Annual fund campaigns are the cornerstone to any nonprofit fundraising strategy.

These campaigns allow organizations to raise the operational expenses they need to stay up and running.

Even more importantly, they’re an excellent stewardship opportunity for your organization. Through your annual giving campaign, you can connect with donors on a more personal level to form longer-lasting and more valuable relationships with them.

Most annual campaigns are composed of four main elements:

  1. Campaign planning,
  2. Outreach and strategy,
  3. Direct asks,
  4. And events.

Here, we’ll cover the strategies for each that are sure to make your annual campaign a success!

Annual Fund Campaign Planning

If your organization is serious about growing its annual fund, you’re going to need to dedicate some serious time to ensuring you maximize your campaign planning phase.

The six tips listed to the left will help you do just that!

Raising money for your annual fund will require a range of skill-sets and rely on logical and well-thought-out planning. That’s where these six strategies come into play. 

Scroll down to read them all or click on any of them to be directed right to that strategy.

Each strategy offers its own unique insights and advice into annual fund campaign planning. 

1. Set up child campaigns.

Child campaigns refer to a set of smaller, more targeted fundraising campaigns that flow into the larger annual giving campaign.

Why it's important:

Annual campaigns rely heavily on donor data. Because child campaigns have a more definitive goal, they can help your organization collect valuable data that will give you more granular insights into your donor base.

By hosting more targeted campaigns, you’ll get a better idea of each of your donors’ interests and preferences and, more generally, which projects and causes are most compelling.

You can then use this information to approach donors in the most relevant and compelling ways throughout your annual campaign.

How to get started:

Your organization is likely already hosting child campaigns, and you didn’t even know it!

To incorporate them into your annual fund strategy, think about how the goals you want to achieve with your more targeted child campaigns relate to the broader goals of your annual campaign.

As you’re hosting your child campaigns, make sure to collect all of the donor data you can. The easiest way to automatically track donor data and generate detailed reports is by using a nonprofit CRM.

After you host your child campaigns, take a good look at the donor data you’ve collected and use it to guide your annual campaign strategies.

2. Create a page on your website for your annual fund.

Your organization will create a campaign-branded web page on your website dedicated entirely to the goals and strategies of your annual fund.

Why it's important:

Your annual giving campaign has unique aims. Because you’re raising money for your operational expenses, it’s an opportunity for your donors to support your organization and your cause more generally.

A campaign-branded donation form allows donors to contribute specifically to the aims of your annual campaign.

On the other side of the coin, since annual campaigns have less clearly defined goals, donors will be giving more on faith than they would when giving to your other campaigns.

A page with information about your annual campaign can illustrate to donors why this effort is so important, which may make some feel more confident about giving to your cause.

How to get started:

Start building a page on your website! Use your online donation software to create a campaign-branded donation form and incorporate it into your website.

The page should include:

  • A brief description of your organization and your greater cause and mission.
  • A blurb about what goals you hope to achieve with your campaign.
  • A tentative campaign calendar (especially important if you’re hosting events).
  • A place for progress updates throughout the campaign.
  • A donation form where people can give specifically to your annual fund.

In all correspondence about your annual giving campaign, make sure to include the link to the webpage to provide supporters with more information and to give them the opportunity to donate online.

3. Conduct prospect research.

Prospect research is conducting research on your existing base to get an idea of donors’ giving capacities. Organizations use prospect research primarily to pinpoint major gift donor prospects sitting in their base.

Why it's important:

As the arithmetic of fundraising states, major gifts will make up a large proportion (about 60%) of the funds you’ll raise during your annual campaign.

Prospect research will help your organization focus in on those who have the financial resources and philanthropic drive to be major gift donors.

That way, you can target your annual campaign efforts and allocate your resources toward cultivating these prospects, which will help you reach your annual fund goals.

How to get started

For this one, you’ll likely need the help of software again. Turn to your donor database and study the data you have on file.

For the best chance of winning a major donor, you’ll want to find those in your base with the capacity to give a large gift and the greatest affinity for your organization.

You’ll want to study:

  • A donor’s previous giving history with your nonprofit and with other organizations.
  • The donor’s personal background.
  • Wealth indicators (such as the amount given in previous donations, real estate and stock ownership, etc.).
  • If the donor is philanthropically motivated in other ways (for example, if they frequently volunteer with nonprofits or have served on a board of directors).

