Our best (fundraising) thing. The Wonderful, Marvelous, Misunderstood Annual Fund.

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It is June 30, the fiscal year end for many a non-profit and most of my clients. It is a sentimental time, thinking back on the past 12 months and the accomplishments: the impossible goals, the planning, the case development and the volunteer orientations. And the wave upon wave of direct mail. I bet I touched 100 solicitation letters over the past twelve months.

How did we do this year? Goals surpassed, almost across the board. A symphony saved and at least a thousand new donors for clients across the South in the same year that the confederate flag went into a cardboard box. Another record fundraising year and a shiny new theatre opening in sunny Omaha. Growing philanthropic interest in the suburbs for my dear friends at the Palladium. Good progress everywhere.

It has been a great year for fundraising. Our work is never easy but this has been a joyful year in philanthropy.

A friend of mine said, “Oh, you with those annual funds” and I don’t take that as an insult. Annual funds are the little sister of many a fundraising program. At my own alma mater annual fundraising is treated frustratingly as an afterthought. But I love the annual fund, the constant action of it, the progress you can see week in and week out. I love the urgency that annual fundraising creates.

Major gifts are lovely, of course. I’ve had more than my career fair share of $1million meetings and nothing beats that feeling of landing a Mega Gift. But the day-to-day measure of any good gift officer who works for me or for you should be steady cultivation and solicitation of upgraded annual fund leadership gifts. Turn a $1,000 donor into a $5,000 donor over lunch salads and receive the Hatch Fist Bump. Bravo.

Show me an annual fund and I will show you the true revenue potential for your non-profit. For arts organizations (and most non-profits) the annual fund will shortly become the revenue centerpiece of your organization and the only place where you can predict steady double figure growth year upon year.

I talk to people in education, human services and health care about this reality often and they look at me like I am raving mad. I get it. When so much of your revenue is government dependent (it is one of the big secrets in non-profits, how much revenue comes from federal grants, Medicare, Medicaid and so forth) annual fundraising can look like a waste of time. But do you think that federal sugar is going to be there forever? Have you heard about our spending deficit? 

Show me a strong annual fund result from this fiscal year and I surmise that your non-profit is:

  1. On track generally for organizational goals and having a real impact in the community. If donors are buying in consistently things are working. Annual fund growth is an uncanny indicator of institutional health and vitality. If your annual fund isn’t growing forget about that endowment campaign or building project. It ain’t feasible.
  2. Blessed with good volunteers, engaged appropriately in the day to day success of your organization. This is a big job and volunteers can help very meaningfully in myriad ways. If they aren’t, or if all they do involves frowning over monthly fundraising reports at board meetings, you’ve got a problem.
  3. Staff Happy. Everyone works hard in our business. But happy staffs are highly productive, efficient, collaborative and fun to be around. They knock out the fundraising. I work in a lot of offices and they all have a culture. Happy staff culture is alive and buzzing. It is not subdued.

Annual fundraising is the best fundraising we do, connecting donors directly to the cause on a regular basis, providing stewardship, and growing the pool of support year by year. It is what you need to focus upon next fiscal year. Sponsorship is increasingly difficult. Endowment campaigns might be a relic of the 90s, except for the largest universities. But the annual fund is your steady revenue stream year in and year out.

If you made your June 30 fundraising goals take a moment and celebrate with your team. If you did not, evaluate and examine the effort. Maybe talk to a consultant. Can you afford another marginal year of fundraising?

And wind it up all over again. July 1 is upon us.

About jeremymhatch

If I could, I'd write about nothing but tacos. Alas, I am fundraising and leadership consultant in the arts, focusing on contributed revenue growth for organizations. Send me a compliment or complaint. And the location for the good tacos in your town.
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4 Responses to Our best (fundraising) thing. The Wonderful, Marvelous, Misunderstood Annual Fund.

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