A Realistic Look at Annual Funds
Part One: A Brief History Annual Giving
Participation, always a sensitive issue with trustees, is in decline at many institutions — not for lack of trying but for difficulties in simply making contact. The CDC in Atlanta recently suggested that 20+ percent of households no longer have landlines — and the erosion in landlines is picking up speed.
Direct mail is super-saturated. Younger generations are not using e-mail except at work, etc., etc. Annual fundraising is getting more and more difficult.
And, who hasn’t seen at least one story this week encouraging better use of social media in annual giving? Questions about social media are everywhere. Trustees are asking, “Why can’t we raise the millions that Obama did using social media?” The short, albeit flippant, answer, of course, is, “We can — as soon as we figure out how to secure nightly coverage on cable news for the next 52 consecutive weeks.”
Though that trustee’s question may not be elegantly articulated, it is profoundly important and deserves a more serious answer. What is happening to the annual fund? As mass solicitation goes, so goes modern annual giving.
And, it is looking more and more precarious — and more quickly and more sharply so as time goes by.
There is an ancient history to this recent distress masked, ironically, by the fact that we’ve continued to raise more and more money through mass solicitation. If that sounds paradoxical, listen closely to two ways of recounting this history of annual giving.
A short history lesson
Until about 40 years ago, the “annual fund” was dominated by volunteer organizations that literally canvassed the community for annual support. Some did well — i.e., they met the budget needs and secured broad, though local, participation. There were “consulting” firms that helped organizations replicate these efforts through dinners and gatherings in other communities.