Your Annual Fund: How to Manage Year-End Expectations

Image: Stuart Miles at

Image: Stuart Miles at

With the holidays fast approaching, it’s the time of year when your annual fund takes center stage. Like the holidays themselves, year-end fundraising drives can be loaded with expectations. And also like the holidays, sometimes reality doesn’t match up with expectations.

How can you align expectations – including those of your board – with reality? Which annual fund expectations are realistic? And how can you maximize funds raised?

The definition of annual fund is an organized effort to obtain gifts on a yearly basis to support, at least in part, general operations of your nonprofit organization. The annual fund is an essential part of most organizations’ fundraising plans and often fundraising for the annual fund happens throughout the year – not just year-end.

Here are 6 expectations it’s fair to have for your annual fund this season:

•    Your annual fund is an important source of general operating support (remember: a majority of gifts received via annual fund are unrestricted!)
•    It is an easy gateway through which new donors can begin to participate in your organization.
•    Your annual fund serves as an avenue for small donors to make meaningful contributions. (Some of these “small” annual fund donors are testing you – they have capacity to give much more.)
•    It can connect you to major gift prospects. (It happens all the time!)
•    It can reveal best prospects for planned giving. (Note: often the best prospects are your most loyal, consistent annual fund donors – not those who give the highest $ amount!)
•    You can GROW your annual fund through RETAINING the donors you already have. 

The flip side to the above realistic expectations, are these few things your organization should NOT expect from your annual fund:

•    That it will bring in exactly the same amount of money every year.
•    That it can be depended on to “fill the gap” of your organization’s expenses vs. revenues at the end of the year.
•    That annual fund donors will give every year no matter what. (No! Annual fund donors need cultivation and communication throughout the year just like your larger donors. Ignore these folks and your annual fund will lose steam quickly.)

Some nonprofit organizations put all of their annual fund eggs in the year-end fundraising basket – meaning they don’t raise annual fund dollars until the very end of the year. If your fiscal year aligns with the calendar year, this tactic can lead to putting too much pressure on your year-end fundraising efforts. And too much pressure on staff, board and other volunteers!

If your organization doesn’t yet have an annual fund, check out 5 Must-Haves for Annual Fund Success to get you started. 

Thoughts? Feedback? What are your must-haves for annual fund and year-end fundraising? Please share your experiences, thoughts and ideas in the Comments box below! 

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