Skip to main content

Planning the Perfect Annual Fund Campaign

Author: Sonia Urlando
August 10, 2022
🕑 11 min read

If you’re looking to bring in secure funding for your nonprofit organization, annual fundraising is a must-do! An watertight annual fund campaign helps you strengthen donor relationships, bring in new supporters and secure your operational expenses for the year.

Let’s dive into the ins-and-outs of boosting your annual fund!

What is Annual Giving?

In order to understand the purpose of annual funds, first you need to wrap your head around annual giving. This term is a catch-all for the many types of gifts and donations your supporters bring in throughout the year.

This isn’t to be confused with membership! Think of nonprofit membership as an exchange: your followers receive perks in exchange for their financial support. Annual gifts are a type of non-dues revenue that are given without the expectation of anything in return.

Annual Giving vs Major Gifts

While both annual giving and major gifts bring donations in for your nonprofit, they have different processes and benefits.

Major giving:

  • Comes with much larger donations
  • Takes longer to solicit, which is often done privately
  • Can often be made over the course of years (think pledges!)
  • Supports your nonprofit’s long term needs and aspirations

Annual giving:

  • Brings in mid- to low-tier donations
  • Is solicited through targeted campaigns
  • Is usually raised in under a year
  • Supports your nonprofit’s current operation expenses

Just because major giving brings in more money doesn’t mean it’s more important—annual giving is how your community-building forms! Plus, without those day-to-day expenses covered, there isn’t room to plan for the future.

Click through to claim your 60-day trial of WildApricot to create effective QR codes that will speed up event check-in.

What is an Annual Fund?

An annual fund is the pool of money your nonprofit brings in throughout the year by fundraising. All of your annual giving donations go into this fund, which can then be used to cover your nonprofit’s regular expenses.

The best way to grow your fund is by planning an annual fund campaign. Many donors are used to giving to passionate, mission-driven campaigns. The need to fund operational costs might not seem as urgent to them—which is why a targeted campaign is so important!

Why do you Need an Annual Fund?

As we’ve mentioned, an annual fund is what covers your day-to-day expenses. It keeps your mission going so you can continue to grow as an organization in years to come.

But believe it or not, the annual fundraising process itself is also a huge boon to your organization!

5 Benefits of Annual Giving Campaigns

There are all sorts of revenue streams you can tap into for your nonprofit, but annual giving campaigns have some serious benefits.

Here are 5 reasons to run an annual fund campaign:

1. Grow donor relationships

At its core, successful fundraising comes from fostering donor relationships. The stronger your connections are with your donors, the more likely it is you’ll keep getting their support in the future.

The ideal annual fund campaign should:

  • Increase donor participation
  • Help you track donor data and giving patterns
  • Identify the donors you can upgrade

The more you learn about your donors during this annual giving campaign, the better your next one will be.

2. Access unrestricted funds

One of the best parts of annual fund donations is that they’re unrestricted. Certain types of funding have to be spent a certain way—think targeted campaigns, or grant spending requirements. In contrast, annual funds provide you with money you can spend however you need to.

Whether it’s keeping the lights on or managing an unexpected financial blip, keeping the coffers filled serves you in the long run.

3. Spotlight your mission

An annual fund campaign highlights the heart of your organization. It’s the chance to remind current donors why they support you, and inspire new donors to take part in your mission.

Targeted child-campaigns raise awareness around specific issues you support, but a true annual fund campaign is about the nonprofit itself. It’s a way to pitch your organization to a broad audience—all while getting funding in the process.

4. Community building

Participating in your annual giving program makes your donors feel like they’re a part of something greater. After all, their financial support is what makes it possible for your nonprofit to continue its mission!

Through the work you do on this campaign, you can also connect your supporters with one another. Whether they’re meeting at events or sharing stories on social media, your donors can think of your organization as a hub of connection.

5. Tax deductions for donors

Tax deductions play an extra part in why people donate—especially if those donations are on the mid- to major level. Holding annual giving campaigns at the end of the year can be the nudge people need to make the donations they’ve been putting off.

8 Steps for Running an Annual Fund Campaign

So you’ve decided to run an annual fund campaign—let’s go over the steps you need to rock it!

