Frontline Initiative State Chapter Development

Grassroots fundraising


Bonnie Marshall is the director of individual giving for Arc Greater Twin Cities in St. Paul, Minnesota.

The term “grassroots” describes any effort that derives its power from a community, in this case the community of DSPs. The lessons we learn and steps we take in organizing our community are the same for fundraising. They are based in story, relationships, and action.


As DSPs, you have many stories to tell. Every day you serve individuals who need your support and who rely on you to be trained and professional. What stories can you tell that shows the importance of this work? How exactly are you improving people’s lives? If you can tell a compelling story, you can affect change. 

Your chapter also has a story to tell. This story — known as a fundraising case — answers the questions of how much money you need to raise and why. As your organization grows, identify what you wish to accomplish. How much will that cost? How does it support the mission of your chapter? When you are fundraising, you are not selling a product, but rather building solidarity for an idea. Crystallize that idea and articulate it as clearly as possible.


As you build your organization, imagine you are throwing a pebble into water. You begin with what and who you know and expand from there. First, you should believe in your mission enough to give a meaningful gift of your time or money. Second, those who make up your internal team should also be asked to give. Grassroots fundraising welcomes and encourages small donations and large donations. Keep in mind that the way you raise your money reflects the values of your chapter.

If your chapter has dues-paying members and volunteers, one way to expand your grassroots fundraising income is to ask these individuals to contribute on a regular basis. For instance, ask them to renew their membership annually. It is important that all members understand the financial and volunteer resources needed to meet your shared goals. Special skills of volunteers also come in handy when raising funds. 

From there, the circle grows wider. Loyal support from your inner circle will create momentum as you reach out to the broader community. Remember that most funds that support causes come from people, not from corporations or foundations. Take the time to identify which audiences are most invested in your mission. In some cases, this could be provider organizations, as sponsors of events, for example. Or it may be community organizations that provide grants or the families of those you serve.


There are many ways to plan and carry out grassroots fundraising. Methods that are built on relationships and personal approaches are generally more effective than less personal approaches.

Sitting down with a person you know and asking for a gift is the most effective way to raise money. Of course, it is also the most uncomfortable and labor-intensive. Still, it provides the highest rate of return. You should ask for an amount that seems appropriate for them.

Some people live too far away to ask personally, or are too busy to meet with you face-to-face. In these cases, a personal phone call works well, especially if you know the person. Personal letters followed by a phone call to people that your group knows well, are easy and effective. 

Special events are friend-raisers as much as fund-raisers. They are a lot of work, and often result in relatively little money but they can be fun and raise the profile of your organization. 

Through your work, you have touched the lives of many people with disabilities and you can probably find others who share a common conviction: a belief that individuals with disabilities are entitled to live full lives in our community, and to support these individuals a strong, competent professional workforce is needed. If this is at the heart of your grassroots actions, you will raise the money you need to further your mission.