How an annual fund dollar is sliced

It's a hard sell, convincing board members to care about the annual fund -- or what many refer to as "that black hole." Yet sell we must, because board appreciation for and participation in an organization's annual giving program is essential to the success of the fund. And for most nonprofits, a successful annual fund effort is foundational to financial vitality.

Endowments are lovely. Capital campaigns are exciting. But when it comes to the long-term stability of the organization, there's no friend like our old friend, the annual fund.

Although staff usually lead the way in annual fund efforts, the influence of the board is felt at two levels -- in the policy actions of the full board and through the activities of individual members.

All together now

As the fiduciary of the organization, the board sets the course for the annual fund by:

  • Defining the parameters within which the fundraising program operates. Included here are issues such as how much of the organization's resources to allocate toward development activities, what fundraising methods are appropriate to the organization, and kinds of gifts the organization will receive.
  • Setting realistic goals. In determining the organization's fundraising potential, the board looks backward at the organization's fundraising track record. Next, the members look board-ward, assessing their own ability for generous giving. Finally, they look inward to determine if the development office is staffed and funded for success.
  • Monitoring progress toward the (realistic) goals that they've help set. The board and administration should also have mutually agreed upon contingencies in place. This requires that board members accept with the same grace both brutal truths and organizational triumphs.

Going solo

As informed and enthusiastic volunteers, individual board members support the annual effort by:

  • Giving generously and joyfully.
  • Opening doors to potential funders.
  • Talking up the organization wherever they go.
  • Saying thank you to annual fund donors.
  • Praying for the success of the annual fund.

It's time that board members see the annual fund for what it is: (1) The cornerstone and the key to success for all aspects of the organization's program (Henry Rosso). (2) The lifeblood of the development program (Michael Worth). (3) An old and cherished friend (me).

(This was originally posted in Rebekah Burch Basinger's excellent blog on fundraising, Generous Matters.)