Wisconsin Historical Society

Guide or Instruction

How to Create a Fundraising Strategy for Your Historic Preservation Group

How to Create a Fundraising Strategy | Historic Preservation | Wisconsin Historical Society

Fundraising—the process of soliciting funds or other resources from supporters—will be a necessary part of your historic preservation group's work. Your group's overall success will largely depend on how well your group sustains its operations via its fundraising efforts. Your group's success at raising funds will also be one of the most straightforward ways to measure your success at building a relationship with your supporters.

Historic preservation includes a broad range of costly work, from building rehabilitation and maintenance to education and program development and basic administrative support. Finding money and other resources for this work will always be a challenge, but there are many Wisconsin preservation fundraising success stories that demonstrate how perseverance and ingenuity can lead to success.

Follow Best Practices for Successful Fundraising

The most effective fundraising effort begins with small steps rather than quantum leaps. But regardless of your project scope, your fundraising efforts are more likely to be successful if your group adopts these practices:

  • Create a long-term vision for your group
  • Staff your group with individuals who have the expertise necessary to be successful
  • Define your project's goals and vision clearly and early in the process
  • Develop a budget and a plan for achieving that budget
  • Follow federal and state regulations, basic accounting standards, ethics, and best practices for raising funds
  • Use fundraising strategies that complement and support what your group is already doing
  • Be patient and persistent

Identify Your Purpose

Your fundraising plan should start with your fundraising purpose. The purpose of your fundraising will help you determine:

  • How you raise funds
  • How much money you need
  • What funding sources are available
  • What expenses will be required to raise the funds
  • What schedule you will set for raising funds

Some advocacy groups organize and raise funds for the purpose of rehabilitating a single property. A Friends group is an example of this type of group. After their project is completed, Friends groups often disband, pass maintenance responsibility onto a new owner, or transform into another kind of group. However, if the project is public and requires ongoing maintenance, a Friends group such as Friends of McGilvray Road may continue to raise funds and provide support to the project.

Identify Your Key Fundraising Needs

Your group's preservation goals will shape your fundraising needs. Ideally, your fundraising should be tied to your group's membership and board development, as well as public relations and basic programming.

Brick-and-mortar preservation work is significantly more costly than program-related preservation activities, so many preservation groups raise money to accomplish these three purposes:

  • Support private property owner investment
  • Educate the public about local resources
  • Cultivate a preservation ethic within their community

In general, groups that form to educate or raise awareness regarding a community's historic assets can effectively operate on very small budgets. If your group formed with the purpose of historic preservation advocacy, more specialized expertise from consultants and service providers will be necessary.

Relatively few Wisconsin preservation groups engage in capital projects. However, groups that acquire property tend to have larger budgets and strong community engagement. Capital projects that involve government facilities, like the Stoughton Opera House, will often spawn a complementary Friends group to help raise tax-deductible contributions from individuals as well as grant funds.

Identify Your Other Funding Needs

Your group may need help with certain tasks that will add to your funding needs. These tasks may require legal costs, publicity consultants, printing costs, and more funding for web and social media work. For example, your group may need help with the following tasks:

  • Creating a public relations plan
  • Developing a press list
  • Lobbying
  • Creating issue-based printing materials with a professional look and feel

If your group focuses on real estate development, you will require an even larger budget for capital costs, legal costs, and management fees.

Diversify Your Revenue Sources

Your group's best path to financial success is by having diverse sources of revenue. There are many different ways to raise money for advocacy causes. Here are some time-tested methods your organization can use to raise funds:

  • Build membership through direct, face-to-face engagement
  • Solicit gifts from donors who wish to support your cause
  • Set up the infrastructure for online fundraising
  • Organize a tour of historic buildings or places
  • Host a fundraising event
  • Stage an auction
  • Cultivate major donors
  • Pursue government and private grant support
  • Maintain an investment portfolio
  • Create earned income by selling a product or service

If your group is a tax-deductible charity, you can leverage your IRS status to solicit estate and one-off donations and memberships. In addition, many grantors will provide funds only to nonprofit groups.

Learn More

Find more how-to articles about historic preservation advocacy.