Integrate a robust wealth screening service with your donor database for the deepest insights.

4. Create a membership program.

A membership program rewards donors who join with special perks in exchange for their donations. Contributions are given in the form of membership fees.

Why it's important:

Having a membership program in place can really incentivize donors to give.

Although in an ideal world, everyone would give simply from the selflessness of their own heart, in reality, this isn’t always the case.

Sometimes donors will need a little more motivation to give, and that’s okay! Because it rewards them for their donations, a membership program might give them that reason.

Additionally, since your organization can set the membership fee, you’ll have more control over the quality of donations you’ll receive.

How to get started:

To create a membership program, first think of what perks you can offer to motivate donors to join.

The rewards you give your members don’t have to be big or expensive. For example, you could:

  • Offer members an email newsletter with first access to news about your organization or exclusive content.
  • Welcome members with a small packet of trinkets branded to your organization (like T-shirts, calendars, mugs, etc.).
  • Host a fundraising event exclusively for members or give members special perks at your other events (for example, free drinks and the best seats in the house at your annual auction).

The possibilities are endless. Just make sure to emphasize what rewards donors will receive when pitching your membership program, so they won’t be able to resist!

5. Have a contingency plan.

A contingency plan refers to the preparations an organization has in place to keep running annual fund efforts if a key staff member leaves during the campaign.

Why it's important:

Nothing will be a bigger disaster for your organization than if one of your most pivotal staff members leaves during the annual fund campaign and you have no one prepared to take over.

To find the most success with annual campaigns, the staff members managing the campaign must have a deep familiarity with your supporter base and a thorough understanding of how to use your donor database.

If they leave during the campaign, they take all of that knowledge, and thus your insights into your donors, with them.

Having to bring a new staff member up-to-date will slow down the momentum of your campaign and, in the worst cases, prevent you from reaching your goals.

How to get started:

Luckily, this strategy is pretty simple to execute.

As you’re preparing for your annual campaign, make sure that multiple staff members are familiar with your donor data and software platform.

Additionally, create a plan for who will take over certain responsibilities if the people managing them leave mid-campaign.

6. Participate in #GivingTuesday.

#GivingTuesday is a philanthropic response to the retail-driven nature of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Organizations challenge their donors to meet a set fundraising goal within 24 hours on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

Why it's important:

#GivingTuesday is an excellent strategy for raising more funds.

Why? The extremely short time limit creates urgency. When donors feel the pressure of the clock ticking, they’ll give and give fast!

Plus, since #GivingTuesday has a very clearly defined fundraising goal, it’s a great opportunity for reluctant donors to give within the context of your annual campaign.

How to get started:

First off, make sure you have a team dedicated to the #GivingTuesday effort, so the other efforts of your annual campaign don’t accidentally fall by the wayside.

To participate, your organization will definitely want to register as an official #GivingTuesday partner (to learn why, check out this eBook!)

In the weeks leading up to the event, start marketing #GivingTuesday to your donors. Let them know how they can participate and encourage them to share your social media posts with friends.

Once the Tuesday after Thanksgiving rolls around, start posting your #GivingTuesday donation form on your social media pages and watch the funds add up!

Annual Fund Outreach and Stewardship

A major factor in your nonprofit’s annual fund development will be your ability to master donor outreach and stewardship.

Thriving annual funds not only regularly add new donors to the mix but do a solid job of keeping existing donors coming back time and time again.

Your acquisition and retention efforts need to work in conjunction with one another. They should create a balance.

The five strategies to the left are designed to give your organization guidance on both fronts.

Scroll down to read them all or click on any of them to be directed right to that strategy.

1. Use multiple outreach channels.

What is it?

When using a multi-channel outreach approach, nonprofits reach out to their donors through a variety of communication channels.

These channels can include but are not limited to:

  • In-person meetings,
  • Phone calls,
  • Text,
  • Email,
  • Social media,
  • Direct mail,
  • And print advertising.

Why it's important:

Your donor base isn’t one unified collective. Each donor is an individual with particular interests and preferences.

That means not all of your donors will want to interact with your organization in the same way.

