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Putting the Fun into Your Annual Fund

Resource Center - Foundation

(Feb. 15, 2011) If you are bored by your annual fund then chances are your donors and constituents are too. In this article Jill Pranger, ACFRE, discusses how to have a fresh, fun and creative annual giving program. She will present a session titled "Annual Giving...How to change lives through loyal donors..." at the AFP International Conference on Fundraising in March.

Above all, the process should be enjoyable--for the donor, but also for the fundraiser. "It's essential to make annual giving come alive," says Pranger. "This is not a static operation--if we don't think creatively and strategically, it will go away or we will."

Pranger believes that making an annual fund relevant and interesting means crafting a message that is appropriate to the organization and also to the audience. "If you work at the American Heart Association and your messaging doesn't have a tie in with hearts on Valentine's Day, you might be missing a great opportunity."

These days there are many ways to send a message. But before you open up Facebook or Twitter, make a YouTube video, draft an email or a letter, there is a first step: Determine the message you want to convey. The medium, after all, is just that--a means of sending ideas. If you don't present a clear and compelling message in the beginning, it doesn't matter how many tools you use to send it.

Being creative and knowing your audience will make the message come through. It will also keep you from falling into one of two dangerous illnesses: ‘Boredom Syndrome' and ‘Know-it-all-itis.' If you find the process painful--so will donors. And the second ailment, which Pranger says commonly sets in after one or two years, is just as problematic. If you feel you know everything down to the right font and letter word length, you will resist changing and updating, being creative and, well, thinking.

Your donors are not robots. Change things up a bit and add new life, even if that means simply changing the frequency, timing or format of your appeals.

Planning to Make it Fun

Of course, no successful annual giving program happens on its own. No matter the medium (new or traditional) you need to answer some central questions. "You have to do the thinking part before you do the asking part," Pranger explains.

Here is a list of a few of the core questions you'll want to answer before a letter or email (or Tweet) has gone out.

  • When are we going to ask?
  • How many times are we going to ask?
  • Who is going to ask?
  • What are your goals?
  • How much money do you have to spend?
  • What is your message or theme?
  • What is your story?
  • How do we thank people when they make a gift?

Remember that the goal of every communication is to establish a relationship. Find out what donors want--ask them for feedback or their stories right in the message you send. Consider using these testimonials to inform and inspire others. Ask your donors: Why do you like us? Why do you support us? Knowing this will help you connect.

After you establish a relationship, you must then keep it going and enhance the relationship, Pranger explains. People give year after year after year when they feel that they have ownership and feel responsible for the organization's progress. You can't take that loyalty for granted. You have to keep the communication lines open and current.

Keeping open the lines of communication requires attentiveness and thought--like any relationship you have in your own personal life. You have to have consistency. Think of what it feels like when a friend does not return your call or fails to acknowledge something nice you have done for them. Relationships grow or wither with small actions.

Add to your annual giving campaign one part planning and one part creativity and it's a recipe for fun. It's also a great way to raise more money.

Jill A. Pranger, ACFRE, is president of Pranger Philanthropic in Loudon, Tenn. She will present a session at the AFP International Conference on Fundraising on March 21 that explains what is needed to develop a productive and effective annual giving program.

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