Kick-Starting Your Annual Fund Planning Process

Posted on 04/21/2019

Here’s an alarming statistic: 84 percent of annual giving programs report that their current year plan is exactly the same—or only slightly modified—as their plan from last year. While doing the same thing year after year may be easy, it’s also a sure-fire way to bore your donors and attain poor results. If you want your annual fund to grow, you’ll need to build a plan that capitalizes on the successes of previous years while testing new ideas.

The challenge is that many annual giving professionals don’t know where to begin when it comes to developing a plan. While the first step may be the hardest one to take, it’s also the most important one.

Meg Weber, Executive Director of Annual Giving at Colorado State University, believes that launching the planning process the right way is critical to success. She suggests starting several months before the end of the fiscal year by following these three steps:

First, look at the data. Knowing revenue and donor counts by channels and reviewing year-over-year performance will provide insight on trends. This will ensure that you set reasonable targets for the next fiscal year. Even though the final numbers for the current year won’t be available, year-to-date comparisons can illuminate trends and predict results.

Next, meet with advancement leadership and share the data before the books close. These conversations can clarify how annual giving fits into the big picture of development at your institution and determine current priorities, resources, and expectations. Understanding the big picture—and helping leadership see the important role annual giving plays in the overall advancement operation—will ensure that the annual fund plan aligns with organizational priorities.

Finally, set a few preliminary goals. Increasing donors and dollars are almost always going to be priorities for an annual fund, but consider other objectives, too. Identify new ideas you want to test or a few big-picture changes you’d like to make. Is it time to try a giving day? Should you rethink your phonathon strategy? Do you need to beef up your stewardship and donor retention efforts?

Once things are underway, Weber emphasizes that planning should continue as an iterative process. She suggests taking time to get feedback from internals partners. At Colorado State, this includes advancement colleagues, unit fundraisers, the alumni association, and the annual giving staff. Not only do these team members offer advice on key strategies, they are also asked to provide their thoughts on the plan once it has been formalized. Ultimately, soliciting feedback and gaining early buy-in from key stakeholders will help shape a successful annual fund plan.

It’s not hard to recognize the importance and benefit of annual fund planning, but that doesn’t make it easy to execute, especially well. By focusing on three simple steps to help guide your initial efforts, you can embark on an effective planning process and ensure your annual fund kicks off the next fiscal year in the best possible place.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Designing a Winning Annual Fund Plan.