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Annual Fundraising By Tom MacAdam

Move annual fundraising beyond golf outings, galas and gift forms!

Events and appeals, auctions and raffles, monthly emails and quarterly form letters are at the core of many annual fundraising efforts. But they can be an addiction, and a treadmill for your development team.


So why do so many organizations, particularly local schools, ministries, and rescue missions, rely on these often expensive, labor intensive, and impersonal ways of raising support year after year?

Possible reasons for dependency:

  • Fear of losing expected, predictable revenue
  • The appearance of success, in the gross amount of funds raised
  • Conditioning of donors, who hold back gifts until these expected events or appeals
  • Personal or departmental ownership of a fundraising method or event

However, the deeper reason organizations rely on these fundraising approaches may be anxiety about asking donors directly. That points to the need for more personal relationships, and consistent, individualized contact with key supporters.

This might hit close to home. If this is true of your organization, the good news is that it can be solved. You just need a different mindset, and a fresh vision for a better way to raise essential support.

Most seasoned fundraising professionals know that a larger gift results when you ask a supporter personally and directly for it (rather than asking them to fill out a table card in a room of 300 people.) Why is that?

The human brain is capable of many amazing things – and at the same time it has its limitations.

First, in a room of 300 people, after a round of golf, a nice dinner and a guest speaker, even the average mind can still do simple math. So as you passionately describe your vital mission, list your exciting accomplishments, share inspiring testimonies, and make a passionate request toward a lofty fundraising goal… the mental calculators begin. Each supporter in the room – a few of whom may be capable of meeting 25 percent, 50 percent or even 100 percent of your goal by themselves – begins to divide your goal by the number of guests.

It’s almost irresistible. And as you might expect, your donors’ brains quickly estimate what their fractional share might be. Or worse, they pull out their pre-written check, in the same amount as last year.

But as amazing as the human mind is, it can’t know what you might have asked a specific donor to give toward your fundraising goal. That’s of course unless you ask personally and directly.

Events, mailings, and generalized fundraising approaches leave donors guessing. They will never yield the fruit that a thoughtful, personal, individualized request for support will produce in a single donor. They may appear successful. They will raise some funds. But they will not result in giving that maximizes each donor’s investment in your cause, or that develops their ongoing relationship with you.

There is a better way.

In the context of a capital campaign, many organizations raise substantially more than they ever thought possible based on their typical annual fund results. Why is this?

In a successful capital campaign, an organization paints a compelling picture of specific goals and outcomes it seeks to achieve, and a clear amount needed to make those goals a reality. Key donors are identified, involved in the process, provided with a vision and asked for significant lead gifts. The majority of the goal is achieved through these personal conversations, before the effort is ever presented to the broader constituency.

What makes such efforts successful? Why don’t organizations often see the same kind of large-scale gifts, when it comes to their annual fundraising efforts?

Two key principles are probably at work here:

  • People give transformative gifts to people (or organizations) they know and trust, in the context of a relationship.
  • People give most generously when they are asked, and shown how.

You may have built some personal relationships and trust, but without a specific and personal request for support (and an explanation of the difference a donor’s gift will make), your key donors are unlikely to help as much as they could.

What if your annual fundraising efforts, instead of expressing urgency and anxiety, felt more like a celebration? What if the majority of your annual fund goal was already committed beforehand, and you were only seeking to finish the effort with the rest of your constituents’ help?

Applying Capital Campaign Principles to your Annual Fund

(1) Develop a case for support for your annual fund, a document to guide conversations

  • Outline your mission and why your organization exists, in a compelling way
  • Share your achievements and your plans for the coming year
  • Define the outcomes you expect from these efforts
  • Explain your needs, and the amount of funding it will take to achieve your goals

(2) Identify key prospects for leading gifts

  • Review giving histories and some basic research on your donors
  • Focus first on the few who can help you achieve the majority of your goal

(3) Involve leadership

  • Key staff members, who commit to personally cultivate these relationships
  • Support staff, managing and keeping the campaign on task
  • Board members and donors, willing to connect, cultivate and solicit other gifts

(4) Form a campaign strategy

  • Establish a chart of gifts of different sizes needed to reach your annual fund goal
  • Focus first on finding a lead donor, who might be able to commit 20-25 percent of your goal, and then 5 to 7 other donors who can help you get to 40 percent or more
  • Pursue the final 15 to 20 percent of your campaign at your typical events or efforts

(5) Establish a campaign plan

  • Set timelines for individual conversations, to review your campaign case and personally request support at a specific level

At first, bringing this kind of discipline to your annual fund might seem like a big task. It may require a change of mindset, and disruption of some normal patterns. But ultimately, these changes can pave the way to deeper personal engagement with your key supporters – and the kind of giving that can transform your organization.


Tom MacAdam is a consultant with The FOCUS Group, a firm dedicated to building the kingdom of God by serving nonprofits in raising capital and cultivating major donors.

Interested in more on generosity and fundraising?

Check out the 2017 Winter edition of Outcomes Digital Magazine.

Now – check out what’s happening at Biola University…


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