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How to Make Your Annual Fund Appeals More Appealing (and Get the Results You Want)

How to Make Your Annual Fund Appeals More Appealing (and Get the Results You Want)

By Mark Aimone, Vice President 

In our lives, we are in constant contact with one another. As recipients, we’re bombarded with emails, text messages, social media posts, DMs, and phone calls from the people and institutions we care about. As senders, we need to think carefully about how our messages are being received. 

At independent schools, we face challenges to reach and connect with our constituents in ways that will secure their annual giving support. Think about your alumni and what they receive from your school on a regular basis: newsletters, magazines, event invites, and e-blasts for all kinds of occasions. Your current parents may be receiving even more communications across all channels. And it’s safe to assume that your constituents are also being contacted by their colleges, universities, local and national nonprofits, and more.  

The average person receives more than 120 emails per day, and the average open rate for email is between 20 and 40 percent. Given this data, how can you ensure that your annual fund messages are getting the attention and the results you want?  

Evaluate Your Annual Giving Communications with an Audit 

One of the best methods for assessing the efficacy of your annual giving communications is to conduct a thorough audit of your existing materials. This audit should be focused on two key areas: visual identity and core messaging.  

The first step in the audit is to gather all of your annual fund materials and examine them. Ask yourself several questions:  

  • Do these materials reflect the overall branding of our school?  
  • Do our annual fund pieces have an identity?  
  • Are they distinct enough for the recipient to recognize this as a solicitation?   

If the answers to these questions are “no,” then your message may be getting lost in the shuffle, and you could be inadvertently reducing the effectiveness of your appeals because donors don’t recognize them for what they are.    

Establish a Unique Visual Identity for the Annual Fund 

Your school’s branding is a central component of defining who you are in the marketplace.  

While all of the publications from your school should share a consistent brand identity, it is important that your constituents can visually distinguish between the messages you’re trying to deliver. In the case of annual giving, your appeals should stand out from the multitude of other communications – and even the multitude of other fundraising appeals – that come from your school.  

Thankfully, it is possible to create a specific annual fund identity that is easily identifiable to your cause and complementary to your school’s brand. To achieve this, work with your in-house design team or a creative agency to develop a look that is versatile and adaptable across different channels and media. Apply this design to all of your supporting materials – gift receipts, thank-you letters, giving pages, etc. – and be disciplined about maintaining and using it only for annual fund communications. 

Ensure Your Annual Fund Message Contains a Clear Call to Action 

Once you have completed the visual audit, you’ll want to examine your annual giving messages to ensure they resonate with your constituents. A good way to start is to survey your constituents or organize a focus group to gather data on your messaging. It’s imperative to gather feedback from non-donors as well as donors: Are your annual giving messages connecting with them? Do they understand what you’re asking for, when you are asking for it, and how their gift will be used? 

Ultimately, you want to keep annual fund messaging simple. Be clear about how supporters can give and the impact their support will have. Incorporate a targeted call to action. Donors want to know where their annual fund contribution is going, so as you redevelop your message, keep transparency in mind. This is especially important if you’re at a school that does not have a strong culture of philanthropy yet.     

Your visual identity and core message are the one-two punch of a successful annual fund campaign. Once you have established these elements, be consistent for a minimum of three years to allow them to take hold with your constituency. And as always, track your results so you can measure the impact of your work.  

As you integrate these tips into your annual fund strategy, you can craft and deliver dynamic appeals that help you achieve your fundraising goals.  

If you would like guidance in developing your organization’s fundraising strategy or donor stewardship plan, please reach out to us. Or you can email Mark Aimone at maimone@grenzglier.com, or contact us.

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About the author

Mark Aimone

Vice President

Mark has enjoyed an independent school career of more than three decades, serving in roles from teacher, advisor, and coach to fundraiser and administrator. He has more than 15 years’ experience advancing the mission of schools as a fundraiser in annual, major, capital, and planned giving. After beginning his independent…