annual contributions

In Part 1 of this four-part series I introduced a ‘4-Step Strategy to Cure Your Current Fundraising Headache.’

  1. FORWARD FACE Equilibrium: Balance your fundraising strategies
  2. FUEL the Machine: Charge your annual contributions income engine
  3. FUMES Provide Accelerant: Prepare for ‘retirement’
  4. FUTURE Proof the Mission: Leave a legacy for generations to come

It’s time right now to get your best sustainable fundraising strategies off the back burner. If you keep putting good plans and approaches ‘on pause’ you’re going to get stuck where you are. It’s imperative right now you be proactive, not just reactive. 

Today it’s time to talk about the core foundation of your fundraising:

FUEL the Machine

Your job is to build a well-oiled machine that keeps humming along.

One that will yield donations today and tomorrow.

Through thick and thin.

There’s little I’m more proud of in my career than having those who came after me say: “She truly created a well-oiled machine.”

You can do it too.

Just begin at the beginning.

Then build from there.

Charge your Annual Contributions Income Engine

Cars, bodies, businesses and nonprofits all need regular fueling. 

The best advice I can offer for right now is to do everything in your power to gas up your tank by generating a broad base of funding to fuel your operating budget. This seems obvious, but some nonprofits are acting as if what made sense yesterday no longer holds true. But it does. And it will. From little seeds big trees grow.

You need to build an annual contributions giving pipeline and keep it fueled up!

annual contributions

Core Annual Contributions & Fundraising Strategies

You need the basics first.

Imagine you want to play guitar like a jazz virtuoso, whiling away the day jamming with some friends.  But… you’ve never played a single note. And you don’t own a guitar. Clearly, you need an instrument and instruction. You’re not ready to riff just yet. Not until you’ve learned the basics.

Fundraising works the same way. Sure, you can ignore the art and science that’s come before. But it’s not very smart. In order to ignore something with intention, you’ve got to learn it first. Otherwise, you’re going to waste a lot of time and resources.

Time and again, nonprofit leaders come to me asking for help with a new campaign or social media strategy. They want to riff (which means variation on a theme), yet they don’t have the theme nailed. They lack clarity and consensus around fundamentals. They don’t have best practices in place.

In a nutshell:

  1. Your prospective donor mailing list is more important than the content of your appeal. Even the most brilliantly crafted appeal won’t raise much money if sent to the wrong people. Or not enough people. Begin by brainstorming your most likely donor prospects. Then segment them so you can approach folks in the most meaningful way possible (e.g., non-donors vs. mid-level donors vs. major donors; parents vs. grandparents; clients vs. non-clients; volunteers vs. non-volunteers; cat lovers vs. dog lovers, etc.). See other examples of donor segments which may be useful.
  2. Direct mail is still the best medium for cutting through the clutter and getting your message directly in the hands of your constituents. There’s plenty of documented science, art and best practices to help you know which strategies perform best. And, yes, you can – and should – also use direct email. The best strategies today are multi-channel, because you have to meet folks where they are. And with new prospects, you don’t necessarily know where they get their information.
  3. One-time transactions won’t sustain you. It costs more than a dollar to raise a dollar when it comes to acquisition, and you’ll lose 80% of new donors per the latest Fundraising Effectiveness Project Report. You need intentional strategies to renew donors, beginning with acknowledgement procedures.
  4. To see significant fundraising growth you must prioritize upgrade strategies. It’s a lot easier to get more money from an existing donor than to get new money from a stranger. So if you’re not being serious about upgrading, you’re not being smart. Money is being left on the table.
  5. Don’t let donors lapse without a fight. When donors stop giving, and you fail to even notice, that’s a shame. In my experience, many of them simply forgot to give (or even thought they already had). This is easy pickings.
  6. Donor retention is built on relationships. Most first impressions come from when any prospect or donor “touches” your organization. Second and third impressions come from when you “touch” back. People are lonely and isolated now. Think about how you can reach out and touch someone.
  7. Create an engaging donor journey if you want folks to stick with you and advocate on your behalf. If you don’t tend to your car engine it will stop working. If you don’t tend to your donors they will stop giving. Or they’ll just make token gifts (kind of like adding a half gallon of gas to your tank, rather than filling it up).
  8. People move, divorce, remarry and die every year. Have a written plan for cleaning up addresses, salutations and other key contact information in your mailing lists and donor database. Otherwise you’re not just wasting your energy, you’re also fooling yourself and ticking off your constituents.
  9. Is your donor database, CRM and email list server working optimally for you? Sometimes you can fix your car. Sometimes you need to buy a new one. Sometimes you’ll want to upgrade to a product that works more efficiently. Sometimes just a small tweak can make a big difference. Make it your practice to review your support infrastructure regularly.
  10. Your case for support must resonate. It must be relevant, transparent, specific and compelling. Yesterday’s case may not be appropriate for today. The case you make to one donor segment may not be appropriate for another. As your priorities shift, take the time to think through – and write up – current case statements. You’ll be able to use them in all your donor communications moving forward.
  11. Write a strategic annual contributions fundraising plan.
  • Clearly state your organization’s shared vision, mission and values.
  • Assess where you are now in terms of fundraising results by looking at your data.
  • List your current strategies.
  • Consider additional strategies you want to add.
  • Evaluate your greatest challenges.
  • Consider your best opportunities
  • Involve all key stakeholders
  • Set realistic goals based on available resources and past results

Don’t Sacrifice Your Organization’s Future 

As tempting as it may be to go for the short-term save, don’t.

If you do, you’ll only delay your demise.

All those major donors you’ve been focusing on to pull you back from the edge of the abyss? They likely started as not-so-major donors. If you hadn’t attracted them then, you’d have no one to call on now. Yes, major donors are important. Very important. And if you don’t have a robust major gifts program, please run to take that off your back burner now.

Don’t only do major donor fundraising right now however. 

Many of your donors at all giving levels are starved for meaningful connection – and action opportunities — right now. Especially from you

You need to feed the machine.

Abandonment destroys trust. Don’t presume on behalf of your supporters that they don’t want to hear from you. Your donors cared about you before the pandemic. They still do! 

During the last recession, we conducted research with donors to better understand how they were managing their philanthropy in a new financial reality. If I had to boil it down to a single statement, it would be this: during a crisis, donors continue to support not-for-profits that they trust and they find it much easier to drop those that they don’t.

Penelope Burk, Donor-Centered Fundraising

If presented with a compelling appeal to help you stay alive, or transition to new forms of programming, many donors will jump at the chance to do so. People feel isolated and helpless in the face of what’s happening in their community and world. By helping you, donors become both connected and empowered.

You won’t sustain your organization over time by relying on just a few cash cows. 

Cows, even rich and loyal ones, stop yielding milk after a while. Maybe because they get tired. Maybe because they die.

Prime your pump.

All donors matter.

Nonprofit Sustainability

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.