For example, while one millennial donor might love hearing from your organization through social media and text, a donor in an older demographic might prefer the intimacy of a handwritten note or phone call.

When you take a multichannel approach, you’re more likely to reach donors where they want to be reached, which increases the chances that they’ll engage with your organization.

How to get started:

Make sure you have the right tools handy to efficiently communicate with donors through multiple mediums.

Additionally, you’ll want to have a communications strategy in place.

Study your donor data before the campaign to get a better idea of where each donor might like to be contacted and use this information to guide your outreach.

2. Segment your list.

What is it?

Segmenting a list refers to when nonprofits use certain criteria to break down their donor base into smaller categories.

Why it's important:

Each group of donors has a different relationship with your organization.

As such, not all of the correspondence you send out about your annual campaign will apply to each donor.

For example, while a recurring donor might want to upgrade giving levels, a volunteer who has yet to make a monetary donation to your organization definitely wouldn’t be ready to take this step.

Breaking down your list makes it much easier to target different groups of donors with the relevant information that’s most likely to engage.

How to get started:

To segment out your list, first think of all the major constituent groups your organization wants to target.

Some examples might be:

  • One-time donors,
  • Recurring givers,
  • Major gift donors,
  • Lapsed donors,
  • Volunteers,
  • Event participants,
  • And more!

Next, categorize each donor into the appropriate group. This process will be much more efficient with nonprofit CRM software, which can automate list segmentation based on the donor data you’ve collected.

The last step is to strategize about how you want to approach each group. How do you hope to further mobilize each to help you reach your annual fund goals?

3. Take a personal approach.

What is it?

With a personal approach, nonprofits reach out to donors on an individual level with the main goal of building more meaningful relationships with them, instead of focusing solely on transactions.

Why it's important:

Your annual campaign is all about forming more meaningful relationships with donors.

When you get to know donors and connect with them on a personal level, they’ll feel valued by your organization and be more likely to become recurring donors.

Recurring givers will be much more valuable to your nonprofit in the long run. In fact, recurring gift donors, on average, give about twice as much as major gift donors.

Plus, nobody likes to be treated like an ATM. If you go into your annual campaign with a transactional mindset, you run the risk that you might alienate or tire out your donors by asking for too much.

How to get started:

For this strategy, you’re really going to want the help of a donor database!

Because all donor data will be tracked in one place, your data sources can inform each other to give you the most detailed insights into your donors.

You can then use these insights to better personalize your outreach.

For example, say you’re an animal advocacy organization, and you’re reaching out to Debbie Donor to tell her about your annual campaign.

You have a note in your CRM that Debbie Donor has a dog named Rex. If you can incorporate that piece of information into your outreach, Debbie will know that your organization is paying attention to her as an individual and be much more likely to become a long term contributor.

4. Offer other engagement opportunities.

What is it?

To forge the deepest relationships with supporters, offer them other opportunities to engage with your organization aside from making monetary donations, such as the chance to volunteer or take an advocacy action.

Why it's important:

One of the best ways to take a more personal approach is by giving supporters many different ways to interact with your organization.

Offering other engagement opportunities allows you to reach out to donors without always asking, which will lead to better donor relationships.

Plus, some supporters might want to contribute to your annual giving campaign, but won’t have the capacity to make a monetary donation.

With various engagement opportunities, these donors can still get involved with your organization, giving you a bigger and more diverse base of contributors to work with.

How to get started:

Think about other areas in which your organization can encourage supporters to get involved.

For example, you could:

  • Have supporters take an advocacy action, like signing an online petition.
  • Encourage supporters to volunteer at or attend your next fundraising event.
  • Ask supporters if they’d like to participate in a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.
  • Request that supporters follow your pages on social media or subscribe to your email newsletter.

It can be helpful to analyze your donor database to get an idea of how your supporters have interacted with your organization in the past.

If you can get an idea of your supporters’ interests and skills, you can better target your outreach by offering each the engagement opportunities that will appeal to them most.

5. Always say thank you.

What is it?

The proper donation acknowledgement will thank the donor sincerely and provide them with a donation receipt.

Why it's important:

Not only is thanking your donors an integral part of the stewardship process, but it’s also just plain old common courtesy.

