Do you have an annual fund or are you ignoring individual donors?


In my experience, most small nonprofits (which I define as organizations with an annual budget of less than $1 million) don’t have a written fund raising plan. That’s too bad because the lack of a plan will most certainly lead to mediocre fundraising results.

At the very least, organizations of this size should have a simple plan for engaging individual donors in the life of the organization. This too, however, is more the exception than the rule.

But it’s not difficult to build. You can make it as easy as a four-step process:

  1. Identification (Make a List)
  2. Cultivation (Engage with people on the List)
  3. Invitation (Make the Ask)
  4. Stewardship (Show Some Gratitude)

Generally, one step leads to the next, although there is no standard for how long any step might take. In fact, the steps often overlap. This is the way most successful annual giving programs are operated. While we’ve all heard about surprise bequests or big checks, they are rare.

Keep in mind: donors today are sophisticated stewards of the money they give away and the causes that they support. Most are interested in investing in well-run organizations that demonstrate their impact. Donors also enjoy building relationships with the groups they support.

One of the factors that leads me to recommend that my clients focus on creating a healthy annual giving program is the fact that individual donors comprise over 80% of all philanthropic giving in the United States. If you are not seeking funds from individual donors, you are losing out on significant opportunities – even in small, rural communities. Many small organizations rely upon a diverse mix of funding sources (including memberships, admissions, class fees, sponsorships, events, and government funds), but nothing is better than a solid group of annual donors to help you advance your mission.

I believe that the fundraising process is an opportunity to build relationships with wonderful people who share your passion and mission. If you do it right, your first-time donors may become repeat donors, board members, terrific volunteers, community boosters and supporters, professional advisers, donors of goods and services, and eventually major and planned gift donors.

I’ve developed a Simple Fundraising Plan for Small Organizations that can help you build a vibrant annual giving program. It spells out a simple (hence the name) plan for finding and engaging individual donors. I usually only share this with clients or with organizations with which I’m personally involved, but the need seems too great for me not to share it more widely. For a small fee, I’ll share it with you. Just send me an email message for more information.

Here’s a short excerpt from the plan:

Preliminary Steps to take:

  1. Assign a board committee to oversee the process. It can (and probably should) include non-board member volunteers.
  2. Delineate who is responsible for doing what.
  3. Create timelines and due dates.
  4. Stick to the plan and find a way to hold each other accountable.
  5. Don’t over complicate it or prolong each step. Just start and follow through.
  6. The people you are engaging might say no. Get over it. It’s nothing personal, just a natural consequence of looking for donors.
  7. Make sure to build in the ability and capacity to continue the program indefinitely. This isn’t something to embark on without a clear understanding that it has to be incorporated into the ongoing operation of the organization to be successful.

It’s never too late for your organization or cause to begin looking for and engaging the people who share your values and mission. What are you waiting for?