Effective Practices : Development

Annual Appeal
Development Section 4

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1. What is an Annual Appeal?
2. Who is Responsible for the Appeal?
3. What are the Key Elements of the Annual Appeal?
4. The Importance of Saying, “Thank You”
5. Alumni and the Annual Appeal
6. Matching Gifts
7. What is an Annual Report and How Does it Relate to the Annual Appeal?
8. What are the Key Points in an Annual Appeal Philosophy and Practices?

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What is an annual appeal?
As the name implies, the annual appeal is a yearly fundraising request made by a school community to its members and friends. The request solicits financial contributions to support the continued operation of the school, and various designated funds as the school may dictate. While the proceeds from the annual appeal can be dedicated to capital projects, major building often requires a capital campaign which usually has some different characteristics.

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Who is responsible for the appeal?
Most of the schools studied state that the Annual Appeal is the responsibility of the Development Director in conjunction with the Development Committee. Together the Committee and the Director create an annual appeal task group. The presence of a Board member and a strong faculty member on this task group is usual, and frequently the chair of the group is a Board member. Consistency in membership of the task group from year to year is helpful, and is supported by having the Development Director and the Development Chair serve as members each year. It is ideal if most other members of the committee return each year also, but one or two new members can bring vitality and fresh energy while allowing other members to move on into others positions of interest and concern at the school.

In mature schools the annual appeal task group is given a significant amount of authority and autonomy, and is then held accountable for the results of the campaign (see: Committee Goals and Objectives). In other schools where the development effort is less formed the annual appeal task group may be merely advisory in nature, with the Development Director asked to carry significant responsibility for the campaign. Schools are strongly encouraged to allow task groups to truly carry their responsibilities; the development realm in a school has so many areas of focus (fundraising events, friend raising events, alumni, grants, planned giving, capital campaigns, etc.) that it is impossible for the Development Director to provide the leadership and focus in all of these areas if she is also expected to provide all of the labor for the various committees and task forces in her purview.

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What are the Key Elements of the Annual Appeal?

The typical annual appeal begins with the mailing of the school’s annual report. The report is accompanied with or followed by a solicitation letter. (Link: Sample Solicitation Letter) A phonathon is often conducted, with follow-up solicitations made in the spring. Additional details of each of these aspects follow.

The annual appeal task group meets and chooses a theme for the annual campaign. The task group also sets giving goals for each segment of the school’s community - faculty, parents, Board, alumni and friends. Frequently a prominent member and/or lead donor in the school community will sponsor the annual appeal, and it is the responsibility of the task force to select the sponsor and support him in this role.

Board and Faculty Solicitation
Before the first solicitation letter is mailed the faculty and members of the Board of Trustees are asked to make their pledges for the appeal. Securing 100% participation among Board and faculty members is important so the community can feel that they are participating in something that all active members of the community see as important and worthy of support. While some of these early supporters are able to make leadership gifts, the emphasis is on full participation rather than on the size of the contribution. It is the responsibility of the faculty and board members on the task group to secure the participation of their respective constituencies.

The General Solicitation
Immediately following the solicitation of Board and faculty members the appeal is kicked off in the broader community. Some schools introduce the appeal at a community meeting. The annual fund sponsor and/or the annual fund task group chair speak to other parents about the annual fund goal for the year and the importance of annual giving in the life of the school. A mailing goes out to the whole community, and personalized letters are often sent to major donors requesting a specific level of support. In some cases the school asks for a larger amount than has been donated in the past, in others the same amount is requested as was given in the past. The amount of each request is established by the task force as a group, and is based on the individuals’ knowledge of the donor.

Some schools have a variety of solicitation letters that are used for different sections of the community. For example, a special letter may go out from a member of the alumni committee requesting support from fellow alumni. In other schools the alumni letter is co-written by a member of the faculty and an alumnus. A second special letter may be written by a grandparent and be mailed to other grandparents on the school’s list. Specialized appeals are also directed to major vendors and other businesses in the community with which the school has a relationship. Some schools feel these special letters are an important aspect of the campaign; others relate they have studied the impact of the special letters and have not found them to provide sufficient return to justify the additional cost and labor they require.

