Feeling stuck?Is annual giving something you take down from the attic once a year?

Somewhere along the line, annual giving – the support an organization needs each year to operate – turned into “the one time a year we expect donors to give”.

So organizations get to October, look at the holes in the operating budget and take down the old annual appeal. And donors become persuaded that one gift a year is all that’s needed.

There’s so much danger in this approach!

First, you probably need money all year – not just in a designated few months from a limited campaign.

Second, telling donors (by your actions, if not words) that one gift a year will do, thank you, isn’t fair to your donors or your bottom line. If you can make a strong case for support, why limit donors’ joy in helping?

Third, that one-yearly annual appeal doesn’t necessarily take donors’ schedules into consideration. Yes, year-end is a big time for giving. One third of giving happens in December. Twelve percent happens in the last 3 days of the year.

Consider, though: you probably have donors who find money is tight at this time of year. Entertaining, presents, travel… they have expenses of their own to consider. Why not do all you can to ask when it’s convenient for them?

So what do you do if your donors are now in the once a year habit?

You want to take their preferences to heart, of course. And I know donors can be quite tied to giving habits. I live in Connecticut. We’re not known as the “Land of Steady Habits” for nothing. Many donors at one organization I was with could be counted on to send their gift annually – to the date.

But do you know your donors’ preferences? Each donor? Why not ask them?

If your donors seem to prefer an annual ask, the door isn’t entirely closed.

Try a donor newsletter

Do you send a donor newsletter three or four times a year? Is it a good one? By that, I mean, is it all about your donor and her impact? Or is it a public relations piece, full of organizational back-patting?

One of those newsletters will raise money. One of them is a waste of paper.

A real donor newsletter isn’t that hard to create. And it doesn’t need to be expensive to be effective. But it absolutely must be about your donors.

They are the heroes. They get the credit. They get to read about themselves in every article. It’s human nature: when something is about us, or concerns us, we’re interested.

So step back, extend your hand, and direct all the applause at them.

This is show, not (just) tell time. You want to show your donors that a gift to your organization mattered.

When someone makes a gift, they feel good. They get to tell themselves they’re a good person. They were helpful. They were selfless. They did something that mattered.

But that glow can quickly wear off. (A reason why a great thank you letteris so critical!)

A donor newsletter can reignite those warm fuzzies.

It should remind the donor that her gift did matter. Because look what she accomplished!

good newsletter is also for “everydonor”, not just the rich and powerful. So save the big check photos. (No, don’t save them. Throw them out.)

Don’t spend the newsletter space celebrating only your largest dollar donors. (The message that sends is “you can’t give enough to make a difference.”)

Write it so the million dollar donor and the five dollar donor both feel like heroes.

A donor newsletter is a lovely, gentle way to thank donors, tell them why their gift mattered so much, and let them know another gift would do even more good.

It’s also a good way out of the annual appeal dead end.

Those every year on October 15th donors find a reason to send a few more dollars in April. Because they want to feel good again. Because you showed them the gift would matter. Even monthly donors may send additional gifts.

Without any arm-twisting. Because you made them feel good. And because you are now more present in their lives, thanks to this mailing that’s focused all on them.

A good donor newsletter is one of the best things you can do for your donor relationships.

A good donor newsletter is a great way to back out of the annual appeal dead end.

Photo by Matthes Trettin on Unsplash