To create a successful annual giving program, you need to think beyond the once a year appeal.
Fundraising is relationship-building. When your donors hear from you once a year – and that one communication is an ask – how valued do you think they feel?
They probably don’t even remember your organization.
A good program is organized, planned and consistent. It’s focused on your donors and showing them what they can make possible.
And it probably includes the following components.
A culture of philanthropy
This is at the base of any organization’s successful fundraising program. That goes for annual giving as well as any other area.
Is your organization solidly supportive of fundraising? Not just of money, but of involving and welcoming people to join you in the work?
A culture where everyone recognizes that philanthropy – a love of humankind – is at the center of our work, and that raising money is about people as much as money, is one that can succeed.
Respect and care for donors
Want to succeed? Leave the organizational ego out. Commit to focusing on your donors.
Do everything to make them feel needed, appreciated… loved.
Sound squishy? Maybe. But the truth is that this works.
With retention numbers in the toilet, don’t even bother building a program if you’re not going to do everything you can to keep your donors.
It might seem a given, but too often we end up looking at fundraising as a series of one-time appeals or acknowledgments instead of a coherent, thoughtful program.
So before you’re ready to create a great program, you need a plan.
Think about: communications, staffing, data management, donor care. Put together a calendar – and be sure everyone involved is on-board with it.
Consider not just how and how often you’ll ask for contributions, but how you’ll thank donors and how you’ll report to them.
Be detailed – assign responsibility and income projections.
And plan for contingencies. What do you do if the first appeal comes in far lower than expected? What might happen externally that could affect your goals?
Before you even begin to write an appeal, you should know what your essential message is. Because your message should be consistent.
In other words, case statements aren’t only for big campaigns. Case statements are where you begin.
Ask yourself: why do we exist? What do we change? What happens if we go away?
Then ask yourself: who cares about our mission? How do we connect with them? What matters to them about what we do? What motivates them?
This does not have to be a fancy document. It does need to be thoughtful. And it does need to be focused on donors, not just your need for money. Tom Ahern is an expert at this foundational documents. He outlines a formula for success in this Bloomerang article.
The work you do on a case statement can then be used to feed all of your donor communications messaging. Remember that consistency builds trust. So you don’t need to come up with new arguments all the time. Repetition is your friend.
Start with your messaging, because you need to know where you’re going if you want to get there.
You could send out a list of facts to your donors, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Human beings are made to learn via stories. We’re wired for narrative.
When you’re thinking about your messaging, think about stories as the best way to illustrate your message.
So if you want to raise money, you need stories. Moving, well-told stories. Stories that show the need at a human (or animal) level.
If you wait until you’re about to write an appeal to find stories, you’ll either get that appeal out late, or create something less than it could be.
Collect stories all the time. Create a nice story bank for yourself. Track which stories or type of stories get the best result.
You’ll probably need to involve your organization’s program staff for this. That’s good, because they – and everyone in the organization – should be involved with welcoming people to join your work.
But you may need to explain your purpose. And you may need to help them feel comfortable sharing. Trust is key. They will need to be sure you’ll be as fierce as they are protecting clients’ privacy, for example. Don’t break that trust.
You can’t build a successful program if you’re only focused on getting, but not giving. And part of what donors get for their gift is gratitude. They get to feel wonderful and generous.
It’s your job to be sure they do.
If you don’t have an attitude of gratitude toward your donors, you need to cultivate one. Yes, even toward the difficult people.
Gratitude isn’t about a perfunctory receipt. Gratitude is a way of approaching donors, thinking about them. If you are truly grateful for their support, it will show.
Find ways to show it. Thank you letters that are emotional and entirely about the wonderful donor. “Just because” thank you letters not attached to a specific gift. Calls, notes – anything you can think of!
Next week, we’ll tackle some more tactical and less philosophical parts of a good program. Stay tuned!
Photo thanks to Ryan McGuire at Gratisography