Fundraising: why your “annual” appeal shouldn’t be once a year

Now that you’ve mailed out your annual year end  appeal, I’m hoping you are getting ready to mail many of your donors again in a few weeks.

Too soon, you say. Mustn’t bother our donors but once a year, you protest.

I’m with you that it might be too soon for those donors who always send you a generous gift at the end of the year. (Though many direct marketers would dispute that).

But what about the donors who haven’t responded to your annual appeal?

In our work, we often encounter small nonprofits or new fundraisers who believe that the “annual” appeal is just that, a once-a-year request for a donation.

These small organizations often don’t analyze the giving patterns of their donors. They may have no useful donor database, or haven’t thought about what just how much work it might take to get donors to give again.

If an “annual” appeal raises the same amount of money or even just a bit more than it did the year before, it’s considered a success. But what isn’t known is how many of last year’s donors gave a gift again this year. Because that mailing list often contains donors and not-yet donors, new gifts from new donors will offset donors who failed to give again this year.

Keeping more of your current donors is one sure-fire way to raise more money.

According to fundraising researcher Adrian Sargeant, if nonprofits just increased donor retention by 10%, they’d see up to a 200% gain in revenues over donor lifetimes.

Yet Jon and I still bump into organizations of all sizes that can’t tell us what percentage of their donors renew from year to year.

While there are many ways of increasing donor retention by increasing donor loyalty, I’d like to put in a good word for just getting better at one of the technical aspects of raising money — don’t ask just once a year! Especially from your lapsed donors.

In my own experience, and that of my direct marketing colleagues, it might take anywhere from two to five renewal requests to get the vast majority of your donors to renew. I know of one grassroots organization that saw its membership returns increase by $40,000 in a year after they invested in a decent donor database, started tracking renewals, and increased the the number of times they asked not-yet-renewed members to renew their gift.

Think about your own response to fundraising appeals. Do you rush to the checkbook when you open a letter? (Thankfully, many donors still do.) Or do you put aside that appeal to respond at a later date and then forget to send a check, even if you had the best intentions?

Don’t you often need to be reminded that you haven’t renewed your membership, or made a charitable gift this year? (I wonder how many donors there like me who keep a running list of contributions they make throughout the year. I do it to speed up my tax filings, but it also helps me keep track of which of my favorite charities I haven’t given to yet this year.)

So before you think you’ve finished writing appeals for another twelve months, please reconsider.

There are probably a majority of your donors who haven’t make a gift yet who are waiting to be reminded.

Related post:

Give donors something worth reading

7 responses to Fundraising: why your “annual” appeal shouldn’t be once a year

  1. Pamela Grow

    Hallelujah Gayle! When we use the very simple concept of referring to our donors as “friends,” it’s clear: you wouldn’t call upon a friend once a year only to ask for money, would you? As a very general rule of thumb (always keeping in mind the “it depends” cases), I recommend a total of 12-16 “touches” per year with three to four being asks.

    • Gayle Gifford Post Author

      Good advice, Pamela. And if we talk about our donors as friends, then we do need to act that way. Do you also find that many small organizations don’t know who has given and who hasn’t in any particular year?

  2. Lori L. Jacobwith

    Love this post, Gayle! So many organizations I encounter rarely think about what it takes to RETAIN their donors and pay attention to them throughtout the year. I’ll refer many to read this…it’s got terrific information to read and re-read and of course take action on!

  3. Kirsten Bullock, Fundraising Coach

    So often, organizations seem to only look at income from fundraising appeals as one large lump sum, rather than looking at renewals, frequency of gifts, etc. Most often, the reason is that they either don’t have access to that data, or don’t know how to get that information out of their database. I’m amazed at the numbers of organizations who are trying to run fundraising programs with an excel spreadsheet of data. If we’re going to retain donors and develop strategies to do that, we need to have the tools in place to track it.

  4. Mary Cahalane

    And as wiser people than me will tell you, with regard to fears of mailing (or emailing) too often, it’s not as much about the frequency as the quality of those communications.

    As Pamela says, how many are appeals, and how many times are donors thanked? How often do you report to them on how their gifts are working?

    And once someone does make a renewed gift, do they stop hearing from you that year? Then you’re probably leaving money on the table – and leaving the impression that your “friendship” is built on only that gift.

    • Gayle Gifford Post Author

      Thanks, Mary.

      Even without over mailing, I’m especially amazed at how many organizations never follow up with the people who don’t respond to their one, very lonely appeal.

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