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The Annual Fund Isn’t Annual

Nor is it a Fund, but more on that later . . .

annual

adjective an·nu·al \ˈan-yə(-wə)l, -yü-əl\
Simple Definition of annual
  • : happening once a year

  • : covering the period of a year

  • of a plant : living for only one year or season : having a life cycle that is one year or season long

(“Annual.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2016.)

fund

noun \ˈfənd\
Simple Definition of fund
  • : an amount of money that is used for a special purpose

  • funds : available money

  • : an amount of something that is available for use : a supply of something

(“Fund.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2016.)

So, then, an “Annual Fund” is an amount of money that is used for a special purpose happening over the course of a year.

If your fiscal year is July 1 – June 30, does your mission end at 11:59:59 on June 30 and start again at 12:00:00 on July 1?  Is there a split second when that mission is fulfilled and then starts again?

From the organizational perspective, yes, we can say that “Last year the annual fund raised $500,000 and hit goal!” But from a donor-centered perspective, the “annual fund” is ongoing and never-ending.  An annual fund donor is supporting the heart of the mission, the very reason for its existence.  And that’s not just a one-year thing.

Sure, “General Operating Support” isn’t sexy.  Neither is “annual fund.”  But if your mission doesn’t end, neither does your annual fund.

What’s the Big Deal about Fundraising?

About five years ago, as I was transitioning responsibilities to a new colleague, I was asked the fundamental question, “So, really, what is the big deal about Fundraising?  I just don’t see what’s so special about it.  You just call and ask for money.”

And it stopped me in my tracks, because I couldn’t answer the question.

At this point, I had been in fundraising right at 20 years and considered myself a pretty strong expert.  I’d worked with over 200 different clients of all shapes, sizes and focus.  I had run annual funds, capital and endowment campaigns, helped build boards and crossed over the tens of millions in dollars raised.

And I could not answer the question, “What’s the big deal about fundraising”?

I could list techniques and process and best practices.  I could cite Si Seymour, Penelope Burk and Jerold Panas on a whim.  I could rant about retention rates and donor-centered acquisition and moves management.  But I couldn’t answer the question:

What is the Big Deal About Fundraising?

And I was indignant that this . . . this . . . this . . . neophyte, this marketer, this direct response-type person would even ask.

I’m an easy mark.  Once I’ve been challenged to do something – or told something can’t be done – I have to go and find the answer.  I had to prove that fundraising was not just about asking for money.  And I had to prove it to myself.

So began a quest – one that I am still on and that I hope continues for many years to come – to answer that very simple question.

One thing I have discovered in the process is that I love the $50 donor.  Or the $100, or the $1,000 or the $25.  These generous souls give what they can and without them, the house of the nonprofit doesn’t stand.  They are the base of the donor pyramid.  They are the foundation and the entry point of (almost) all support.

So, what’s the big deal about fundraising in the annual fund?

The big deal is that the annual fund – regardless of size, focus, goal or strategy – is about building strong, sustainable relationships with people who have the passion and commitment to fulfill your organization’s mission.

The big deal about fundraising is that it’s about relationships. And telling wonderful stories that build relationships.