By Sara Lundenberger – Director of fundraising consulting 

Facts and statistics found at Giving USA

There are nearly 87,000 grant-making foundations in the U.S. and they give more than $60 billion every year. While these numbers sound amazing and explain why your board, volunteers and staff can sometimes think grants can be the solution to all of your funding woes, they are not. Foundations only make up 15 percent of all philanthropic giving. That means you are ignoring 85 percent of donors if you only write grants.

This is where individual annual giving programs come into play.

While it can be a daunting task to begin an individual annual giving program, it can be extremely helpful to your mission and your financial stability. About 31 percent of annual giving occurs in December, which means the end of the year is the perfect time to send your first annual giving appeal. And the time to start thinking about sending a year-end appeal is now!

You might be thinking July is a little early to consider sending your year-end appeal – but that is not the case! It takes time to craft your message, create your list, design a compelling piece, get it to the printer and then the mail house and finally into your supporters’ mailboxes before Thanksgiving.

See? That’s a lot of steps! But don’t worry. Here are some tips on how you can get started with your individual annual giving program for you to consider now – so you don’t feel overwhelmed later!

1. Get your board involved

If your board members don’t all give personal checks to your organization, they are a great place to start your annual giving program. Encourage each board member to make a gift, big or small. Ask them to become “solicitors” for your annual fund. They can provide a mailing list of their friends they would like to ask and you can put their name on the appeal. This is an easy way to get those board members involved that aren’t comfortable asking directly for money from their friends.

Remember, your board should care about your organization. Let them help you get started with your annual giving program.

2. Start small

If this is your first attempt at an end of year mailing, start with the easy people first. Run a list from your database of current supporters, event attendees and volunteers. (You have a database, right? If you don’t, check out this post from our president, Amy Wong, about why data is important.) Start with the people closest to your organization, and then begin to widen your circle.

2.5. To buy a list or not buy a list

You may want to purchase a list of names of people that are somehow interested in what you do. This may be a great fit for you, but only if you have a plan to reach out to that same list at least three or four times in the next 12 months. The average return on a cold list is less than one percent. These are people brand new to your organization, so you need to educate them first on what you do and then you can expect some return on investment. If you don’t have a plan or can’t afford to send more mailings, don’t buy a list.

3. Decide on a message

You will be tempted to write a one or two page letter that starts with this sentence: “Since 1967, XYZ Nonprofit has been serving our community by providing (insert your mission here).” Don’t do that. Use a story about someone that was affected by your organization, give specific examples of how donations are used and list compelling facts about what your organization accomplished this year. Tell your prospective donor what your goals are for next year and exactly how you will use their donation. Use photography. Think about what would grab your attention in the mail – and do it!

4. Include a donation envelope

You have done all this work to craft a compelling message and create your list to mail to. The donor decides to make a gift – but how? Always include either a remit slip and mailing envelope or a self-enclosed donation envelope. Make it as easy as possible for them to make a donation. Also, give them the option of your online form. Depending on your demographic, they may be comfortable going online or they may not.

5. Stewardship

This seems to be an area where most organizations falter. The average retention rate for a first-time donor is 23.7 percent. If they give two years in a row, that jumps to 58.4 percent. Stewardship does not mean send a thank you letter receipt after the gift is given and then wait for them to donate again. Stewardship is a plan to keep that donor engaged for more than one donation. Decide if they are going to be added to your email or mailing list. Brainstorm events that you can invite them to. If you keep your donors engaged, educated and excited about your organization, they will continue to give!

 

Starting an individual giving plan from scratch can be tough. But remember –  you aren’t starting from scratch. You have volunteers, staff, board members, current clients, past clients, grateful families and other supporters that are in your circle. You just need to identify them and ask! Create a plan that is easy for your organization to follow and stick to it. If you feel like you haven’t reached out to your donors in a while, send a quick email about an awesome grant you just received or a success story from one of your clients.

Just keep in mind – it doesn’t have to be elaborate to be effective.