It’s not an exaggeration to say that a nonprofit’s annual fund is the lifeblood of the organization. Whether a nonprofit needs to cover operational costs or give a much-needed boost to a specific campaign, the annual fund is there to help.
A robust annual fund also opens the door for more daring, high-risk-high-reward campaigns throughout the year by giving your nonprofit a buffer to fall back on.
This year, to build that buffer for your nonprofit to take risks in the name of your mission, you need to grow a healthy annual fund at the same time. This combination of slow, steady annual fundraising and sprinting capital campaigns is the path to sustainable funding, but the right balance is hard to reach.
Luckily for you, we’ve compiled the best strategies to strengthen your annual fund in the coming year:
- Plan ahead, and then plan some more
- Diversify your options for giving channels
- Revamp your annual fund appeals materials
- Customize your solicitations with segmentation
- Focus on stewardship before, during, and after
Before we get started, make sure you’re refreshed on the basics of annual fund campaigns with MobileCause’s ultimate guide.
Ready to take on annual fundraising with a vengeance? Let’s get into it!
1. Plan ahead, and then plan some more
It seems like a common-sense strategy — good planning will lead to fundraising success. But of course, nothing is ever quite as easy as it sounds.
The trick with planning an annual fundraiser is to build in the right balance of structure and flexibility. You want to create meaningful, measurable goals and ensure that you hold the nonprofit accountable for reaching them. But you also want to take into account the volatility of a campaign of this duration.
A few key ways to accomplish this balance are:
- Bringing on the right people. You’ll need a core team comprising multiple skill sets, including fundraising, marketing, accounting, and more, to ensure the team can pivot to address new challenges as they arise. A dedicated staff member or a fundraising specialist can guide your team and check in regularly to ensure goals are met.
- Launching child campaigns. Accomplishing your overall annual fundraising goal in one sprint would be miraculous, given how much can happen during the span of the campaign. Instead, plan multiple smaller, more targeted campaigns. It’s much easier to bounce back from an unsuccessful child campaign than an entire annual fund disaster.
- Setting a calendar. Speaking of check-ins, your annual fundraising team will need a dynamic document to keep everyone on the same page with deadlines, child campaigns, and overall goals. One leader should administer the calendar, while every other team member should be able to suggest small adjustments along the way.
It’s impossible to plan for the unexpected. Who knows what could happen to derail your campaign at any stage? But by building in flexibility from the very beginning, you ensure that your annual campaign can withstand a few bumps along the road.
2. Diversify your options for giving channels
The math for this tip is pretty simple: the more opportunities you give your supporters to donate to your annual fund, the more money you can raise.
Of course, that logic only works to a certain point. You can offer text-to-donate options, but if your supporters would rather mail you a check, you’re not actually getting any more donations from that new giving channel. Plus, it takes time and money to set up new opportunities for giving, and even more to train your volunteers and staff how to operate any new software.
So before you rush into your next campaign, be sure you’re only offering the giving channels your donors will actually use and setting them up for success with those giving channels.
First, get a list of your options. Look at what you already offer, what other nonprofits similar to yours offer, and new trends and technologies. Gather as much information about these giving channels as possible, especially if new software will be involved.
Second, it’s time to determine which giving channels are best for your specific donors. The best way is simply to ask them, directly and indirectly. Send out surveys, conduct focus groups, and dig into data from your previous campaigns.
Third, once you’ve decided what you want to offer, look into the software solutions you might need to support your new methods of giving. Check out Double the Donation’s reviews of the best nonprofit software to get an idea of which new software solution would be the best for your annual fundraising.
Fourth, with decisions made and any new software purchased, market your new processes widely. Otherwise, how will your donors know about the changes you’ve made. Make sure your “ways to give” page on your website is up-to-date, and consider live demos of new software or processes at your live events.
Following these four steps, you not only give your supporters more opportunities to support your campaign, you also ensure that the options you provide them are the best ones for them and for your organization.
