Americans are generous and enjoy the sense of being a part of a worthy cause achieved by charitable giving. Even during a pandemic, the Blackbaud Institute’s 2020 Charitable Giving Report found that US charitable giving grew 2% year-over-year in 2020, representing an increase of more than 5% over the last three years. Donation amounts increased, with overall donations averaging $737 (a $120 increase year-over-year) and online donations averaging $177 (a $29 increase year-over-year).
Obtaining and sustaining individual donors is vital to your annual giving campaign. Your annual giving campaign is comprised of strategic development opportunities, helping you meet and exceed your fundraising goals each year. Many different efforts will add to its success, with each step of the campaign requiring donor interaction, solicitations, and stewardship.
You have two main objectives as you develop your annual giving campaign:
- Strengthen donor or membership relations
- Sustain operational expenses
Planning a campaign takes preparation and detail. Focus on these action items as you begin to shape the campaign:
- Set a realistic annual fund goal
- Analyze your current prospects
- Develop a team utilizing all resources and connections
- Solicit prospects and steward their friendship
- Follow-up and thank you
Your development team should focus on the annual giving campaign until they reach the annual fund goal. Consider these three opportunities to help you meet your goal, maximize exposure, and generate success: fundraising appeals, events, and stewardship.
Appeals are direct communication pieces to your prospects and donors via print or electronic delivery. They contain powerful content and create exposure for your organization by educating others on your past, current and future efforts. These solicitations generate awareness of your mission, build relationships, and increase revenue. Here are the most common appeals:
- Mid-year: Typically distributed in June or July, the Mid-year appeal is best sent via direct mail and electronic delivery. Sending out an appeal Mid-year will not affect planned year-end efforts.
- GivingTuesday: GivingTuesday, the global day of giving, is digitally driven. Every year on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, nonprofits around the world develop campaigns to capitalize on this philanthropic day, often with strong messaging on social media.
- Season of Giving: Promote your end-of-year throughout the month of December, electronically and through direct mail.
While there are many ways you can go about shaping your appeal, highlighting an individual situation or story will have the most impact by enhancing your donors’ understanding and increasing their connection to your cause. Once messaging is complete and you’ve crafted a story, ensure the solicitation is delivered in a simple, informative, connective, and uplifting way.
- Delivery: Ensure the message is vibrant and concise. Use simple verbiage and keep statistics to a minimum. Statistics are great motivators, but can also alter the voice of an appeal. Readers need to easily understand the message to connect to it. A confused donor will disregard an appeal, resulting in no gift.
- Mission: The voice of your appeal must prominently support your mission throughout the piece. Your organization’s mission and objectives should be clear to the reader. If the design allows, directly state your mission on the appeal.
- Personalization: Personalization is key to making your donors feel important and connected to your cause. Simple additions such as the donor’s name, last donation date, and the amount of their last gift can have lasting impact. Personalization is a must for all major gift solicitations.
- Imagery: People naturally look at pictures before reading text. Capitalize on this by using images to tell your story and enhance the donors’ emotions. Select photos that invoke feelings of empathy and joy to develop drive and energy to support your cause. Comparative pictures (before and after) work well to achieve this.
- Donor Impact: Donors like to feel connected and valuable to causes they believe in. Focusing on donor impact creates ownership and connection, ultimately increasing giving. Explain how donor support is critical to your mission, and highlight donor impact in your story.
- Donation Amounts: Engage your donors by showing and telling them how you are utilizing their money. Add increments to the end of your appeal because dollar amounts connected to a tangible impact guide understanding of what donors can influence. Keep amounts and explanations simple, and use examples.
- Convenience: Accessibility is vital; make it easy for your donors to give. Your website should reflect your current campaign, and your donation button or page must be highly visible. Include options, such as recurring gift, so donors have the choice to give again automatically. Direct mail appeals should include a return envelope. It’s no secret that social media is incredibly effective: Don’t forget to include a link that leads directly to your donation page. Donors have little patience, and if it’s difficult to donate, your organization will miss out on funds.
- Execution: Appeals are endorsed by many people in many ways. Leadership and development are the mainstay of appeals, but other staff, board members and volunteers must work collectively to drive the effort. In addition to face-to-face connections, appeals can be sent via email, promoted on social media, introduced by phone and mailed directly to donors.
Events are an exciting way to give your campaign visibility. Hosting an event can be challenging, especially when deciding whether to do a virtual, in-person, or hybrid event. However, consider these methods to increase success and profitability. Develop different types of events appealing to many levels of donors to maximize attendance.
- Comfortable: Because of the pandemic, your guests may have different comfort levels of being out and about, so give them multiple ways to participate in a setting that makes them feel at ease.
- Fun: Allow your guests to be amazed while creating a fun environment. Building experiences that generate a buzz will sustain attendance for your next affair.
- Creative: Develop a unique atmosphere and treat guests to out-of-the-box encounters that everyone will remember. If possible, include a theme that will heighten the originality and allow guests to get involved.
- Customize: Be resourceful, and make sure your event is mission-focused. Details, small and large, should mirror your organization’s purpose, and guests should feel aligned with your message.
- Committee: Build a committee specifically to increase ticket sales and recognize their efforts on your social media posts, website and printed collateral. Developing a name, such as “Friends of the Festival,” will intensify their purpose, strengthening their drive and increasing exposure. They are your advocates and should feel appreciated.
Every event serves the same purpose: face time with your donors while exposing your mission. Bonding with prospects and donors is imperative, whether it’s formal or informal, to deepening your relationship. Donors tend to let loose at events, and become carefree while enjoying the moment. This is your pathway into their world, allowing for an easier stewardship process
Each donor is unique and no two like to be stewarded the same way. Your interaction and communication plan will need to be broad and diverse. Stewardship is the key to successful donor retention. It’s easier to keep a donor than to acquire a new one. Ensure your stewardship plan is impactful through acknowledgement, designation, notes, communication, and low-cost touches.
- Acknowledgement: Recognize gifts within three days of receiving since a delayed response can be perceived as an insult. Some donors prefer to remain anonymous, while other donors might want the publicity to go toward their company, but one thing is constant: All donor requests should be respected. Acknowledgement levels mostly fall into three categories: major gift, mid-level gift, and lower-level gift. The dollar amount for each category is customized to your organization’s donor base.
- Major Gift: Phone call and thank you letter
- Mid-level Gift: Personalized email and thank you letter
- Lower-level Gift: Thank you letter with hand written note
- Designation: Ensure that each donation is used to the fullest intent of the donor. Restricted or unrestricted, it’s imperative to honor the donor’s wishes.
- Take notes: Every organization has turnover, but keeping detailed records will guarantee donor satisfaction. Appropriate software will help your development staff succeed.
- Communication: Keeping donors engaged is simple! To sustain your donors, make sure to follow-up on how their funds were used and remain in communication. When a donor can physically see a difference, they are more likely to give a second time, third time, and eventually become a recurring donor.
- Low-Cost Touches: Acknowledging milestones in your major donor’s lives is an inexpensive way to keep the connection alive. Send them a birthday card or congratulations on a new family member, for example. Every time you contact your donors, it shouldn’t be about money. Let them know you care and want to share their experiences.
Your annual campaign is your primary route to raising the funds necessary to accomplish your organization’s mission. With careful planning, other benefits will arise throughout the year. Campaigns expose your mission and lead to greater awareness in your community and in the news. This is your most important campaign of the year – remember to engage your donors and share stories of positive impact.
Good luck with your annual giving campaign in 2021!
This blog post was originally published in 2017, but has been updated to reflect the most updated 2021 charitable giving data and trends.
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