This article is from NACAC’s Starting and Nurturing Adoptive Parent Groups: A Guide for Leaders. Download the guide

A challenge common to most parent groups is that of finding and keeping a secure funding base. Parent groups that want to provide services and programs to their members and the broader community need money, and therefore need a financial strategy. Taking the time to develop a financial plan is imperative for any group. The financial plan, however, should always grow from the program planning you do. Think about your financial needs and goals in terms of what you want to do with the money you seek.

Developing a Budget

The first step toward sound financial planning is to make a budget. Even if your group operates on a small scale, you have an operational budget and you should know your financial status and begin to keep records of those finances. Even if your group wants to remain small, it is a good idea to determine:

  • what your income is
  • what your operating expenses are
  • that you are aware of all the money you have
  • that you are not spending more than you have
  • that you can account for all the money

In larger groups, financial planning is more complex. Some groups may have a general overall budget, and program budgets for their annual cultural fair and for a series of workshops. Each program category may have its own budget of income and expenses. It is also possible for budgets to overlap, such as when income from the workshops pays the expenses for the cultural fair. You want to make sure you have enough income to at least cover your expenses and maybe even provide a reserve for future needs.

Start by making a budget that reflects your current situation. Then develop a budget that reflects the program goals your group has identified. Think about your group, its programs, activities, and future plans. Make a list of current sources of income for your group (including non-cash income such as donated goods and services) and indicate where the income comes from, the amount, and what it funds. Next, make a list of your expenses. If you have a number of services or programs, develop a budget for each one, and then combine them for your group’s overall financial plan. Located below are two sample budgets—one for the whole group, another for one program.

Annual Group Budget
Staff Salary (half-time group coordinator) 17,500
Benefits (20% of salary) 3,500
Equipment (computer, printer) 2,000
Phone/E-mail/Web Hosting 1,600
Supplies (paper, furniture, treats, etc.) 2,500
Duplicating (copying, newsletter printing) 5,000
Meeting Space 1,200
Speakers Fees 1,000
Total Expenses 34,300
Membership Dues 1,000
Donated Goods/Supplies (printing, meeting space) 5,000
Foundation Grants 15,000
Corporate Donations 7,200
Individuals Donations 2,000
Workshop Fees 4,000
Special Events (bake sale, garage sale) 2,000
Total Income 36,200
Net 1,900


One-Day Conference Budget
Staff Time 5,000
Facility 1,200
Speakers Fees 600
Handouts 800
Food/Breaks 1,500
Total Expenses 9,100
Registration Fees (100 @ $30) 3,000
Donated Space 1,200
Corporate Donation 2,000
Foundation Grant 3,000
Sale of T-Shirts 500
Total Income 9,700
Net 600


Keeping Accurate Financial Records

As part of your financial plan, your group will need to keep accurate financial records. Consider asking a member of your group—preferably someone who has a background in accounting or has general business skills—to volunteer as the bookkeeper or treasurer. Be sure to include the list of products and services provided to your group at no cost, along with other income and expenses. If your group decides to apply for nonprofit status or is ever audited, you will be glad that you have kept accurate records of your financial information. Various financial planning books and software programs can help you organize your financial information and make recordkeeping easier to manage.

Exercise: Preparing to Raise Funds

During your financial planning process, your group (and any interested members) should take the time to discuss answers to the following questions.

  • What types of volunteer and donated resources are available to your group?
  • Will your organization charge membership dues? If so, what will your rates be?
  • Name three funding ideas that your organization has the ability to pull off this year. When is the best time to undertake each activity?
  • List three organizations in your community that you can go to for assistance. Do you have any contacts within these organizations who could help?
  • If you have not incorporated or obtained tax-exempt status, is this a good time to begin the process?


Identifying Funding Sources

After you have identified your program goals and a corresponding budget, you need to identify where the income will come from. Some sources will already exist, but others will require fundraising. A good fundraising program—for a newly formed group or an established group—needs to include diverse sources of possible income for your group. Below is a list of specific ways to raise support for your group:

  • donated services and goods
  • special events
  • membership dues
  • individual donations
  • foundation/corporate support
  • contract for services

The most common funding strategies are dues, donations, donated services and goods, and smaller special events. Applying for foundation and corporate grants is only possible for groups with tax-exempt status, because most grantmaking organizations require applicants to have tax-exempt status. A newly formed group might even decide to apply for tax-exempt status as part of its fundraising plan. See Becoming a Nonprofit for more information.

