers to sort, price, display and do the sales and bookkeeping.
Annual sales: Hold the sale at the same time each year. Plan ahead to get a good location and publicize the event. If you have a good spot for storage, you can collect donations year round.
Raffles: The two keys to a successful raffle are a good prize and lots of ticket sellers. Print the name of your group, the date and place of the drawing, and a list of the prizes you're offering. Make sure ticket sellers always have enough tickets on hand. Try setting up a table at the supermarket on Saturday or outside a church to sell tickets during the weekend. Ask local merchants to donate prizes or have a 50/50 raffle, meaning that the prize is half the money you collect. Make sure you comply with local solicitation regulations.
Sponsored events: In a walk-a-thon or bike-a-thon, for example, a group of people commit to participating in the event, and they then ask family, friends and local businesses to sponsor them for a certain amount. Choose a safe route and check it first with the police. You'll need to prepare sponsor forms with the name and address of the group, the purpose of the event, the date and time, and the route. Also include columns for the sponsor's name, address, and amount pledged per mile (establish a minimum). Encourage local athletic groups to participate.
Do chores and odd jobs: Have all your members spend a Saturday cleaning, painting, raking leaves, or putting up storm windows. Advertise ahead of time and schedule as many jobs as possible.
Recycling: Many communities have recycling facilities that will pay you for cans, bottles or other items.
Give up something: Ask people to give up smoking for a week or lunch for a day, and donate the money they save.
Miscellaneous: Place donation cans in stores, go Christmas caroling for donations, sell heart-shaped dog biscuits on Valentine's Day, have a car wash ... use your imagination!
ASK FOR GOODS OR DISCOUNTS
Another kind of fundraising effort is to ask for something other than money. Ask print shops if they will give you a discount. Ask local businesses to donate new or used office equipment. Send each business an individualized request describing your group and its goals and asking for a specific item or service. If you are tax-exempt, that will encourage donations. But don't be afraid to ask even if you're not tax-exempt.
Another good source of financial support is your supporters. Ask them to pay a yearly membership fee. Set different levels for dues such as $10 to $20 for regular members, $50 for sponsors, $100 for sustaining members, and $500 to $1,000 for lifetime members. Student and senior citizen memberships could be offered at discounted rates.
Consider offering members an incentive, such as a free book or T-shirt with a large donation. Ask for regular donations either monthly or quarterly, and always be sure to send a thank-you note promptly. (If you are tax-exempt, your thank-you note should inform donors of the deductible portion of their gift, i.e., the amount of the gift minus the value of any incentive you give them in return.)
TAXES & REPORTING
Virtually all fundraising has tax - and financial - reporting consequences. Donation and sales revenue is generally taxable unless you qualify as a tax-exempt organization. Even if you are tax-exempt, you must still collect and remit to the government sales tax on many types of sales. Also, most states require charities to register as soliciting organizations and to file annual reports. (Note that automatic exemptions may exist under some of these rules for small organizations.) Check with your state taxing authority, secretary of state, attorney general, and consumer affairs agency. It is also a very good idea to have a CPA on your managing committee!
CHARITABLE SOLICITATION CERTIFICATE
File with your state's Charitable Solicitations Division. They will give you a certificate that allows you to solicit funds in that state. You may be required to list a registered agent - someone who resides in the state and can be served with legal papers if necessary - in order to file. Different states have different thresholds for the amount of money you must have to file. But even if your group falls below that threshold, you cannot ignore the charitable solicitations office. You must, in that case, file for an exemption from formal registration as a charitable organization. If you intend to solicit funds in other states as well, you need to file similar forms. Some states require that you file applications for a "certificate of authority to transact business" in the state before you will be allowed to register for charitable solicitation. This may require an attachment to the application of a "certificate of good standing" or a "certification of articles of incorporation" from the state in which you are incorporated. After receiving your certificate to transact business you may have to file it in the county or state of your registered agent.
FORMS REQUIRED ANNUALLY
Now that you have done all the necessary paperwork to setup, you must do the paperwork necessary to continue to exist legally. The federal government requires you to file Form 990, "Return of Organization Exempt from Income Tax," annually. You may also need to file Form 990-T to report taxable sales that are not related to your tax-exempt purpose. The state governments require an "annual report of tax" and an "annual report of domestic nonprofit corporations." If you do not fill out these forms, your organization can be dissolved by the state.
Establish an accounting system to maintain tax compliance, to assist in management of the organization, and to establish a general trend to provide long-range planning for the organization and its resources.