In my experience, most annual fund appeals consist either of a letter or a brochure/flyer with a short note seeking your support. Whether you are at a large organization or a small operation, asking donors to make charitable contributions is one of the most important things on your annual to-do list. While there are a myriad of variables to consider in regard to your annual fundraising strategy, I have boiled them down to three key elements of successful annual appeals:
1) A Message that Clearly & Concisely Explains Your Organization’s Mission
Don’t underestimate the power – and importance – of a clear and simple message. Whether asking loyalty donors to renew or prospective donors to make a first-time gift, they need to understand what their gift will be supporting. The aforementioned loyalty donors may not need the same depth in the case of support as a prospective donor, who does not have the same knowledge of your organization, but this is something that you can modulate as needed and depending upon your target audience. (N.B. – One assumption that I am making here is that your organization is actively engaged in effective donor stewardship practices, which are showing your donors the impact of their past financial support.)
2) The Perspective of Someone Your Recipients Will Relate To
One of the well-worn maxims of non-profit fundraising is that to be successful you must ask for the right amount, at the right time and have the right person asking. Though this is usually applied to face-to-face fundraising, I think it is even more important for direct mail fundraising efforts. For example, here at International House, after kicking off a multi-million-dollar challenge grant a few years ago, our fall appeal went out from the challenge donor, one of our oldest and most generous alumni. The recipients were not just hearing from the president or a board member about this new opportunity, they were hearing directly from the donor about what inspired the gift and how donor dollars would make this a reality.
3) An Understanding of How Your Donors Normally Respond
Without identifying the trends in response rate over the course of a few years and a good sample of appeals, you can spend each year starting from scratch. Only in the last year have I been more intentional in using hard data to inform our annual fundraising strategy in my current role. The basic information that I compiled was: who authored the appeal (trustee, alumnus/alumna, resident), when it went out, the response rate, total amount raised and the theme. While I know that many fundraisers do not think that they have the time for this kind of analysis, the resulting information can clearly indicate what themes and perspectives have yielded the best and worst results from your donor base. With this knowledge, you can then use more of the successful approaches to raise more money from your donors (of course, while not asking too often).
Do these elements ring true for your annual fundraising efforts? Did I leave out something that has been critical to your past success? Let me know in the comments below.