5 Clever Annual Giving Ideas

By Bob Burdenski

Looking for a creative spark for your next annual giving appeal? Start here.

These are a few ideas from FundList’s 19th Annual Annual Giving Appeal Exchange, a yearly sharing showcase of more than 1,500 fundraising videos, websites, email messages, direct mail, giving days, crowdfunding projects and more. These appeals might not fit your institution’s context or your prospect audiences, but they can offer inspiration.

A Coach’s Challenge: Carondelet High School in California featured its cross-country coach issuing a challenge to graduates as part of the school’s Sisterhood2day giving day.

Many alumnae remember the steep hill near campus (called “Big Momma”), with its 1.3 mile loop path and 300-degree vertical gain. It was a favorite form of training torture for the coach. To offer graduates a bit of revenge, the coach pledged in a video to run up the hill himself once for each donor who accepted his challenge. The giving day attracted 250 donors and raised nearly $70,000.

Read All About It: There may be no smaller naming opportunity than a book in the campus library, but it’s annually one of the most successful direct mail appeals at the University of Reading in the U.K. The mailing includes a paper bookplate that donors can fill out with a personal testimonial and good wishes for students. The bookplate is then glued into one of the library’s new acquisitions. The Reading appeal provides interactive insights into the university’s “book lover” prospect audience.

A Hot Opportunity: The University of Rochester in New York sent its most loyal parent donors a Thanksgiving kitchen present: a special edition pot holder, with a request for a renewal gift.

The potholder falls into that category of mailable premium item (think socks) and was the perfect holiday-timed, student-is-home and tuition-bills-haven’t-been-sent stewardship for this important parent segment.

Farewell Tour: Keele University in the U.K. recently demolished a group of old residence halls called the Hawthorns that were remembered fondly by many graduates. The university conducted a well-attended “Farewell to Hawthorns” event on campus, with some final hall tours, a multi-generation “battle of the bands” and a briefing on new construction projects.  Those who couldn’t attend were invited to share their favorite Hawthorn stories online.

As a fundraiser, the University conducted an online lottery and auction of old Hawthorn signage. In addition to the funds raised, the celebration identified those with fond memories and an ongoing affinity for the institution.

Amazing Race: Denison University in Ohio filmed an on-campus race between four campus icons: its president, two mascots and a signature campus building (we’re not kidding) and invited supporters to make a gift on behalf of their favorite runner. A digital platform not unlike those used to sponsor triathletes served as an online hub. A series of hilarious videos documented all the pre-race training and culminated in the final race video itself.

(Spoiler alert: The president gets delayed while welcoming a family to campus.)

The campus communications and marketing team earned cheers for their expertise and enthusiasm in producing the project, and helped increase awareness of the Denison Annual Fund. Denison has a very comprehensive annual giving program—and it is willing to give new ideas a try as well.

What are your favorite annual giving appeals? Leave a comment, tweet at CASE (@CASEAdvance) to share or join me at our Institute for Senior Annual Giving Professionals this March in New Orleans.

Thank you to the folks who shared these great ideas:

  • Elle Robinson, director of development at Carondelet High School,
  • Rhianna Bailey, fundraising officer at the University of Reading,
  • Amy Rybczynski, assistant director of annual giving at the University of Rochester,
  • Lauren Huss, regular giving officer at Keele University, and
  • Jestinah McDonald, assistant to the director of the annual fund at Denison University.

Bob Burdenski is principal of Robert Burdenski Annual Giving and a longtime CASE volunteer.


senag-squareJoin Bob Burdenski and a stellar faculty of experts at our Institute for Senior Annual Giving Professionals, March 20-22, 2019, in New Orleans.

Explore the art and science of annual giving solicitations, millennial giving, prospect development and much more.

Register by Feb. 8 and save.

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