Development leaders often make the case that donors aren’t eager to give to the annual fund because its not compelling to support “keeping the lights on.”
But, donors aren’t ceasing their giving to your annual fund because they want to, “give to something specific” instead. Or, because your annual fund, “is a black hole.” Or, because your annual fund “supports operations.”
Yes, donors want to understand the impact of their giving.
Research consistently points out, however, that impact doesn’t necessarily mean giving specifically for one part of the enterprise over the whole. In fact, during moments of crisis, like during the pandemic, research has found that donors will give in more flexible ways which allow institutional leaders to decide how the funds should be used.
If your annual fund is not growing in dollars and/or donors, perhaps it’s time to rethink your marketing strategies. Here are three helpful approaches to effective annual fund marketing:
- Humanize The Impact of Your Annual Fund. If your mission is education, tell stories of students who are being transformed. If your mission is healthcare, tell stories of patient being healed. If your mission is social services, tell stories of families being fed or housed or clothed. Make your mission come to life through individual stories of lives being transformed or saved – always. Marketing the annual fund as saving or transforming lives never gets tired or less productive.
- Re-Imprint the Purpose of Your Annual Fund. Replace the words, “unrestricted,” or “budget-relieving,” or “operations” when describing the purpose of your annual fund. These words focus the reader’s attention on the institution itself instead of on the mission. Additionally, no one really knows the meaning of these words. Instead, use phrases like, “annual fund donors provide the resources to help us comprehensively serve our students.” Or, “donors who give generously to our annual fund ensure we can most effectively serve all our participants.” Or, “gifts to our annual fund provide the margin of excellence when caring for our patients.”
- Prioritize Promotion. Always offer the annual fund giving option first. Whether talking with a major gift prospect about a multi-year capital gift, creating your campaign pledge form, or rewiring your website’s giving page, ensure that the annual fund is the first option for a gift. Any additional gift is great, but first, we want to communicate the importance of the annual fund and invite all donors who care about our institution to give an annual gift in support of the fund that “helps every student/patient/participant every day.”
The annual fund doesn’t have to be a weak link in your development program. In fact, it can grow to become a fundraising strength for your institution.
Committing to humanizing impact, using more compelling language, and consistent, primary promotion, will change the way your donors respond to annual fund appeals.
And, your perspective on the annual fund just might change as well.