In direct mail fundraising, an envelope has two jobs. The first is to get delivered to the right mailbox. The second is to get opened. You can say that the envelope is the battleground for an annual fund’s print appeals. Getting someone to open it gets you one step “closer to the castle” of getting them to make a donation. Similarly, getting someone to answer a phonathon call or getting someone to take a meeting with a gift officer is a key step in ultimately getting someone to make a donation.
In email, the battleground is the subject line. It’s the first (and quite possibly the only) thing that a prospect will see, which is why it’s so important to choose your words carefully. Keep in mind that your donors are likely getting dozens – if not hundreds – of other emails each day, so you need to make sure your subject lines stand out, get noticed, and resonate.
Here’s are five ways to create more effective subject lines and ultimately get your prospects to open your email appeals.
- Grab attention – Be concise and direct. Pull them in and make them want to read more. Try to make it read like a newspaper headline.
- Generate curiosity – Ask questions like “Is your name on this list?” or try numbered phrases “6 reasons you should donate today.”
- Make it relevant – The point is not to trick someone into opening your email. The point is to get those who will be interested in what’s inside to open it. It’s better to have a lower open rate and a higher click-through or conversion rate than the other way around. If you have a video to share, preview that with a subject line like “Watch this video!”
- Create urgency – Use deadlines. Let them know if “Time is running out” or if it’s their “Last chance” to get their gift matched. Year-ends and challenges provide natural opportunities to create a sense of urgency.
- Beware of spam filters – Certain phrases or characters can cause your emails to get flagged as mass emails and automatically dumped in “junk” or “spam” folders where it’s likely your alumni will never even see them. To avoid this, try not to use words like “free” or “exclusive” in your subject line and shy away from using special characters or capital letters. If it looks or sounds like something a sleazy salesperson might say, there’s a good chance it’ll end up in a spam filter.
Don’t underestimate the importance of compelling subject lines for your email appeals. And don’t try to figure out the right one all alone. In fact, come up with a few options and share them with others for their feedback. This might take a little extra time, but it’ll be worth the effort. Remember, the subject line is the battleground in email fundraising. Anytime a prospect opens your email appeal, your chances of victory (i.e., securing a donation) go way up.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Email Strategy for Annual Giving.
Donor retention rates measure the portion of prior year donors who give again in the following year. For competitive colleges and universities, this is often around 60 percent. For new donors (i.e., those who made their first gift in the prior year), retention rates can be much lower – often below 20 percent. In the case of recent graduates who made their first gift as part of their senior class gift campaign, it’s not unusual for retention rates to be below 10 percent.
To reduce this kind of attrition and to highlight the importance of ongoing support by new alumni, the Penn Fund launched its “You Are Perfect” campaign. It started several years ago as a fiscal year-end postcard sent to all first-year alumni who had donated to their senior class gift campaign in the prior year. The message was simple: You Are Perfect. Don’t Change!
The initial mailing generated a 14% response rate and accounted for one-quarter of all giving from the class. In recognition for their gifts, donors received personal acknowledgment letters and were listed as “perfect donors” in the university’s donor roster publication. In the following year, they rolled it out to all graduates of the past four years with perfect giving records. It generated a 16% response rate and accounted for 10% of giving by pre-5th reunion classes.
Encouraging consistent giving (regardless of the gift amount) by recent graduates not only helps to increase retention rates each year, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to boost your alumni participation rates over the long term.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Increasing Donor Retention.
Annual Fund appeals come in many different shapes and sizes. The variety of images and text you select for your brochures, pamphlets, and postcards offer an endless combination of ways to convey your message and ask for support. But sometimes, nothing beats black letters on a white piece of paper – the good old-fashioned letter.
When you sit down to write an appeal letter, the first thing you should do is determine the audience. Are you asking someone to make a gift for the first time or are you addressing a group of consistent donors? Are you hoping to win back a supporter who has lapsed or are you trying to upgrade someone to a leadership level? Are you writing to alumni, parents, faculty or staff? The more you know about your audience, the better you can address them in a personal and meaningful way.
