Annual Campaigns

Grade Level: 
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
Event fundraising
Annual giving as a recurring, organized effort to raise funds for a not-for-profit organization and the myriad of fundraising techniques and special events that typically contribute to meet a nonprofit organization's current operating expenses.


Annual campaign: "Any organized effort by a gift-supported organization to obtain gifts on a yearly basis, usually to support in part or totally general operations" (NSFRE Glossary of Fund-Raising Terms, 1986).

Annual giving is a recurring, organized effort to raise funds for a not-for-profit organization. Techniques used to raise funds range from direct mail solicitation, to personal telephone calls and meetings, to special events such as black-tie galas and barbecues. Fund drives may occur once a year or continue all year long. Funds raised in annual giving campaigns are usually directed toward the current operating expenses of the organization. This distinguishes an annual campaign from a capital campaign that is used to raise money for buildings or facilities, and endowment campaigns that are used to raise funds for an organization's long-term financial stability.

Historic Roots

The first organized effort to raise funds in America began at Harvard College in Massachusetts in 1640. Intermittently, for the next 250 years, subscription lists were used to raise funds for a number of small colleges and organizations in the New England area. When funds were needed for special projects, previous supporters of the college were asked to "renew" their support to the organization by making a donation. In 1890, Yale University began what has come to be recognized as the oldest continuously operating campaign with its Yale Alumni Fund that continues to this day. Modern-day annual campaigns occur in organizations as diverse as religious institutions, social service or arts groups and educational institutions. They can include federated campaigns such as United Way.


For the organization, annual campaigns have seven primary objectives:

  • To get the gift, to get it repeated, and to get it upgraded;
  • To build and develop a base of donors, and through this process to establish habits and patterns of giving;
  • To raise annual unrestricted and restricted money;
  • To inform, involve, and bond the constituency to the organization;
  • To use the donor base as a vital source of information to identify potential large donors;
  • To promote giving habits that encourage the contributor to make capital and planned gifts; and
  • To remain fully accountable to the constituency through annual reports
    (Rosso, 52).

For the donor to an organization, annual campaigns create a sense of membership or belonging. This helps to establish a habit of giving to the organization and creates an emotional bond. Methods used to reinforce this feeling include giving-level recognition groups or societies and special informational publications. The success of this approach is documented. According to Giving USA 1999, giving by individuals totaled $134.84 billion dollars in 1998, with the majority of this money raised through annual campaigns.

Ties to the Philanthropic Sector

Annual giving is considered to be one of the four "legs" of a strong fundraising platform. The other three are capital giving, planned giving and grants provided by funders (Hall, 4). Donors that contribute through the annual campaign constitute the largest number of supporters, but individually, they donate the smallest gifts. For large equipment or building expenses, a capital campaign is conducted. These fundraising drives are fixed time drives with a specific monetary goal. They do not reoccur on an annual basis. Third, for long-term financial growth, an organization will solicit planned gifts. These are large gifts that are often a bequest left to an organization in a donor's will. The final leg of a strong fundraising platform is financial support granted from foundations. These monies are used to fund special projects, research or programs.

Through these four types of gifts to an organization, donors are able to support causes in which they believe. They give money because they feel an obligation to "give back" to their community or to organizations that have assisted them in some way. Robert L. Payton describes this ethic by saying, "The notion of serial reciprocity is at the heart of the philanthropic tradition. It is the principle that says we should repay the good works one for us by the good works we, in turn, do for others. When we do someone a favor, we deflect their words of appreciation by saying, in effect, 'Pass it on'" (Payton, 1). This notion of one giving to another reaches throughout the cultures and history of the United States.

Important Related Nonprofit Organizations

  • Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) is a professional association for individuals involved in philanthropic fundraising.
  • American Association for Fundraising Counsel is a membership organization for companies involved in philanthropic fundraising.


  • Cutlip, Scott M. Fund Raising in the United States - Its Role in America's Philanthropy. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 1990.
  • Greenfield, James M. Fund Raising: Evaluating and Managing the Fund Development Process. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1999.
  • Hall, Frank. Annual Giving Strategies - Syllabus for Session 6 of the 1987 International Certificate in Fund Raising Video Conference. Arcadia, California: Non-profit Network, 1987.
  • Kaplan, Anne E., ed. Giving USA - The Annual Report on Philanthropy for the Year 1998. New York: AAFRC Trust for Philanthropy, Inc., 1999.
  • Moody, Michael P. Pass It On: Serial Reciprocity as a Principle of Philanthropy. Indianapolis: Indiana University Center on Philanthropy, 1994.
  • Payton, Robert L. "Voluntarism: Learning How to 'Pass It On.'" Progressions 2, no. 2 (1990): 1-2.
  • Rosso, Henry A. and Associates. Achieving Excellence in Fund Raising. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1991.


This paper was developed by a student taking a Philanthropic Studies course taught at the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. It is offered by Learning To Give and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University.