Advancement Blog

3 approaches to help your annual fund 'spring forward'


No one in the advancement world wants to face a president or board in January after a disappointing calendar year-end.

But even if December’s final tally didn’t turn out quite the way everyone hoped, spring is a time when the right annual fund strategies can yield outsized results and turn around the entire year.

1. A new reason to give

Why should a donor who ignored your appeals in November and December give in the spring?

It’s a fair question—and our data suggests that schools with exceptional spring fundraising results are able to answer it. The annual funds with strong spring results are more likely to use incentives such as matching grants, challenge grants, or premium offers to scoop up large numbers of donors after the prime giving season.

2. A strategy informed by data

A sound strategy for accelerating annual fund results in the spring should be informed by data gathered earlier in the year, to refine outreach and offers to maximize response. In our experience, leading advancement practitioners also perform a deep-dive analysis of donors who historically give in the spring to see what characteristics they have in common and what appeals they’ve been most responsive to—again, to inform springtime outreach and offers.

3. A compelling deadline

The end of the school’s fiscal year is unlikely to have any special meaning for donors because it’s not aligned with the tax year. However, the institutions that are most effective at springtime campaigns find a way to make the fiscal year deadline meaningful anyway. If donors are given a reason to respond by June 30, you’ll have more gifts counted toward the current year.

Springtime success in Springfield

One school that drove strong spring growth after a lackluster December is Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio.

Wittenberg’s advancement team looked at its final numbers at the close of December 2013 and realized that not only had the annual fund gains made earlier in the fall been lost but the team was actually behind the previous year’s donor count—certainly not on track to achieve the year’s alumni participation goals.

To make up lost ground, Wittenberg partnered with Royall on a spring advancement campaign built around an extended match offered by an anonymous alumni donor. Alumni received a paper mailing in early spring and were encouraged to give by May 31 so they could provide the greatest possible value for their contribution. As May 31 approached, Royall sent another mail piece with increased urgency and enthusiasm, announcing that the generous donor would match gifts until June 30 and fostering a secondary and impactful lift in donations.

This campaign addressed the three key factors to success we identified in our analysis: It created a convincing reason to give, it targeted the right donors and “never-giver” alumni using insights gained from the school’s data and it created a compelling deadline at the close of the school’s fiscal year.

Most important, Wittenberg’s campaign worked: It ended the year up 8% in donor households and on track to meet its participation goals.

Regardless of your donor activity in the fall and winter, keep in mind that spring is a time for new beginnings and new donors. The right message coupled with a data-driven strategy can help you end the year strong.

Looking for more?

We held a webinar on this topic not long ago, focusing on fourth-quarter fundraising strategies, and we received very positive response. Download the recording below to hear more about how our partners have shifted, tailored and intensified their donor outreach for the maximum return on investment. Watch the webinar.


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