Three Ways to Maximize Your Personal Connections to Boost Your Annual Fund

Vol. 8 No. 1

1. Appropriately Name Your Annual Fund

Naming your annual fund will promote a more personal connection with your school. What's in a name? When the name evokes an image, a personality, an emotion, your name is more like a brand. Think of your mascot. How strong is the connection in your constituents' minds? If I say "Nittany Lions," nine chances out of 10, you know I am talking Penn State. So what is stronger … The Annual Fund or the Nittany Lion Fund? Or maybe it's a campus landmark or symbol. The Bell Tower Fund. The Pegasus Fund. Or, go on the strength of your school name. The Aegis Annual Fund. The Churchill Fund.

Naming your annual fund is another opportunity to educate your constituents about your school's mission, strengths, and goals. Constituent education is a never-ending process—it's all part of stewardship. You are inviting people who care about your school to make an investment in the school's mission. This takes a variety of touches. In terms of the name, tell the constituent WHY your school has chosen that name. Tell how it RELATES to your school and its mission. Explain why the DONATION is important to advance that school's mission, vision, goals. If you don't go through the education process, your constituents may not understand what the fund is, and you've lost the chance to personalize it.

2. Personalize Your Appeal Letters

One of the fundamentals of fund raising is peer-to-peer solicitation. Make sure that your Annual Appeal letters are addressed to the recipients, and signed by either your general chairpersons, or the chairs of the appropriate divisions. The signer of the letter is inviting the donor/prospect to join in this effort. For example, a grandparent of a current student should receive a personal letter from the chair of the grandparents division. And the salutation should be based on the relationship of the prospect/donor to the person who signs the letter. If grandparent Mary Smith is a neighbor of the grandparent chairs Sally and Bill Jones, then the salutation should be Dear Mary—unless, of course, they call her Mrs. Smith regularly. Do they call her by her nickname? Then the salutation should be Dear Mimi.

Appeal letters should not be the first time that your constituents hear from your school. Rather, they should be updated regularly, whether they are current parents, alumni, parents, or other donor/prospects. Stewarding your donors/prospects through the year helps bring them into the fold and gets them emotionally invested in your school. So, when you ask for financial commitment, you hit the emotional chord. Make sure you tell the constituent how his/her support has already made a difference, and not just in terms of financial support. Make them feel appreciated.

3. Create a Family of Annual Funds

Donors and prospects often prefer to direct their donations, based on what they think is most important. Give them the chance to do that with a Family of Annual Funds. For example, you can have a fund for the arts, one for scholarships and financial aid, one for the library and technology, one for athletics. These funds support your designated areas through the operating budget. And don't forget the all-important greatest-need category. This is just one more way to increase the affinity your constituents have for your school. But again, make sure you touch them more than once through the year with regular updates, news, and appreciation (notes, etc.).

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