5 Essential Tips for Increasing Annual Giving

Last updated: August 2, 2022

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Guest post by Aaron Dahlstrom, Graham-Pelton

Many organizations struggle to get donors excited about annual giving. This is because it doesn’t offer the same level of public recognition as a major donor might receive, and it doesn’t have the natural opportunities to leave a legacy that planned giving does.

As a result, annual giving is often thought of as something that “keeps the light on.” However, the reality is that annual donors do so much more than cover overhead; they provide the unrestricted funds that are essential to your nonprofit being able to fulfill its mission.

To ensure that your organization is able to fund its operations, this guide will cover five essential tips for increasing annual giving among your donors and prospects:

  1. Create a Solicitation Calendar
  2. Perfect Your Messaging
  3. Use a Multi-Channel Approach
  4. Promote Matching Gifts
  5. Be Proactive with Donor Stewardship Year-Round

The unrestricted funds from annual giving are what keep your nonprofit running day-to-day, including your development activities. Securing these funds ensures that you have the capacity to focus on other high-return fundraising initiatives, like major gifts, planned giving, or capital campaigns. Let’s get started.

1. Create a Solicitation Calendar

A solicitation calendar allows your organization to reach its fundraising goals by keeping you on track to hit certain benchmarks throughout the year.

Taking this more structured approach will result in more focused fundraising efforts that have an increased chance of success. Particularly when making major gift solicitations, a solicitation calendar that is based on your key dates, prospect portfolios, and recent outreach will ensure that you’re making asks at the best time possible.

Here are a few key types of items that should be accounted for in a comprehensive solicitation calendar:

  • Major fundraising dates and deadlines
  • Key giving periods, like the end of the calendar year and fiscal year.
  • Dates of your nonprofit’s events
  • Frequency of solicitations for different donor segments and key prospects.
  • Opportunities for cultivation and stewardship

Using all of these major points on your solicitation calendar will help guide your fundraising decisions throughout the year. It will also allow you to better coordinate the timing of follow-ups and thank yous for donor relationship development.

2. Perfect Your Messaging

You already know that all donors have differing motivations for supporting your nonprofit, and their unique reasons for supporting your cause should already be determining how you address them. Even at the annual giving level, your messaging should be focused on helping donors connect to your mission. A few things you can do to improve your annual giving communications include:

  • Personalize messages to address individual donors by name.
  • Focus on the donor’s role in your mission instead of your organization.
  • Personalize solicitations based on previous giving history, such as donation size, campaign participation, and length of time as a donor.
  • Give concrete examples of how your annual fund helps you improve overall operations, facilitate programs, and run other campaigns.

Revisit your solicitations and look for new opportunities to personalize. For example, you could say “Your support for our scholarship fund had an incredible impact – an annual gift will allow us to take that impact even further by helping us spread the word to more students in the coming years.” This level of attention to detail can make a significant difference in the emotional response your donors have to your organization.

3. Use a Multi-Channel Approach

Because you’re fundraising all year long, relying on one method of communication is unlikely to give you the best results. Instead, your annual fund communication strategy should focus on different communication channels to reach different segments of your audience. A few channels you can use are:

  • Email campaigns. When sent with an engaging subject line and a clear call-to-action, emails can be an effective and quick way to reach your donors.
  • Text messaging. While not a method you should use on a daily basis, text messages can be a great way to reach donors during a day of giving or to send reminders when approaching critical fundraising deadlines.
  • Phone calls. Particularly for donors you already have a longer-term connection with, phone calls are a more personal way to connect with someone.
  • Direct mail. For high-quality, visual marketing materials, direct mail is still a viable option. Most people still open all of their mail, although they don’t read all of their emails.
  • Social media. While less personal than some other communication methods, social media can be very effective for reaching a broader audience with engaging content.

Multi-channel messaging also allows you to more easily stay on donors’ minds over time without bombarding them with too much of one type of message or request. For instance, your cultivation plan might start with a postcard version of your annual report explaining donors’ impact last year, followed by an email series highlighting constituent stories, then a gratitude phone-a-thon manned by your volunteers, all while publishing ongoing social media posts.

4. Promote Matching Gifts

Once you’re fast approaching your fundraising goal, you should explore how you can maximize funds through matching gifts. Because an estimated $4-7 billion in matching gifts goes unclaimed every year, this should be an essential part of your annual fundraising strategy.

Matching gifts are a form of corporate philanthropy that gives employees the opportunity to increase their impact at a nonprofit of their choice. If an employer offers a matching gift program, an employee can submit documentation after donating to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, and once approved, the employer will match their donation.

However, not all donors are aware of these programs or how to get their gift matched. Increasing their awareness is an investment that can return significant dividends—84% of donors say they’re more likely to donate if they know a match will be available.

A few ways you can spread the word about matching gifts includes:

  • Creating social media posts about matching gifts
  • Sending an email newsletter about matching gifts and the impact they have on your mission
  • Using donor data to identify donors who work for companies with matching gift programs
  • Employing matching gift software to help donors look up their eligibility and submit matching gift requests

Incorporating matching gift information directly into your existing communication strategy will help you raise more without extensive additional work from your staff. This upfront educational effort can have an outsized impact on your final annual fundraising numbers.

5. Be Proactive with Donor Stewardship Year-Round

Saying thank you after a donor submits a donation is standard practice, but that may not be enough to cultivate a deeper and more authentic relationship with your donors.

Graham-Pelton’s guide to elevating your donor stewardship recommends taking your thank-yous one step further by focusing donor appreciation on more than just donations. This can mean expressing gratitude for specific actions they’ve taken or simply saying thank you for their general support.

In addition to thanking donors for donating, you can show appreciation to all of your donors by:

  • Sending regular appreciation emails
  • Publicly recognizing major or long-term donors
  • Personally reaching out to recurring donors for their ongoing support
  • Creating a physical or virtual donor recognition wall
  • Hosting a donor appreciation event leading up to your annual fundraising push

Going the extra mile to show your donors that you appreciate not only their monetary contributions but also their overall support of your organization can make your relationship less transactional and more authentic.

When it comes to your annual fund, your fundraising and donor stewardship efforts may look different than in other campaigns with more cut-and-dry objectives.

Annual fundraising is about fostering long-term relationships and clearly communicating the role that donors play in your work. Following the tips in this guide will help you foster a stronger connection with your donors while reaching – and exceeding – your annual giving goals.

About the Author

Aaron Dahlstrom

Aaron Dahlstrom is the Vice President of Digital Marketing at Graham-Pelton. Creative and considerate, Aaron plans and executes Graham-Pelton’s presence across all digital mediums, ensuring that those who invest their time engaging with the firm experience the timely thought leadership and bold approach audiences have come to appreciate.

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