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Identify, Engage, Solicit, Steward, Repeat

While annual giving seems simple – identify, engage, solicit, steward, repeat – anyone who has worked in annual giving knows that it is anything but simple. Where and how do you find new prospects? How do you create a case for support that resonates and raises money for much-needed general operating support? How much should you ask for? How do donors want to be thanked and recognized?

We know the annual fund is crucial to the long-term success of almost all fundraising organizations. The objectives of an annual fund are to:

  • Build and develop a consistent base of donors and gifts
  • Establish patterns of giving by regular solicitation, cultivation and stewardship
  • Expand the donor base by identifying new donors and prospects
  • Inform, involve, and link your donors to your organization’s mission
  • Identify donors with the capacity and interest to make a larger major or capital gift to your organization

One of the consistent themes of annual giving shops – regardless of the size or sector of the organization – is “do more with less.” So how to accomplish all this, let alone improve results, with fewer resources?

An analytical approach can guide the way. Annual funds are often the cradle of analytics within nonprofit organizations. Annual giving officers are soliciting sometimes huge numbers of donors and prospects; they are juggling multiple channels and solicitation methods; and becoming more and more sophisticated in segmentation strategies. Complex segmentation matrices can develop from the sheer variety of messages, ask amounts, and levels of personalization.

The annual giving officer who attempts to juggle all the puzzle pieces can quickly become overwhelmed. One of the benefits of analytics is that it can take many factors, or variables, into account and wrap them into a single score. For instance, a Likelihood to Give model can assign one unique value to each record using variables such as past giving history, event attendance, longevity on the file, projects supported, connections in the database, source of identification, philanthropy to other organizations… the list goes on.

Imagine having your annual fund file scored and ranked for likelihood to give, and also for capacity to give. Now your matrix of segmentations may look like this:

Likelihood to give

  • Blue=High Capacity/Low Likelihood: High dollar opportunities with long odds
  • Green= High Capacity/High Likelihood: Must win to increase dollars and donors
  • Orange=Low Capacity/High Likelihood: Bolster donor counts with smaller gift amounts
  • White: Low Capacity/Low Likelihood: Most expensive renewals/acquisition; may diminish returns

Simple, right?

But what about all those channels? Of utmost importance in an integrated, multi-channel campaign is the message. It is, after all, the reason why donors give – because they believe in the mission of the organization and the case-for-support presented to them. Giving, therefore, is less about how they give and more about why they give. Treating donors only relative to their channel can potentially limit their engagement and reduce their contributions. In other words, segmenting donors by channel can result in lower fundraising results and it is generally more effective to segment donors by interest than by giving platform. For example, it would be more effective to sub-segment a group of donors as “Annual Fund General Operating Donors” rather than “Direct Mail Respondents.”

Personalization really comes into play when you can pinpoint the interests and motivations of your donors. Again, analytics can help. A cluster model that statistically groups prospects according to similar attributes such as interests, behaviors or demographics can provide just what the annual fund needs to create unique and resonant messages for your key constituent segments.

If you’d like to learn more about annual giving, please feel free to download WealthEngine Institute’s free educational workbook, The Data Driven Annual Fund. The three-part series covers everything from crafting the case for support to determining ask amounts and stewardship best practices.

Sally Boucher Sally Boucher

The preceding is a guest post by Sally Boucher, CFRE, Director of Research for WealthEngine and manager of WealthEngine Institute, a knowledge center that provides fundraising practitioners research, education, networking and analysis of fundraising strategy.


Topics: Fundraising