Case Study: Partnership for the Delaware Estuary
Annual Appeal Pays Off for the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary
As a nonprofit organization, the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary found that it is critical to have a broad base of funding support that includes both restricted and unrestricted funding sources. The Partnership 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.
Since the Partnership's incorporation in 1996, it realized the importance of unrestricted funding and worked to develop strategies to raise this type of funding. When the Partnership 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. In order to build support for the Partnership, the director and staff strategically established relationships with Delaware Estuary stakeholders through its program activities. The Partnership found that organizations and individuals involved with its activities were much more likely to offer it financial support.
In 1999, the Partnership instituted its annual appeal campaign using funding from a foundation grant for capacity building. It used a mail house to send out a generic appeal letter to the 25,000 people on the organization's mailing list. These people received the Estuary Program's quarterly newsletter and an appeal for donations. Unfortunately, the results of this large mailing were disappointing.
In 2000, the Partnership decided to scale back the appeal mailing. It sent personalized appeal letters, an annual activity report, and an appeal return envelope to past donors and to a select group from the mailing list (less than 1,000 people).
In 2001, the Partnership further targeted its annual appeal with the help of a fundraising consultant. For its 2001 appeal, the Partnership 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), and board members. Each group received different letters and program materials. The Partnership also decided to give a set of estuary-themed note cards (purchased wholesale from a publisher) to any donor that made a contribution of over $75. This model returned the best results- 57 gifts totaling $9,969 for an average gift of $175.
Since 2001, the Partnership has continued to segment the annual appeal mailing. People who supported it in the previous year are asked to consider increasing their gift annually. The Partnership 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 Partnership's reputation in the region has 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 Partnership 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. They should be sent on a consistent schedule. The general thinking is that 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. Finally, recognizing donors is very important. The Partnership lists everyone who donates to the annual appeal in its activity report.
For more information, please visit the Delaware Estuary Web site (www.delawareestuary.org).