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Keep a successful annual appeal separate from capital campaigns

By February 1, 2017July 15th, 2021Steier Tips

Can you have too much of a good thing? When it comes to an annual appeal the answer is “yes.”

The Steier Group works often with nonprofits that pushed too hard and too fast on their annual appeals.

“Our annual appeal brings in great returns. Let’s make it into a campaign by increasing the goals and the amount we request. We will have even bigger success!” That’s usually how the thinking goes.

Unfortunately for organizations that attempt this, the end result often leaves much to be desired. Not only does it harm your annual giving program in the long term, it also leads to a significantly underperforming campaign effort. A double whammy!

Before venturing down that path, it’s important to remember the purpose of an annual appeal. In addition to bringing in critical, ongoing funds for your organization, there are other key benefits of an annual giving program:

  • Makes giving a consistent habit for a wide audience
  • Expands your reach and acquires entry-level donors
  • Helps your organization form a strong database for potential capital campaigns
  • Provides an opportunity to move supporters up the giving ladder
  • Uncovers potential major gift and planned gift donors

Turning an annual appeal into a bigger fundraising project jeopardizes all of these benefits. It risks getting too aggressive with your donors and pulling them away from the consistent, annual gifts that are the backbone of your fundraising operation.

It is certainly wise to ask donors to steadily increase their level of support to your annual appeal. But if you randomly raise the suggested donation amounts for those at entry-level gift levels, you risk losing the bottom portion of your donor base and scaring off new potential donors. This can be detrimental to the long-term health of your fundraising program.

Our advice to all organizations is that you should never trade away a consistent, successful annual appeal for a short-term spike in gifts. Instead, keep your annual appeal and use special fundraising appeals and capital campaigns to tackle the really big stuff. And, as we will explore next month in Steier Tips, capital campaigns have actually proven to strengthen the annual appeals for our clients.

I encourage you to contact me if you have any questions regarding a proper annual appeal or the professional services of the Steier Group.