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January 20, 2022
Creating a Framework for Your Annual Fundraising Campaign
By Robin L. Cabral

Robin Cabral
Robin Cabral
Regardless of when nonprofits conduct their annual fundraising campaigns, it's never too early to start planning.

Critical to helping ensure the success of an annual fund drive is having the right elements in place, which together form a framework that guides the entire effort, before you develop a calendar of actions and tactics.

The following will help.
1) Determine your monetary goal. This goal is often tied to a direct budget line item, but sometimes not. The most realistic way of developing that goal is by analyzing your prospective and current donor base to determine expected capacity given where donors are at in your fundraising lifecycle. Rarely should a development goal be based on budget gap needs alone.

2) Once you have determined your monetary goal, develop a corresponding gift chart. While you can develop a gift chart on your own, there are several accessible tools online that can help you calculate an estimated gift chart. Once you have this gift chart, use it as a tool to develop your corresponding strategies. For instance, how will you obtain the needed "major" gifts? Perhaps a series of segmented, in-person solicitations needs to be added to your annual fund plan, or maybe you have applied for a large grant.

3) Now define your key metrics. Will you be seeking new donors? How many? Will you be aggressively seeking to retain your donors? What are you projecting your retention rate to be? The most important indicators of the health of a development program include donor acquisition, donor retention rates, and upgrading of gifts.

4) While not necessary, it may be important for your organization to develop a theme for the appeal. Perhaps you have new leadership that will provide a central organization theme or a new scholarship fund.

5) Then, determine your donor audiences. Perhaps you have a metric centering on donor acquisition, so you may want to develop or appeal to your prospective donors. You may have a 100% giving expectation for your board of directors. Maybe you have some major donors that warrant in-person solicitations or mid-level donors who you are seeking to upgrade to higher giving levels. Determining who your audience is will also help dictate your corresponding strategy. If you have been tracking this type of information, it may be helpful to further break down donors by identifying, perhaps, programmatic interest areas.

6) Determine your anticipated outcomes for each donor segment. This selection will be directly tied to the metrics and audiences that you outlined above. For each donor audience you identified, consider non-donors and prospects, major donors, your staff and board, current donors, lapsed donors, etc., define the intended outcome for each audience (i.e., non-donors make their first gift, current donors renew and upgrade their gift, etc.).

7) Decide which strategies would be appropriate to reach those audiences. For instance, if you have a segment of major donors giving at the $1,000 or more level, then you will definitely want to tailor their strategies so that they are more personal in nature (i.e., one-on-one visits or telephone calls). If you have a pool of mid-level donors, you may want to send a direct mail appeal with telephone or email follow-up. Consider how you will follow up with each segment and when. And how and when your entire campaign unfolds. Is it in the early fall, late fall, or holiday season, and for how long does it extend? Create a proposed timeline that spans the expected time frame of the campaign.

8) Once you have developed your framework, chart it in a framework document. Present it to your executive leadership, and even your development committee, for approval and buy-in. For a sample, framework annual appeal document, email me .

Far too often, organizations wait until fall is upon them before deciding to chart out the framework of their upcoming annual fund. By that time, it may be too late to develop an effective strategy. Ensure that you allow enough time in advance to chart out your annual fund structural elements. Create a framework that you can present to "the powers that be" to seek buy-in and support of the concepts, strategies, and timelines.

Robin Cabral, principal of Development Consulting Solutions, is a certified fundraising executive who works with mid-sized nonprofits to build capacity and improve fundraising results. Email her at or call 508-685-8899.
August 2018
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