Perfection is the enemy of progress, so don’t get hung up trying to make your letter flawless the first time through. Just get something written down – a first draft is a big step. You can focus on making it “good” later. Here are a few ideas to consider as you start your next appeal letter:
- Grab the readers’ attention at the very beginning with a story, question or quote.
- Share an example of gift impact. Mention a specific student, faculty member, or someone else who has benefited from donor support.
- Use the word “you” as much as possible.
- Don’t bury the ask. Suggest an amount and describe what it will achieve. Explain the consequences of inaction.
- Highlight the things that are most important (e.g., the ask, goals, deadlines) by using italics, bold type, and underlining.
- Have it come from (i.e., signed by) someone the audience will relate to
- Use a postscript! It’s one of the first things (and sometimes the only thing) people read.
In a world where fundraisers have a seemingly endless number of tools in their toolkit, it can be easy to overlook the importance of those classic approaches that have worked for years. Don’t forget about the value of a well-written appeal letter. And don’t expect that your first draft will be perfect. Review and revise it several times. Get a colleague (or several colleagues) to read it and make suggestions. Remember that nothing is ever well-written, only well re-written.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Writing for Annual Funds.
No two donors are the same. Each one has had a different experience as it relates to giving that influences the way you should communicate with them. They do, however, all share one thing in common: none of them has either a 0% or a 100% chance of giving in the future.
Organizing past donors into segments allows you to create customized messages that will increase the likelihood that they will respond to your appeals. While there is an unlimited number of ways you can subdivide your donor populations (e.g., interests, behaviors or demographics), a good place to start is to consider their giving record.
Here are 6 ways to segment your donors based on their giving history:
- Current Donors are those individuals who have given in the present fiscal year. Since they’ve already been “counted” toward your participation goal, your messaging should focus on acknowledging their giving and its impact. While a traditional annual giving approach is to hold off on further solicitations for this group, it’s not uncommon for programs today to pursue additional gifts from current donors. If you do, however, it’s particularly important to let them know that you’re aware and appreciative of their recent support.
- Prior-Year Donors are those individuals who gave during the last full fiscal year but who have not yet given in the current fiscal year. A term that’s often used to describe this segment is LYBUNT, an acronym which stands for “Last Year But Unfortunately Not This.” Generally speaking, prior-year donors are the most likely segment to renew their giving. Among competitive colleges and universities, approximately 60% of prior-year donors can be expected to give again in the current fiscal year.
- Multi-Year Donors are a sub-segment of prior-year donors and are those individuals who have donated in more than one past year. This is important because the likelihood that a donor will renew their giving increases with each successive year that they donate. For example, someone who has donated in each of the past four years is more likely to donate than someone who has donated in each of the past two years. Among competitive colleges and universities, approximately 66% of multi-year donors can be expected to renew their giving. Moreover, the likelihood that a multi-year donor will renew their gift is over 80% once a donor gives for five years in a row. Therefore, a useful goal for any donor is to get them to the five-year mark as the “tipping point” in ensuring they become a consistent lifelong donor.
- New Donors are another sub-segment of prior-year donors and are those individuals who made their first gift last year. New donor retention rates are usually much lower than the overall prior year donor segment. Among competitive colleges and universities, approximately 26% of new donors can be expected to renew their giving. In the case of first-year-out graduates who made their first gift as part of their senior class gift campaign, it’s not unusual for fewer than 10% to renew their giving. For this reason, new donors represent a huge opportunity when it comes to increasing the rate of renewal as well as overall participation.
