Fundraising competition is not what you think it is

November 4, 2022   |   Fundraising

As Jake Strang shares on this episode of Asking for Good: “Annual fund is where it all begins.” . And it’s true: most donors make their first gift to a nonprofit at the annual fund level and commonly through an appeal created and sent by the annual fund department. Once donors show continued interest through volunteerism and subsequent donations they may then be considered as a candidate for a special gift such as a major or bequest gift. How does a successful annual giving department begin this process of longer-term connection with a potential new donor?


First, understand that the competition is not other nonprofits, it’s all other entities. The annual fund department content competes with all other messaging in mailboxes, inboxes, digital ads and text messages. Recognizing the noisy world we and our supporters live in allows fundraisers to appropriately position their messaging.


Be where donors are. Jake mentioned that the shift in annual fund strategy includes far more digital marketing, given its ability to target affinity groups with personalized outreach. In both print and digital fundraising campaigns, it is critical to test messaging and media channel mix to identify opportunities for ongoing scale and optimization.


Once you determine where your donors are – email, mail, text, phone, etc. –Jake suggests two resources to informing your messaging: 1. How to Write Successful Fundraising Appeals by Mal Warwick and 2. everyday life. Look for what you find compelling: how does this TV commercial, online article, or song make you feel? How can our nonprofit create content that will emotionally appeal to our donors.


Finally, Jake recommended the book, Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World by Scott Harrison, which illustrates the application of the above  two concepts and is an exceptional story of how to build a charity. Scott Harrison addressed the international conference of the Association of Fundraising Professionals in 2012 –I was in the audience and remember his message a decade later: if you have good content, they’ll use it. His point was that the same statistics-driven content a nonprofit uses to secure a federal grant is what to use to engage and excite individual donors. This nightclub promoter turned  nonprofit founder and thought leader approached building a nonprofit like building a nightclub –he made the charity a part of the donor’s world, not a precious issue apart from the donor’s daily life.


In the nonprofit sector it is easy to get wrapped up in an organization’s work (as great as it is) and lose sight of how the nonprofit fits into the supporter’s world. To break into a new donor’s world nonprofits must think of their message relative to the full spectrum of a donor’s world, not just the nonprofits niche mission and area of subject matter expertise. The question creators of annual fund content is not what should we tell them about how great we are, but instead how will the nonprofit’s message cut through the noise to reach and inspire a potential new donor to make a gift?

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