5 Elements of an Annual Fund Plan

Posted on 10/01/2022

Annual giving programs are always going. There’s always an upcoming mailing to produce, another phone call to make, or a new thank you note to write. There’s always a prospect that has yet to connect with your institution. There’s always a series of reports to run, donors to remind about pledges, and volunteers to support. As soon as one fiscal year ends, the next one begins.

The cyclical nature of annual giving is often an attractive characteristic to those who work in the field. Unlike major gift fundraising, which tends to operate over a longer, less-defined period of time, the annual giving cycle resets every 365 days. There are clear starting points and clear ending points—and a lot of work to do in between. For that reason, developing a plan for each fiscal year becomes a necessity. When structuring your plan, be sure to include these 5 elements:

  1. Executive Summary. This should be a brief narrative (no more than one page) that includes bullets to call out the most relevant points. Make it the first thing people see when they open the document. It should explain the current situation and address important challenges and key strategic questions. How has the program performed over the past few years? What trends stand out within your own program or across the industry in general? Are you in a campaign? What are your biggest strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats? How are the institutional environment and the economy? Have there been any significant leadership or staff transitions recently? Don’t just answer these questions but explain what they mean for the annual giving
    program going forward.
  2. Goals. Describe how you will measure success at the end of the year. Overarching goals are important (e.g., “increase alumni participation by 1 percent”), but it’s also important to have goals for specific programs (e.g., phonathon, direct mail, online giving), constituencies (e.g., young alumni, students, reunion classes), and donor segments (retention, reactivation, renewal, leadership).
  3. Calendars. Provide a timeline for your appeals, events, and other important activities. It’s sufficient to include a summary calendar in the body of the planning document that provides and highlights key dates. Detailed production calendars are also important; however, they may be best included in the appendix.
  4. Budget. Specify how you will allocate your resources, identify any financial shortfalls and note where you would spend additional funds if you had them. Make sure your spending aligns with your priorities. For example, if alumni participation is a priority and email has been generating an increasing number of alumni donors each year, make sure you’re allocating a larger portion of your budget to support email. Address short-term needs (e.g., increasing participation, generating revenue) and long-terms needs (e.g., staff retention, professional development). Leave a cushion for any unexpected needs that arise.
  5. Appendix. This is the place to include any additional information or detail needed to support your strategy that would clutter the body of the planning document. It might include detailed production timelines, organizational charts, job descriptions for staff or volunteers, or samples of collateral from other programs that you wish to emulate. If you’re not sure where it belongs or if it’s too specific to include in other areas, then it is probably a good idea to put it in the appendix.

Having a well-structured planning document will not only ensure that everyone is on the same page at the beginning of the year, it also gives you something to reference throughout the year and after the books have closed. This will help with accountability and will also provide a good starting point when it comes time to draft next year’s plan. And that will be here before you know it.


This article has been adapted from the book Ideas for Annual Giving by Dan Allenby. Copyright (c) 2016 Council for Advancement and Support of Education. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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