The biggest secret about good donor communications is that there is no secret. Doing it well — seeing greater donor engagement and retention — is not a 62-point strategic plan. The best fundraising appeals have commonalties and they are attainable for schools of any size:
- A multi-appeal approach year over year
- A compelling story per appeal
- A way to thank donors and report to them during or after the campaign
What are the benefits of a multi-appeal approach? The typical school advancement office may have blinders about diversifying past the capital campaign and annual fund. Those two campaign workhorses, the foundational elements of any advancement strategy, are vital to a school’s overall health and momentum. But the savvy advancement office will build upon that foundation and expand the appeals available to donors over the course of a year. This is especially important where new donors (i.e., recently graduated alumni) are concerned. Often schools treat the annual fund like a single campaign with several similar, incremental asks. But this approach can make for quick donor fatigue. Maybe you’ve noticed that at your own institutions.
Think of it this way: if you are a donor who gives $25 per month to the annual fund, and you receive your third ask in a year that politely prods you to see if you’d be willing to raise that amount, what are your incentives to do so? The annual fund messaging hasn’t changed. The focus is broad–the entire school, and the community that they serve. The ask is similar, or maybe identical, to the last one. You aren’t sure if your $25 per month has mattered, and perhaps it hasn’t if the school is asking you to increase the amount. Donor fatigue sets in.
A multi-appeal approach, even within the umbrella of the annual fund campaign, helps to re-engage donors in ways that aren’t isolating to them. But this approach is only truly effective when each appeal is tied to a specific, impactful, and emotional story.
The annual fund is often school-focused. The language, goals, and communications to donors talk about the school now, the school in the future, and how the donor can contribute to that. But for many donors, it’s not enough. Their emotional connection to the appeal has to be struck deeper–at the human level. Instead of trying to explain what’s special about your school, let’s try tell donors what’s special about the people in your school. This means that you may tie your spring appeal for the annual fund to the impacts the fund has had to a particular family or student. Or, the appeal can show and tell how a student has benefited from the proceeds of the annual fund dividends in the past, whether that’s in academics, infrastructure, or in another area. Thinking of annual fund asks as separate, distinct appeals can nurture new donors, re-engage regular donors, and help solidify relationships with legacy donors. We need to show positive change in the day-to-day of the community, rather than in school operations.
Sending a thank you to donors, in an email or a hand-written note, is a common practice. But an important follow-up step will help with donor engagement when it comes time for your next appeal: you should be sending a donor-driven, story-focused summation of the benefits of giving. This can be campaign results, but it should also be a continuation of the story you told in the appeal. A quarterly newsletter to donors can accomplish this, but an appeal-specific follow-up email to donors informing them about the progress of the campaign can too.
We’d like to help you tell your school’s story with FACTS Giving. Click here to learn more or contact our team.