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5 Annual Fund Strategies to Reach (& Exceed!) Your Goals

5 Annual Fund Strategies

Every nonprofit knows the importance of a successful annual fund campaign. Your annual fund helps your nonprofit set up plans for the coming year and gives your organization stability by assuring you can pay your overhead costs. 

But how can you create new strategies to re-energize your existing supporters, make connections with new supporters, and maximize your fundraising strategy for organizational success?

Let’s break down our 5 best practices for reaching or even exceeding your annual fund campaign goals: 

  1. Set the right annual fundraising goal. 
  2. Understand the kind of support you need. 
  3. Build meaningful relationships with annual fund prospects. 
  4. Emphasize corporate philanthropy in your annual fundraising. 
  5. Lay the groundwork for next year’s gifts. 

By optimizing these tips with your nonprofit’s own brand and voice, you can build more meaningful relationships, achieve your fundraising goals, and set your nonprofit up for a great next year. Let’s get started! 

The Right Goal

1. Set the right annual fundraising goal.

Setting your overall campaign goal can be difficult, but never fear. You only need two numbers and two steps to set an ambitious yet appropriate fundraising goal. The breakdown is easy: 

  • Last year’s operating costs for your nonprofit. While your nonprofit might not have the current fundraising capacity to raise your entire overhead before the year begins, it helps to have a solid goal to work toward in the future. You don’t want to aim too much lower than your costs, either. 
  • Your fundraising total from previous annual fund campaigns. You already know you were able to raise that amount of money for your cause in the past, which means you may be able to do so in the future, too. Plus, this number gives you an estimate for how much you actually need for operating costs.

Armed with these two numbers, you can now move forward in your planning process with your team. The next two steps are simple: 

  1. With your fundraising team, develop a preliminary goal. This goal should be based on the two numbers mentioned earlier. This goal isn’t definite, but gives your team a starting point to consider whether or not you have the necessary resources and support to achieve your campaign goal. 
  2. Conduct a planning and feasibility study to cement your goal. These studies aren’t only for capital campaigns! With your team and perhaps the added expertise of a fundraising consultant, conduct interviews with your board, your key stakeholders, and your community to gauge the feasibility of your campaign and make any necessary adjustments. 

Setting the right annual fundraising goal is key to the success of your campaign. Set it too high and you’ll fall short, too low and you’ll fail to inspire your supporters with a challenge. Now that you have your goal, it’s time to break that goal down into manageable bites.

Understand the Necessary Support

2. Understand the kind of support you need.

Having a definite financial goal to reach for during your annual fund sets your organization up for success. And once you have a key figure, you can break that down further to better understand what specific audience you’ll need to solicit to reach it. 

Let’s talk about the three levels of giving and what they each mean for your organization’s annual fund campaign. 

Lower-level gifts.

When someone becomes a supporter of your organization for the first time, odds are they opened the door with a lower-level gift. While the bottom 70% of all gifts are lower-level gifts, they only account for 15-25% of your entire fundraising goal. 

These gifts are easier to steward, but that doesn’t mean they’re not critical to your fundraising campaign! 

Mid-range gifts.

The middle 20% of your gifts come from mid-range givers, and their gifts account for 15-25% of your overall fundraising goal. These gifts are larger than average and usually come from people who have previously engaged with your organization. 

Major gifts. 

Major gifts come from contributors who are seriously engaged with your organization and mission. These gifts are rarer than the others, and should account for around 60% of your total fundraising goal. 

When planning your annual fund campaign, consider how many of each level of giver you’ll need to reach your goal and plan accordingly. You should always plan to solicit more supporters than you’ll need, because not every soliticiation will be successful. 

Do you need a refresher course on soliciting major gifts before conducting your annual campaign? Read this guide to major gifts from the ClearView CRM blog to get started!

Build strong relationships

3. Build meaningful relationships with annual fund prospects.

Now that you know how many supporters at each level you’ll need to solicit for your annual fund campaign, it’s time to get started building relationships with those individuals so you can inspire them to give to your cause. 

The first place to look for prospects is within your own CRM, or constituent relationship management software. Within your CRM should be data regarding giving levels, frequency, and to which campaigns your supporters previously gave. 

Use this data to find prospects for your annual fund campaign! These people have demonstrated their commitment to your organization and your mission, and you know enough about their giving habits to reach out through their preferred medium and make an ask. 

The most promising demographic of supporters is donors who have remained at the same giving level for multiple years. If someone has given the same gift for the past five years, this is the year to reach out and ask them to increase their gift! 

Experience has shown that even asking for a supporter to double their donation has produced outstanding results.

Next, your fundraising team should conduct prospect research for members of your community who aren’t currently engaged with your nonprofit. 

