Because Catholic education is a focal point for the Cardinal’s Annual Appeal in Washington, DC, we always visit schools in the diocese for photo shoots as we put together campaign outreach materials. Happy kids, dedicated teachers, and inspiring stories—they make great fundraising material.
Not long ago, the Cardinal was scheduled to visit one of the elementary schools, so we took the opportunity to meet him there and grab some good shots. The teacher was prepping the children before the Cardinal arrived on appropriate conduct for the visit. She asked them to come up with some rules on how to behave while the Cardinal was in their classroom. Several hands shot up. “Listen to the Cardinal.” “Be quiet.” “Stay in your seats.” The teacher prompted, “Anything else?” One little boy in the back became very excited and shouted out, “Do not poke fun at the Cardinal.” The absolute look of horror on the teacher’s face was unforgettable.
When the Cardinal arrived the children obeyed all the rules — including the last one.
What can this teach us about fundraising? Easy. Choose simple rules, and follow them.
Here are our three cardinal rules to follow for inspiring and successful annual appeals:
1. Have a plan, and stick to it.
Having a plan is fundamental to fundraising, for marketing in general, and for faith-based organizations in particular. You start with a written plan that defines your goal — as well as the milestones, budget, and tactics for achieving it. This plan does not have to be elaborate; simple works just fine. The plan should cover who, what, when, where, and why. Who is your audience? What are your goals? When will you get the work done? Where will you get funding for the campaign? And why do you want to raise this money? After you have a plan, you need to follow it. Update it at least weekly to make sure you are staying on track. Hold yourself accountable.
2. Run an integrated campaign.
A single letter or email will not work. Donors often need to be touched several times to be moved to action. Best practices suggest that you should reach out at least 12 times a year (and twice a month is even better). This works best with a mix of online and print communications, along with social media. People are bombarded with messages all day long between snail mail, email, texts, radio, TV and social media, so you need to be on point with your content and strategic about the timing.
Not all of your touchpoints should be asking for money. You want your audience to feel connected to your organization, so consider making some of your messages invitations. For example, you could invite your potential donors to tour your church or facilities, or to volunteer. Another option is to share an individual story from an actual recipient to show your donors how their support is making an impact. Donors like to hear those impact stories. They're not so interested in reading about your internal organizational changes and accomplishments.
A related strategy is to ask donors what information they would like to receive, and how often they would like to receive it. You can use a quick survey or ask for direct feedback in other ways. Listen to what they say — and make changes accordingly.
3. Thank your donors.
Our third rule is to say thank you — again and again. For every gift, follow with a prompt and personal acknowledgement. Then follow up with information on the impact of the gift. Always remember to assure the donor that the money was spent in accordance with their wishes.
As mentioned earlier, the idea is not to keep asking your supporters for more money. For every ask you send, you need to thank them at least once. You can even organize a “thank-a-thon” before you launch your next campaign. Call all your donors and thank them for everything they have done to help your cause. You’re not thanking them for helping your organization thrive. You’re thanking them for the specific impact they have on helping your mission. If you can’t reach the supporters in person, leave a voice message of gratitude. Taking the time now to show appreciation before the next campaign will make your supporters more likely to give again.
Just follow the rules—the ones that work best for your organization. If you keep it simple and consistent, you’ll raise money, win loyal support from your donors, and make a lasting impact for good.