It is an unfortunate fact that many nonprofits, in the midst of juggling special events, board meetings, grant applications, barely manage to get that pesky end-of-year fundraising letter in the mail. When they do, they call their individual fundraising done until next year, check it off the list, and move on to the next pressing task.
Does this sound like your nonprofit? Do you call your once-a-year fundraising letter your “annual campaign?”
If so, you are not alone. [Don’t feel too bad: If you even mail a regular annual fundraising appeal you are well ahead of many nonprofits!]
Even large organizations or nonprofits with dedicated development staff make the crucial error of labeling their annual appeal or membership renewal mailing their “annual campaign,” choosing instead to focus on special events and grant seeking as their primary fundraising program.
One appeal is not an annual giving program.
You may be asking then, “What the heck does make a good ‘annual giving program’ anyway? If it isn’t our end-of-year mailing, what is it?”
An annual giving program is a year-round plan of activities designed to renew your past and current donors, upgrade their giving levels, and acquire new donors. A thorough plan should include activities such as:
- Stewardship communications plan (printed newsletters, e-news, and ‘thank you’ letters or calls)
- Lapsed donor renewal plan
- Donor upgrade strategies (for example: monthly donor solicitation or new major gifts prospects)
- A year-end renewal mini-campaign (which includes direct mail appeal and e-appeal series)
- Major Gifts communication and solicitation plan (Major Gifts can be annual gifts, too)
But wait! There’s more…
- Corporate and organizational communications and solicitation plan (will companies receive different communications than individual donors?)
- Evaluation and documentation.
Clearly, this is a lot of work. It is a lot of time and a lot of money. It may also be a huge challenge to learn how exactly to implement these tasks. For instance, how do you go about upgrading your donors? What does that even look like?
But It is worth the investment. Having a well planned strategic annual giving program is important. Really important. Without it, you are likely:
- losing donors because you aren’t paying enough attention to them.
- missing larger gifts simply because you haven’t asked them to give at that level.
- causing yourself stress trying to remember when your appeal letter or newsletter is due.
- unaware that right now in your database are several small-gift, long-term donors who would be willing and able to make a major gift this year with some simple extra attention.
- spending unnecessary money on your mailings.
Yikes! So then, what to do?
Start small. Pick one or two things to incorporate that will improve your individual fundraising program.
For example, if you already have your year-end appeal out the door (Good for you! It is an election year, after all), you could test a follow-up mailing to your best non-responding donors. Or you could try and test your first email-appeal/ integrated campaign.
If you already do a periodic newsletter, perhaps you could try an electronic version, coordinate strategically with your other annual giving activities, or incorporate a ‘thank you’ activity as a part of its distribution.
You could establish a solid plan (tasks, budget, deadlines) for the upcoming quarter.
Over the coming months at Smart Annual Giving, we’ll be delving beyond the “what” tasks you should do, into “how” to actually make them happen and get it rolling.
There is obviously more than one way to tackle your annual giving activities. What makes sense for one organization may not always work for another. Hopefully, you can at the very least get started exploring and experimenting to find what works best for you.