- Lapsed Donors are those individuals who have given at some point in the past but who did not give in the prior fiscal year. A term that’s often used to describe this segment is SYBUNT, an acronym that stands for “Some Year But Unfortunately Not This.” Lapsing is the term often used to describe when a past donor misses or skips a year of giving. Among competitive colleges and universities, approximately 15% of donors who are fewer than five years lapsed can be expected to renew their giving. Within the lapsed donor populations are several sub-segments that deserve your extra attention: those who made a leadership gift before lapsing, those who made multiple gifts in a single year before lapsing, and those who had a streak of consecutive giving before lapsing. Each of these sub-segments is more likely to donate and more likely to upgrade than the lapsed donor population in general.
- Long-Lapsed Donors are individuals who have given at some point in the past but have not done so in a significant number of years. In the same way that multi-year donors become more likely to give again with each subsequent gift, the likelihood that someone will donate declines with each additional year that they lapse. Once a donor lapses more than five years, the chance of them giving again the following year is often less than the chance of getting someone to give for the first time. This tipping point is commonly referred to as “the cliff,” and you should do your best to avoid letting your lapsed donors fall over it.
Segmenting your donor populations based on giving history will allow you to give each group the attention it needs, create more personalized messages, and allocate your resources based on your goals and priorities. While giving history certainly isn’t the only way to segment your target audience, it’s often the best place to start.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Segmentation Strategy.
Most annual giving professionals spend the final weeks of a fiscal year vigorously looking for every last donor and every last dollar they can find. The best ones let no stone go unturned. Year-end activities range from simple tasks like updating your voicemail greeting or email signature with a reminder that the end is near, to more involved undertakings like calling donors with open pledges or sending targeted appeals to lybunts asking them to renew.
One of the most effective – yet often overlooked – ways to increase year-end support is sitting right there next to you: the major gift officer. Their portfolios are filled with your institution’s best prospects. Depending on the size of your organization, this could represent hundreds if not thousands of potential annual donors. Needless to say, major gift officers can be an annual giving professional’s best friend during the year-end blitz.
But don’t expect them to come to you. Unlike annual giving, major giving strategies tend to take a longer-term view. Major gift officers may not be as focused on (or motivated by) fiscal year goals and deadlines. That means that the burden is on you to motivate them to help. One of the easiest ways to do this is to provide them with information about how their prospect portfolios have performed in terms of annual gift participation. Consider the following example of an email that you could send to each gift officer at your institution:
There are only a few weeks left in the fiscal year and, thanks to the good work of you and others, we are on pace for a strong finish. However, there are many managed prospects who have still not made a gift or pledge payment this fiscal year. You can see how your own portfolio has performed on the spreadsheet below.
Our primary goal is, with few exceptions, to ensure that all managed prospects are asked to make an annual gift (or pledge payment) before the end of the fiscal year. Ideally, these asks will be made in person over the next few weeks. If not, we would like to encourage you to call each of your prospects. As a last resort, you may consider sending them a letter or email.
The annual giving team will be monitoring progress carefully and will be providing updates regularly. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if there is anything we can do to support you in these solicitations. Many thanks for your help!
-The Annual Giving Team
The closer you get to the end of the fiscal year, the fewer options there are for securing annual gifts from donors. While it’s important to send broad-based appeals and reach out to your own prospects and volunteers, it’s equally important to work through others. Major gift officers can be a tremendous source of help for annual giving programs. They have knowledge of and relationships with your institution’s best prospects. And while annual giving may not always be at the top of their mind, a little reminder from you in the final months of the fiscal year can have a big impact on your institution and its annual fund.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Annual Fund & Major Gift Partnerships.
If you’re like so many other annual giving or advancement professionals, you may feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that’s expected of you. And your prospects and volunteers more than likely feel the same way. Living in a “time famine” is what makes it particularly special (and rare) when someone is willing to give a significant amount of his or her time to help your organization.
When Boston University launched its first public capital fundraising campaign, it set out not only to raise a lot of money but also to increase support from all of its constituencies—including students. Knowing that most students would not be in a position to make significant monetary gifts to the campaign, the university found a way for students to contribute without having to open their wallets.
