4 Effective Annual Fund Appeal Ideas for Nonprofits

By susanlienau | June 14, 2018 | Annual Funds
Make your annual fund appeals stand out by implementing these 4 effective strategies.
Take your annual fund to the next level by contacting Averill Fundraising Solutions.

Reaching your annual fund’s goals is one of the most important tasks your nonprofit faces year after year, but meeting this benchmark can be quite a challenge.

While many of your dedicated supporters understand the need for unrestricted funding to fuel your operations, keeping up the momentum of annual campaigns isn’t always easy. 

However, if your nonprofit is serious about strengthening your annual fundraising strategy, there are many ways you can increase the likelihood of supporters making a gift.

One of the best ways to hit the ground running with your annual fundraising campaign? Align your annual fund appeal strategy behind the scenes before getting into the public phase of your campaign.

In this article, we’ll review some of our best practices for crafting expert annual fundraising appeals so your nonprofit can be confident it will reach its annual fundraising goals this year.

Your nonprofit should:

  1. 1. Segment your supporter lists to make more effective annual fund appeals.
  2. 2. Break your annual fundraising campaign calendar into appeal phases.
  3. 3. Offer annual fund supporters creative ways to give back.
  4. 4. Consult with a fundraising consultant to perfect your annual fund appeals.

By covering your bases during campaign planning, your nonprofit can lay the groundwork for some truly effective annual fund appeals. Let’s take a look at how your nonprofit can implement these strategies as you prepare for your next annual fundraising calendar!

Segment your supporter lists to make more effective asks.

1. Segment your supporter lists to make more effective annual fund appeals.

One common miscalculation nonprofits make when planning their annual fundraising appeals is to think of these asks as a one-size-fits-most undertaking.

Most nonprofit professionals will agree that if you want to reach your fundraising goals, your team will need to carefully craft asks that are based on factors like the giving level of your appeal and your existing relationship with the supporters you’re addressing.

However, if that’s the beginning and the end of your appeal strategy, your nonprofit is missing out on some major opportunities. In partnership with a fundraising consultant, start thinking of effective ways to segment your supporter lists in order to make more effective appeals.

By segmenting your supporter lists, your nonprofit can get a better idea of who you’re addressing with your annual fundraising appeals. Then, you can reframe your appeals to show those individuals you know who they are, understand their needs, and personally value their support.

Take a look at some of these segmentation markers your nonprofit may want to consider when planning your annual fundraising appeals:

  • External giving history. Your nonprofit likely considers a giver’s internal giving track record when tailoring an annual fund appeal, but don’t forget to leverage a prospect research database like DonorSearch to identify their track record of giving to other nonprofit causes or political campaigns to gain a full picture of their giving propensity. This knowledge can also be used to see which prospects are already dedicated to the causes that your nonprofit serves.
  • Giving upgrade suitability. Consider a prospect’s giving history at your organization. Instead of letting their past gifts set your appeal level this time around, use previous gifts as a way to determine an upgraded ask. For example, if they’ve given $100 for three or more years straight, ask for a $250 gift. Create segments of donors your team feel are ready to upgrade their giving level.
  • Professional and social affiliations. Similarly, your nonprofit should look outwardly and think of the ways you can tap into their affiliations with companies, religious leanings, alumni membership, and more. Not only will this reveal more about the kinds of appeals they might respond well to, but it will also cast light on networking opportunities.
  • Preferred fundraising channels. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter who you ask and how you frame your appeal, but where you make this ask. Consider analytics data captured by your nonprofit’s CRM to track an individual’s history of opening and completing fundraising forms through different channels, such as email and social media. Consider their response rates to direct mail communications and phone calls, too, to ensure your nonprofit is connecting with supporters via channels that they actually use.

It’s not just important to segment your supporter lists before making annual fund appeals, though. Having these targeted lists on hand can play a crucial role on strengthening your appeal strategy in the future, too.

If you are looking into updating software, make sure the new software will support these segmented lists. For example, if you are upgrading your email services, the new system you choose should have segmentation strategy capabilities.

Think of your upcoming annual fund campaign as a testing ground for future annual fundraising efforts. Even if you find that certain segments don’t respond to targeted appeals in the way that you expected, you can still leverage that data to implement a more informed fundraising strategy the next time around.

You’ll also want to ensure your segment lists are as useful as possible before your campaign officially launches. An effective way to do so is to conduct list reviews with key leaders at your nonprofit, dedicated contributors, and your nonprofit fundraising consultant.

This way, your team can get some feedback on your segments before you invest a lot of capital into your annual fundraising appeal efforts.

If you’re looking for more ways to improve your donor segmentation strategy beyond what we’ve laid out here, check out this guide on strengthening your donor segmentation from Salsa Labs.

Break your annual fundraising campaign calendar into appeal phases.

2. Break your annual fundraising campaign calendar into appeal phases.

Effective annual fundraising appeals need to signal to their recipients that they are designed to address their interests, giving capacity, and relationship with your cause.

With this in mind, your nonprofit should consider the when of your annual fundraising asks. If your appeals are poorly timed or paced, your team risks missing out on key supporters you need to provide essential annual fund gifts.

Create an annual fundraising appeals calendar.

The best way to ensure the timing of your appeals is just right? Break your annual fund calendar into smaller campaign phases that feed into your annual fundraising goal. This way, you can address the realities of securing the gifts you need now while planning ahead for future appeals.

Not only that, but planning these mini-campaigns keeps up the pace of your fundraising calendar while encouraging repeated giving among your supporters.

Since you can reframe your asks as giving to a new campaign each time, supporters are less likely to feel that you’re asking for the same gifts again and again. This strategy can also fend off donor burn-out, which is a definite possibility in campaigns as intensive as an annual fund campaign.

