AFP Conference Roundup: Best Practices for Annual-Giving Campaigns
Too often, annual-giving campaigns mean making the same request for the same amount to the same donors in the same way at the same time of year, year after year after year. But in her session, "Annual Giving — How to Do It Well … Over and Over and Over Again," at the 46th annual AFP International Conference on Fundraising held in New Orleans two weeks ago, Jill Pranger encouraged attendees to think about annual-giving campaigns as a series of small, focused campaigns that run throughout the year.
Annual-giving campaigns offer opportunities to acquire, renew and upgrade donors; build donor loyalty and commitment; identify and involve leaders; cultivate donors to increase giving levels; identify major gift prospects; and train volunteers, said Pranger, founder and president of Pranger Philanthropic.
One good idea for annual-giving campaigns, Pranger suggested, is having them coincide with "year ends," e.g., calendar year-end, tax year-end, fiscal year-end and "annual fund" year-end. Coinciding the campaign with a "year-end" date is a good strategy because it creates a deadline for donors, which creates a sense of urgency, she said.
And if you're among those who think it's impolite to send multiple annual-giving mailings to donors and prospects who don't respond, Pranger said you're dead wrong. Sending just one wave of the campaign is a waste of money, she says. In fact, she recommended mailing until the cost is higher than the gifts you receive.
"Send that second wave, and you'll be flabbergasted by the results," she said, stressing to make sure that your reply cards are identified as "wave one" and "wave two," etc.
In many cases, it will take four to seven requests before a gift is made, she said. Be creative, with a different look for each mailing. You can use special holidays (like Valentine's Day, Mother's day, Father's day) and occasions ("We've missed you") to try to connect your message with what's going on in donors' lives.
When coming up with the plan for your annual-giving campaign, first look back at how well you did last year, how you did it, and benchmarks. Then look forward at the philanthropic, economic and organizational climates. When looking at the philanthropic climate, consider the state of things both nationally and locally. Are there any regulatory issues or new laws that will affect you? In terms of the organizational climate, look at how your organization is doing, what it's doing, what your donor base looks like, and where you've had success raising money in the past.
Goals for your annual campaign should be based on a thorough review of expected gifts, plus an honest evaluation of what your inputs (time and cost) will be to get those gifts — not on the budgetary needs of your organization.
Other, non-income-related goals can be to achieve a certain percent of "family" participation, to recruit a certain number of new volunteers or to develop a certain number of qualified prospects.
When writing copy for your annual-giving campaign, Pranger recommended having a theme for the year — something relevant, timely, interesting and sexy. Make sure copy is accurate, and be sure to have a call to action. Remember: People give to people. Establish a relationship between the donor and the people you serve. "Take your organization out of it," she said.
Focus your text on what donors know, e.g., "As a volunteer for the past decade, you know … " And make sure they know the signer of the letter.
Pranger said to be sure your letter is readable by YOUR audience. To test your copy, read it out loud and fix places where you get tripped up. If you're having trouble writing, write as though you're telling a story in a letter to a friend. Whether your letter is long or short depends on what your donors or prospects are looking for. Most people don't want to read long letters, but you need to tell them enough to get them excited about your cause, Pranger said.
The letter's first and last paragraphs should both include your ask, and then repeat the ask throughout the letter. Use the body of the letter to create urgency around the ask; use a tone that assumes they'll give; and thank them in advance for their gift. Pranger recommended writing your acknowledgment at the same time you're writing the letter text, and having the acknowledgment letter signer be the same person that signs the appeal letter.
When the campaign is completed, create a report that includes:
- campaign name, date and goals
- number of pieces sent/returned
- number of gifts/attendees
- total income generated
- cost of activity
- net income
- average gift
- non-financial goals/progress
- comparisons to last year
- national/sector benchmarks
Be up on your results so that you're able to communicate them to donors, volunteers and board members. Reporting the results of the campaign to donors establishes credibility and is good donor stewardship.
After the campaign, reward yourself! Then, to prep for next year's campaign, list what you, your CEO and the chair liked about this year's campaign. What didn't you all like? What was productive, and what bombed?
Pranger said if there's something that you didn't like but that was productive, see if there's a way you can change it so you will like it. Likewise, if there's something you liked that failed, is there a way to change it so it will be more productive?
Change an element of the mailing, whether it be the color, letterhead or signer. Talk with both new and “old” staff members to get a well-rounded perspective. Seek out a new story; add a new component. And get ready to do it all over again!