Donated Services and Goods

Parent groups often take advantage of situations where members or outside supporters volunteer time or offer free services, skills, or products. Below are a few suggestions for ways to save your dollars:

  • Whenever possible, ask people to donate their time or services to your organization. One of your members (or a spouse, partner, or relative) who is an accountant can help with the books, a lawyer can help incorporate your group, or a writer can produce your group’s newsletter.
  • Teens often enjoy helping out by folding, stapling, addressing, mailing, babysitting, or delivering flyers.
  • Members may ask at work to use the office copy machine for free or at a discounted rate. Some local businesses may be willing to donate the use of their copy machine if your group provides the paper, and still others are willing to provide office supplies at discounted rates.
  • You can often have free event announcements placed in company, neighborhood, church, mosque, or synagogue newsletters.
  • Many newspapers have a community section where groups can ask for donations such as computers, printers, and copiers.
  • Merchants are often willing to donate goods and services to local charitable groups. For instance, if you are trying to organize a community event, contact your local grocery store. Ask if they can provide the food or donate gift certificates to raffle off or give as prizes.

Your group’s financial records should include a dollar amount for the value of all donated services and supplies. For example, if your group received donated space worth $300, you would record the $300 as both expense and income (donated goods and services). Accurate record-keeping of this type of in-kind donation will best reflect your actual operational budget and can help if and when you apply for nonprofit status and grants.

The sample letter below may help you compose a letter to request goods and services.

Sample Letter to Request Donated Goods or Services


Dear [contact name]:

Michael turned 13 this fall. He and his sisters, Rosalyn and Alisha, have been waiting for a family to adopt them for more than a year. Each day in foster care they wonder if and when they will find a permanent mom or dad. Nationally, [United States/Canadian figure] foster children will never return to their birth parents, yet many wait years for the security of an adoptive family. This year [organization/ group name] is making a special effort to see that children like Michael find permanent homes. We need your help.

During November—National Adoption Awareness Month—we are sponsoring [name or description of event] to increase awareness about adoption and recruit families to adopt children who need homes. To accomplish our goals of building adoptive families, we need [items such as paper or art supplies, brochure/ poster design, printing, or mailing services]. By donating these items, you can play an important role in building a new family and changing a child’s life. All donations are tax deductible.*

[Your group name] is a nonprofit organization composed of adoptive, foster-adoptive, and foster families, adopted persons, birth parents, adoption professionals, and other adoption advocates. We provide support to the adoption community, offer adoption education and advocacy services to the public, and [personalized description of your services or mission].

Thank you for taking the time to review the enclosed information. [name] will contact you within a week to discuss the project in more detail. If you have any questions in the meantime, please contact [name] at [phone number and e-mail address].




*Note: Businesses can only deduct contributions made to registered nonprofit organizations.

Small Fundraisers

Fundraisers that typically produce a moderate return include arts and craft shows, bake sales, dances, children’s fashion shows, barbecues, picnics, and garage sales. Some groups ask local merchants for products that can be raffled at their fundraiser event. Others have a once-a-year raffle with a large prize such as a television or a weekend vacation. Check your local rules on charity raffles and auctions before you proceed.

Simple Fundraising Ideas

Parent groups can successfully take on any number of smaller, creative activities that raise funds as well as community awareness about adoption and foster care. Your group might:

  • ask group members to host a traveling garage sale—unsold items from one week are moved to another member’s garage for a future sale
  • volunteer at concession stands during professional sporting events and earn a percentage (usually about 10 percent) of the total sales
  • partner with related organizations to sponsor a booth at a large community festival
  • staff a hot dog stand in the parking lot of a local grocery store—the store provides the supplies, the group provides the staff, and proceeds are split

On the other hand, you might think outside the box and host a non-event fundraiser. A Colorado adoption group recently held a non-event, sending out flyers to community members in the region that asked for a donation and promised no raffle tickets, no auctions, and no annual dinner. The flyer highlighted the fact that skipping the event reduced costs and ensured that all donations went directly to finding families for children who have special needs.

Special Events

Another way for your group to raise money is to hold large special events. Possible fundraisers include concerts, benefit dinners, magic shows, dances, and theater evenings. At such events, your group could also coordinate the sale of promotional pins, posters, cards, T-shirts, decals, or bumper stickers to raise money and advertise your group’s mission. Silent auctions can enhance the fundraiser.

Although these events are time-consuming, especially for smaller groups, they can be a good way to bring the group together and draw in others from the community. It is a good idea to select a team to coordinate any big event so that the workload is spread out among several people. If there are individuals within the group’s membership who possess skills you need, call on them to contribute their expertise at reduced fees or no charge.

Individual Donations

Sometimes asking for cash donations is the simplest, most efficient way to raise money. The greatest reward is when your group is handed a check without having to organize and sponsor a big event. Research local businesses and organizations in your area and find out which groups are interested in adoption or children with special needs. Compose a letter to invite them to donate to your general support or for a particular activity such as a workshop.

