Building an Annual Appeal Strategy for Your Nonprofit Marketing

Annual Appeal Strategy

How does your nonprofit approach its annual appeal? Do you create a strategy for promoting the campaign that aims to increase its reach and effectiveness? If not, this is your year to strategize a plan of action that makes use of all the strengths that your marketing and fundraising teams have to offer.

The marketing strategy for your annual appeal outlines the goals for your appeal and the proposed ways to go about reaching those goals. Say your nonprofit raises awareness and drives research for a rare disease. Your annual appeal strategy might outline a plan for you to raise $10,000 for a specific research project.

Setting Your Goals

Strategies are essentially useless without the goals that they’re planned around. Think about what you want to accomplish through your annual appeal. It’s generally the amount of money that you want to raise, but it can be much more than that. You could also set out to spread awareness around certain aspects of your mission, expand your donor base or increase engagement with current supporters. It’s up to you to decide how ambitious you’d like to get.

But as you’re deciding on your goals for the campaign, you’ll want to keep the following questions in mind.

  • How have your overall organizational goals evolved in the past year?
  • How did you use last year’s funds?
  • Will you need these funds to cover anything new?
  • Do you have a strong base of donors to draw from?
  • Have you seen big successes from fundraising efforts in the past?
  • What is your marketing budget?
  • How much time and capacity does your team have to execute the annual appeal campaign?

Let’s continue with the rare disease research nonprofit example. Since they’re hoping to fund a new project in addition to their regular programs, the cookie-cutter strategy from last year won’t work to raise the additional funds they’ll need to pull that off. Knowing that out of the gate helps them come up with a goal amount that will cover the increase in expenses.

Components of an Annual Appeal Strategy

A successful strategy includes three pieces: mission-based messaging, methods and a timeline. These components explain the purpose of the appeal and how it will reach your goals throughout the length of the campaign.

Mission-Based Messaging

Why are you doing the annual appeal? Where will the money go? Don’t assume that your whole audience knows what you do and how you spend donations. Pull together content for the appeal that outlines your goals and how those will contribute to your cause in the coming year.

Most importantly, make sure to tie it all back into your organization’s overarching mission and vision. And if you have them, bring in stories that demonstrate your impact to better connect with potential donors.

To phrase this messaging differently based on how familiar people are with your organization, consider segmenting your email list based on points of engagement with your nonprofit. For example, you should speak to your monthly donors differently than those who only recently subscribed to your email list.

Methods

These are all of the initiatives you’ll use to attain your overall fundraising goal. Depending on the marketing avenues that you have available and what resonates with your target audience, the following methods may move you toward your goals.

  • Create a landing page on your website: Include content that outlines the campaign goals and mission, offering an easy place to send people through your marketing efforts.
  • Use the blog to highlight client stories and impact: Post strong testimonials and stories of impact, connecting each to the appeal as inspiration to make a gift.
  • Use strong images and videos: Remember the saying, “A picture’s worth a thousand words”? Use strong visuals throughout your appeal materials to drive the message home.
  • Add a fundraising thermometer: To show progress toward your goal and motivate supporters to contribute, consider using a fundraising thermometer.
  • Update the homepage: Your homepage is likely one of the most visited pages on your site. Use it to drive visitors to answer your appeal.
  • Send targeted emails to your supporters: Make good use of your email list with compelling content that drives donations. A special, separate email targeted to past donors would be a nice addition as well.
  • Give campaign updates: You can also update folks on social media and through emails to your whole list, driving urgency to meet your goals before the campaign ends.
  • Consider supporter-run components: Facebook Fundraisers or other crowdfunding initiatives might be a good fit for your supporters and goals.
  • Add campaign donors to an email list: Saying thank you is important. And updating them on their impact can turn first-time donors into lifelong supporters.

Typically, we’ve seen nonprofit annual appeals make use of their website with a landing page, homepage and blog posts, and then use their email list and social media accounts to drive people to that website content.

You might also include things like a direct mail component, but we’ll stick to the online marketing tactics we know and love. That said, repurposing content from print components can make for compelling website or email copy with a lot less effort than starting from scratch. You’ll just need to avoid the temptation to copy and paste since readers engage in different ways with those three mediums.

Timeline

Now that you’ve figured out all of the methods you’ll employ to reach your goals, it’s time to think about how you’ll actually pull this whole thing off. Come up with a workable timeline that considers the staff members or vendors that will help, the length of the campaign, and how much time you’ll need to set up new marketing tasks.

If your nonprofit is trying out a marketing tactic for the first time, it helps to give yourself a few months to get in the groove and work out the kinks before using it in your campaign. You’ll also want to make sure things like emails and social media posts are spread out throughout the life of the campaign and fit in with your typical posts.

Hypothetical Timeline

For example, if you’re planning on working all of the outlined methods into your plan, your timeline might look something like this. You won’t see all of the pieces exclusively listed out, as some (like using strong photos and videos) would be worked into many other components like emails, social media posts and the landing page.

Three Months Out
  • Start collecting stories, video and images for the appeal campaign
  • Set up a system to organize your email list based on how you’ll need to communicate with different audiences (for example, a group made up solely of donors)
  • Set your nonprofit on the necessary crowdfunding networks, create a kit and assign a point person to provide support to those running crowdfunding initiatives for you
Two Months Out
  • Streamline your online donation process and form, making sure that donors are added to an email list and that you have a process in place to thank them via email
  • Write the content for the blog posts to support your campaign
  • Write the email content that you’ll need to promote the campaign, with each different group of your supporters in mind
  • Brainstorm and reach out to specific supporters to kickstart your crowdfunding initiative through Facebook Fundraisers (or elsewhere)
One Month Out
  • Create the landing page on your website, add the finalized content, choose the images for the page and save it as a draft on your website
  • Set up a fundraising thermometer and add it to your landing page
  • Brainstorm a list of pages and content you’ll need to update in order to link to the landing page. For example, writing up a call out for the homepage.
  • Build out the emails and blog posts, scheduling them strategically throughout the campaign
One Week Out
  • Publish the landing page on your website
  • Create the social media content that you’ll publish throughout the campaign
  • Make sure your crowdfunders have everything they need to launch their personal campaigns
Week 1
  • Add the call out to your homepage and links to related content when your campaign is kicking off
  • Send out the announcement emails and social media posts
Week 2
  • Provide campaign updates to your email list and social media accounts
  • Publish and promote a blog post with a strong client story
Week 3
  • Provide campaign updates to your email list and social media accounts, ramping up the urgency
Final Week
  • Publish a blog post that demonstrates your nonprofit’s impact
  • Provide campaign updates to your email list and social media accounts, stressing the urgency of the campaign ending soon
After the Campaign
  • Thank everyone who donated to the appeal
  • Review the data and make notes on improvements for next year
  • Update the content on the landing page to let visitors know the results and note that the appeal is not active

Measuring Success

For next year and any other fundraising campaigns, it’ll be helpful to know what resonated and what didn’t. Look at the methods you’re choosing to include in your plan and make sure you can track each method’s success. A free tool like Google Analytics can be an awesome resource as you look to make strategic decisions for future marketing projects rooted in real data.

For example, if you set up a landing page on your nonprofit’s website for your annual appeal, you’d want to be able to track visits to that page as well as where they came from (email, social media, etc) and donations made by those visitors or any other actions that they took.

What does your nonprofit’s annual appeal strategy look like? Would you add anything to the strategy based on what you’ve seen work for your nonprofit? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.