Annual Giving

Focus On … Annual Giving

Focus On … Annual Giving

“In order to change something, don’t struggle to change the model, create a new model, and make the old one obsolete.” – Buckminister Fuller

A commonality among high performing NPOs is a strong and well oiled annual giving program. Generally recognized as the foundation of advancement success, these essential efforts typically have two main objectives: raising net revenue and growing the donor base. The two in part work hand in hand; the highest ROI generating campaigns allocate significant resources towards elevating the giving and involvement of an organization’s most generous and loyal donors. And these “diamonds in the rough” usually are first identified through efforts to broaden the donor base… which, of course can be a costly effort.

Annual Giving Officer

Let’s take a look at the role of annual giving officers in terms of “typical” annual giving programs. Except in very large advancement shops, it is common that the annual giving officer or officers spend their days on the following tasks: direct mail, event planning and production, sponsorship identification cultivation, and relationship building with leadership donors…when there is time. Unfortunately, the execution of these responsibilities is usually in the rank order just stated. The most time, effort, and money are spent on activities with the least short-term return.

This may sound counter-intuitive, but the best and most successful annual gift officers do not focus their time on the mail program associated with the annual giving program. These winning professionals focus their time on building one or two signature events that include a great deal of personalized donor relations; expanding the donor base through event attendance; and stewarding their best annual donors year-round. The direct mail program doesn’t take up the majority of their day to day activities; it seen- and used, as the “entry point” in the gift cycle pipeline and for the identification of future major gifts. For example, just think how much more valuable a $1,000 or $5,000 mail donor could be if they formed a real relationship with your organization, and could be subsequently asked one on one for a leadership annual gift, campaign, or planned gift. The most successful annual giving officers already do – and spend their days developing strategies to move these donors up the giving ladder.

Articulate Objectives

As a leader in your organization, it is imperative that you clearly articulate the objectives of your annual giving program in order to focus everyone’s time, energy, and resources most effectively. At the same time, you must be certain that these goals do not conflict with other development priorities, and provide an adequate time frame for measuring success. Once you have your objectives, be realistic about executing the necessary tactics to accomplish them. You’ll be more successful and your staff will be happier because they will more clearly see the value and results of their work, and how their efforts are proportional to results.

So that all being said, what’s the best way to optimize an annual program? By fishing where the fish are, and allowing your donor-centric professional to focus on the road map and insights your mail program provides – not the incredibly time consuming execution of the program. If you have a successful mail program run in house by an annual giving officer – who is also responsible for some events, and does very little face to face relationship building with donors – think how much more successful they could be in terms of revenue generation if the planning, execution, and analysis of the mail program was removed from their plate of duties.


Unlike the “personal” nature of just about every other aspect of fundraising, it is possible, financially advantageous, and in many cases advisable, to outsource the mail program to a consultant who has made a career of direct mail success. Reallocating staff effort toward the mail program has other department-wide advantages as well. If you have a large and well rated donor base and can focus your staff on key fund and friend-raising objectives, you will have the foundation to build the argument to bring on additional personnel to maximize the outcome for each objective. This might include an additional leadership gifts officer, events person, or greater expertise supporting your mail program. In addition, you will be able to monetize the argument, demonstrate a strong ROI, and set the stage for bringing focus, accountability, creativity and success to your advancement program.

Your takes:

  1. Your annual fund program must have clearly articulated objectives containing timelines and measurable short-term and long-term outcomes.
  2. Scale effort to revenue generating potential for your organization; at the end of the day the big dollars and relationships come from face to face meetings and the ability to establish rapport with key donors and prospects.
  3. Be bold in considering how to best accomplish your objectives and in eliminating legacy distractions and assumptions; this may include bringing on outside counsel for greater efficiencies.

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