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Making the perfect ask for your annual fund

Tim Sarrantonio

One of the most important things to remember about an annual fund is that while the funds may be used for general operation, your donors should never be treated generally. The worst thing you can do is send out a form letter that starts with “Dear Supporter” and has a boilerplate ask. You should be crafting your appeal emails and letters to target your constituents in a way that gives them a personal link to your mission.

The key to making the perfect ask is delving into who exactly you’re communicating with. You should have a 360 degree view of your of your constituents, not only understanding giving history but volunteer hours, event registrations, membership registrations, survey results, and fully customized data specific to your organization.

So how can you set up your appeals process to drill down and target constituents, while crafting the perfect appeal letter to excite them to send that check or donate online? We’ll explore two strategies to segment and communicate with your future donors.

Segmentation is the key to success
As mentioned above, the worst strategy for appealing to folks is to create a “one size fits all” appeal for all your donors. Taking the time to create segmentations within your database is of vital importance for maximizing your success with your annual fund.

The first step to success in turning your database into the perfect tool for your annual fund is to identify the individual or organization type that you’ll be appealing to. Each record in your database should have a general identifier that can help in segmentation. Creating broad identifiers will assist in narrowing segmentation down while also giving you the ability to drill down deeper based on custom field information or previous giving history.

Once you’ve created broad categories for your future donors (e.g. major donors, board members, volunteers), then create email audiences or use reporting to drill even further. Save these potential donors in email or mailing lists to give your staff the ability to revisit your criteria and tweak it for future appeals. You should create segmentations on previous donation history and other important fields in your database.

Craft a communications strategy
So now you’ve created specialized email or letter campaigns based off your organization’s criteria. Maybe you want to send an email to everyone who has given over $500 and is a volunteer. Or to folks who have never donated directly to your organization but have attended your events.

Once you have saved your email audiences or saved reports on a segmentation of folks in your database, the next step is to actually communicate with them. When I raised nearly $800,000 in one year for the last organization I worked for, we sent the physical mailing and then followed up with an email communication two or three weeks later.

Create a special letter or email for each segmentation, including letters written by your annual fund committee members that can include their electronic or physical signature.  The main point to remember is when you are sending these letters and/or emails out you need to make your future donors feel personally connected to your mission.

Your annual fund is competing with dozens of sources for your future donor – you want to create concrete reasons why they should give but should never treat your donor solely as a debit account for donations. Make your ask letter clear in why their immediate attention needs to be paid to your ask. Have your committee members write the letters themselves, tweaking it to include information from your database. That’s why segmentation is of vital importance!

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