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5 Steps to Plan Your Annual Fundraising Strategy


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Published January 3, 2023 Reading Time: 6 minutes

Enter the new year with confidence in your annual fundraising strategy. The spirit to effectively convert new donors and keep them around long-term.

Here, we’ve paired a five-step plan with expert advice from nonprofits that saw up to 250% year-over-year growth during past giving seasons. You’ll have everything you need to make your planning process successful.

What Is the Value of an Annual Fundraising Strategy?

A strategic plan for annual fundraising is your organization’s guiding force. It’s often a living document that communicates your nonprofit’s fundraising goals and direction for a successful year.

It also serves as a great accountability tool as things evolve throughout the year. Refer to your fundraising plan to check in and establish milestones for progress.

Curious About 2022 Fundraising Benchmarks? 

Check out our free report, The State of Modern Philanthropy, to better understand where you fall today.

Take a Minute to Evaluate Your Annual Fundraising Plan

You may already have a blueprint to customize your nonprofit fundraising plan, or you may have to start from scratch. Either way, the first step is to look back at the previous year and determine what still serves your mission.

From there, take a look forward and rework your fundraising strategy around relevant trends. For example, heading into the 2022 giving season, 90% of US donors planned to match or increase their donations from 2021. Additionally, on the Classy platform alone, Giving Tuesday 2022 brought in 37% more recurring dollars, compared to the year before, for a total of $44,168,979.

Annual fundraising planning will prepare you to unlock increasing generosity throughout the year.

5 Steps to Plan an Effective Annual Fundraising Strategy

Step 1: Evaluate Your Annual Plans Against Current Trends

Look at predicted fundraising trends to keep your roadmap nimble against change. Once you’ve honed in on what’s ahead, listen to your donors to understand what piques their interest.

Then, challenge your team to try something new based on how today’s donors prefer to give. We see this outside-of-the-box thinking pay off with things like social media engagement.

Initially, it seemed foreign to film, edit, and post short video clips daily to engage donors before 2020. But TikTok videos and Instagram reels are now two of the most popular ways to engage and strengthen connections with supporters.

To strengthen your modern fundraising efforts, ask yourself:

  • Do your existing programs, and fundraising campaigns still serve your cause?
  • Are your goals aligned with current fundraising trends?
  • Are your strategies still as effective as when you first implemented them?
  • Where are there opportunities to test new strategies this year?
  • What new tools or offerings could you implement this year to surprise and delight loyal donors?
  • What do new and current donors want to see?
  • Are you considering each unique donor segment when you plan your fundraising activities and marketing strategy?

Despite the pandemic and economic uncertainties, people continue to be generous! We entered into the giving season with cautious expectations. We were humbled by and grateful for the many people who renewed their support. And, of course, for the new donors who chose to support us with their precious dollars.

Lauren Hughes

Step 2: Assess Clear Paths to Grow Your Annual Fundraising Strategy

Work on a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis with leaders and board members to identify areas with the most significant potential for growth. You’ll pinpoint where your annual fundraising strategy may fall short in a few steps. At the same time, you can see where you can afford to push boundaries.


  • Do you have a large, reliable pool of donors?
  • Is your fundraising strategy diversified?
  • Do you facilitate enough peer-to-peer fundraising opportunities?
  • Is your recurring fundraising revenue sustainable?
  • Do you have campaigns that continue to grow year over year?


  • What is a donor’s experience on your website when they make a gift?
  • Do you lack strong relationships with sponsors, partners, or major donors?
  • Do your fundraising events include a virtual participation option?
  • Are you setting your goals too low?
  • Are you losing touch with donors after the big giving season?



  • What is the current and forecasted state of the economy?
  • Does the pandemic’s impact linger for your donor base and community?
  • Does your development team face high turnover?

Reflecting on the questions above can help shape your goals for the new year. Use this information to continue to capitalize on those areas of opportunity as you plan for the future.

