Development Planning from Scratch – Annual Giving Leaders

Development Planning from Scratch – Annual Giving Leaders

In July of this year, I started a series of posts about planning. Since then, I have been periodically adding posts to the sequence. In August, my planning post was entitled “Segmenting.”

The planning idea behind segmenting is that you identify separate groups for separate consideration such that they are then removed completely from the larger prospect group. This is an important consideration because it forces you to plan in a way that is donor-centric instead of organization-centric.

In the ensuing weeks, I pulled our Board members first and Top100 major gift prospects second.

This week, I’m pulling out “Annual Giving Leaders” which I define in much the same way that many organizations define “major donors.” (As an aside, I have almost entirely stopped using the term “major donors.” Here’s why.)

Annual Giving Leaders are individuals who give above a certain threshold and leave their gifts unrestricted. The threshold will change from organization to organization, but $250 is fairly common. Note especially that no board members or Top100 donors will be in this segment – NOT because they don’t give above this threshold, but rather because each of their segments has already been pulled and considered separately.

Annual Giving Leaders is the segment that you will want to target for donor club involvement. If you have donor clubs starting at $1,000, for example, donors in the clubs will be asked to renew their memberships while donors giving less than $1,000 will be asked to “join” the club. I am using clubs – plural – because many organizations have more than one. If you have more than one, resist the temptation to name all the different levels as different clubs. Donor clubs will work best when each club is branded separately. That’s easy if the clubs are established at $1,000 and $10,000. It’s harder when the clubs are established at $1,000, $1,200, $1,500, $2,500, $5,000 and so on. Hopefully you will have donors giving all of those amounts, but most of them can simply be unnamed levels within a singular branded donor club.

For a more complete treatment of donor clubs, see On Donor Clubs Take 1, Take 2, and Take 3.

Regardless, this is the group that will probably deliver 50-75% of your unrestricted money each year. They are important enough to be considered separately, even if they aren’t considered individually.

What will this group see from you this year? Start with the solicitation. Are they solicited all together? By season? In person or by letter? Will the letters be handwritten (See Handwritten Letters)? Or typed with special notes? When will all this get prepared? If the board members are involved in writing notes, how will that get organized? It’s generally more significant if the board member who writes the note on the letter also signs the Thank you letter and is the same every year. How will you keep track?

As we did before, each of these donors should be asked for a specific amount of money, but now we can work more from a template as a starting point:

LAST YEAR                               INITIAL ASK                  FOLLOW_UP LETTER

250                                             1,000                                    250

500                                             1,000                                    500

1,000                                             1,200                                 1,200

1,200                                             1,500                                 1,500

1,500                                             2,500                                 1,500

2,500                                             5,000                                 2,500

Before you go any further, double back and do a gut check on each individual’s ask amount. If it doesn’t feel right for a particular donor, replace the pre-scripted ask amount from the template with one that feels better. For example, if you asked a particular $250 donor for $1,000 each of the last couple of years with no results, consider asking them for just $500 this year.

For your goal, use the lesser of 80% of the cumulative ask amounts or 120% of what this group gave last year.

In my fictitious plan, I’m renewing all current donor club members in October, with reminder letters in November and December and a phone call in December. I’m using the October letter to also ask donors giving $250 and $500 to jump into the club at $1,000, but I’m only going to give them 3-4 weeks to consider it before I come back and ask for the $250 renewal. I’ve seen too many donor histories where the $1,000 request was ignored by the donor and no one circled back to ask for the $250 renewal. Ouch!

So now the question “Why will they say yes?” Donors will say yes to you because you have communicated effectively with them throughout the year. For my fictitious plan, I’m going to incorporate the following list of special communications for these special donors.

  • 2 special story-based updates on current programs,
  • 1 Annual Report,
  • 1 invitation to attend a donor club field trip,
  • 1 invitation to attend a donor club dinner event, and
  • 1 mid-year coffee with the ED or a board member.

There are three types of communications there: Mailed information, events and gatherings, and an in-person meeting. The mailed information is designed to look like special information regardless of how many people get it. They could be delivered by email, but the impact is stronger on paper. And the message is simple – “your annual gifts to this organization are making great things possible. Here – let me show you.” The Annual Report is delivered in a special envelope, hand addressed of course, and mailed a week or so before anyone else gets it – an advance copy. It delivers the same essential message.

The events are exclusive events – only donor club members and prospects are invited. (Board members are always invited!)

The invitation to coffee will not be accepted by most donors, but just like all the rest, the invitation itself carries most of the cultivation value. And the donors who do accept are the donors most interested in the programs and projects. Hint: they’re also Top100 candidates someday, too. For this reason, among others, don’t let this activity slide. You need to get to know your donors. Having coffee with them without asking for money each time will be a treat for both of you.

Now map all this information onto your calendar spreadsheet as we did before.





Photo by Jay Mantri courtesy of


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The Development Planning Sequence so far:

The BIG Picture


Soliciting the Board

Cultivating the Board

Cultivating Top 100 Donors


* * * * *


Fundraiser’s Almanac
Here’s what I’ve been thinking about for September. What are YOU thinking about?


Handwritten Letters

There are serious advantages to writing letters by hand. Here’s one:

  • Degree of personalization: Because each letter takes 15-20 minutes to write longhand, and you’re thinking about the recipient the whole time, you are far more likely to make subtle adjustments to language and sentence structure than you would be if you were typing the letter, or simply changing the salutation and calling it good. You are far more likely to be writing TO THE DONOR. And it’s like smiling into the telephone – the person on the other end can tell.


Getting the Most from Fundraising Events

Every event ends up with five different kinds of people.

  • Those who came, enjoyed themselves, and seemed genuinely interested in one of the programs or projects.
  • Those who came and just enjoyed themselves.
  • Those who said they would come and didn’t.
  • Those who responded to the invitation but couldn’t come.
  • And those who ignored the invitation altogether.

You should plan specific follow-up activities for each group.


Good News

From now until Christmas, everything you do with members and donors should be coordinated. And everything they see should appear coordinated as well. Start with some Good News. Have you been saving something back, waiting for the right moment to release it? Now is the time. The message for your donors – right before they are asked to give again – is “your financial contribution is making a difference.” Give them something to be proud of.


Filing/Data Entry – Soft Credits

When a donor makes a gift, they obviously get the direct credit for what they actually gave. But the Board member who wrote the nice note in the left-hand margin deserves some credit as well – the note-writer gets a “soft” credit. Most fundraising software includes a way to assign soft credits to specific individuals, and keeping track of such information can open several cultivation doors for you. Soft credits are thereby a way of tracking relationships.

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