Take us with you! Introducing the WealthEngine Mobile App on the go

We are pleased to announce the launch of the WealthEngine mobile app, now available for iOS and Android users. Whether you’re on the go or on the couch, search for wealthy individuals from your phone in order to quickly access profile summaries and connections right at your fingertips.

Our free mobile app was designed to offer simplified remote access in complement to the WealthEngine platform by enabling users to:

  • Search the WealthEngine database of wealthy individuals by name, location and age.
  • Review summaries of matched profiles, as well as key profile details including demographics, net worth, liquidity and giving capacity.
  • Understand how an individual might be aligned with your existing network through profile connections.
  • Save profiles to your WealthEngine account to view later when you’re back at your desk.

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For more information on the WealthEngine mobile app, please refer to our Knowledge Article or contact your dedicated account representative.

A Comprehensive Guide to Reviving Annual Funds

Annual funds

The annual fund is the lifeblood of your organization. Dollars raised through this campaign allow your nonprofit to keep meeting its goals regardless of whether you won a new grant or secured a major gift. Consistent communication on behalf of the fund also keeps you connected with your donors and helps you grow roots in the community.

Unfortunately, reviving the annual fund often falls to the wayside. Between managing your core programs or writing grant applications, it can seem like there’s hardly time for anything else. All that can change with the right tools and techniques.

In this guide, we’ll get technical on how to easily identify prospects or upsell existing annual fund donors. You’ll also learn about direct mail best practices so you can increase your campaign’s return on investment. Once you start incorporating these strategies, you’ll be amazed at how regular annual fund appeals can bring you closer to your donors.

What Is an Annual Fund?

While its usage and definition may vary between institutions, an annual fund usually covers a nonprofit’s operating costs. Gifts to the fund come from individuals who receive direct mail from the organization during a campaign.

While it might be tempting to devote more time to applying for grants or nurturing planning giving prospects, don’t underestimate the power of individuals contributing to an annual fund. According to a report from Giving USA, in 2019 individual donors gave over $309 billion. This accounts for 69% of total giving and is the largest source of donations, beating out foundations, corporations, and planned giving.

Plus, an annual fund fueled by hundreds of small donors does much more than just keep the lights on. Consider these benefits:

  • Unlike grants, endowments, or capital campaigns, you can use the money raised for annual funds on anything your organization needs.
  • Annual funds keep donor participation consistent from year to year and help update patron data.
  • They establish financial patterns so staff can anticipate when and how much money might be available for miscellaneous projects.
  • Donors who contribute each year deepen their connection to the organization and might make good candidates for future major gifts.

Not only do annual funds allow organizations to continue pursuing their core mission, but they also provide donors with tax deductions and a sense of community. By regularly engaging patrons in this way, you strengthen the nonprofit’s long-term place in the community.

If your nonprofit is within a certain industry, you might find that your annual fund campaign will be more successful than expected. The same Giving USA report found that most charitable dollars went to organizations centered around religion (29%), education (14%), human services (12%), grantmaking (12%), and health (9%).

Before Launching an Annual Fund Campaign

Maybe your attention has been focused on getting grants and you’ve let the annual fund grow stale. Before you go all-in on a revival campaign, it’s important to identify which goals and metrics are most important for your organization. This will make it easier to monitor the fundraiser’s progress and make adjustments that increase the results of your campaign.

Common annual fund metrics include:

  • Total dollars – the total amount given to the fund
  • Total donors – how many individuals participated
  • Total gifts – this may differ from total donors, as sometimes people give more than once during a fiscal year
  • Average gift – measure this by dividing total dollars by total gifts
  • Participation rate – a percentage describing how many donors gave to the fund out of all the people who were solicited for a gift

There are many more potential metrics. However, too many metrics or too much time spent on reporting can result in “analysis paralysis”, hindering progress. 

To avoid this, check out the Data-Driven Annual Fund workbook. It can help you select the benchmarks that make the most sense for your nonprofit.

How to Identify Potential Annual Fund Donors

Not everyone who has donated to your organization is a good candidate for the annual fund. Here are a few techniques for analyzing your list of current and potential donors to identify the strongest prospects for your campaign.

