Expert presents five tips of what nonprofits need to do to strengthen their annual fund programs

  • Ron Rescigno

    Ron Rescigno

By Ron Rescigno
Rescigno’s Fundraising Professionals
Updated 12/16/2021 5:28 PM

For nonprofits, the annual fund is all about connecting hearts and minds to causes. When that happens, voila. The money follows.

There's a process involved in making this magic happen year after year and what it results in is donors who are engaged emotionally in causes that matter to them. It is this emotional attachment that motivates people to give to causes they believe in.


The following are five "must-haves" for any nonprofit hoping to build or improve on its annual fund programs:

1. If you want to be successful with your annual fund you must have a written plan in place to communicate with your donors. The plan should make it easier to identify your organization's program goals while listing tactics, messaging by the audience and timing of your communication pieces.

This plan provides structure and focus as it creates a habit of giving. Why is a "written" plan so important? If something happens to you tomorrow and if the plan isn't in writing, that information will be gone forever.

2. The importance of knowing who your organization is mailing to and why can't be overstated. Wealth screenings will help nonprofits forecast future donor behavior and offer an overview of a prospect's giving potential as it considers past giving, giving to other nonprofits, and other factors. This type of activity aims to answer one very important question: "What is the giving potential of a prospect?"

3. When donors make a gift in response to an appeal, they have made an emotional decision and report positive feelings supporting a cause they believe in. The way a donor is thanked plays a major part in expanding those good feelings.

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A good thank you or acknowledgment program shows donors that their gifts mattered, that they are appreciated, and the impact or difference their support is making or will make for your beneficiaries and the community. If the thank you messages are boring, opportunities to connect on a deeper level with donors will be missed.

4. Sadly, more than half of all first-time donors never make a second gift. The first step in improving donor retention is to maintain donor loyalty. Understanding donor motivation, communicating with them, recognizing their support, stewarding their gifts and engaging with them are all steps that lead to greater donor loyalty and, ultimately, retention.

5. When it comes to analyzing annual fund performance, hard questions need to be asked. For example, one question that can be asked is this: "Is one kind of appeal doing better than another kind, and can the language or messaging in the appeal be improved?"

Neglecting to thoroughly measure and analyze your appeal results means you will likely miss critical information that would have helped you raise more money on your next appeal.


In the end, a nonprofit's annual fund should serve as the foundation for all of its fundraising activities. The fund is where you compile a base of donors who are involved, informed, inspired and, hopefully, connected and engaged regularly.

If your organization is successful with its annual fund, it can go on to higher-level fundraising initiatives because of a steady flow of income for the basics -- your programs, services and activities have been established.

There is one warning sign. Nonprofits should be aware that without consistent annual giving and without investing in it, they will continue to be challenged to ever grow the revenue or their overall fundraising programs. Those nonprofits that invest in well-thought-out and executed annual fund plans will thrive.

• Ron Rescigno is vice president of Rescigno's Fundraising Professionals. Based in Bridgeview, Rescigno's Fundraising Professionals is a team of annual fund experts whose "process-driven results" help nonprofits make a difference.

Rescigno's delivers innovative fundraising solutions so that organizations not only reach but surpass their goals.

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