Soon after the campaign launched, BU students collectively made a pledge to complete one million hours of community service before the campaign ended. To put this into perspective, the million-hour goal is equivalent to one person volunteering nonstop for over 100 years. The idea was inspired by a commitment from the then-student union president who, prior to the launch of the campaign, pledged one hour of community service for each undergraduate student.
As the campaign got underway, students were able to participate through a variety of volunteer programs, including the student-run Community Service Center, the First Year Student Outreach Project, Alternative Spring Break, and any service performed in conjunction with Greek life, religious groups, clubs or student organizations. The administration even developed a mobile app that allowed students to log their service hours in real time and track overall progress toward the goal.
Emphasizing the value of time is particularly important for students who are still in the process of developing talent, and have likely not yet amassed much in terms of treasure. What’s more, finding ways to harvest their time in productive and meaningful ways not only can offset some of your own time and resource limitations, but also can plant a seed that yields other forms of continued support down the line.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Student Philanthropy Programs.
Hiring the right person for a job is one of the most important decisions a manager can make. It’s particularly important in annual giving, where staff turnover is a common problem. According to an AGN Salary & Professional Development Report published last year, 38 percent of annual giving professionals are not satisfied in their current job and 41 percent have searched or interviewed for another job in the past year.
Hiring the wrong person can cause big problems down the line. Whether they’re unhappy or simply not cut out to do the job, a mismatch can leave you facing one of two undesirable situations. The employee will either quit – leaving you with the time-consuming task of recruiting their replacement – or they’ll stick around, becoming a drag on the organization.
Here’s some advice to help you hire the “right” annual giving professional:
- Recruit internally first. Don’t assume that you need to launch a long and exhaustive search. Sometimes the best candidate is right in front of your eyes.
- Look for someone who is running to something rather than running from something. Be suspicious of those who say negative things about their current employer.
- Beware of job hoppers. Calculate the average time they’ve spent at previous jobs and assume that’s how long they’ll stick around your organization.
- Consider their enthusiasm. Playing “hard to get” can make someone appealing at first, but it can also be a sign that your organization or the opportunity just doesn’t excite them.
- Find out who has mentored them. The people they look up to and whom they’ve learned from can be far more important than any talent or skill they possess.
- Don’t look for perfection. Those who appear to know what they don’t know are almost always more effective than those who appear to know everything.
- Value experience. Those who have been at it longer may not be smarter, but they probably have more experience making – and hopefully learning from – mistakes.
- Get input from others. Don’t carry the burden of making this decision on your shoulders alone. Ask a group of colleagues to interview candidates (or at least the finalists) too. If the majority shares a feeling (positive or negative) about someone, it can be indicative of how well they fit into with your office culture.
- Test their endurance. Don’t be afraid to invite candidates back for multiple interviews. Try a different setting (conference room, coffee shop, colleague’s office) each time. It’ll give you a chance to see them in different lights.
- Do the math. Create a scorecard that lists out the five or six success factors and rate candidates on a scale of 1-5 for each one. When everyone has been interviewed, see who comes out on top.
- Be thorough with references. And not just the ones they give you.
- Don’t rush into any decisions. A wise person once said, when it comes to building a successful team, you should “fire quick and hire slow.”
Above all else, trust your gut. Regardless of what your colleagues or your scorecard tell you, listen to that voice in your head. The above tips can help guide your decision-making process. But, when it comes to hiring the right person, you’re the one who’s going to have to live with your decision. If you’ve been thorough and thoughtful during the recruitment process and, in the end, someone simply feels like the right person for the job, then chances are, they probably are.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Strong Teams & Collaborations.
Running an annual fund gift society isn’t difficult. Just about anyone can come up with a name and a list of levels and benefits. But will that be enough to get alumni to join and renew? Will it compel members to increase their giving from one year to the next? Will it make them want to tell their friends about it? No; developing a gift society that’s truly appealing and valuable for members requires something more.
