While each fundraising event is important and supports the big picture, running a successful annual giving campaign that connects to the overall strategy is without question one of the hardest things a nonprofit development professional has to do - especially running successful campaigns on a consistent basis.
This is because annual giving campaigns target donor acquisition and retention, and aim to generate a steadily increasing amount of contributions for operational support over the fiscal year. They also seek to create or cultivate major and planned gifts.
However, while it is easy to grasp why annual giving campaigns are crucial, executing successful campaigns is for many nonprofits easier said than done. This does not suggest that failure rates are dangerously high; because they are not. Most nonprofits do an adequate job with their annual giving campaigns.
However, despite their incredibly hard work and unremitting dedication – with staff and volunteers often working late into the evenings, and over weekends and holidays -- many nonprofits leave annual giving campaign dollars “on the table”, which eventually forces them to make unwanted concessions and compromises to their business plan. When this happens, it is an across-the-board loss for all stakeholders: nonprofits, donors, and benefactors (e.g. clients, target populations, etc.).
Fortunately, executing a highly successful annual giving campaign is both possible and practical. Below, we highlight 8 best practices to reach this essential objective:
1. Create Smaller Sub-Campaigns
As noted above, it can be effective to create much smaller targeted campaigns (i.e. lapsed donors, young donors, one-time donors), which are easier to design, execute, control and track. Naturally, these sub-campaigns should not be managed in “silos”, but need to be integrated with the larger annual campaign or fund as well.
2. Use Multiple Channels
Instead of restricting outreach to a single channel – such as email, web or phone – take a multi-channel approach that delivers consistent messaging, and attempts to usher donors forward. For example, an email can be followed-up with a phone call that references the email, quickly recaps the core message, and then offers donors something new to consider.
3. Test & Optimize
Constantly keep an eye on all KPIs and metrics (i.e. conversion rate, campaign revenue, open rate, etc.) to evaluate campaign performance, as well as elements within a specific outreach asset (e.g. an email, newsletter, video, Infographic, etc.). Constant testing and optimization is essential -- don’t just “set it and forget it”!
4. Tell Stories
Use storytelling elements to bring campaigns (and-sub campaigns) to life and create an emotional, personal connection. As the saying goes: people do not give to organizations, they give to people! At the same time, storytelling and connecting it to a specific cause or theme (i.e. holidays, birthdays, anniversaries) makes campaigns memorable and creates a sense of urgency, which can lead to more contributions.
5. Foster Sharing
Make it easy for potential donors to share content in three ways: clearly encourage them to do so; make content succinct and “shareable” (i.e. passing an article along is “easier” than sending a link to a website); and put social media/share icons on all digital collateral so that people can share with a click or tap. For example, videos can be great content and can easily go viral- check out Youtube's Nonprofit channel to see how you can post and share your next nonprofit video.
6. Make Donating Easy
Use an online payment processor to make it fast, easy and safe for donors to turn their intentions into actions. The process from “I want to donate” to “I have donated” should take less than 60 seconds, and be as friction-free as possible. Read our articles on online payment processing solutions to learn more about the pros and cons of different options.
7. Use Personalized Ask Amounts
Instead of an open-ended (“fill in the blank”) approach or level-based (“$25, $50, $100, $250…etc.” approach), use personalized ask amounts to increase donor revenue and the number of donors that convert. Be sure to use an analytics solutions that calculates a precise ask amount based on both donor CAPACITY to give, and donor WILLINGNESS to give.
8. Follow Up
Last but not least: follow up with donors and let them know how their support contributed to overall campaign success - especially if they are first-time donors! Writing them a hand-written note (if time and resources permit) or a follow up email will be particularly appreciated.
The Bottom Line
Annual giving campaigns are challenging and complex, but they are also exciting opportunities to make a deep, lasting impact on current and new donors.
Implementing the best practices above and customizing them for the specific needs and nuances of your organization will help your organization, your donors and your beneficiaries triumph!