What Is Fundraising, and Why Is It Important for Disability Service Agencies?

Learn how fundraising can help you attract new donors, raise awareness about your programs, and build closer ties to your community.

When you hear the word fundraising, what comes to mind? Do you picture mailing out a donation request letter and envelopes? A black tie gala with dinner and door prizes? A Walk-a-Thon in your community? 


While most of us have a pretty good idea of what fundraising looks like, we often struggle to pin down exactly what it is and all of the different types of fundraising that are available. 


From online fundraising to crowdfunding, fundraising has certainly changed in recent years. What hasn’t changed, however, is the importance of fundraising for nonprofit agencies that serve the disability community. In this guide, we’ll explore the basic fundamentals of fundraising — starting with a simple definition. 

What is fundraising?

Nonprofit fundraising is the process of collecting the money needed to fund a nonprofit organization. It can come from a variety of sources and can be used for any purpose that helps the nonprofit fulfill its organizational mission.  

Why is fundraising important for disability service agencies?

In a perfect world, federal and state funders like the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) would provide all the money needed to cover your agency’s costs. Of course, we know that’s not the case. And while it’s important to continue advocating for more funding, the reality is that disability service agencies will likely need to fundraise in order to fill the gaps. 


Fundraising is an important way for disability service agencies to raise the money needed to keep the doors open and pay their staff. However, that’s far from the only benefit. Meeting new donors, getting the word out about your organization, engaging members of your team in your mission, and building closer ties with the community are just a few of the other positive outcomes of fundraising. 


Imagine you’re hosting a charity golf tournament, for example. Not only will this event help bring in money for your organization, it also gives you an opportunity to share the work you’re doing and cultivate relationships with people who may go on to work for or donate to your organization. This in turn can do a lot for your mission and your bottom line.  

How do disability service agencies fundraise?

There are many different types of fundraising, but they all fall into five main categories: individual donations, corporate fundraising, foundation and government grants, earned income, and in-kind donations. 

1. Individual donations

Donations from individuals are the largest source of nonprofit funding, accounting for 69% of fundraising according to The National Philanthropic Trust. Individuals may make one-time or recurring donations. They may donate by mail, at in-person events, or online through your website, social media, or crowdfunding platforms. Individual donations may be large gifts of thousands of dollars, or $5 monthly contributions. 

2. Corporate giving

Corporations are another major source of donations for disability service agencies. Companies may offer to match donations from their employees, or donate directly to your agency — for example, a restaurant that donates a portion of its sales for a night. They may also donate by sponsoring a program or event in turn for public acknowledgement of their contribution. For instance, a local company might sponsor your charity 5K. The company’s name would be listed on your website and printed on banners and t-shirts for the event. 

3. Grants

Disability service agencies may also receive funding through grants. Grants can come from private foundations like the Disability Rights Fund (DRF) or the NEC Foundation. There are also grants available from the federal and state governments. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living (ACL) are two agencies that award billions of dollars in grants to organizations that provide services for people with disabilities. Finding and applying for these grants can be a lengthy and difficult process, so some organizations hire grant writers or fundraising consultants to help with their application. 

4. Earned income

In addition to soliciting grants and donations, disability agencies may earn income from selling goods and products. You might sell products that you make, or branded goods like t-shirts and mugs with your organization’s logo. Perhaps the most well-known example for a nonprofit is Girl Scout cookies, which are sold by Girl Scouts to raise funds for activities and administrative costs.  

5. In-kind donations

Unlike monetary donations, in-kind donations include donations of physical goods like food, clothing, and supplies. For example, a local grocery store might donate snacks and bottled water for your event. Another business might donate merchandise and tickets for sale at a charity auction, or allow you to use their venue for an evening. In-kind donations also include donations of services, like someone building your website or designing marketing materials for you for free. 

How can disability service agencies get started with fundraising?

As you can see, there are many potential ways for disability service agencies to fundraise. While you might not use all five of these fundraising methods, it’s a good idea to have several different sources of fundraising for your agency. More fundraising streams mean more opportunities to raise money to support your mission.  


Identifying which types of fundraising are the best fit for your agency and your goals is the first step toward success. Even if you are already fundraising, you may find that there are additional opportunities you haven’t explored yet. By taking advantage of the different fundraising opportunities available, you’ll be able to engage a diverse donor base, get the word out about your programs, and build support for your mission.  


Now that we’ve established the foundations of fundraising, we’ll build onto that solid foundation to help you accomplish your goals. Our next article will walk you through some business practices that will help your grant application or donation request rise to the top of the pile — starting with the fundraising KPIs you should be tracking to measure your impact. Be sure to subscribe to be notified when the next article goes live!  

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