Partnership for the Delaware Estuary's Annual Appeal Pays Off
As a nonprofit organization, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary (PDE) found that it is critical to have a broad base of funding support that includes both restricted and unrestricted funding sources. The PDE struggled with early disappointing returns from their annual appeals. They learned to fine tune their efforts, however, and have since made annual appeals a key part of their funding strategy.
When the PDE began its annual appeal program, it faced a number of challenges. It was a new organization. In addition, it works in a large, tri-state region to protect a resource (the Delaware Estuary) that was not well known.
To build support for the PDE, the director and staff strategically established relationships with Delaware Estuary stakeholders through its program activities. The PDE found that organizations and individuals involved with its activities were much more likely to offer it financial support.
In 1999, the PDE instituted its annual appeal campaign using funding from a foundation grant for capacity building. In the campaign, the PDE sent a generic appeal letter to the 25,000 people on the organization's mailing list. These people received the PDE's quarterly newsletter and an appeal for donations. Unfortunately, the results of this large mailing were disappointing.
In 2000, the PDE scaled back the appeal mailing. It sent personalized appeal letters, an annual activity report and an appeal return envelope to past donors and a select group from the mailing list (less than 1,000 people).
In 2001, the PDE further targeted its annual appeal with the help of a fundraising consultant. For its 2001 appeal, they segmented the mailing list into four different target groups:
- Past givers.
- Lapsed and never givers.
- Board member contacts (with the letters signed by the board member).
- Board members.
Each group received different letters and program materials.
The PDE also decided to give a set of estuary-themed note cards (purchased wholesale from a publisher) to any donor that made a contribution over $75. This model returned the best results: 57 gifts totaling $9,969, for an average gift of $175.
Since 2001, the PDE has continued to segment the annual appeal mailing. Financial supporters from the previous year are asked to consider increasing their gift annually. The PDE also conducts a second mailing in the spring to past givers who did not respond to the fall letter. Those who donate over $75 receive a specially designed set of note cards.
Becoming more strategic about their annual appeal campaign, combined with establishing the PDE's reputation, resulted in a steady increase on the return from the annual appeal campaign. In 2005, the Partnership received a total of $29,779 in donations from 183 people, for an average gift of $163.
Several years of trial and error have taught the PDE some valuable lessons:
- It costs money to make money and can take many years to see a positive return.
- Costs that are typically incurred include staff time, printing, postage and giveaways.
- An annual appeal is not a quick fix for raising unrestricted revenue, but rather a fundraising mechanism that can build and pay off over time.
- Appeals should be as specific and personal as possible.
- Appeals should be sent on a consistent schedule.
- Generally, people are more likely to give toward the end of the calendar year, because they are in a giving mood and are looking for tax deductions.
- Recognizing donors is very important. The PDE lists everyone who donates to the annual appeal in its activity report.