3. Revamp your annual fund appeals materials
Of course, no matter how easy you make it for your donors to support your annual campaign, they won’t contribute if they don’t feel inclined to do so.
How you construct your annual fundraising appeals — the letters and emails you send to your supporters asking for their donations — can make or break your annual fundraising efforts.
A good annual fund appeal features:
- Personal, compelling stories. As proud as your nonprofit is (and should be!) of numbers and statistics, what grabs donors’ hearts is stories. Profile your beneficiaries or tell your nonprofit’s origin story to humanize the donation process.
- Clear outline of needs. Offer suggested donation amounts and include the impact of each. Showing your donors exactly what can be accomplished with each gift encourages them to give.
- Explicit giving instructions. Don’t leave your donors in the dark! Include a QR code and URL to your online donation form, the phone number and code for text donations, and phone numbers and a remittance envelope for more traditional donors.
Another great feature of the best appeals is personalization. You wouldn’t address a board member the same way you would a volunteer, or a lapsed donor from last year.
To learn more about the impact of personalization, keep reading to the next section!
4. Customize your solicitations with segmentation
Which of the following calls to action would you be most likely to respond to with a donation: Valued donor: Please consider giving to our annual campaign.
Jane: Thank you for supporting the shoe drive last year with your generous donation of six new pairs of children’s shoes. We could use your help again, this time for our annual campaign.
The second one, of course!
Personalization makes your donors feel appreciated and therefore more likely to support your nonprofit again in the future. You show them, by taking the time to include their preferred name and other details such as past giving, that you value a relationship with them for more than their wallet.
Beyond the value of personalization to make donations more likely, customization in the form of segmentation can vastly increase your annual campaign donations.
There’s a reason that nonprofit best practices recommend including suggested giving amounts on donation forms. Especially for annual campaigns with large but often general goals, it’s hard for donors to decide how much to contribute. By providing suggested giving amounts, you show your donors how much you need — and imply that everyone else is also donating those amounts.
But does it make sense to offer giving amounts that span the entire breadth of average gift size? Would you want to provide the same suggested giving levels to recent college graduates as successful business executives? Of course not!
Using the data you store in your donor database, segment your donors into groups based on their average gift size. Then, send customized solicitations to each group, offering between 3 and 10 suggested donation amounts that start at the average gift size for that segment of donors and runs to or above the highest gift.
5. Focus on stewardship before, during, and after
Because annual fundraisers run for so long and often concurrently with shorter, more specific campaigns, it’s easy to lose steam.
To keep your donors from giving up, you need to ensure that your stewardship strategies are up to par before, during, and after the campaign.
Every supporter who contributes to your nonprofit in any way should always receive a thank you note of some kind.
The time and effort you put into your thank you messages will vary widely. Volunteers could be invited to a free lunch after helping with an event or a group volunteering day; small- to mid-sized donors should receive email and handwritten thank you notes; and major donors should be able to look forward to perks at your next fundraising event as well as their names on donor recognition plaques.
If you make acknowledgement a habit, you’re sure to build a supporter base that’s dedicated to the success of your annual campaign before it even begins.
Child campaigns are great opportunities to keep donors engaged in the middle of a long annual fundraiser. Send thank you messages and updates to everyone who participates.
Social media can be a useful tool during your annual campaign as well. Setting up automatic updates about the progress of your campaign is easy with social media scheduling tools and templates. Don’t forget to tag your supporters in your posts!
When your annual fund campaign comes to a close, celebrate! Invite your contributors to a party with all the pomp you can arrange on your budget.
The point of an end-of-campaign party isn’t just to celebrate. It also gives you the chance to have facetime with your donors and encourage them to give again next year.
This year, make your annual fundraiser your best one yet! Follow these tips to set your nonprofit out on the path to success.
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About the Author
Christy Noel is a digital fundraising expert, marketer, and the VP of Digital Marketing Services at MobileCause – mobile and online fundraising platform. When she’s not working at MobileCause, Christy can be found helping animal rescue organizations or volunteering on a nonprofit board.
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