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Should we conduct an Annual Campaign? The Answer is YES, YES and YES!!!
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Should we conduct an Annual Campaign? The Answer is YES, YES and YES!!!

By Misty Cato Vice President, Diversified Nonprofit Services, LLC

But, we are a really small organization: YES

But, we are a really large organization: YES

But, we are a new organization: YES

But, we are a long-standing organization: YES

I hope at this point I have communicated that organizations large and small, new and old should conduct an Annual Campaign. It has been my experience that organizations sometimes look for excuses not to conduct a campaign. I have heard everything from “we are understaffed,” “we already have 8 events” and, my personal favorite, “our community is different.” All of these reasons prevent growth and tend to keep an organization in a reactive mode of development as opposed to a proactive mode. Perhaps the idea of an Annual Campaign can be overwhelming and somewhat daunting. In this article I hope to reveal to the reasons why an organization should conduct a campaign. Next month, (after you have decided to conduct a campaign) I will share some simple steps on how to realize success with your annual campaign efforts.

Annual Campaigns can be defined very differently. In the context of this article, however, we are referring to an Annual Campaign as a board-driven fundraising effort or appeal that seeks unrestricted operating funds from primarily individual donors, but also from foundations and corporations.

I believe that when talking about Annual Campaigns and seeking gifts one should first consider from where the money is currently being given. Please see the chart to the right that indicates that nearly 75% of all philanthropy comes from individual donors. This is an under-solicited donor base in many organizations. How many times in your organization do you seek corporate sponsors before individual donors?

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At DNS Associates, we believe that in order to have a diversified annual campaign your funding chart should be similar to the above pie chart.

The Annual Campaign allows an organization a unique opportunity to target individual donors and receive funds from this donor group that without a campaign would be difficult to reach. Prior to beginning a campaign, it is of critical importance to recognize that the majority of solicitations will be directed towards individual donors as this group makes up the largest segment of the donor population. Now that we have established where the funds are located, let’s discuss why an organization would want to conduct an Annual Campaign.

Sell the Mission!

Annual Campaigns provide an organization the opportunity to sell the mission– not a ticket. Too often in smaller nonprofits a society of ticket buyers is created rather than a society of donors or investors. Nonprofits sell tickets to a gala, some organizations sell raffle tickets and others sell foursomes for a golf tournament. These groups generally do a good job in selling and yet the only mention of the organization is “it’s for a good cause.” Through these opportunities and experiences donors or “ticket buyers” never connect to the mission or the vision of the organization. They play in a tournament, have a nice dinner or simply toss away raffle tickets. They seldom really learn of the good an organization does for the clients they serve or the impact the organization makes in the community. The Annual Campaign allows an organization to connect donors to their clients, their programs and, most importantly, their mission. Through personal face-to-face solicitations for unrestricted gifts a dialogue can occur and the donor has the opportunity to learn why they should make a gift and the value of that gift to the organization and the community. When a donor fully understands the mission, the impact, and the case for support, a sacrificial gift will be made.

Move donors up the giving pyramid!

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Having an Annual Campaign and taking the time to connect donors to the mission will allow the organization the opportunity to move donors up the giving pyramid. Please take a look at the diagram to the left. At the bottom of the pyramid is “events”– this is often where donors enter the giving cycle. These are the people that attend an event for an organization and make a token gift. Once someone has attended an event, it should be the goal to convert the event attendee into an annual donor. This takes cultivation and stewardship. Once the donor has been secured as an annual donor, time should be spent on developing a meaningful relationship. Over time and as the donor’s relationship with the organization deepens these donors often become major or capital donors and will hopefully one day make a planned gift to the organization. A planned gift is the pinnacle of effective development. Individuals only make planned gifts to organizations in which they feel a deep and meaningful connection. Donors don’t often move directly from an event attendee to a planned gift donor; time must be spent fostering a relationship and moving the donor up the pyramid. It should be the goal to move all donors up the giving pyramid in a manner that would lead to a planned gift. The Annual Campaign is the perfect vehicle for driving that process.

Cost- Effective! Annual Campaigns are the most cost-effective form of development.

Because an Annual Campaign relies on face to face solicitations, there is little cost associated with conducting a campaign. It is not necessary to spend an enormous amount of money on expensive solicitation packets. An organization only needs a carefully outlined case statement and intent to give or pledge forms. Unlike events, where an organization has to spend $30, $40 or sometimes $60 per attendee, the annual campaign does not have these associated expenses thus allowing more of the gift to be directed to the organization and clients. Also, because Annual Campaigns are board driven, an organization operating with a small or non-existent development team should be capable of conducting a campaign.

Why Not?

Why would organizations not provide individuals in their community the opportunity to invest in the organization? Both board members and staff members are likely proud of the organization and feel great about the services the organization is providing. If that is the case, they should invite others to invest and give. While fundraising is a little of art and a little of science one truth remains constant: If an organization does not ask for gifts, an organization will not receive gifts.

After reading this article, it would be my hope that you cannot wait to begin your campaign! The benefits of conducting a campaign by far outweigh any potential negative consequences. If an organization is truly planning for the future an annual campaign is not optional; it is essential. The campaign will allow an organization to focus on the mission and connect with donors while developing meaningful relationships that will lead to long-term success and sustainability.

If you would like to request an individual meeting to discuss Annual Campaigns, please contact me at 910-540-2593 or