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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Transition From Event-Based Fundraising to Annual Fundraising

If you are depending on special event income to fund your mission, it’s likely you’ve noticed the last five years have felt like you are moving up the down escalator.

Perhaps you have noticed that sponsors are gripping their pocketbooks with a tighter fist, attendees are not as plentiful as they once were and high-end table buyers are downsizing their commitments. What’s more is that it doesn’t really matter whether it is a high-end gala or a walk. Keeping staff motivated and raising the big dollars with special events can be an expensive and staff-intensive endeavor that is growing more difficult to sustain in our world’s diminished economy.

Yet, donors are still available but are far more discriminating about where to invest their charitable dollars.  Here are some items that donors want when making their decisions:

  • Results. Donors want to know what happened with the dollars you used to have. What did your organization do to move the marble?
  • Personalization. Do you know me and what I like to support? 
  • Knowledge. Do you keep me informed of mission progress without always asking for support?

So how does an organization make this transition? Here are some steps to get started:

Collect and organize

Hopefully, you are already collecting as much contact information as you can from your supporters, regardless of whether they are participants, donors or sponsors.  Find a way to organize your constituents either with a database product or if yours is a small charity, a spreadsheet with columns that allow you to keep notes about interactions and personal information.

Analyze, sort and prospect

Analyze the gifts your organization has received to determine who has given, how much he or she has given and the frequency of the gifts and arrange according to how likely they are to give again.

Set timed goals and determine levels of giving

Decide for your first year what levels of goals make sense and are realistic. Determine how many gifts at varied levels you’d like to shoot for. Use your prospect list to help you determine your giving levels.

Recruit an annual giving chair or lead volunteer to help you

A bold and connected volunteer who is hungry to ask supporters to give and potential supporters to join the mission is a key part of your success. Begin with your board in your search for this volunteer. The role of this volunteer is not only to help ask for gifts, but also to help identify new donors and plan ways to cultivate them.

Plan and communicate

Prepare a plan for a 12-month period with regular communications with your prospect list. Determine when it makes sense to communicate and what kind of communication will resonate best at different times of year. Most successful annual giving programs consist of a combination of regular email communications, direct mail pieces, telephone calls and face-to-face meetings. There’s a delicate balance of these modes of communication so as not to irritate the potential gift-giver with an overload. Some communication should be solely to provide updates and ‘insider’ information. These missives help the donor feel he or she is receiving new or insider information before others. Others are designed to give the donor an opportunity to make the gift. The plan is important to be sure the schedule is followed and communications are coordinated to prevent email or mail overload.


If you don’t ask, it’s likely you won’t receive. Each email or mailing—even if it is one that designed to communicate—should offer a place to give. So if your email this month is supposed to share results of a medical conference or new legislation, the body of the communication does not ask for any contribution, but there is a link to donate or a small mail-in card with a place to write credit card information is enclosed. The other communications, such as year-end request, are direct asks for support. Or, perhaps you have been talking to some prospects via telephone and you have a telephone bank night that your volunteers help you with to ask for specific support. Create scripts and make the asks. Your mission depends on these requests for support and most supporters are willing to give but they want to be courted, so just ask!


A resident of Gilbert, Sheryl is an avid cyclist having founded the women's cycling community organization Girls Gone Riding. Sheryl is a native of Pittsburgh arriving in Phoenix 12 years ago to work with the Relay For Life event in the then Desert Southwest Division of the American Cancer Society. Today, she is proud to lead the Arizona Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, an organization new to Annual Funds.


ASU Lodestar Center Blog