Let’s Kill the Annual Appeal

I think one of the most annoying concepts in fundraising is this thing called the “Annual Appeal.”  I know a lot of universities, hospitals and small non-profits use this strategy, but I gotta tell you, it drives me nuts!

In fact, I wish we could kill the whole concept.

Why?  Because it’s the most anti-donor, uninspired concept in all of fundraising.  And, hey…it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Go look at the donor file of an organization that pushes the “Annual Appeal”—their gift frequency rate is…guess what?  1.0.

Now you might argue this with me and say, “Well that’s just the term, we don’t really mean that we only ask donors once a year for a gift.”

Really?  Think about it from the donor’s perspective.  “Yeah, I gave to the school’s Annual Appeal, I’ve done my duty.”  Believe me, that’s how they think about it.

It drives me crazy.

I have to imagine this concept came from someone who must have hated fundraising and presumed that the donor could only be bothered once a year.  “How dare we ask a donor more than once.”

Then, even crazier, someone realized that we really did need to ask our donors more than once a year, because, well, it brought in more money…but we’ll still needed to call it an Annual Appeal.

What?  Does anyone get that?

If you’re one of these Annual Appeal advocates let me tell you something…

Donors have LIFE!  Yes, if donors are inspired by your organization’s work, they want to give more than once a year. Amazing concept, huh?

And, if we can’t get more creative than the term “Annual Appeal” we shouldn’t be in this business.  Donors want to be inspired by great projects and effective programs that help change the world.

If you are effectively cultivating your donors, you are presenting multiple opportunities for donors to fund and get involved with.  And don’t think that just because you’re cultivating major donors you only have to build them up for the “one big ask” per year.

Again, if you really know your donors, if you understand what they are passionate about, you’ll present many opportunities throughout the year for them to consider.

So who’s with me?  Can we finally kill this idea of the “Annual Appeal?”  Let’s inspire our donors,  put great projects in front of them throughout the year and challenge them to make a difference.


Final Note:  To all those (including myself) who are in the wake of Hurricane Irene, please take care and prepare.  Be well.


About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
This entry was posted in Development Directors, Donor-Centered, Major Gift Officers, Major Gifts, Non-Profits, Philanthopy and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Let’s Kill the Annual Appeal

  1. Pingback: Let’s Kill the Annual Appeal | Passionate Giving « CCC

  2. Jeff Brooks says:

    I agree that the “Annual Appeal” is a little dull, but it really works for many organizations. I think that’s because it’s perfectly tuned to the amount of involvement a lot of donors want: They may not be into the cool details and exciting projects; just a gift or two a year for the Cause. If that’s someone’s level of involvement, we shouldn’t turn up our nose at it — their money’s just as good as anyone else’s.

    “It’s not very creative” should never a reason to stop doing a fundraising tactic. “It doesn’t work” is the one we should pay attention to. And for a lot of nonprofits, the Annual Appeal works.

    • I totally agree, Jeff that “not very creative” should not be a reason to stop doing a fundraising tactic. What I’m trying to say is that the “Annual Appeal” is a self-fulfilling prophesy and while some donors respond to it others are NOT compelled to give. I’d rather provide compelling offers to donors than bore them to death with a tactic that some donors like to give to. Those “Annual Appeal” donors are still going to give. You say for a lot of non-profits the Annual Appeal works. Great. But, what if they actually put more effort into cultivating those donors? The payoff could be huge. In theory, its the same concept of one of our old clients going from 9 appeals per year (and wondering how they were ever going to bring in new revenue) to 21 appeals a year and growing their file by 400% in 7 years. The 9 appeals worked! But 21 appeals REALLY worked!!

  3. Judy Anderson says:

    HI there-
    I’m with you on this one–the term itself is uninpsiring and off-putting. However, I think the “Annual Fund” is worse. Donating to a Fund is pretty discouraging. No action, no results, no passion, no vision, no community. I suggest that we use these terms internally if we are going to use them. The public don’t need to hear/read these energy-less terms. And, while I also don’t support a lot of appeals in a given year (becuase I think you need to establish a strong culture of apprecation and results between asks), I think more than one appeal a year is important to keep momentum–and results–going.

  4. Hi Judy, I agree. Annual Fund is even worse! At the fundamental root of all this is that we need to think like donors and not like organizations. Donors are giving all year long. Not just once. Providing opportunities to give throughout the year shows the donor all the ways they can make a difference and stay engaged. Why wouldn’t we do that?

    Judy, thanks for commenting!

  5. Steve Maggio says:

    I believe David Ogilvy said “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.” Annual Fund is not an original idea, nor may it sound exciting, but it works for many orgs. We’ve tested identical appeals with same story, format, paper stock, copy, design, etc., except one version has Annual Fund branding and one does not. AF typically produces a lift of up to 8% in response rate on our clients’ donor files.

    Test it.

    For our clients AF is not the be all and end all. It’s one arrow in the quiver, strategically placed in a program plan containing other strong offers throughout the year. Believe it or not, some orgs mail AF 3 or 4 times a year… winter or spring AF w. follow-up, fall AF w. follow-up… and they don’t keep doing it because they’re losing money.

    • Hey Steve, thanks for posting. I guess what I’m getting at is moving beyond Annual Fund, or Annual Appeal as a tactic, (because as you say it works for some of your clients, but it’s one tactic) but to put offers in front of donors that ignite their passion for the organization. I know many MGO’s who focus on trying to get that one big ask in a year when, if they really took the time to get to know their donors they would provide multiple funding opportunities. As far as a direct-response tactic, sure, I can see that working…especially if it’s different from what they have been receiving.

      Thanks for writing Steve.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s