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5 Steps to Plan Your Annual Fundraising Strategy


By Jess Woloszyn


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Published January 26, 2022 Reading Time: 5 minutes

Enter this year with confidence in your annual fundraising strategy. We’ve got the five steps you need to make it a success.

The new year offers a fresh slate to revitalize your fundraising strategy. We’ve paired simple steps to plan this year with expert advice from nonprofits that saw up to 250% year-over-year growth during the 2021 giving season. Together, we’ll reignite your motivation to achieve strong goals.

What Is the Value of an Annual Fundraising Strategy?

An annual fundraising strategy is your organization’s guiding force. It’s often a living document that communicates your nonprofit’s 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.

Take a Minute to Evaluate Your Annual Fundraising Plan

You may already have a blueprint in place for your annual fundraising plan or you may be starting 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. During the 2021 giving season, 84% of U.S. donors planned to match or increase their donations from 2020. 2021 donations surpassed 2020 records with $1.143 billion coming through the Classy giving platform alone.

Annual fundraising planning will prepare you to unlock rising generosity through the year.

5 Steps to Plan an Effective Annual Fundraising Strategy

Step 1: Evaluate Your Annual Plans Against Current Trends

Take a look at this year’s predicted fundraising trends to keep your strategy nimble against change. Once you’ve narrowed in on what’s ahead, listen to your donors to understand what piques their interest.

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. It seemed foreign to film and edit short video clips daily and post them to engage donors before 2020. TikTok videos and Instagram Reels are now two of the most popular ways to engage and strengthen connections with supporters.

To get started, ask yourself:

  • Do your existing programs and campaigns still serve your cause?
  • Will your goals keep you ahead of trends to come?
  • Are your strategies still effective as when they were first implemented?
  • Where are there opportunities to test new strategies this year?
  • What would bring an element of surprise to loyal donors?
  • What do new donors want to see?
  • Are you considering each unique donor segment when you set your fundraising 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 made a choice to support us with their precious dollars.

Lauren Hughes

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

Identify areas with the most significant potential for growth with a SWOT analysis.  In a few steps, you’ll pinpoint where your annual fundraising strategy may fall short. At the same time, you can clearly see where you can afford to push the boundaries.


  • Do you have a large, reliable pool of donors?
  • Is your fundraising strategy diversified?
  • Do you enable enough peer-to-peer fundraising opportunities?
  • Is your fundraising revenue from recurring donors sustainable?
  • Do you have campaigns that achieve continuous improvement?


  • What is a donor’s experience on your website when they give to your organization?
  • 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 within your donor base and community?
  • Does your development team face high turnover?

Reflecting on the questions above help shape your goals for the new year. A SWOT analysis identifies a handful of growth opportunities and reaffirms your strengths. Use this information to continue to capitalize on those areas in the new year.

Step 3: Align Your Strategy to the SMART Goal Framework

After committing to particular focus areas, establish (or reestablish) your goals. Look to set goals that feel timely with the SMART goal framework. Doing so makes you accountable to hit specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented, and time-bound goals.

Let’s say you decide you want to 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 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 strategy for success. Start by identifying the individual campaigns and initiatives you’ll need to launch, and then brainstorm the most effective ways to motivate your supporters to get involved.

When crafting your story, remember that a brief message and simple call to action is key. 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, and then made the process to donate as simple as possible. We avoid gimmicks or elaborate pitches, and I honestly think that people resonated with that.

Austin Crow

MANNA worldwide

Step 4: Create Targeted Tactics and Messaging

Map out how you’ll achieve your annual fundraising goals. It’s time to dive deep into targeted tactics and your communication strategy.

Develop Clear and Concise Messaging

Communicate the story behind each campaign and highlight how it aligns to your mission. Consider how you’ll uphold brand consistency across all donor 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
  • Physical event signage

Break Out Tactics by Target Audiences

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

Target your messages by:

  • Communication channels that matter per generation of donors
  • Donors who are most likely to look to social media, email, or physical ads for new causes
  • What matters to new donors when learning about your cause
  • What compels existing donors to stay with you

Forecast your messaging strategy with past data. Think about which donors are most critical to meeting your goals per campaign. Start building relationships early with each group of targeted donors. Use that foundation to continue to nurture those connections with ongoing outreach.

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. Use their advice and lessons to polish your annual fundraising strategy. Their takeaways can inform your strategy to develop tactics that yield similar results this year.

Takeaways From Successful Nonprofits

  1. Plan ahead 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, but also tie those stories together with your organization’s overarching mission
  3. Lean into partnerships with sponsors, major donors, or corporations  to support campaign initiatives
  4. Fulfill a particular need with each campaign and communicate that purpose to donors every time you ask for their support
  5. Don’t be afraid to try something new because every 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

Use last year’s lessons to make the most of this year.

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

the lasting impact of a pandemic

See Why America Gives

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