Funding Models

“I Have A Dream” Foundation programs have been funded in many different ways. The ini­tial IHDF classes in New York City were all funded by individual philanthropists who invested in insurance annuities, which are secure investment vehicles with a fixed, annu­al return. Use of the annuities required each individual donor to set aside a substantial initial endowment. Annual disbursements paid by the insurance company contributed to annual operating costs and tuition payments. Most individual donors also made additional contribu­tions to supplement the annuity disbursement. This approach required a large initial investment, but it also limited the need for additional fundraising.

Other programs have been funded through annual pledges by larger groups of people along with other outside sources of funds. The “I Have A Dream” program in Boulder, CO, for instance, has 23 cohorts and many of these cohorts are largely supported by $3,000 donations pledged annually for a total of 12 years by more than 30 contributors secured through an annual Dream-Maker Luncheon and through individual asks.  A few of their cohorts were funded with larger annual pledges from fewer donors (12 people pledging $12,000 a year for 12 years), and they had several donors fund the bulk of the funding needed for an entire Dreamer cohort.  Additional funds needed for administration and other program support costs are raised through foundations, corporations, city, county, federal and state government, special events and direct mail appeals. Multi-donor structures make it possible for a group of successful professionals to join together to fund a cohort when they could not have afforded the financial commitment alone. 

Be forewarned when soliciting pledges for support that some who pledge may not actually make the payment(s). Ask those who make a pledge to sign a written agreement acknowledging their commitment to provide financial support. The formality helps ensure that the money is received. Also be sure to oversubscribe: collect more pledges than you may actually need to meet the program’s expenses.

Another means of financing a program is through annual fund-­raising activities. Programs in some cities raise an initial investment to cover the tuition fund and start-up operations. Ongoing fund-raising activities such as annual galas and solicitation of corporate and individual donations are used to raise the remaining annual operating funds. In these cases, the program should have several reliable sources of funding or commitments from individual donors to meet any deficiencies should annual fund-raising efforts fall short of the program’s needs. See the sections below for some fundraising ideas. 

If a program chooses to finance its work through an ongoing fundraising campaign, consider organizing a group whose sole responsibility is to raise money for the program.IHDF-Chicago, for example, organized  a junior associates commit­tee that routinely raised $100,000 each year with minimal demands placed on the time of local IHDF staff members.

Fundraisers can also be a good method for finding new volun­teers and publicizing the IHDF Program, but it takes lots of time to plan, organize, and execute them. If a program doesn’t have the support of a dedicated fundraising board or group, try to make sure fund­ing is in place before launching a program.

Fundraising Ideas

Fundraising is an important skill, and volumes have been written about how to cultivate or employ various kinds of funding sources-individual donors, corporate givers, foundations, special events, and so forth. Most local IHDF programs use some or all of these fundraising methods in their own operations. This list of ideas is meant to provide examples of the types of fundraising efforts of local Programs/Affiliates. See the resource list for this chapter for publications that may help hone fundraising skills.


Many “I Have A Dream” affiliates host annual galas honoring an individual or organization who represents the highest level of commitment, leadership, and service to helping children reach their fullest potential. Each year may feature a number of distinguished honorees, who can help attract guests and bring visibility to the affiliate. Tables can be sponsored by local businesses, and the Board may appoint a gala chair to help recruit donors and organize the event. The gala itself may include auctions, with event tickets, sports memorabilia, or even vacations donated by board members and local businesses. In recent years, programs have sought to attract younger crowds by hosting smaller, cocktail party style events or a gala “after party.” In recent years, for example, Dreamer alumni in New York have helped organize and even DJed a lower cost fundraising event after the annual gala, with discounts offered at local restaurants to keep guests in the area after the workday. 

Local Partnerships 

One IHDF has mastered the art of becoming the charitable beneficiaries of events organized by other civic groups looking for a good cause. A local fraternity plans Casino Nights and donates the proceeds to IHDF. This is a great way to raise money with little effort on the part of IHDF staff. 

Activity-based events 

Holding an event at a location with a fun diversion can both help draw a crowd and save planners a lot of effort. Examples have included golf tournaments and sporting events, which can be supplemented through raffles, auctions, and prizes. Some other ideas include hosting a viewing party of a film or award show, a standup comedy event, or a paint night! This is also a great way to engage a junior board, young professionals, or Dreamer alumni. 

Themed events & auctions 

IHDF-Chicago’s advisory board of young professionals organized an event at which dates were auctioned off to the highest bidders. Offerings ranged from dinners at local restaurants, theater or sports tickets, and even getaways with airfare and accommodations, all donated by individual and corporate supporters. The evening included a cocktail reception and raised about $50,000 per year. It became an annual attraction!

Online crowdfunding 

Another great way to cultivate donations from the community is through online crowdfunding. The National “I Have A Dream” Foundation has a subscription to, which is made available to affiliates to create their own crowdfunding profiles. This, and similar platforms, will allow you to choose specific campaigns or funding goals, and solicit donations by sharing the campaign  with your networks via email and social media. 


Foundation and federal grants are another great way to build funding capacity. You can learn more here. 

Fundraising Materials & Templates



Editable One-Pager

Fundraising Resources

Asking Styles: Harness Your Personal Fundraising Power

Fundraising for Social Change

Making Money with Donor Newsletters

Mobile for Good: A How-To Fundraising Guide for Nonprofits

Revolution in the Mailbox: Your Guide to Successful Direct Mail Fundraising

‘Building Donor Loyalty’

‘How to write fundraising materials that raise more money’