You probably know by now that Jeff and I are unreservedly against using anything in fundraising that has the word or the concept of “annual” in it. A letter, a campaign, a mention, even a thought.

As we’ve said many times before, the word “annual” shouldn’t be in the front-line fundraiser’s lexicon. Why? Because good fundraising is not about annual giving. It’s about a donor participating with you and your organization to do good. (Tweet it!) And this kind of doing good is not limited to an annual gift. It’s an ongoing, time-open process.

A donor should never be asked to give to the annual fund. If you do that, you’ll miss all the other gifts that donor could have given.

I’m saying all of this now because we recently received a question that went like this: “So, you’re saying that an ask is not the same thing as the annual letter?”

Yes, we are.

An ask is a series of mutual and relational interactions where a frontline fundraiser asks the donor to express her concern and wishes for the planet through the organization you represent. It’s not limited by time or frequency. It’s not focused on money. Instead, it’s focused on helping the donor get something done that she truly cares about.

There are several elements to this reality:

  1. The donor cares about getting something done. This is not the annual fund. No one truly cares about the annual fund. It’s a made-up organizational concept that someone created which, like a virus, just will not go away. The donor doesn’t care about the annual fund. Since this is true, it naturally follows that the donor doesn’t care about the annual letter. She may respond to it with her obligation to participate. But don’t, for a second, think she really cares about it – because she doesn’t. She wants to get something done.
  2. Getting something done is not time- or frequency-limited. When a donor hooks into getting something done that they are very interested in, there’s no limit of time (annual, month, whatever) that applies to an interaction with her on it. You could talk to the donor every week about it. Or, if the level of interest is high, it could be daily interaction. Look at it this way: when a donor is really interested, they want to spend time and energy interacting with you on it. There’s no time limit. And if they’re really involved through giving, they’ll give frequently as the need arises and the impact of past giving is presented to them. All of this is true. What does all of this have to do with the annual letter? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

If you’re an annual fund/annual letter person, please get rid of this idea in your fundraising strategy and communication. Believe us, holding onto this concept will hurt your fundraising. It will not bond the donor to you and your organization. Nor will it retain the donor and their value over the long haul.

Instead, switch your focus to helping the donor do what she wants to do through your organization. That will have the greatest return for your efforts and bring the most satisfaction to the donor.