Your local Lions, VFW, Elks, Kiwanis, Knights of Columbus, and other service clubs are good contacts, as are local community leaders who have been touched by adoption. If there is a college or university in your area, include sororities and fraternities in your list of contacts. Some service organizations will help with fundraising events while others will contribute cash. Do your homework on what these organizations are interested in and know what you want to ask for before you contact them.

Another idea is to send donation request letters to individuals. These letters should include a brief history of your group, the mission, accomplishments, program goals, and needs. The letter should paint a compelling picture—with a family story if possible—of what you do to help vulnerable children and their families. Send the letter to your entire mailing list—including local therapists, school counselors, pediatricians, agencies, social workers, religious organizations, and your members. Even if they don’t donate, you have made them aware of what your group is doing, and maybe they will give next time.

Membership Dues

Collecting membership dues is an excellent way to increase your income and build commitment among members. When deciding what amount to charge, it is wise to allow group members to have a voice in the decision, since people tend to support what they have helped create.


  • Dues should start out as a flat rate for all members.
  • Dues should be sufficient to cover at least some of the ongoing operational expenses.
  • Don’t allow dues to keep anyone who cannot afford them from being a member.

Think creatively about membership with your group. In addition to including adoptive and potential adoptive parents, consider ways to attract outside community groups or organizations at various levels of commitment. Larger groups sometimes create different membership rate categories. The graduated membership rates can include varying products or privileges. Your group could build an incentive for membership by offering such things as a specific number of newsletters, reduced rates for special events or classes, or other benefits.

Foundation, Corporate, and Government Support

Your group may also choose to apply for grants from foundations or corporations, or seek grants or contracts from local, state/provincial, or federal agencies. Remember that tax-exempt groups will be best able to obtain funds from grantmakers.

Identifying Potential Funders

When you research potential funders, note each funder’s geographical area, funding restrictions, and program priority areas.

  • Identify past grants by reading grant guidelines, annual reports, or tax forms such as IRS Form 990-PF.
  • Look for information that tells you what types of groups are eligible for funding, how and when to apply, and how funding decisions are made.
  • Identify the type of programs the organization funds. Some grantmakers provide general operating support, others fund programs but not salaries, and others will fund only specific program areas.
  • Check your local library for a guide to writing grant proposals and for an index of grantmakers. Develop a list of only those organizations that support projects similar to yours. One good resource is the Foundation Center, which offers library collections with books and other materials that list private foundations and corporate giving programs. Contact the Foundation Center at or 800-424-9836 for more information about proposal writing or the 200 Foundation Center library collections around the United States.
  • Federal funds are sometimes available to adoptive parent groups for specific projects. Newsletters and web sites of national adoption organizations might provide information regarding this kind of opportunity.
  • Your local United Way may also be a source of funds. Check its policy on adoptive parent groups.

Proposal Writing

To receive grants from foundations and many corporations, you will often have to write a grant proposal. Below is a list of helpful hints to get you started:

  • Request the funder’s application guidelines. If possible, get the name of the contact person who handles your specific funding area.
  • Follow the guidelines carefully—funders often want a short letter before they accept a full proposal.
  • Ask if anyone in your group has written a grant proposal before or knows someone who has. These individuals may be able to provide your group with valuable advice or might even be willing to write the proposal.
  • Write the proposal exactly the way the contact person or the guidelines state that it should be done. Some funders will send you a clear outline of things to include, but others will not. There are foundations that simply require grantees to submit a basic letter detailing the request. Other foundations and many government agencies require a formal application along with a detailed proposal.
  • Pay attention to the foundation’s deadlines. Some may be very specific, while others may make funding decisions on an ongoing basis.
  • Other things to keep in mind: never assume funders know anything about child welfare or adoption, keep your language simple, proofread your writing, and have someone outside of your group read your proposal and give feedback.
Proposal Outline

If you don’t have detailed proposal guidelines to follow, consider using the following outline:

  • Introduction—Very briefly explain your organization’s mission, the basic nature of the program, and the outcomes you hope to accomplish.
  • Need/Statement of Problem—Explain the community’s needs, related statistics, personal stories, and other details that present a compelling picture of why your program is necessary.
  • Purpose/Objectives—This section should include a description of the organization’s goals, and how it relates to the impact the project will have. Include specific, measurable outcomes (15 families will have support, 20 children will find permanent families, etc.).
  • Approach/Work Plan—This portion of the proposal should identify the services to be offered—how, when, and to whom—and why these services will achieve the outcomes described above.
  • Evaluation—Include activities such as surveys, interviews, or focus groups that can help you make ongoing changes in the program while you operate it, and other activities to determine overall results of your work.
  • Qualifications/Organization Experience—This section allows you to describe your group and its ability to offer this program, as well as identify any staff who will work on the project.
  • Budget—This section should include a detailed line-item budget (salaries, supplies, travel, equipment, printing etc.—see sample on above), a budget narrative, information about other current and potential sources of funding, and how you will continue the program into the future.