The Annual Campaign: How It Strengthens the Non-Profit

The annual fund raising campaign is used by organizations like the United Way, the Jewish Federations, and any number of non-profit organizations both in Israel and in North America, as well as other countries. The question is often asked as to whether using this approach to raise funds is relevant to all non-profit organizations. It has a great deal of relevance, and it is under utilized by organizations in the voluntary sector.

In addition to raising the much needed funds the annual campaign can work to strengthen the non-profit organization. There are a number ways of looking at the advantages of a time limited targeted fundraising effort as different from an open ended campaign that without a specific time frame. If the annual campaign is planned, organized and implemented correctly it has the added value of enhancing the organization in a number of ways.

Most organizations utilizing an annual campaign have a standing committee of the board that is responsible for both planning and implementing the campaign. Many of these organizations, depending on their size, have a staff member who is assigned to work with the committee as a part-time or full-time assignment. Some agencies even create a position, Director of the Annual Campaign, for a staff member. Of course this would depend on the size of the organization and the annual amount of money the agency seeks to receive from contributors.

Each year when the committee begins to plan the annual campaign the members spend time reviewing the programs and services the organization provides to the community. This entails going over printed materials, collecting new information, and developing new brochures for the present year. The process of reviewing and developing new printed information about the agency and its response to the clients’ needs is educational and informative for the board members and the professional staff.

Often assumptions are made about what the services non-profits provide and about the clients who receive services and participate in programs. The annual review that is conducted as part of the preparations for an annual campaign often lead the leadership of the organization to take a look at whether they are utilizing the financial resources of the organization in the most efficient and effective manner. As the information is presented to the board of directors and to the annual campaign committee, the leadership can reexamine their efforts. It may result in changes being made in the non-profit’s programs and services that are being provided to the community.

In the planning for the campaign and reviewing the names of contributors the organization can often discover people who they have not approached or people who once contributed and have not continued their support of the organization. When this happens it provides an opportunity to approach potential contributors and to renew contact with people who have seemed to “fallen off the page”. When there is an ongoing process of an annual review then there is a way to keep tabs on who the donors are and who is not yet donating to the support the agency.

Following the appropriate planning process the campaign is implemented through the efforts of the professional staff and the volunteers who are approaching people for donations. The campaign is not only about fundraising it is also about putting the name and purpose of the organization before the members of the community. Of course we want everyone in the community to contribute financially. However, even if someone does not participate in this year’s fundraising effort it does not mean the person is “a lost cause”. They are part of the community and on the list to be solicited in the future.

The theme of reaching out to everyone to contribute is an important aspect of the annual campaign. Of course, there can be various categories of donors such as “founders”, “patrons”, “donors”, “supporters”, and “contributors” and each category can have a designated amount to signify the level of the gift. The most important message to be communicated to the community is that “regardless of the level of your gift the agency is here to provide you with services and we depend on your support. Please contribute whatever you can but be part of the community and make it possible for us to continue serving you, your friends, your neighbors, and others.”

The agency message should be one that is inclusive and resonates with all members of the community. It has to be one that appeals to all members without regard to their financial status. During the process of soliciting people for contributions individually and in small groups the emphasis can be placed on the person’s ability to give but in the communications that are sent to the entire community the message should be one of emphasizing everyone’s responsibility to provide for the financial sustainability of the agency’s services and programs.

Last but not least is the impact of the campaign on the agency’s human resources. People in the community who find out about the organization and about the services provided are often so impressed that they want to not only learn more but also become involved with the agency. A volunteer working on the campaign can communicate a strong sense of her commitment that it becomes somewhat “infectious” and the people she meets with or speaks to decide to find out more information and become active in the non profit. In some way it follows the statement “friends bring friends”.

The next time you are considering how to raise funds for your organization or you are planning a series of fundraising events think about the annual campaign as a way to not only raise funds but also to accomplish a number of complimentary goals. The annual campaign is not only about fundraising; it is also about building support for the services that are important for the community and strengthening the organizations itself.

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.