Thoughts About the Annual Fund

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Alex Comfort, CFRE

What great nuggets stay in your brain from college?  One for me came from THE GREAT LITERATURE PROFESSOR. You know, the one you had to take even though he was so hard your grade would probably be lousy.

He taught us to spend great amounts of time and care on our first sentence of our great novel (or whatever).  I remember the example he gave came from The Open Boat.  The opening sentence was “None of them could tell the color of the sky”.

Now maybe it was another novel – don’t mess up my memory by telling me the truth!  But the point was that the sentence grabbed us and made us visually try to see the color.

The annual fund letter needs the same “hook”,”kicker”, or whatever you call your grabber.  I tell my students that “Comfort’s Curse” is going to haunt them if their opening sentence in a direct mail letter or email starts with something like: “As I sit here on the veranda looking over the campus I see busy students coming back for fall semester”, or some blithering comment like that.  YOU HAVE TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO PULL HEARTSTRINGS!

How about: “There was something obviously wrong with Nathan.”  We always need an emotional story to get our donors on board.  And we need a compelling P.S. to finish the letter.  “P.S. Remember that Nathan and all the students here are in need of your intervention through your gift.”

Some other quick thoughts about annual fund matters right about now:

  1. January and February are good months for annual fund activity because people are inside cowering at the threat of snow.
  2. I prefer a set time for annual fund solicitations over a period of 6 weeks to two months.  Then a separate holiday letter for an additional project at Giving Tuesday or the end of the year.
  3. I stay away from phonathons because of the expense, but I will send three letters (one every two weeks) in hopes of receiving a gift.  Then I try to phone my lapsed donors over the ensuing months.
  4. Keep it simple.  Pull heartstrings.  Say how you will use the money.  Tell in quick terms what you do and explain the impact of your work.

At National Philanthropy Day in Western NC this year Tami Ruckman, CFRE, Director of Development at Eliada Home (a wonderful children’s program which is an orphanage but also has great programs for all types of kids), accepted her gift as Outstanding Fund Raising Professional by saying this:  “ELIADA HOME FIXES BROKEN CHILDREN!”

May we all be able to nail our mission so succinctly.

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