Planning an Annual Giving Campaign: 7 Steps to Success

Posted By Steph Silva

As most nonprofits already know, planning an annual giving campaign is no easy feat.

Annual fund campaigns are perhaps the most comprehensive and extensive efforts that organizations have to plan out. They take a lot of time, money, and strategy.

However, while planning might be a challenge, annual campaigns are extremely important to the success of your organization.

As a refresher, the annual campaign refers to nonprofit’s ongoing fundraising effort. The two main goals are to raise money to cover the organization’s operational expenses and to build deeper donor relationships.

Annual campaigns are not just important; they’re usually also necessary. Having an annual giving program in place allows your organization to raise the money you need to stay up and running while you run more targeted fundraising campaigns.

Even more importantly, because they’re more drawn out, annual giving campaigns provide your organization with a stewardship opportunity that wouldn’t otherwise be there. Without running up against the clock to meet an immediate goal, you can take the time to develop deeper and more personal donor relationships.

When donors feel personally connected to your nonprofit, they’re more likely to become recurring givers, and thus, be of more value to your organization.

As such, all organizations should be implementing annual giving campaigns. To make the planning process a little less intimidating, we broke it down into 7 steps, including:

  1. Set a goal and budget.
  2. Establish a team.
  3. Create a timeline.
  4. Analyze your donor database.
  5. Launch your campaign.
  6. Thank your donors.
  7. Track your progress and keep improving.

Hopefully, by the time you’re done reading our guide, you’ll feel much more confident in planning your own annual fund campaign!

Need a little refresher on annual campaigns before we get started? Check out Neon’s Definitive Guide to Annual Giving.

1. Set a goal and budget.

In order to be successful, all campaigns must work toward something! The first step to planning any campaign will be to set a goal.

Luckily, it should be pretty straightforward to set a fundraising goal for your campaign. At the very least, you’ll need to raise enough to cover your operational expenses.

Setting a goal for donor stewardship, on the other hand, will be a bit trickier. Since these goals won’t be as quantifiable, they’ll be a little harder to pin down.

To help you set a specific goal, let’s first list out the more general goals that nonprofits seek to achieve with their annual campaigns. They include:

  • Forming deeper, more personal donor-nonprofit relationships.
  • Improving donor retention rates.
  • Tracking donor giving habits.
  • Increasing donor engagement and participation.
  • Identifying major donor prospects.

Think of the ways your organization can narrow down these broad goals to make them realistic for your organization.

While it will probably be difficult to set a quantifiable goal, you should try to make your goal as measurable as possible. This way, it will be much easier to track your progress throughout the campaign.

Now, you’ll need to set a budget.

Because your campaign will be drawn out over an extended period of time, it’s important to allocate your resources to every effort of the campaign in advance. You would never want to get too far into your campaign only to realize that you didn’t have enough funds to see it through!

Having clear parameters for your campaign will ensure that it stays on track. Set a goal and budget from the very beginning for the best chance of success!

2. Establish a team.

With an effort as lengthy as an annual giving campaign, it can be all-too-easy for the campaign to fade into the background as your staff focuses on more immediate efforts.

Make sure you avoid this mistake by establishing an annual fund team!

Having a team in place ensures that there will always be someone at your organization focused on your annual campaign and making a concerted effort to work toward these goals.

As an annual campaign consists of various moving parts, you’ll need a cross-functional team to effectively manage your campaign.

The three main components of an annual campaign are donor outreach and stewardship, special events, and direct asks.

At the very least, you’ll need someone to spearhead each of these efforts, as well as someone to market the campaign. You’ll also most likely need to employ a major gift officer, since about 60% of your annual fund will be made up of major gifts (more on this later).

The rest of your team will depend on which strategies your organization hopes to implement throughout the campaign.

Just make sure you have a diverse and dedicated team on your side to help you meet your annual fund goals!

3. Create a timeline.

Now that you have a talented team on your side, it’s time to start thinking more specifically about the phases of your annual campaign and the strategies that will fall into each.