  • Use Look-Alike Modeling

Take a look at who is already donating to your annual fund, focusing on those who represent your ideal donor. What characteristics do they share? Do they have similar incomes or careers? 

Use these data points to identify other prospects in your donor database you can reach out to during an annual fund campaign.

Of course, that might be too much data to deal with manually, even for a highly dedicated team. A tool like WealthEngine automates the process. 


WealthEngine comes equipped with a look-alike modeling feature—called WE Prospect—that not only analyzes ideal donors, but also fills in the gaps if you have spotty data. WE Prospect then searches your database for prospects with similar characteristics and compiles a list for you.

  • Create a Donor Pyramid

A donor pyramid represents the total dollars needed to run your organization, not including grants. Donors are grouped into different tiers based on their level of engagement and/or gift size. 

Patrons with the lowest participation, such as those who give a small donation once, are grouped at the bottom. Those who contribute a planned gift from their estate are placed at the top.


The annual fund is at the middle of the pyramid because it encourages smaller gifts donated yearly. These donors may have different levels of wealth, but they all have high engagement.

It’s possible to manually calculate how much you need to raise in each tier and how many prospects you’ll need to solicit to reach that goal. However, if you want to compare different fundraising scenarios with the click of a button, try out WealthEngine. 

WealthEngine includes a donor pyramid modeler that can determine how many prospects you need based on your fundraising goal. It then segments potential donors from your database into each tier. This information enables you to know who to reach out to for the annual fund and who is better suited for a different initiative.

This is important because you don’t want to send a generic message to people who aren’t a good fit for your annual fund. With a focused list of prospects, you can personalize your pitch and increase your return on investment (ROI).

  • Calculate Lead Scores

Perhaps you have a long list of prospects who would make ideal donors for your annual fund. A lead score can give you a better idea of who to contact first.

A lead score is a number between zero and 100 that describes how likely a person is to give. You can use it to rank prospects against each other so you know with one glance who you should reach out to first and who might not be a good fit for the annual fund.


Lead scores take into consideration:

  • Demographics like age, income, education level, etc. 
  • Capacity to give
  • How interested they are in your organization, also known as affinity

WE Analyze helps automatically generate lead scores based on the criteria you set. It adjusts in real-time depending on how prospects interact with your website, email campaign, events, or other assets. The more prospects engage with your nonprofit, the higher their lead score will be, as this demonstrates greater affinity for your organization. 

How to Grow Your Annual Fund Through Direct Mail Campaigns 

Direct mail campaigns conjure up images of postcards and appeals sent through the postal service.  However, these days it also includes email marketing. Any form of correspondence where the recipient can reply to your appeal directly with a donation falls into this category.

There are a few best practices that will increase your campaign’s ROI.

  • Limit Direct Mail Recipients

Sometimes nonprofits approach direct mail with a “spray and pray” mentality. The idea is that by sending everyone in your donor pool an appeal, you’ll increase the amount you’re able to raise. However, this isn’t efficient and often prohibitively expensive if your campaign includes a physical component, like a letter.

Consider the case of an international religious advocacy group that partnered with WealthEngine. They had an existing donor pool of 500,000 people, but rather than send direct mail to all of them, they decided to nurture patrons capable of giving upwards of $7,000. WealthEngine built a model that zeroed in on 19 major gift donors to cultivate, leading to over $530,000 in new funds.

  • Make Tailored Asks

One way to increase your annual fund giving is to tailor your appeal for existing donors. You never know who might be open to increasing their yearly gift when asked. 

The Humane Society of the United States took this approach, using WealthEngine to identify existing donors with a greater likelihood and capacity to give. Specifically, they looked for millionaires that had been donating $17 to $18 dollars to the annual fund.

The search paid off. The Humane Society increased mid-level donations by 20% and grew the number of prospects in the ’Planned Giving Program’ by 49%.

  • Tell a Story in Your Appeal

When writing an appeals letter, try to tell a story that also communicates your mission. Stories are a powerful way to grab your reader’s attention and hold it. Consider this direct mail example from Save the Chimps, a chimpanzee rescue organization.


Notice that this letter doesn’t rely heavily on statistics. Statistics may seem compelling, but they can actually distract readers from the heart of your message. It’s best to use them sparingly or when they clearly bolster your appeal. 