Prospect research is a fundraising tactic whereby fundraising professionals conduct research using publicly available data to better target their solicitation efforts towards individuals who are both willing and able to give. 

Prospect research usually involves looking at data points such as: 

  • Real estate holdings.
  • SEC holdings. 
  • Salary, if public. 
  • Previous history of giving to philanthropic or political causes.  

These tidbits of information give your fundraising team a glimpse into a person’s ability to give, as well as what causes inspire them to give. 

For example, if someone with a large house and vacation home has a history of giving to nonprofits with missions similar to yours, they might be a good prospect for a major gift solicitation. This is because they display both capacity and affinity for philanthropy. 

Emphasize corporate philanthropy

4. Emphasize corporate philanthropy in your annual fundraising.

Have you ever thought that you could easily double the impact of your fundraising efforts just by marketing corporate philanthropy to your supporters? 

Every year, millions of dollars earmarked for corporate philanthropy sit unclaimed because supporters of nonprofit organizations don’t know that they’re eligible for corporate philanthropy initiatives like matching gift programs.  

Through matching gift programs, supporters can double the impact of their own gifts, without having to reach into their own pockets. All they have to do is submit a matching gift request to their employer, who then verifies the gift with the nonprofit and writes a check. 

Marketing corporate philanthropy to your low-level and mid-range supporters is a quick and easy way to maximize the impact of your fundraising strategy and free up more time to solicit those all-important major gifts. 

So how can you educate your supporters about matching gifts

  • Include access to a matching gifts database on your website, in your emails, on your giving form, or in your thank-you follow-up notes! 
  • Include information about matching gift programs in your marketing collateral for distribution during your campaign.

The primary reason supporters don’t take advantage of matching gift programs is that they don’t know that they exist. When you demonstrate to your supporters how they can help your nonprofit more than they already have with very little effort, they’ll be sure to submit matches and help you reach your annual fund goal. 

Lay the Groundwork

5. Lay the groundwork for next year’s gifts.

The work of an annual fund is never over: even when this year’s campaign is done, it’s probably time to start planning for next year’s! 

Your annual fund campaign strategies have to be sustainable, so that your nonprofit can rely on your community’s support year after year. 

To build the strongest community of supporters that you can, consider including some of the following techniques in this year’s annual fund plan: 

  1. Engage with your supporters, even after they’ve made their gift. Of course, the first step of this is always the thank-you note, but the key to sustainable giving is stewardship. Invite your supporters to see your office and witness how your staff is serving your mission day by day, and distribute your nonprofit annual report to anyone who gave to your annual fund campaign.
  2. Ask for multi-year commitments. Instead of only asking for one year, ask for two or even three years’ worth of support! This strategy helps build a long-term relationship with the donor, frees up your solicitation team to broaden its portfolio, and stabilizes your annual fund for multiple years. 
  3. Use your CRM to the best of your abilities so that you’re able to build on the relationships you might have created during your solicitation process. Even prospects who said no for this campaign are a valuable resource for the future. They might be more open to giving to a different campaign, or they could introduce you to friends who might be more inclined to give. 

If you’re considering ways to engage supporters in the new year, establish giving societies for your supporter population! Segment your donors by giving level, and then create semi-exclusive clubs that come with perks of membership.

This strategy also allows you to more easily steward donors into upgrading. Reach out to donors who are reaching the upper limit of one club, and ask them to upgrade to the next level. They’ll love the excitement of moving into a new club and receiving the new benefits, in addition to the pride they’ll feel in helping your nonprofit with its mission.

No matter what tactic you use, remember that an annual fund campaign, and overhead fundraising in general, is a marathon and not a sprint. Laying the groundwork for the future and focusing on productivity, balance, and sustainable fundraising strategies is key to your nonprofit’s long-term success. 

Annual fund campaigns are a vital part of your nonprofit’s yearly cycle, so ensure that you’re making the most of them with these 5 best practices. 

And for more help with planning your annual fund, check out this guide to annual fund appeals from Averill Fundraising Solutions! 

This blog is an original work of the attributed author and is shared with permission via Foundant Technologies' website for informative purposes only as part of our educational content in the philanthropic sector. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this text belong solely to the author and do not necessarily reflect Foundant's stance on this topic. If you have questions or comments, please reach out to our team.

About the Author

Bob Happy brings nearly 35 years of experience providing expert leadership and direction to clients across the not-for-profit sector to his current role as President of Averill Solutions. Before forming Averill Solutions, Bob served as the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the nation’s largest fundraising firm. He has mentored hundreds of professional fundraising practitioners and many have joined him at Averill Fundraising Solutions.

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