These appeals contain both the solicitation letter and a response vehicle. A response card and envelope are included so donors may either send an immediate donation or make a pledge for payment at a later date. Some schools now allow donors to make their donations via credit card, and also accept pledges on-line via the school’s web site. The focus is on making it easy for a donor to give as generously as possible.

The Phonathon
Most schools supplement their solicitation mailing with a phonathon. The annual appeal task group assembles a team of telephone solicitors who are invited to a special training session. In some cases the training takes place on the first night of the phonathon; in other cases it is a separate event and provides greater depth than can be covered in shorter sessions held the night of the phonathon.

In one school a notebook has been developed for use in training all solicitors, and topics addressed include the importance of giving in an independent school and the role of annual giving, the school mission statement, and an overview of the financial structure of the school. This particular school, like many others, attempts to schedule personal visits with all new families in the school rather than just making a telephone call to them. The training of solicitors therefore is expanded to include an outline of how to meet with a new family and provides an opportunity for role-playing. The solicitor is provided with a wealth of materials including college matriculation rates, the cost to educate a student and how it is covered though tuition and other sources, and a list of frequently asked questions. Solicitors are also provided with samples for personal thank you letters once a pledge is received.

Follow Up
The solicitation mailing and the phonathon typically take place prior to the winter holiday recess. When school resumes in January the campaign moves into a follow-up mode.

During this time articles often appear in the school’s weekly bulletin giving an update on the amount pledged and percent participation by class. The participation percent by class is a very effective technique for increasing participation. Articles are printed that address the thinking behind the school’s request for funds and the importance of having 100% participation. The annual campaign is also a topic at class meetings, with a Board member or class parent making a presentation regarding the campaign and the benefits of giving to the school.

Some schools have attempted to put the fun back into fundraising by entering the names of all contributors to the annual appeal into a raffle. Others have offered a supplement to the class fund for each class that enjoys 100% participation. Late in the spring calls or mailings are sent to individuals who have made a pledge but not yet made their promised contribution. Another very effective practice is the mailing of a proof sheet to the entire community listing the names of every contributor to the annual appeal as they will appear in the annual report. A cover letter asks the recipients to read it carefully, ensuring that their names are spelled correctly and asking for feedback in the case of omitted names or misspellings. Not only does this provide donors with important early recognition, but it also provides those who have not yet contributed with an opportunity to make a gift and receive proper recognition for their generosity.

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The importance of saying, “Thank you.”
A significant part of the annual appeal is the process of saying thank you. Acknowledgements of gifts and pledges must be sent on a timely basis. Personalization of thank you notes is very much appreciated by donors. Even a few short words such as, “Thanks for this and all the special gifts you give to our school,” when handwritten and signed can make a donor feel recognized and special.

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Alumni and the Annual Appeal
Schools with well-developed alumni programs often schedule the solicitation of alumni to follow directly after an alumni celebration at the school. A successful alumni event can see 10% of the alumni returning to visit the school, and promotion of the event can evoke strong memories even among those who can’t attend. These schools find that making contact with alumni just after a visit to the school increases the likelihood of the mail being opened and a positive response being received. These schools also make use of alumni volunteers for their phonathon, recognizing that alumni are quite likely to respond to a request by another alumnus. Often times the youngest alumni are quite mobile, and have addresses and phone numbers that change frequently. Schools have learned that for this group a solicitation by email is sometimes the best way to get a response. The annual appeal is also posted on the school web site and payments are accepted via credit card.

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Matching Gifts
Those members of the community who work for a major corporation may be able to increase the size of their gift through their company’s matching gift program. Oftentimes large firms choose to direct a portion of their charitable giving to causes supported by their employees. Taking advantage of these programs is usually quite simple. The employee notifies the appropriate department of their company of their intent to make a gift, and the company will often send an additional contribution to match their employee’s gift. Some firms put limits on the total amount they will match to any one charity, while others offer to double or even triple the amount of their employee’s gift.

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What is an annual report and how does it relate to the annual appeal?
An annual report is a staple part of every annual campaign. The annual report is not a solicitation; rather it is a marketing piece that has many uses beyond that of the annual appeal. This report is often given to families inquiring about the school for enrollment purposes, is shared with prospective employees as a recruiting tool, and is often a requirement of foundations in their grant decision making process. An annual report can be helpful to members of the press who are learning about the school for the firs time, and should be shared widely with city councilmen and members of the local Chamber of Commerce.

