Occasionally I hear from people who would like to fundraise to help someone who has financial needs because of a serious medical situation such as a cancer diagnosis or transplant.  Even with health insurance, facing the financial responsibility of paying for medical treatment can become overwhelming.

Here are seven guidelines to follow when raising funds for individuals:

1. Research all of your options

When a family is facing a financial hardship due to a serious medical situation, it is important to do some research before jumping into a fundraising effort. After exhausting health insurance options find out about other organizations that may be able to help:

  1. Hospital assistance – Speak to social services at the hospital who may be aware of financial resources, foundations and sources of financial help.
  2. Nonprofit health care – Is there a nonprofit hospital or clinic where the patient can get all or part of the care needed?  Speak to your physician about referrals to appropriate facilities.
  3. Government agencies – Your contact at the hospital may be able to refer you to government agencies that can provide services.
  4. Nonprofit organizations – Contact local charities and food banks that may offer “stop gap” assistance. There are some charities that are specifically set up to provide financial assistance for medical care. For example, The Chronic Disease Fund helps underinsured patients with chronic disease by providing funds to cover co-pays.  Heroes for Children is another organization that provides assistance to families within the state of Texas, with children (0-22 yrs of age) battling cancer.
  5. Family stay – Find out if there is a Ronald McDonald House or other family stay facility near the hospital which has free or low cost accommodations.  This can ease the financial burden when our of town hospital stays are required.

2. Be aware of legal issues

Donations that are given to an individual and not a registered charity are not tax deductible. It is best to let people know upfront that their donation is going to an individual and therefore there is no tax benefit for them.

Friends, family, co-workers and extended acquaintances may be willing to give out of pocket just because they care about the person and not be as concerned about tax benefits. People who are not acquainted with the individuals involved may be reluctant to donate to someone who is not a registered non profit organization.

If possible, partner with a non profit organization that can receive designated funds for the individual. Then donations can be designated as tax deductible by those who make donations.  A good place to start is a community foundation that serves your area.  (If you are not aware of one near you, just do a websearch using the words community foundation plus your city name.)

The Transplant Fund helps transplant and catastrophic injury patients afford critical but uninsured medically related expenses through fundraising guidance, patient support and resources, as well as financial assistance.  The Children’s Organ Transplant Association is another organization that provides financial support for transplant patients. A local community foundation may also be able to help manage your fund account.  Just Google the words community foundation plus your city name to find one near you.

3. Understand what motivates donors

Many people will want to make sure that all of their donation goes directly to help the person in need. Donation request letters are especially good for this reason, as there are very little expenses unlike events and product sales.

Also realize that fundraising may not be appropriate in every situation. Medical expenses must be quite extensive to warrant fundraising. For example, asking for help when a child gets a cast for a broken arm will not likely motivate people to donate because the need is not as great as a life threatening illness.

4. Appeal to individuals, not businesses

When seeking donations for an event appeal to individuals rather than directly to businesses. Corporations are usually concerned with making sure their donation is going to an organization that has government oversight, as well as a group that has the tax deductible donation benefits.

Your circle of friends may be able to get donations from their place of business since they have influence with their employers that outsiders do not have.  So try to appeal to businesses through their employees.

5. Fundraising events rally the community

Fundraising events such spaghetti dinners can also be a good way to raise money.  As with all fundraising events it is important to get just about every thing donated, and even more so when fundraising for individuals – food, location, decorations, and prizes. Survey your extended circle of contacts and ask them to donate supplies and prizes.

6. Make it easy for people to donate

Finally, make it as easy for people to donate. Offer as many ways as possible for people to help the family that is in need of money for their medical expenses. Explain how donations can be made and include contact information on all materials.

  • Set up a separate bank account just for donations
  • In letter appeals give the name and address of the bank location(s) in case people want to make donations directly at the bank
  • In letter requests include a pre-addressed envelope for those who would like to donate by mail
  • Fundraising events offer multiple opportunities for people to donate anonymously such as donation boxes, raffles, and opportunities to “round up” ticket purchases.


Your Support is Greatly Appreciated!

Three Ways to Help:

1. Make a deposit to the bank account set up especially to help defray medical costs. Go to National Bank, 1500 Travis Street, Anytown USA and let them know that you would like to make a deposit to the account of Jane Smith.

2. Mail your donation with check made out to Jane Smith to 7859 Oak Strett, Anytown USA

3. Attend our spaghetti dinner event on January 24, 2006. Tickets are $7 for adults and $3 for children 12 and under. Besides the dinner there will also be raffles, games and other fun activities for the whole family. If you have any questions about the fundraising efforts to help Jane Smith, please contact her friend Sally Johnson at 210-555-1234.

7. Online fundraising to reach out of town supporters

One way to make donating easy for those who want to help is to set up a way to accept donations online.  Then people who live near and far can donate securely online.  If you are working with a nonprofit to manage your fund then speak with them about this first.  They may have an online donation system already set up.  If they don’t then you’ll need to work with them to set one up.

While there are many online donation providers, many will only work with registered charities.  So this is a question you need to ask straight away when researching these options.  One provider that helps people raising funds for individuals is GiveForward.  This system will let you raise funds for any cause, including medical expenses.  One family’s efforts to raise funds online for a kidney transplant was recently featured in the Chicago Tribune.


When raising funds for individuals keep these factors in mind. Exhaust all usual financial aid services before going the fundraising route. Be mindful of legal and financial implications of fundraising, and plan fundraising activities have the lowest cost and most impact so that funds raised can go directly to those persons in need.

Posted on 05 May 2009

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