Thanking donors is yet another way to make them feel valued and strengthen your relationships with them, which is a primary goal of the annual giving campaign.

Additionally, providing donors with donation receipts is good practice and often required by law (for more specific information, check out the IRS guidelines: https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p1771.pdf).

Many donors will want to claim their charitable donations as tax deductions, and donation receipts are the best proof of charitable giving.

How to get started:

Craft some thank-you note templates before the campaign to help you streamline the acknowledgment process.

If you’re using a donor database with online donation capabilities, most platforms will automate sending out thank-you letters and donation receipts right after a donor has made a contribution.

You’ll probably still want to follow up by sending each donor a more personalized thank-you note, but at the very least no donations will go unacknowledged.

For offline donors and following up with online donors, make sure you send acknowledgments out no later than two days after you receive the donation.

Direct Asks for Annual Gifts

At the end of the day, collecting donations for your annual fund is going to be primarily about frontline fundraising and making direct asks.

Gifts to the annual fund are often smaller gifts and recurring donations, so securing them typically comes down to your team’s strategies when you ask for donations.

Lucky for you, we’ve put together six strategies for making direct asks, all created with annual fund growth in mind. 

Each strategy is listed to the left.

Scroll down to read them all or click on any of them to be directed right to that strategy.

1. Encourage recurring giving.

When your organization encourages recurring giving, you’ll be making a conscious effort to cultivate one-time donors into donors who give again and again.

Why it's important:

Increasing donor retention rates is one of the main focuses of the annual fund campaign.

Why, exactly? Well, it’s much easier and more cost-effective for nonprofits to focus on cultivating the relationships with donors who’ve already given to the organization than it is to build new relationships from scratch.

Think about it: If you’ve already convinced a donor that your cause is worthwhile enough to support, it will take less to persuade them to give again.

You’ll be able to skip the initial stages of the stewardship process, saving your organization time and money.

Plus, as we touched on earlier, recurring donors are much more valuable for nonprofits, because they give more over the span of their relationship with the organization than a donor could give if just contributing once.

How to get started:

As you’re making your direct asks, emphasize recurring giving to your donors.

For the best chance of success, you’ll want to to make setting up recurring giving as convenient as possible.

Make sure that you include a recurring giving option on your online donation form.

Additionally, most nonprofit CRMs with donation processing tools, will allow you to store donors’ credit card numbers and automate payments when it’s time to make a recurring gift. Just make sure to get the donor’s explicit permission.

2. Create customized giving levels.

Customized giving levels offer donors the option to give gifts of various sizes.

Why it's important:

Not all donors are capable of giving the same amount.

By offering donors multiple giving levels, you’ll enable more supporters to make a contribution, increasing your funds.

Plus, when you let donors know that even the smallest contributions can make a difference, it shows them that your organization values all donations, regardless of size.

How to get started:

This strategy applies mainly to your online donation form.

As you’re creating your form, feature multiple, preset giving levels as well as field where donors can submit a custom donation amount.

It can also be helpful to tell donors exactly what each donation amount can do to further your cause.

While this might be more difficult within the context of the annual campaign, you can still make donations more tangible by telling donors how their funds will help your organization stay up and running, so you can keep making a difference.

3. Suggest a gift size.

During the direct asks, you’ll request a specific donation amount from the donor.

Why it's important:

Because annual fund campaigns are a little less targeted in their aims (after all, you’re mostly raising unrestricted funds to cover your operational expenses), suggesting a gift size can be a great strategy for making more directed asks.

Oftentimes, donors will have no idea how much they should give. Having a better idea of what’s expected from them might compel more of them to donate.

Additionally, this strategy provides your organization with more control over the quality of gifts you’ll receive from each donor.

While not everyone will give the suggested amount (some might even give more!), when you know exactly how much you want to raise from each donor, you can better plan out how you’re going to reach your goals.

How to get started:

This is another occasion where you’ll want to conduct prospect research and where wealth screening might come in handy.

By examining a donor’s wealth indicators and philanthropic motivations, you can estimate a general capacity score that will help you determine what quality of gift they might be able to give.

Keep in mind: because they’re usually calculated from an incomplete set of data, capacity scores are by no means a perfect science. Instead, they’re rough estimations that can help you categorize your donors into different giving levels to better tailor your asks.

