What's Next for Annual Giving?

Amy Schiffman
June 24, 2020

Let’s face it, to be a successful fundraising professional, you have to wear many hats and draw from a deep pool of traits and skills. One of the most underrated traits, finally getting some attention during this challenging time, is resilience. That’s why we have spent the last month hosting webinars discussing how to become resilient when it comes to fundraising.

I believe the ability to navigate and recover from difficult situations is critical to the development of our annual fund programs. These gifts provide the operational backbone of our organization and, some would say, help keep the lights on. Our team has been working hard to help our clients refocus and energize their annual campaigns over the past few months--and our work is far from over. I’ve asked our team to share with me the most common questions they are being asked right now so you can get a peek at how we are advising our clients on this critical area of fundraising:

1. To save money, our board would like us to stop sending out mailings and just do everything on social media and email. Do you agree?

Simply put: NO.  

People are home and reading mail now more than ever, and we’ve seen first hand that organizations that decide to move exclusively to email more often than not see a decrease in their annual campaign results. According to Nonprofits Source, campaigns that used direct mail and at least one digital communication had a 118 percent higher response rate compared to using direct mail only. In fact, donors are three times more likely to give online in response to a direct mail appeal than an email according to MobileCause. If you need to cut costs, we recommend looking closely at your mailing lists to see if there is an opportunity to create a more targeted approach based on past donations.

2. Our mission has nothing to do with the pandemic and is not tied to the racial justice movements that are getting so much attention. I’m afraid that people will shift their giving to other causes. What should we do?

It’s understandable that you would make assumptions about donor behavior in times of crisis and even more so when your mission is not closely tied to current events. The reality is that some people will shift their giving. Previous global and national events have demonstrated that there is a shift in giving toward organizations that are on the frontlines of the issue. However, the goal of your annual fund is to build a solid base of loyal donors to your organization. Loyalty is earned through stewardship and communication. Instead of pulling back on your fundraising plans, I encourage you to double-down on your efforts to care for your donors at all levels and focus on retention above all. Most importantly, don’t make assumptions. Talk to people, ask for gifts, and, most importantly, listen to what they have to say. 

3. We typically have found that summer is not a good time for sending out appeals. Since so many things have shifted in the past four months, what do you think?

In years past, launching a big summer campaign has not been a norm for most nonprofits. However, with summer camps and activities canceled, combined with less travel and vacations, more people will be at home taking phone calls and reading mail. A well-planned and thoughtfully structured campaign is certainly worthwhile right now. 

But, let me repeat myself--planning and structure are key. This is not a time to send random eblasts hoping that you might get a big hit from one generous soul. Generally, this is not a good use of staff time and has the potential to turn people away. Remember to think about all possible channels: online, peer-to-peer, mail, and personal (video or phone) solicitations. Every donor has a preference as to how they like to be solicited, so make sure you take a comprehensive approach.

4. We typically host our largest fundraising event in the fall and it makes up almost 50% of our annual fund budget. We plan to cancel it and do not know how to make up the revenue. What do you suggest?

It would be helpful to do a gift charting exercise to see how much money you could raise from your closest, most loyal event supporters. For example, if your event goal is $250,000 net of expenses, how many donors at various giving levels would you need to approach to reach this goal? This exercise is really useful in helping determine how you will spend your time and where to focus your attention. Once you’ve completed this exercise, identify the prospective donors at each level (yes, with an actual name attached to them) and determine how you will approach them to maintain their support even without the event. This would be a great exercise to do in partnership with your board and/or senior leadership to help illustrate what needs to be done to achieve your goals. It may also be a very tangible way for you to demonstrate your resilience in this situation.  

What other questions do you have that we can help address about what is to come in the next few months? Please reach out to Amy with your questions. We are always here to help.

Our team continues to offer nonprofit professionals and volunteers complimentary 30-minute coaching sessions during this uncertain time to help keep your fundraising programs on track.