The size of the annual report varies by school, and can be as simple as a three fold brochure or a large booklet size with 12 to 16 pages that are each 8 1/2 X 11”. Schools typically take great pride in their annual reports, and many work to include the highest quality photographs and graphics they can achieve. If you can’t achieve a top quality report it is probably best to wait until the time or expertise is available. Developing schools with inadequate budgets may find themselves reliant on pro bono work to achieve the necessary quality, and this may have the unfortunate result of delaying production. Producing a quality annual report requires planning that begins in early spring. This timeline is necessary so that various reports can be drafted, graphics and layout considered, and printing completed early in the next school year.

The report typically includes some very simple financial information, and provides one or more reports on the activities of the school. A key feature of the report is often a listing of all donors to the school’s annual appeal, and other campaigns. Volunteers are recognized and there may be information about the school’s planned giving society and a testimonial from someone who has included the school in his estate planning. The photographs and the graphic design are subtle but important aspects of the report that cannot be overlooked. This report is a reflection of all the good work that has gone on in the school in the last year, and attention to detail is very important.

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What are the key points in an annual appeal philosophy and practices?
  • Board and faculty members are all expected to participate in the annual appeal.
  • Parents are also asked to participate at the 100% level, and this goal is attainable at the 90% level. Parents must hear the message early and often about their responsibility for the financial health of their independent school. This includes publishing information on the subject in the Parent Handbook and distributing a brochure from the local independent schools association that explains that gifts in addition to tuition are a part of life in independent schools.
  • The annual appeal solicitation letter should speak to the school’s strengths and its current dreams. The letter should never send the message, “Your participation is needed to save the sinking ship.” People must know what they’re giving to and how the campaign will fund new programs or allow good ones to continue.
  • It should always be easy to give. Include a return envelope in all mail solicitations. Encourage pledges and send reminders. Promote your campaign and allow contributions via your school web site.
  • Thank you cards and acknowledgements must go out immediately. Larger donors may get a few cards including one from the Development Director and another from the Board of Trustees and/or the faculty or College of Teachers. Some schools ask the trustees to send a personal acknowledgement to all first time donors.
  • Always acknowledge publicly all those who give to a particular campaign. (Note: some schools report very good results by creating giving circles tied to various levels of gifts. They believe that some people are uncertain about the proper amount to give, and look to this kind of recognition for guidance. They also feel that giving circles help donors step up to higher levels of giving over time.)
  • Create visible evidence that the school respects and appreciates philanthropy. Topics such as donor walls and naming rights on buildings must be addressed seriously and opportunities found to recognize donors that are consistent with the culture of the school.
  • The school’s financial house must be in order. Donors must know that funds are being spent properly and that they are properly managed.
  • Be aware of who in your community has the capacity to give, and ensure they are treated as though they have already given. While some may never choose to make a gift, those who do donate will give more generously if they feel recognized.
  • The annual appeal must put its focus on understanding the needs of the school and on participation. This is not just an event for major donors; every member of the community can contribute and no gift is too small.
  • Ensure that any concerns about the school that are raised during the solicitation process are forwarded to the Development Director. While she is not expected to respond personally to these issues, she must forward them to the proper body and follow up to ensure the donor feels heard.
  • Make a special effort to include new families in your annual appeal.
  • Personal contact is important. People give to other people. The phonathon and personal visits are examples of personal contact that can make a real difference in the annual appeal’s success.
  • Don’t make the annual appeal the only time donors and friends are contacted. Keep them informed and warmed through newsletters, personal contact and invitations to special events.
  • The annual appeal is the easiest way for people to support the school. There are no events to coordinate, no fancy dresses to buy, and all the gifts are tax deductible. Schools are urged to start their annual appeal program before taking on any other work in the area of fundraising. See also: Donor Relations Management.

The strongest schools in our study showed participation rates in the annual appeal as high as 92%. Dollars raised are more difficult to evaluate, as most annual campaign focus primarily on percent participation rather than dollars raised as the measure of their success. It is necessary to look at all of the fundraising vehicles in the community in order to make a financial evaluation of the strength of a school’s annual appeal on the financial front. To the extent that an annual appeal allows donors to give either to the general appeal fund or to other designated funds results may be distorted. However, among the schools we studied some reported last year results of $130,000 to $200,000.

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