If it turns out that you have no idea how much to ask for from a certain donor, it’s best not to make a suggestion at all.

4. Personalize your asks.

Approach your direct asks the same way as you would your general outreach: by using your donor data to make them more personal.

Why it's important:

Just because you’re asking for donations doesn’t mean you should approach donors any less personally.

In fact, because you’re relying on their goodwill to procure donations, you should emphasize even more that you value them as individuals.

When donors know that your organization is making a concerted effort to connect with them on a personal level, they’ll feel valued.

People are much more likely to help out those who make them feel appreciated, so your asks are sure to be more effective when you personalize them.

How to get started:

Again, turn to your nonprofit CRM for help. In the case of direct asks, you’ll probably want to focus in on data regarding donors’ previous interactions with your organization.

For an example, let’s go back to Debbie Donor. If you know that Debbie’s most recent gift was $200 given last December, you can reference this specifically in your direct ask.

More generally, knowing that Debbie is a recurring contributor to your organization can help guide the language you use to make your ask.

Making generic asks can be off putting, particularly to donors who have been longtime supporters of your organization.

Think about it: if you just make a generalized ask, it will seem like your organization is only concerned with the actual funds, not the loyal donors they came from.

5. Make a year-end appeal.

Save your direct asks for the last two months of the year.

Why it's important:

The very end of the year is the most lucrative time to ask for donations.

Why? Because the end of the year marks the end of tax season, donors have a better idea of how much money is left over to be given to charitable causes.

Others simply enjoy extending the holiday spirit of giving to charitable causes.

Either way, at the end of the year, donors are usually more inclined to give!

How to get started:

When planning your annual campaign, you’ll want to make sure you have ample time and resources to put toward your year-end appeals.

Your organization will need to have:

  • A team dedicated to donor solicitation.
  • The right communications tools.
  • The ability to process many different types of donations.
  • A plan in place for efficiently following up with donors.

Make sure you plan your annual campaign calendar so that you’re not running too many other efforts in conjunction with your direct asks.

The most successful year-end appeals will target donors through multiple channels.

6. Have a pledging program in place.

A pledging program allows donors to promise a future contribution to an organization, given once the conditions of the pledge are met.

Why it's important:

Some donors will want to support your annual fund by making a monetary donation, but won’t be capable of giving at the time of your ask. A pledging program gives them more flexibility.

With pledges, donors in this situation can essentially make a donation at the time of your ask, but won’t have to deliver the gift until they’re capable of doing so.

Without the ability to accept pledges, your organization might miss out on a good chunk of contributions. While donors might still want to give in the future, they’ll be much less likely to do so if your organization hasn’t established clear guidelines.

A pledge program establishes a set process for agreeing on the terms of the pledge and following up with pledges who have yet to make their gifts.

How to get started:

Your organization will definitely want to appoint someone on your team to be in charge of pledge management.

The duties of this person will include:

  • Setting the terms of the pledge. Pledges can either be unconditional (meaning they’re made by a set date) or conditional (meaning they’re made once an organization has fulfilled a certain condition).
  • Properly recording the pledge for accounting purposes.
  • Following up with pledge donors to ensure they make good on their pledges.
  • Processing pledges received.

With a system in place for managing pledges from the beginning, you should be able to increase your fundraising results.

Growing Your Annual Fund at Events

Nothing pulls together various fundraising elements quite like events.

They provide the perfect opportunity for organizations to gather numerous supporters in one room and build buzz around a given campaign. As such, they can be the ideal complement to annual fund activities.

So, we’ve compiled strategies to help take your annual gifts game to the next level with the assist from fundraising events.

Scroll down to read them all or click on any of them to be directed right to that strategy.

1. Explore corporate partnerships.

What it is:

With corporate partnerships, a business sponsor will help your organization fund and market your annual event.

Why it's important:

Nonprofits face a common problem of limited time and resources, especially when it comes to an effort as big as planning an annual campaign.

A corporate sponsor will bring your event more visibility. They’ll also usually help out by donating money, goods, or services for the event.

Teaming up with a business sponsor will take some of the stress of event-planning off of your organization, so you can throw an amazing event without sacrificing your other annual campaign efforts.

How to get started:

With this strategy, it’s all about who you know! It will be much easier to form partnerships with corporations that you have a personal connection with.

