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3 Strategies That Make You an Annual Giving Superstar

Annual giving teams don’t have much time, or money, to spare when they’re sending out annual giving appeals. Little wins add up—a donor renews her gift for $500 more than last year, a direct mail campaign motivates a larger group of donors than anticipated, more first-time donors pledge than ever before. Every little bit counts, right?  

It can seem like improvements in annual giving are dumb luck, but if you’re keeping track, you can correctly attribute many of your successful annual fund appeals to careful campaign planning and execution. That’s because high-impact annual giving appeals are connected to concrete strategies.  

There are a lot of annual giving appeals strategies out there, but we’ve done the research to identify the three you really should pay attention to. Follow these three best practices to maximize your ability to find new donors, retain the support of old friends, and raise more money. 

Appeal to donors on the anniversary of their last gift

Our research shows that repeat donors like to give in the same month they donated in the previous year. In fact, 65 percent of all repeat donors in 2017 made gifts within one month on either side of their gift anniversary.  

The takeaway: Don’t waste your money, or alienate your donor-fans, by sending appeals at the wrong time. Your donors have  personally shown you what time of year is convenient for them to donate. Listen to them, and time your appeals for when they’ve shown to be most receptive.  

Are you halfway there already? Many organizations already receive the bulk of their donations at the end of the year. Donors who receive targeted, year-end messaging already benefit from this “anniversary gift” rule. It’s a heavy lift to track donation months and then re-target donors exactly a year later, but the retention benefits are worth it. Start out with the more manageable task of tracking your year-end donors. Since they’re already receiving targeted messaging during the end of the year, all you need to do is taper the flow of asks during the “off” months. Unless it’s year-end, limit communication to these donors to thank you notes, updates, and information.  

Don’t waste money by over-appealing

Just because you can afford to send multiple appeals throughout your campaign doesn’t mean you should. Our research suggests that 80 percent of people who will give, have already done so by the fourth solicitation. By six solicitations, the percentage slides to 90—but savvy fundraisers will realize it’s not worth spending money to chase diminishing returns.  

The takeaway: Your own donor data and some trial and error will help you pinpoint the optimal number of appeals to send out. Keep track of when the bulk of your donors respond to your appeals and then weigh the impact of additional solicitations against your goals and budget. In many cases, it’s not worth spending the extra money on another appeal that will speak to only a handful of donors.  

Experiment with multi-channel outreach

Reeher research shows the effectiveness of phone solicitations has declined nearly 50 percent since 2007. Because annual giving programs have traditionally relied heavily on phone programs to meet goals, survival depends upon responding appropriately to this trend. Instead of relying on a single channel to bring in the bulk of your donations, it’s smarter and more risk-adverse to build out campaigns that call upon the strengths of multiple channel types in order to reach fundraising goals.  

Even while phone’s strength as a channel has declined, direct mail, web, and email solicitations have all grown. There’s great opportunity to coordinate appeals across multiple channels and reach the donors who are no longer picking up the phone.  

The takeaway: Compelling, multichannel appeals reach donors where they want to be reached and will be instrumental in recovering the numbers lost through phone program decline. By using the power of phone, email, web, social media, and text messaging together, annual giving teams have a new opportunity to optimize how they approach donors.      

Why a Strong Annual Giving Appeal Matters

Growing your annual fund donors and dollars takes a tremendous amount of your time, energy, and money. It’s not an easy task. Luckily, by focusing on specific, concrete strategies when you’re making your appeals, you can make targeted changes that will drastically impact your ability to bring in dollars and donors. 

Looking for research and best practices to help you level-up your fundraising game? Check out our community report to get the latest fundraising research and analysis.


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