As we touched on in the last section, annual campaigns are broken down into three main stages: donor stewardship and outreach, events, and direct asks.

You’ll want to plan for each stage by creating a tentative timeline. This will help you both market your campaign and allocate your resources.

The annual campaign timeline will vary from organization to organization, but there are some universal patterns.

Typically, stewardship and outreach will be an ongoing effort. In order to build relationships and establish trust with your donors, you have to contact them frequently throughout the campaign.

Once they get a little further down the timeline, many organizations begin putting on special events. These events allow you to take the relationships you’ve begun building to the next level by establishing a face-to-face rapport. These events will likely require an specific event timeline of their own.

The direct ask comes last. Most organizations choose to make year-end appeals for two reasons:

  1. They’ll have had the most time to build donor relationships, and
  2. Because it’s the closing of the fiscal year for tax purposes, the end of the year is the most lucrative time for giving. In fact, about 30% of your annual fund gifts will be made in December.

While the exact makeup of your annual campaign will depend on your organization, following this general structure should bring you the best results!

4. Analyze your donor database.

You won’t be able to meet your annual fund goal without the help of your donors!

Start identifying your prospects by analyzing your donor database. You’ll need to determine whether or not you already have enough prospects in your base who can give gifts at the level you need to meet your annual fund goal.

To do this, first start by calculating the arithmetic of fundraising.

The arithmetic of fundraising is a mathematical formula that helps nonprofits calculate the number of gifts they need at each quality to achieve their goals.

The formula looks a little something like this:

  • Around 60% of the annual fund will come from major gifts (here defined as the top 10% of gifts).
  • The next 15-25% of funds will come from mid-sized gifts (the next 20% of gifts).
  • The remaining gifts (about 70%) will cover the 15-25% of funds needed to make the goal.

Once you’ve calculated the arithmetic of fundraising, you can start analyzing your base to determine whether or not you have enough donors to give at each of these levels.

The best indicator of future giving will be past giving, so analyze your base with the following questions in mind:

  • How many donors do we have that give on an annual basis?
  • How frequent are their gifts? Do any of them give more than once a year?
  • For how long have they been giving to our organization?
  • How much are these donors giving?
  • Have these donors ever upgraded their gifts? If not, did our organization make a concerted effort to encourage upgrading?
  • What other campaigns have donors given to in the past?

While it will be impossible to predict exactly how many donors will give and what level they’ll give at, these questions should give your organization a rough estimate.

You should also begin getting to know more about each of your donors. Look closely at each prospect’s profile to gain insights into your donors’ affinities, interests, and past giving habits.

With this knowledge, you can begin establishing the individualized stewardship and solicitation strategies that will result in better fundraising!

When you analyze your donor database before launching your campaign, you’ll be better equipped to reach both your fundraising and stewardship goals.

5. Launch your campaign!

Your initial planning is done, and it’s now time to launch your annual giving campaign!

As we discussed earlier, most campaigns have three major phases:

  • Donor stewardship and outreach
  • Special events
  • Direct asks

Let’s go into more detail with each to give you a better idea of what they look like and why they’re important to the overall success of the campaign.

1. Stewardship and outreach.

Donor stewardship will be the most complex, and arguably the most important, phase of your annual campaign.

During this stage, you’ll focus on reaching out to your donors and engaging them with your organization so you can form deeper relationships with them, and thus, increase the number of recurring donors in your base.

Recurring givers are the most valuable donors for nonprofit organizations. On average, recurring donors will give about twice as much as major gift donors throughout their relationship with the organization.

In other words, the efficacy of your donor stewardship strategies will have big implications for the success of your fundraising, both for this campaign and in the future.

You’ll want to establish the best donor relationships possible to get the most value out of your base.

The best way to do this is to consistently reach out to your donors throughout the annual campaign and provide them with opportunities to interact with your organization beyond just donating, such as:

  • Volunteering with your organization.
  • Attending an event.
  • Participating in a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.
  • Subscribing to your email or text list.
  • Following your social media pages.
  • And more!

