10 Tips for a Great Annual Fund
There is one type of fundraising that virtually every Friends or Library Foundation should be doing: it’s called the Annual Fund and it is truly the cornerstone of all fundraising activities. The concept is simple. The Annual Fund is a letter writing appeal to your members and donors (individuals; not corporations) requesting a contribution to your organization. While an Annual Fund can be done anytime during your fiscal year, it is most frequently conducted in November and December when donors are most likely to be thinking about the tax deductibility of their donation. The letter you send should be one page if possible. While the letter emphasizes all of the great things happening at the Library and within your Friends or Library Foundation, the request is for an unrestricted contribution which can be used wherever the need is greatest.
Here are ten simple tips for a successful Annual Fund appeal:
1) Response Card. Include a response form and envelope so the donor doesn’t have to address their own return envelope. You’ve got to make it easy to give.
2) Personalize. Personalize the letters as much as possible. There are a number of ways to accomplish this. For starters have your salutation be Dear Bob and Jane instead of saying Dear Friend of the Library. Instead of having one person sign all letters going out, segment the list and have people who know some of your donors sign their letter. You may have as many as 20-30 volunteers signing letters. Have the letter signer add a personal note at the bottom of the page like this: “Bob and Jane-I hope you will join me in supporting the Library this year. I am very actively involved in the Library’s Foundation and I know how extensively our library is used by everyone in our community.” Hand address the envelope. Use a first class stamp. Have the signer add his or her name to the return address on the outside of the envelope so the donor knows the letter is from someone they know and respect. When possible have the letter signer make a follow-up phone call to the prospective donor.
3) Create a List. If you have a limited donor database, ask all of the members of the Library’s Board of Trustees and the Board of the Friends or Library Foundation to provide you with the names of 5-10 people they know who can receive the Annual Fund request. Of course they should sign the letters of the people they suggest.
4) Show Impact. More and more, donors want to know what the impact of their contribution will be. If possible, include a story in your letter about someone who’s life was hugely impacted by the Library.
5) Accept Credit Cards. Be sure to have the capacity to accept credit card contributions in addition to checks.
6) Allow Online Gifts. Have the capability to accept contributions online through your website and let donors know about that in your letter.
7) Use Social Media. Most of the older traditional library donors will choose to write a check or provide credit card information. But don’t forget to use social media to attract a new generation of donors. If you have a few younger Board members, ask them to launch a challenge gift campaign through social media in which the total giving from dozens or hundreds of individuals is pooled to create a very large gift.
8) Offer Matching Gifts. Consider offering a match to contributions. Ask your Board members or a generous donor to put up a match for new or increased gifts to the Annual Fund. A one-to-one match is usually most effective. Donors love the idea that their gift has twice the value because of the match.
9) Push Monthly Giving. Ask your potential donors to consider making a sustaining gift which is a monthly recurring donation through a credit card or checking account withdrawal.
10) Time it Right. The Annual Fund is very different than a membership campaign. If you conduct a membership campaign, you should also ask those same members to make an Annual Fund gift. Just be sure to separate the two efforts as much as possible. Conduct membership campaigns in spring and early summer and the Annual Fund in November and December. Members who give you $25 in the membership campaign will give multiples of that in an Annual Fund because it has a more philanthropic feel than membership does.
Some Friends groups and Library Foundations have end of year letter signing parties. Ask for volunteer letter signers to identify the people for whom they could sign a letter and add a personal note. Have those letters printed and ready for their signature on a given date. Meet in the late afternoon and provide wine and snacks for the signers. Those signers who can’t attend can be mailed their group of letters. Doing this can turn what might be considered a chore into an enjoyable social gathering. These letter signing parties grow in popularity each year.
The Annual Fund is an easy place for newly created Friends and Library Foundations to begin their fundraising. But it is also the cornerstone of all fundraising in that donors to the Annual Fund can become major donors and eventually planned giving donors, leaving you a deferred gift in their will or estate plan.