Take the name, for example. Some programs choose a generic name like the president’s circle, the headmaster’s society or the dean’s associates – titles that could be applied to any institution, at any time, anywhere in the world. But finding a name that’s unique and meaningful to your specific alumni and donors can make them feel like they’re part of something truly important. Many institutions use a significant year, a person, or a place in their history to brand their gift society or the various recognition levels within it.
Similarly, some annual giving programs rely on loosely-defined benefits to incentivize membership and encourage donors to move “up” to higher giving levels over time. After all, the less specific you are, the easier is it to get by when you don’t deliver, right? Common among these generic promises are “dedicated communications,” “special events,” or “distinct recognition.” Some institutions even offer stuff (think wall calendar!) to members in return for their support. According to an AGN poll, 59 percent of gift societies at educational institutions offer members tangible perks.
While these things might be enticing to some, the truth is that what members find most valuable isn’t necessarily something you can read or attend or hold. More often than not, what they really want is insider access. They want to be the first to know when something important happens. There’s no better way to help set your members apart as an important group and let them know that they are special. And a lot of times, this won’t cost you a dime.
Amherst College gets it. Their 1821 Society (named after the year of their founding) has everything you might expect to find in an annual fund leadership donor society. Its approximately 1,500 members are required to donate a minimum of $1,821 each year. Graduates of the past decade can join at a discounted rate ($1,000 for those who are 6-10 years out and $500 for those who are 1-5 years out), and there are premium tiers and perks for those who give at the $10,000+ and $25,000+ levels.
In return, all members receive a copy of The 1821 Journal and invitations to attend four special 1821 Society events (primarily breakfasts and cocktail parties) which are held on campus around reunion and homecoming, as well as in major cities throughout the year. Each event features a talk from a faculty member or a student who has an inspiring story to tell. For many alumni (especially younger alumni) these events are viewed as great professional networking opportunities.
What makes The 1821 Society so effective, though, is the insider access it provides to its members. For example, when the Board of Trustees made a resolution to discontinue the use of “Lord Jeffery” as its unofficial mascot following a series of controversies related to the historical figure, the college set up a conference call with 1821 Society members to give them the inside scoop. The President participated in the call and offered members a chance to ask questions and voice opinions. The annual fund’s phonathon callers were also put on the front lines during this time, calling members to ensure that they heard the news before others.
Successful gift societies don’t need to be fancy or complicated and they don’t need to offer members free stuff. In fact, the most effective gift societies are quite simple. What sets them apart, is that they offer members something unique, meaningful and valuable – something that they can’t find or buy anywhere else. Sometimes that can be as basic as making sure they are the first to know when something important occurs.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Gift Clubs & Societies.
AGN’s Founder, Dan Allenby, recently joined the “Fundraising Voices” podcast for a candid conversation about his 20-year journey through the field of annual giving. Among the many topics covered in this exclusive interview are how he got his start, some of the big surprises he’s encountered along the way, the real story behind the creation of AGN, and the goals and aspirations for its rapidly growing Plus Membership program.
The interview also includes highlights from Dan’s new book and AGN’s Annual Report, as well as some of his personal predictions for the future of the annual giving industry. Click on the green audio player to listen to the podcast now or read an excerpt from the interview transcript below.
Interviewer: Use your crystal ball here. You’ve got a ton of experience working with institutions in terms of what they’re doing for their annual giving programs. What do you think is the future of annual giving? What’s going to happen next? What are the Allenby predictions?
Dan Allenby: I think it’s going to become more important. I think as we see media and analytics sort of become increasingly sophisticated, you’re going to see a lot of that live within annual giving. I think you’re going to see more investment in annual giving as an industry. I do think you will eventually sort of see a plateauing to the alumni participation rate, but I think that’s going to play out for a few more years.