In this case, Save the Chimps only breaks out facts and figures to show what different gift sizes can accomplish.

Don’t forget to add images to your letter or campaign materials. Select pictures that encourage the emotions you want donors to feel when giving to your organization, such as joy and connection.

  • Personalize Communication Strategy

Not everyone is well-suited to receive an email or a letter. It pays to take note of which communication channels your donors respond best to, then make future appeals accordingly.

If you’re a small nonprofit or have the staff capacity, this could be as simple as recording whether a gift came through the mail or your website. However, most organizations don’t have that kind of manpower and will likely need to automate the process with software. 

WealthEngine can analyze your donor database to determine what communication strategies you should use to engage with certain prospects. You can then create segmented lists, sending physical mail to some and digital communication to others.

  • Look for Ways to Cut Campaign Costs

It’s often said that direct mail can cost $0.30 to more than $10 per person. It all depends on how many pieces of mail or content you send, as campaigns include costs like:

  • Designer fees for logos and branding
  • Copywriting
  • Printing costs if sending postcards or letters
  • Postage
  • Email marketing platform subscriptions

You can keep some of these costs down by relying on an in-house marketer for the copywriting or branding. There are some fees that are tougher to avoid, like postage or an email marketing platform.

Another way to increase your ROI is to host events virtually instead of in-person. Even as COVID-19 vaccination rates climb, digital fundraisers, such as auctions held on Zoom, have few upfront costs but can yield a big pay-off.

  • Make Appeals Year-Round

While making a year-end ask is important for reviving your annual fund, it shouldn’t be the only step. Look for ways to campaign throughout the year to stay connected to your donors. 

Fortunately, you don’t need to come up with a holiday or reason to launch a mid-year appeal. There are several local and national initiatives your organization can piggyback on. 

In New Orleans, for example, GiveNOLA Day occurs each May and encourages locals to donate to hundreds of participating nonprofits. Check to see if a similar project occurs in your city.

Be sure to take advantage of Giving Tuesday, which occurs nationally every Tuesday after Thanksgiving. This event has been around for so long, donors will likely expect your organization to send them an appeal. This is also a great opportunity for an email or social media-driven campaign, which can help keep costs low. 

Looking for more ways to optimize your annual fund campaign? Download this list of strategies and tips.


It covers techniques like how to use merge tags to personalize your emails or how to host a virtual event, so you can fundraise year-round with minimal lift.

Grow Your Annual Fund, Grow Your Organization

An annual fund is a critical initiative for your organization. It provides unrestricted dollars to help fill in the gaps between grants and capital campaigns. 

The annual fund also keeps donors engaged with your nonprofit. Without it, interest in your mission may wane and it will be harder to reinvigorate support later on.

The most important element of an annual fund campaign is having a clear picture of who it is you’re targeting. Sending direct mail to everyone in your donor database is expensive and promises a low engagement rate. Using a tool like WealthEngine makes it possible to identify prospects with the highest likelihood of contributing or increasing their annual fund gift, saving you time while increasing your ROI.

Want to learn more about how this works? Get in touch for a demo and see how WealthEngine can help grow your annual fund.

How COVID-19 Affected Higher Education Fundraising, Future Forecasts, and Fundraising Strategies

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the fundraising industry faced a year of unprecedented times and constant changes. The higher education sector saw a dramatic shift due to COVID-19 with the transition to online learning and virtual communication.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Higher Education Institutions 

Statistics showing the strain on higher education from COVID-19


As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe, higher education institutions were forced to deal with numerous challenges. Moving students off-campus and adopting a virtual platform for online classes quickly became top priorities.

  • Loss of Income Due to Virtual Learning

With most college students being vacated from their dorms and on-campus housing arrangements after their 2020 spring break, institutions faced an income loss. Entering into the fall semester, few colleges chose to try on-campus living. Many stuck to closed campuses with virtual learning.

A consequence of students living and learning remotely means no money is being spent on campus housing or meal plans. On top of these losses, colleges saw a drop off from income being raised during extracurricular activities. College sporting events, campus stores, and book sales took massive losses during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

  • Impact of COVID-19 on Alumni Relations

Another major area of income for higher education institutions comes from alumni donations. Depending on the school’s traditions, much of this fundraising is done through in-person events. This includes class reunions, alumni nights for athletics, and networking events.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic led to restrictions on in-person gatherings and events, alumni fundraising faced a new challenge to generate income. Just like virtual courses, higher education institutions have adapted their fundraising strategies for the digital world.