Another way to develop relationships with your donors is through a membership program. Often confused with recurring giving, a membership program is when donors can pay a fee and receive unique perks and engagement opportunities.

If you don’t already have a membership program, then you should consider creating one to help retain your donors. Creating a program involves choosing a structure, deciding the price for the membership, and having the right tools to track your members.

There are plenty of membership management tools available, and if you already have a nonprofit CRM, look to see if your vendor has a membership management expansion.

For the best chance of success, you should target each donor with individualized outreach strategies that take into account their interests and preferences.

If you keep your communications frequent, varied, and relevant there’s no reason why your donors shouldn’t become loyal supporters of your organization!

2. Special events.

Special events are another major component of annual giving campaigns.

Events technically fall under the umbrella of stewardship. In addition to allowing your organization to raise more funds, they’re also an excellent opportunity for interacting with donors in person.

The chance to interact face-to-face can really help you establish the trust that results in more valuable donor relationships.

The type and number of events you incorporate into your annual event will depend on your organization and donor base. While many organizations choose to host one big annual event, others opt to host many smaller ones throughout the campaign.

Just make sure to plan out a tentative event schedule before the start of the campaign.

It should be as definitive as possible, but you’ll still want to leave a little room to accommodate for the unknown schedules of donors and volunteers.

Need a little help planning your event? Check out Booster’s Guide to Planning a Fundraising Event.

3. Direct asks.

The direct ask will be the peak of your annual campaign.

During this phase, you’ll leverage the donor relationships you’ve built throughout the campaign to raise the rest of the funds needed to meet your goal.

Again, the way you structure your direct asks will depend entirely on your organization and the makeup of your donor base.

Most organizations will make multiple appeals. For example, you could first mail your donors a letter, follow up with an email, and then target some with a personal phone call.

Just keep in mind that, as with stewardship, direct asks should take into account each individual’s unique relationship with your organization.

For more on asking for donations, click this link:

Implement good stewardship practices, appealing special events, and tactful solicitation strategies to make the most out of your annual giving campaign.

6. Thank your donors.

Stewardship isn’t over once the asks are made and the funds are in your bank account.

The whole point of your annual campaign is develop more valuable and meaningful donor relationships, so don’t let all of your hard work go to waste!

The first step to maintaining these relationships is to thank your donors.

You should send personalized (and timely!) thank-you notes to each donor who contributed to your campaign. While you can send thank-yous through any number of channels, the biggest contributors probably warrant a handwritten letter or personal phone call.

You might also want to include donation receipts with your thank-you letters. Donation receipts are often required by law, and many donors will want them to claim charitable tax deductions.

Properly acknowledging your donors extends good stewardship beyond the confines of your campaign. When your donors feel appreciated, they’re more likely to keep contributing to campaigns in the future.

For some thank-you note best practices, check out Qgiv’s article!

7. Track your progress and keep improving.

Congratulations! You’ve officially made it to the end of your annual campaign.

However, that doesn’t mean that you should just call it a day and let the campaign fade into your memory.

Since you’ll be making the annual giving campaign a staple of your fundraising, it’s important to look back on your strategies to track your progress and see where there might be room for improvement.

The main thing you’ll want to consider, of course, is how well you did at reaching your goals. While it’s pretty straightforward to determine if you reached your fundraising goal, assessing your stewardship goals might be a little more difficult.

Here are some of the factors you can consider to help you determine how your stewardship strategies stacked up:

  • If your donor retention rate increased and by how much.
  • If your donor acquisition rate increased and by how much.
  • How many lapsed donors were made active again.
  • How many recurring donors upgraded their gifts.
  • The amount of new constituent data you collected.
  • The number of people who volunteered.
  • And more.

If you find that you didn’t do as well at one of your goals as you would have hoped, think about how you can adjust your strategies to see better results next time. When you look toward improving, your annual campaigns will only get better and better!

As you can see, planning an annual campaign takes many steps, but the effort is well worth it!

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