The Problem With The Annual Appeal

I have no idea how it got started and maybe someone reading this can explain it to me.

It’s the annual appeal – a concept that is so outdated and impractical that I wonder why anyone who really thinks about it would continue to use it.  OK, it does have some benefits….but listen to what I have to say about it and see if you agree.

The annual appeal concept is one that holds to the idea that donors give one time, once a year, hence the words “annual gift” or the question, “Have the donors made their annual gifts yet?”

Fundraising programs built on this philosophy look to secure that one gift once a year and then the work is finished.  This is so interesting to me!

There are several things wrong with this concept:

  1. It places the donor into a one-time event mentality vs. an ongoing relationship.  Oh, I know, there will be a lot of ongoing communication, but the actual transaction has the donor thinking “It’s that time of year again” vs. thinking and feeling that tackling “this situation I am giving to” is an ongoing,  year round relationship. This is subtle, I know, but Jeff and I believe there is a material difference in the two approaches.
  2. It focuses the donor on his or herself vs. the cause.  You might want to argue this point, but hear me out.  The annual gift approach focuses everything on a specific time and what the donor is going to do or not do vs. the non-stop dynamics of meeting a need.
  3. It motivates the MGO to “check on giving” less frequently, which means there is lost communication and contact opportunity.  Believe me, when all the MGO is looking for is that annual gift, the frequency and quality of ongoing communication goes down.
  4. It substantially suppresses the giving of the donor.  Whoa!  How does that work?  Well, again, this is subtle but true.  If the communication strategy to a donor is leading up to one annual gift, the amount of that gift will be lower than if the donor had been approached multiple times for multiple gifts.  Many donor files of progressive non-profits have donors that give anywhere, on average, from 2.3 to 15 times a year.  Granted, the range of most frequent giving is about 3-5 times a year.  The total cumulative giving from this donor vs. the one time donor is, on average, higher.  So the annual approach is actually losing money AND the opportunity to relate more frequently to the donor, which is also a benefit.

Think about this another way.  Most everything we do financially is scheduled on a monthly basis, if not more frequently.

  1. We pay bills on a monthly basis.
  2. We get paid on a monthly or bi-weekly basis.
  3. Certain faith practices ask people to tithe every month.
  4. We look at calendar events and transactions on a monthly basis.

Since this is true, why would you have a relationship that is based on an annual transaction?  I really don’t know, but it is a practice that is out there and trying to work for some.

While it is true that some donors prefer to give once a year, Jeff and I suggest you think about them and treat them with at minimum a monthly touch so that the cadence of the relationship is frequent and the nature of the relationship is warm and intimate.

Remember, major gifts is NOT about the money – it is about a partnership with a donor to see that good is done in our world.  This truth requires that you be in touch regularly and that your focus be on the relationship and the cause vs. the transaction.

I have underlined and bolded that last phrase because THIS is what your objective should be – building relationship around the cause.  This is a fulltime, year round job – NOT an annual event.  This is about taking care of a need, NOT securing a transaction.

So, if you are in that annual giving mode, consider moving out of it.  I think it will increase your revenue and, more importantly, change how you relate to donors.



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!
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4 Responses to The Problem With The Annual Appeal

  1. T says:

    Great points made here! I work for an organization that doesn’t want to get away from annual giving, even though revenue has dropped year over year in that portion of the fundraising mix. As an MGO, I have worked to meet with donors and have quarterly touchpoints, at a minimum. It has made a difference in the donors giving that I manage. My goal is to up the touches to every other month and monthly in some cases in the coming year. Many of my coworkers don’t agree, thinking it’s a waste of time.

    Thanks for this great post. Relationships are King!

    • It’s crazy, isn’t it? As far as your coworkers, ask them to start receiving their paychecks on an annual basis – it would sure save a lot of time and money! But they can keep paying their bills monthly! 🙂

  2. Janet Jones says:

    Hello, Jeff and Richard,

    It’s your friendly neighborhood Grammar Gremlin with a request:

    PLEASE!! Please, please, please…be cautious of this usage:

    It focuses the donor on his or herself vs. the cause.

    Take out the “or her-“ part and it reads: It focuses the donor on hisself vs. the cause.

    You would never, ever, say that (I hope!) verbally – so why would you do so in writing? Yep, you wouldn’t. This deed is done – but just for future thought processes, please avoid “his or herself” in future. Much better to complete the phrase with “himself or herself.”

    Do please note – I’m reading! ☺

    Yours for others,
    Janet at Heifer International


    Janet Jones
    Donor Relations Associate

    T: 501.907.2926 | TF: 800.422.1311 ext 2926 | F: 501.907.2803
    1 World Avenue, Little Rock | AR 72202 | United States |

    [cid:facebook_24x246443.png] [cid:twitter_24x2466bb.png] [cid:youtube24x24428b.jpg] [cid:wordpress24x2426a6.png]

  3. VERY helpful, Janet. We will pass this on to our proofreader and editor who is much more able to watch and catch this kind of stuff than we are!

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