1. Set your goals

Setting clear goals is what allows you to measure the success of your annual giving plan. You can either set one big goal for the whole campaign or multiple smaller goals for each fundraising route. For example, how much do you think web donations should bring in versus phone donations?

Keep your goals achievable, and be sure they align with your budget. And in order to keep yourself accountable, schedule multiple regular meetings throughout your campaign. This gives you the opportunity to celebrate and troubleshoot along the way!

2. Research your donors 

The more information you have about your donors, the easier it will be to connect with them. For your lower-tier donors, look into who hasn’t given for a while. Your annual fund campaign is a great, organic moment to reconnect—and to update your database!

Research is even more important when it comes to receiving major gifts. Learn as much about these people (or organizations) as you can before reaching out to them. This will help you formulate a more personal appeal, and understand what they have the potential to give.

3. Build a tight marketing plan

Once you have your campaign ready, it’s essential to actually reach your audience! People spend a third of their waking hours on their phone, so be sure to optimize as many social media platforms as possible.

From email to radio to physical ads, plan how you can share your annual fund campaign with the greatest audience possible. Know who you’re targeting with your marketing, and aim to boost your efforts at optimal times. Some early planning can pay off big for your campaign!

4. Create a calendar

When it comes to fundraising, not all times of the year are created equal. September through December is your most powerful period—the holidays (and a tax deduction reminder) motivates giving from individuals and corporations alike. Plan your big campaigns then for the best results.

In contrast, the summer months can be lean for nonprofit fundraising. Use this opportunity to come up with creative campaigns that can give you a little boost, but don’t expect to hit major goals on anything essential.

5. Get started and get tracking

Your goals are set, your action plan is prepared, your team is up to date—it’s time to get started! Once your annual fund campaign has officially launched, track EVERYTHING. Watch your stats, check in on your goals, and reflect on opportunities in those monthly meetings we talked about.

An annual giving plan is a baby—no matter how cute it is, you still need to help it grow!

6. Say thank you!

Whether it’s a physical letter, an e-card, or a phone call, never forget to show your donors how much you appreciate them. Send out your thank yous to donors within 48 hours maximum, and follow up with another thank you after the campaign has ended. This will keep your organization sharp in donors’ minds and show them their money went somewhere important!

7. Analyze your data

When the campaign is done and you have the full picture of its success, analyze the data you’ve gathered. Consider:

  • What demographics donated the most? The least?
  • What channels and strategies were the most effective?
  • How many new donors did you bring in?
  • How many former donors returned to support you?

Every bit of information is useful, and will help you shape your future annual fund campaigns.

8. Follow up with your donors

When it comes to your nonprofit’s long-term growth, donor stewardship is everything. The effort you put into keeping established donor relationships saves you from starting from scratch for future campaigns.

Building good relationships with your donors also fosters a sense of community. If they feel connected enough to you, some donors might even turn into volunteers! At the very least, they’ll be sure to spread the word about your organization.

8 Strategies to Include in your Annual Giving Campaign

If you want to make the most of your annual giving campaign, these 8 strategies can’t be beat:

Web page

Be sure to include your mission, an FAQ, a donation form, and sharp copy with inspiring images. One look should tell prospective donors what you’re all about, and why they should care! If you’re feeling uncertain of where to start, consider using a website builder.

Membership program

While membership is different from annual giving, your members are exactly the kind of people who would want to support your annual fund. They already care about your work—now ask them to support you as an organization!

Phone banking

Phone banking gives a literal voice to your organization. Donors can ask questions on the spot, all with a personal touch. Just be sure to train your volunteers well, and provide them with useful scripts and thorough informational packets.

Email appeals

Email marketing is proven to be the most effective marketing strategy, which is incredible considering its low cost! Make sure your emails are aesthetically pleasing, mobile friendly, and link directly to your donation page.

Social media campaigns

Where emails reach established supporters, social media has the capacity to bring in a whole new group of people. Learn the best practices for each platform (along with their target demographics) and you can’t go wrong.

Appeal letters

In a world full of emails, a physical annual appeal letter goes back to basics for your annual giving plan. It’s a great way to appeal to the older generation, and lends a hint of formality.


