Are you still depending on an annual appeal – a single annual solicitation – for your individual giving program? Many smaller organizations are. But if you’re one of them, you ought to reconsider. Here’s why.
1. You need money all year
To accomplish your mission, you probably need funds. (If not, congratulations on that gigantic endowment for operating expenses! You can stop reading now.)
Donors give because they want to help accomplish your mission. It’s a way for them to feel part of the good work you do together.
What happens if you can’t fund the mission? You already know the answer, and it’s not pretty. You won’t do much good if your organization closes.
2. Out of sight is out of mind
Don’t kid yourself. Your organization is not a daily concern for most (all?) of your donors. That doesn’t mean they don’t care. But they have lives. Jobs. Family concerns. Other obligations and other joys.
It’s your job to care about your organization and your mission every day, not theirs.
Don’t expect a donor to keep you in mind when they hear from you once a year.
3. Nothing says you only love me for my money like a once a year ask
“It’s time for our annual appeal!” the envelope chirps. Or “Help us reach our annual appeal goal!”
Those aren’t reasons to give. They don’t let donors feel like kind, generous, caring heroes. They make them feel like ATMs.
No fun. No love. No relationship.
4. Your donor works on her schedule, not yours
While direct mail is far from dead, it’s still hit or miss. Email is worse. Do you open every appeal you receive? Do you respond to them all?
Your donors don’t either. For any number of reasons, your annual appeal could arrive at a bad time. Money could be tight. Or they could have too many other appeals they’ve already responded to. Or they could just be too busy to bother that day.
Offer donors multiple opportunities to give throughout the year. You’ll increase the chance that your timing is good.
Don’t ask them to fit into your schedule.
5. Same time next year relationships are rarely successful
Relationships develop with exposure and growing trust. A good fundraising plan uses donor communications to build that trust. Your communications plan should include inspiring opportunities to give, effusive thanks and lots of information about how their gifts are being used.
A once yearly appeal and a tax receipt don’t even begin to do the job.
But, you say:
We don’t have time to do this more than once a year!
You do. You must.
Try eliminating a fundraising event. Or hiring more staff. Or outsourcing.
If you plan better, you can do more. Try several smaller, more targeted mailings instead of one unsegmented one. Work with a great mail house to print and mail the appeals. (It’s worth it.) Get professional help – it’s also worth it.
It’s too expensive!
So is not accomplishing your mission – in a more important way!
If you fundraise better you’ll raise more money.
Yes, it might mean an upfront investment. That’s what smart businesses do – they invest in sales and marketing if they want to make more money. You invest in relationship building if you want to help more people.
With more donors, you’ll have the money.
Donors get too much mail
Donor fatigue is a thing. But it’s more about relevance than frequency.*
If your donors have forgotten who you are because it’s been a year since they heard from you, you’ll be irrelevant. (Did you know half of first-time donors will never give again? And – once you’ve thanked them and reported back on the impact of their giving – asking again within 3 months can stop that slide and make it more likely they’ll become loyal donors?)
If your communications are all about your organization, and not about your donor, then you’ll be irrelevant. And annoying.
Stop with the annual appeal. Put together a good plan. Keep your communications focused on donors and how they can accomplish the mission. And stay in touch to grow those relationships.
*Of course, if a donor asks to receive one mailing a year, respect the request.
I would speak to them, if possible, to find out why. Then you can ask about exactly which mailings are the problem. “I’ll be happy to make sure you only receive one appeal a year. But I’d love to keep sending our newsletter so you can see how your gift is going to work. Would that be OK?” Respect their wishes, always. But don’t make assumptions, either.
Photo credit: Chris Sardegna