I think naturally you’re going to see a movement towards more digital programs, using social media and mining social data. I think you’re going to see annual giving programs playing catch-up, really, to where the Amazon’s of the world are right now and a lot of banking institutions and sort of figuring out “how do you give your donors – in the same way that Amazon and Bank of America give their customers – an online experience?” Whether they’re trying to consume some information about the institution and about giving to the institution or just simply trying to transact, I think that’s going to be an important skill that’s going to live within annual giving.
I think you’re going to begin to find annual giving much more integrated with alumni relations and alumni engagement, too.
We were talking before about Stanford’s big decision to eliminate their phone program, but if I had to predict, I don’t think you’re going to see the end of the phone program any time too soon. I think what you are going to see is a rethinking of phonathon programs and their role within advancement shops. It’s not necessarily going to be measured in terms of ROI and how much cash those programs bring in. I think those phonathon programs are going to be used in much more flexible ways. They’re going to be used to engage alumni and connect with them and understand alumni and increase engagement. It’s going to be used to promote events, do market research, conduct stewardship. I think you’re going to see it used and integrated with planned giving and major giving to do plan giving prospect research or maybe even help secure appointments for gift offices when they’re out there.
All of these things combined together, it’s not going to be about how much did the program bring in. It’s going to be more of a “how do we use this as part of our overall prospect and alumni engagement strategy?” Stay tuned. I think you’re going to see phone programs go through a lot of change. I don’t think you’re going to see the end of the phonathon program any time soon. As a matter of fact, you talked about the report that we just put out. Close to 90% of institutions haven’t even thought about getting rid of their phone program, even though Stanford recently kind of shocked the world by eliminating theirs. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see programs like Stanford – I won’t call them out specifically – but I think you’re going to see programs changing the way they utilize their phonathon resource.
Eliminating them completely? I’m not sure that’s going to happen anytime soon.
If mortgage and car payments were due only once a year, a lot of people would have a hard time coming up with the full amount. If cable bills were paid only once a year, there would probably be far fewer television viewers. Banks and media companies understand that customers are more inclined to make big purchases when the payments can be broken up into small increments.
The same can be said in fundraising, which is why monthly giving can be so appealing. On one hand, it offers convenience for the donor. On the other hand, it can help charities increase retention rates and encourage upgrades. For example, rather than soliciting a $1,000 gift all at once, ask for $83.33 each month. Or, see if a current $1,000 donor will upgrade to $1,500 with monthly gifts of $125.
Franklin & Marshall College understands the value in monthly giving, and they have set up an entire webpage to prove it. Along with enrollment instructions, they address some frequently asked questions to help explain the benefits of monthly giving:
- What is the Monthly Giving program? – The Monthly Giving program allows donors to easily make their gift to the Franklin & Marshall Fund in regular monthly installments from a credit card or checking/savings account.
- How does the program help F&M? – Monthly contributions provide the College with an on-going, reliable source of funding. Gifts made through this program reduce our administrative costs and allow more of each gift to be used immediately to support Franklin & Marshall’s top priorities. Monthly gifts are also “greener” by cutting down on paper and gas and emissions produced by mailings.
- How does the program help you? – Enrolling in the program means you won’t have to worry about writing and sending a check, and the number of phone and mail reminders you receive from the College will decrease. If you choose to allow deductions to continue from year to year, you will be counted among F&M’s most loyal and valued donors and be recognized for your participation in this program in the Annual Report of Gifts. Monthly Giving also allows you to make your yearly contribution at a leadership level because your gift is divided into manageable monthly increments.
To illustrate this clearly, the page also includes a chart (below) showing the monthly contribution required to join the annual fund leadership gift society at its various levels. Another chart on the page breaks down the monthly payment for alumni in each of the last ten graduating classes, who can join at discounted rates.
It’s important to encourage donors to think big about their donations. Raising sights is key to achieving goals and helping your programs to grow. At the same time, it’s important to make giving convenient for your donors. Recurring gifts can be a great way to make consistent giving manageable and leadership giving easy to swallow.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Recurring Gift Programs.