Step 3: Align Your Strategy to the SMART Goal Framework

After committing to focus areas, establish (or reestablish) your goals. Define specific, measurable (think metrics), achievable, results-oriented, and time-bound goals using the SMART goal framework.

Let’s say you start using video to communicate your organization’s impact.

  • Poor goal example: Create videos to demonstrate our impact.
  • SMART goal example: Hire a freelance videographer to produce at least two short-form videos within the fundraising calendar year that communicate our story and illustrate our impact. Release the first in Q2 and the second in Q4.

With SMART goals in place, you can more easily map out your donor acquisition and donor retention efforts. Start by identifying the individual campaigns and initiatives you plan to launch, then brainstorm the most effective ways to motivate your supporters to get involved and boost your retention rates.

Remember, when crafting your story, a brief message and a simple call to action is key. It also gives you opportunities to highlight a challenge that your donors can help support and simplify the donation process by offering a clear path to give.

This year, our strategy was clear and concise. We presented an opportunity for our donors to make a difference, then made the process to donate as simple as possible. We avoid[ed] gimmicks or elaborate pitches, and I honestly think that people resonated with that.

Austin Crow

MANNA Worldwide

Step 4: Create Targeted Tactics and Messaging That Support the Big Picture

Your nonprofit’s mission drives every decision you make. So when planning your annual fundraising strategy, ensure each tactic and donor conversation ladders back up to that larger “why.”

Develop Clear, Consistent Messaging

Consider how you’ll uphold brand consistency across all donor stewardship touchpoints. This includes seasonal campaigns and last-minute appeals to ensure one cohesive narrative.

Key messaging opportunities:

  • Mission and vision statements
  • Website content
  • Campaign pages
  • Donation pages
  • Thank you pages
  • Emails
  • Social media
  • Event signage

Break Out Tactics by Target Audiences

Target each donor segment with a slightly different message. You want to communicate in a way that feels personal to them while still pointing to the same overarching campaign goal.

Considerations for your outreach may include:

  • Which communication channels each donor generation prefers
  • How donors are most likely to discover new causes
  • What matters to new donors when learning about your cause
  • What compels year-end donors to stay with you long term

Then, forecast your messaging strategy with past data, considering which donors are most critical to meeting your goals per campaign.

From there, you can start building relationships early with each group of targeted donors using any information you can access in your fundraising software or supportive tracking tools like Google Analytics. Use that foundation to continue to nurture those connections with ongoing outreach.

See a Generational Giving Preference Breakdown

Step 5: Learn From the Past

We talked to the organizations that emerged with the highest year-over-year growth on Classy during the 2021 giving season and gleaned powerful insights. Consider the advice and lessons those nonprofits learned when refining your annual fundraising strategy. The takeaways can inform your plan to develop tactics that yield similar results this year.

Takeaways From Successful Nonprofit Organizations:

  1. Create a plan to give cross-functional teams the structure, support, and time to execute specific tasks before the giving season picks up steam.
  2. Tell a story to explain the “why” behind each campaign and tie the story together with your organization’s overarching mission.
  3. Lean into partnerships with sponsors, major donors, or corporations to support campaign initiatives.
  4. Communicate the specific need each campaign fills every time you ask donors for their support.
  5. Don’t be afraid to try something new since every fundraising idea offers insight to guide next year’s plan.

I think we underestimate the genuine desire people have to make an impact. Creating these campaigns often feels like setting up a sales pitch or a marketing exercise. At the end of the day, it comes down to getting out of the way of your supporters and letting them make their impact.

Austin Crow

MANNA Worldwide

Put Your Annual Fundraising Strategy Into Action With Classy

Use last year’s lessons and new fundraising ideas to make the most of this year.

For more successful fundraising takeaways from the donor’s point of view, check out our annual giving experience report, Why America Gives. Gain actionable insights from a survey of 1,000 US donors to confirm your yearly fundraising strategy is on track for success.


See Why America Gives

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