Do any of your staff, board members, or loyal donors have internal connections at big-name corporations? If so, this is a good place to start.

Once you have a list of potential corporate sponsors, do a little research. You’ll want to see if these companies have programs in place for charitable giving.

2. Consider hosting many smaller events.

What it is:

Essentially the child campaign of event planning strategies, your organization will host many small events throughout your annual campaign in lieu of one annual event.

Why it's important:

Planning one huge event (like an auction or gala) can exhaust an organization’s resources.

Planning many smaller events breaks event planning down into more digestible chunks, making them more manageable efforts for busy nonprofits in the midst of their annual campaigns.

Additionally, hosting multiple events will give your organization more opportunities to interact with your donors face to face.

How to get started:

Start by enlisting the help of an event planning fundraising software, which will make managing your events much easier.

At the start of your campaign you’ll want to think about:

  • How many events you’ll host.
  • What type of events you’ll host.
  • What you’ll need for each event.

Once you have a better idea of which events you’ll host, you’ll want to make a tentative calendar so you can properly allocate your resources and start marketing your event to your donors.

3. Keep your annual events interesting.

What it is:

While the main flavor of your annual event will stay the same, your organization will introduce surprises or twists into your event each year.

Why it's important:

Nobody wants to attend the exact same event year after year after year.

At the same time, it is beneficial for your organization to host the same annual event every year, because you can constantly improve your strategies.

However, you don’t want to run the risk of becoming so predictable that you bore your supporters to tears.

Introducing a surprise or twist is the best way to combat this problem while still reaping the benefits of holding an annual event.

How to get started:

You’ll need to get your creative juices flowing,

Think about your annual event. What new twist can you put on it to keep supporters on their toes?

For example, if you always host a silent auction, you could surprise guests with a celebrity emcee. If you host a gala, you could transform the black-tie affair into a Vegas-style casino night.

Ideally, you’ll want to think up a surprise so remarkable that donors will talk about it for years to come. Let your imagination run wild!

4. Mobilize supporters to host events.

What it is:

Instead of your organization hosting a variety of mini-events during your annual campaign, why not get your supporters to do it for you?

Why it's important:

Mobilizing your supporters to host events for you provides organizations with many benefits:

  1. It will take a lot of the pressure of planning fundraising events off of your organization. With supporters planning, marketing, and hosting the event for you, you’ll have more time to spend on other efforts.
  2. You won’t have to put as many funds toward hosting your event. Instead, you can use the funds you save to help you further your cause.
  3. It provides donors with another excellent engagement opportunity with your organization.
  4. It gives your organization an additional opportunity to build deeper relationships with your donors.
  5. Because your donors are likely in different geographic locations, a wider audience will be able to attend (and donate at!) your events.

There’s really nothing to lose here!

How to get started:

You’ll need the help of many loyal supporters if you want to pull off this strategy.

Send out an email introducing the idea to supporters and gauging their interest. If not many are willing to participate, this probably isn’t the right strategy for your organization.

If several are excited by the idea, you’ll want to help each supporter decide which type of event to throw and then set a tentative event schedule.

You’ll also want to put a staff member in charge of overseeing the effort to help supporters with any logistics and ensure that everything is running smoothly.

5. Host a celebratory event at the end of your campaign.

What it is:

Your celebratory event will take place once your annual campaign has come to a close. Not a fundraising event, it will be an opportunity to recognize the key contributors to your annual campaign.

Why it's important:

Your staff and board, major gift donors, volunteers, members, and more have all worked super hard to help your organization reach its annual fund goals.

If you have the resources to spare, a celebratory event will be a great place to reward everyone’s contributions and make them feel appreciated, which is an integral part of the stewardship process.

Additionally, it will be yet another opportunity for you to interact with your constituents in person and form deeper relationships with them.

How to get started:

You’ll want to schedule this event for the beginning of the year, so it doesn’t interfere with your organization making its year-end appeals.

However, start planning well in advance to make sure you can procure all of the necessary resources.

Decide what type of event you want to throw and set a date. Then, determine your guest list.

You probably won’t be able to accommodate everyone who gave to your annual fund. Instead, focus on the big contributors who went above and beyond to help you reach your goals.