The Short-Term Outlook for Higher Education Fundraising

Flexibility is crucial when creating short-term solutions for the challenges higher education is facing during the pandemic. Income losses will continue until the end of COVID-19 from the lack of students on campus. Colleges and universities must adapt to make up the money elsewhere.

Development officers can benefit from donor engagement strategies. This means working with different departments in the institution to cultivate new donor relationships. It is also vital to maintain connections with established gifters. 

  • Shifting Higher Education Fundraising Priorities During COVID-19

In the wake of the pandemic, higher education fundraising has shifted toward a less isolated, more progressive agenda. Institutions must adopt elements of a solidarity approach to stay relevant with their donors.

Rather than focusing on the individual benefits of donations, COVID-19 has created a movement centered around giving for the collective good. Successful fundraising strategies will prioritize a social agenda within universities.

On top of these changing ideals, the structure of higher education fundraising is evolving. Without in-person events, the main form of communication with donors is through virtual marketing. Institutions are relying on digital platforms to share their message and cultivate donors. 

Instead of connecting donors, particularly alumni, with an institution’s location or experiences, digital marketing highlights the mission and brand. This shift is changing the priorities of higher education fundraising as it creates a need for a universally relatable mission.

Long-Term Predictions for Higher Education Fundraising

Bar graph demonstrating the major needs for financial support of institutions during COVID-19


Institutions had to adapt quickly once COVID-19 hit, with a focus on short-term solutions to make it through the upheaval. However, there will also be long-term changes as a result of the pandemic.

Virtual fundraising strategies are here to stay. Although in-person events will slowly begin to resume as the pandemic ends, digital efforts will be more important than ever to stay relevant while fundraising.

Higher education will need to strike a balance between fundamental needs and donor interests. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the struggles institutions are facing during fundraising as they continue to adapt to younger donors and changing social backdrops.

While universities will always need to fulfill their own essential fundraising goals, it will be crucial to account for the donor’s wants in the post-pandemic world. This stems from the surge of global outreach focused on the greater good during the COVID-19 crisis. Now, donors are comfortable with having a say in an institution’s mission, and fundraising strategies must adapt.

A push for focus on helping ease the burden of higher education on students rather than on the institution itself is a trend that will most likely stick after the pandemic. COVID-19 opened eyes to the  financial burden placed upon students, and donors have the opportunity to use their gifts to help.

In keeping with the idea of solidarity instead of philanthropy, higher education fundraising goals will balance between institutional needs and easing student debt burden. This includes a push for scholarship funding, health and wellness initiatives, and enhanced student services. 

Overall, universities will need to continue the work started during the COVID-19 pandemic to engage new donors and strengthen existing relationships. Athletics may be sidelined, as well as major capital projects, to make way for tackling donor wishes to better support students. 

Serving the Higher Education Community During Covid-19

Throughout the pandemic, higher education institutions have been expected to adapt and persevere despite the tumultuous times. Virtual learning has placed a strain on students and staff as they continue to navigate uncharted terrority. Universities are beginning to see traditions questioned as new strategies emerge.

The main focus of universities during COVID-19 has been placed on providing quality education in unprecedented circumstances. Campus life halted at the beginning of the pandemic, which forced institutions to shift priorities while serving the community.

Instead of kick starting capital projects like campus building upgrades or major renovations, higher education has adapted to meet the needs of their communities. This includes aiding their population with health and wellness programs, accessible COVID-19 testing, and virtual learning programs.

Fundraising Strategies During Pandemic Recovery

Focus on digital outreach across multiple platforms like Instagram and email campaigns. Virtual marketing allows higher education fundraising to stay relevant while reaching new audiences. Shift your messaging to share how your university is supporting the community during this time.

Recovery may be a long road as the pandemic fades, so flexibility will continue to remain crucial for successful fundraising. As students slowly begin to return to campus life, consistent branding and communication will help keep your donors engaged with your mission.