Try planning mini-campaigns that revolve around different seasons (such as a spring fundraising challenge or a year-end giving event). Or, your nonprofit might think even smaller and plan week-long or day-long campaigns to commemorate important dates or news stories.

Combine this tactic with donor segmentation to specifically target donors with histories of holiday-inspired, birthday/anniversary, or situational giving with mini-campaigns focused on those date ranges.

Another way that splitting your annual fundraising appeal calendar into phases can boost your efforts is by giving your nonprofit ample time to adjust its strategy.

Think of it this way: you may have a supporter in mind for a mini-campaign that takes place earlier on in the year. In your gift range chart, you’ve assigned this individual to a particular tier based on what you know about their giving propensity and capacity.

However, if they prove unable or unwilling to give during your initial mini-campaign, ask your team why. Perhaps you are missing a piece of the puzzle and they would be better suited for a later mini-campaign and a differently targeted appeal.

By implementing this strategy, you offer your team more chances to get it right with key annual fund prospects and more time to refine your annual fund appeal strategy before the central campaign has to end.

Mini-campaigns also allow your organization the opportunity to strengthen your overall marketing strategy. If you find that certain methods are more effective than others, lean more heavily on those in the upcoming mini-campaigns!


Offer annual fund supporters creative ways to give back.

3. Offer annual fund supporters creative ways to give back.

As we touched on earlier, one of the core roadblocks between nonprofits and their annual fundraising goals is finding new ways to convince supporters to make multiple gifts over the course of your campaign.

Your nonprofit may need to secure several gifts from the same supporter groups to meet your fundraising goals. Nonprofits often find that it is harder to secure a second or third contribution even from the most inspired supporters.

Luckily, one effective way to solve this issue is by reframing your subsequent annual fundraising appeals as an offer to engage in an “alternative” giving method.

In your appeals, try suggesting some of these creative ways to give back as a way to make giving a second or third gift to your annual fundraising campaign an easier decision for supporters:

  • Promote recurring gifts. Your team can frame secondary appeals as invitations to join your recurring gifts program as a strategy to secure sustainable contributions. For example, it might be easier for a supporter to agree to give $50/month for a year over a lump sum of $600, and this reduces the time you’ll need to spend sending additional appeals to them later in the campaign.
  • Introduce them to matching gifts. The vast majority of your supporters don’t know about matching gifts programs, let alone whether they’re eligible for one. Steer them towards matching gifts to maximize their annual fundraising potential while offering supporters a way to give back “twice” without actually making a second gift.
  • Ask your volunteers if they are employed by companies with a volunteer grant program. These programs allow companies to donate money to nonprofits where their employees donate their time. This strategy allows those who give time rather than money to still contribute financially to your annual fund.

Ultimately, the more ways you show your supporters they can give back to your cause, the more likely it is they’ll choose to make an additional contribution of some kind.

Once a supporter makes a secondary contribution, they’re automatically more likely to contribute to future campaigns, whether to your annual fund, a capital campaign, or another campaign.

Consult with a fundraising consultant to perfect your annual fund appeals.

4. Consult with a fundraising consultant to perfect your annual fund appeals.

By far, the most effective way to perfect your annual fund appeal strategy is to tap into the insight of a nonprofit fundraising consultant.

While you may have worked with a fundraising consultant on other campaigns, your team may not yet have considered the many ways partnering with a fundraising consultant can strengthen your annual fundraising campaign strategy in particular.

Partner with a fundraising consultant to strengthen your annual fundraising appeal strategy.

As it relates to strengthening your annual fund appeals efforts, there are numerous ways a consultant can give your team a leg up. Your team should:

    • Bring your consultant on early in the campaign planning process so they can offer insight into what appeal strategies will work best for your unique community. As you meet with key stakeholders to determine goals for your upcoming campaign, your consultant can guide conversations about what makes an effective appeal.
    • Ask your consultant to pinpoint where past appeals have gone wrong. All too often, nonprofits can get stuck in their ways when it comes to how they make their annual fundraising appeals to supporters. A fundraising consultant can help your team identify where past appeals have gone off course and lead the way in improving future appeals.
    • Use your consultant’s outside experience to bring new ideas to the table.  Ask your consultant about fundraising ideas or marketing strategies that have worked for other similar nonprofits that you haven’t tried before. Use these new ideas to replace your lowest-performing existing strategies.
  • Create a plan of action to account for the success of your appeals. Many nonprofits struggle to identify smaller strategic missteps in ongoing campaigns before they become significant problems. Agree on a set of expectations for certain performance benchmarks and set accountability measures so your team always knows how your appeals are doing.

Since your fundraising consultant has directed or advised other annual fundraising campaigns in the past, they’ll have the wisdom of experience necessary to determine the most effective appeal strategy for your organization.

Not only that, but partnering with a fundraising consultant to align your appeal strategy can help launch a relationship that will benefit your nonprofit for years to come.

After planning your appeal strategy, your team may ask the consultant to help lead your annual fundraising campaign as an embedded partner. Or, you can meet with them on an ad hoc basis throughout the campaign to ensure you stay on track to meet your goals.

Annual fundraising can seem quite daunting, but crafting strategic annual fund appeals doesn’t need to be. Try out these strategies as you plan for your next annual fundraising campaign and learn what appeals inspire your unique community to make contributions.

Additional Resources

  • Fundraising Consultant Fees: The Ultimate Guide. Partnering with a best-fit fundraising consultant is the best way to ensure the success of your annual fundraising campaign. Check out our breakdown of what this investment will really cost your nonprofit.
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