Though it might be hard to believe, not everyone is on social media! Trying reaching this audience through billboards, radio and newspaper ads, or even transit posters. Get your organization visible!

Events & face-to-face asking

Events bring in fresh energy to your campaigns. If you host a memorable event (a brunch social, charity auction, panel, etc.), people will get excited about your organization, and feel closer to the people they’re giving to.

Annual Fund Campaign Best Practices

Now that you know the must-haves, let’s go over the practices that’ll turn your campaign from good to great!

Set achievable goals

It’s great to be ambitious, but remember to be realistic with your goals. Reaching a more modest goal feels a lot better than not meeting a super high one! If you want a safe way to push your campaign further, consider setting up stretch goals.  

Be flexible with your fundraising

You know that saying about “the best laid plans”? Take it to heart—your fundraising strategy will rarely play out exactly how you expect! If you find that you’re not meeting certain goals, don’t be afraid to adjust course and shift your strategy. 

Make your requests personal

When you ask for donations from your supporters, it’s essential to treat them like people rather than numbers. Address your donors by their names in letters and mass emails, and be sure to sign off with the name of someone from your organization.

Be clear on what you need

As we said earlier, an important part of annual fundraising is creating a sense of urgency. Look at these two statements:

“Your donation will help our organization grow.

“A donation of $20 helps our organization stay afloat as it continues its work of providing aid to local community centers.”

See the difference? Where the first statement is generic, the second tells donors exactly what they’re supporting and what the long-term impact looks like.

Segment your lists

Remember what we said about making appeals personal? One of the best ways you can do this is by segmenting your donor lists. Send specialized messages based on:

  • Past giving patterns
  • Demographic (age, gender, etc)
  • Preferred communication platform
  • Relationship with your nonprofit

Let’s take giving patterns as an example. If a donor previously gave $500, requests with a minimum suggested amount of $20 might make them give below their capacity. And if a donor can only give $20, asking for $100 might prevent them from giving altogether!

Segmenting your lists will help you reach people based on their individual needs and preferences.

Customize giving levels (and include recurring options!)

Sometimes donors struggle to know what they should be giving. Offer a list of preset donation amounts with information on the impact of each. Be sure to add a custom field as well, along with the option to give on a recurring basis. You might be surprised how many people are happy to “set and forget” a monthly donation.

Matching gift programs

Many corporations have matching gift programs—here meaning, they’re willing to match the amount that an employee gives to a charitable organization! If your donors know that this option exists, you can bring in an extra fundraising boost with minimal effort.

Pledging programs

Not all donors will be able to fulfill their donations right away, especially when it comes to major gifts. Set up a program where donors can complete their gift either at a later date, or once your nonprofit has met a certain goal.

Use events to your benefit

Events help you get to know your donors, and build community around your annual giving campaign. If you can get these events covered by the media, your organization can also gain a boost of visibility. Consider holding events as a campaign kick-off, or as a way to put energy into your final push to reach your goal!

Corporate sponsorships

When it’s time to get those events paid for, consider setting up a corporate sponsorship. In exchange for some good publicity, corporations will donate funds, goods, or services to your nonprofit. This helps you cover the expense of running an event, all while building a new partnership.

Offer multiple ways to give

Some people want to make online donations, others prefer to do it over the phone. Even though it seems a little old school, there are plenty of people who’d prefer to send donations by mail. If you limit peoples’ methods of giving, you’re limiting the possibility of extra donations.

Be relationship-focused

Building relationships with your donors is just as important as bringing money into your annual fund. The connections you make turn one-time donors into recurring donors and supporters into volunteers. Get to know the people who donate to your organization, and show them your gratitude.

End of year appeals

Who doesn’t love some holiday cheer? The end of the calendar year is when charitable organizations receive the highest boost in donations. Be sure to send out your appeals when giving is on everybody’s mind!

Run Your Annual Fund Campaign with Confidence

Now that you know the tips and tricks to running a successful annual fund campaign, all that’s left is to get started! With clear goals and a thorough game plan, filling up your annual fund will be a breeze.

Looking for a membership management tool before your campaign kicks off? Sign up for a 60-day free trial with WildApricot!

The Membership Growth Report:

Benchmarks & Insights for Growing Revenue and Constituents

Get the report now!