For many of us fundraisers, we’re not far off that magical time of the year: planning season. The time of year when we evaluate this year’s progress and learnings, decide what to stop, start, and continue next year, and develop our all-important budgets and projections.

If annual planning isn’t your jam – or you don’t know where to start – fear not. Here are 3 core questions you can ask to guide planning discussions, frame your thinking, and develop a data-driven strategy for your fundraising. If you do it right, you can build a plan that won’t just carry you through next year – it’ll help you elevate your program well beyond that!

1. What’s the long-term goal of my annual program?

“To raise more money and find cost efficiencies!”, I hear you say. I know – and I get it! But there’s more to it than just raising more, with less.

How exactly do you plan to raise more money? There are plenty of strategies you could be taking here! Are you focused heavily on retention, keeping the people you already have loyal and giving? Are you investing in growth by bringing in new people? Are you all about the upgrade, moving donors along the pipeline to give more generously? Or maybe, you’re like a few of our clients who see their Annual Programs primarily as pipelines to the all-important legacy gift.

The reality is that you’re probably using a mix of strategies. In fact, you should be! But it’s valuable to understand how these strategies rank for your own program, so you can prioritize investment accordingly.

Have you been handed down a revenue goal that you simply can’t hope to meet with your existing donor pool? Then acquisition, rather than upgrade, might be your focus. Are you tasked with growing monthly giving? Your highest-quality prospects are loyal one-time donors, so perhaps retention’s your key. And so on.

When you know your why and your how, it becomes a whole lot easier to know where focus your energy and resources – and what to let go.

2. What track do I need to lay to get where I need to go?

If you know your long-term goal, and you know where you stand today, then you can start to think about how to close the gap between the two.

What’s stopping you from hitting that target today? Is it infrastructure – you just don’t have the tools and technology to do it? Is it expertise – you’re moving into a realm where you’re not yet an expert? Is it budget – you can’t get enough investment at a time to get you all the way there? Is it universe size – are there enough people to actually bring you where you need to be?

Once you identify what the roadblocks are, you can reverse engineer around them to set yourself up for success.

Maybe I know that my task is to grow a monthly file. To do that, I budget this year for telemarketing, a monthly conversion direct mail campaign, and a welcome pack. But, I can also think ahead, knowing that in a few years, I’ll have skimmed the cream off my loyal donors and will need to look elsewhere to continue to power monthly file growth. So, I set the stage now for myself to be doing digital monthly acquisition – I ask for investment in a proper Google Analytics installation, I plan for donation form conversion optimization, and I project a couple of ads pilots to generate early buy-in and generate learnings.

3. Where are my integration points?

Our 2023 Direct Mail Benchmarks report found that direct mail revenue fell by 14% last year – the exact same proportion as integrated revenue rose.

And back in 2022, our Changing Tides report found that 61% of donations that were triggered by the mail, were being made online. Folks opened their mail, were persuaded to give, then scanned a QR code or Googled the charity to make their donation.

The data doesn’t lie: the future of fundraising is integrated. So, your annual planning should be, too.

For every campaign, consider where you can take a multi-channel approach. The classic marketing Rule of 7 is that it takes seven touchpoints to drive a single purchase, so that’s the goal: make sure your donors see your messages at least 7 times. To do this, you can layer together the longevity of the mail (which stays in the house for an average of 17 days, according to Market Reach), with the frequency of ads and email, and even the uniqueness of touchpoints like voicemail broadcasts, SMS messages, and face-to-face fundraising.

Every touchpoint will elevate the others – a rising tide lifts all ships, as they say.

You can also consider where there’s space to integrate across your organization, too. Will Communications be in-market with a big brand awareness campaign? Try not to compete for eyeballs, and let them do the priming work for a fundraising campaign on its heels. Can you work with Planned Giving to create space in your calendar for some legacy touches for your loyal folks? Could Mid-level, Major Gifts, or even Membership get some use out of your donor newsletter? Work together to find efficiencies across teams, using a COPE content strategy (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) to reduce duplication and create a more seamless experience for donors and prospects.

Your annual fundraising plan today, sets you up for success tomorrow

This year, take the long view in your fundraising. Get strategy, delve into the ‘why’, and break down your goals into multi-year chunks. Future you is going to be so grateful!