We often get inquiries from small and start-up organizations considering whether (or how) to start an annual giving program. We also hear from organizations whose annual giving efforts have been inconsistent, whether due to staff changes, shifting organizational priorities, limited resources or any number of issues. Sometimes an organization has a small base of donors; they recognize that they need to be more strategic, to send regular appeals, and to engage in cultivation efforts in order to grow their base of support—but understanding what an undertaking that involves makes the prospect of initiating a strategic annual giving program seem daunting. Other times organizations put off developing their annual giving programs, not because they don’t view it as a priority, but because they are immobilized by not knowing where or how to begin.

If your organization is thinking about beginning or reviving an annual giving program, there are several questions you can ask yourself to assess your organization’s readiness. The process of asking and answering these questions can be informative in itself. Even if completing this exercise leads you to the conclusion that your organization is not quite ready, it will give you an idea of where to begin building the foundation for a strategic and successful annual giving program. It can also help you make the case to stakeholders and colleagues that creating an annual giving program takes time, resources and a long-term commitment in order to be successful. As you grow your program, each subsequent effort can build on the foundation you’ve laid.

The following list is comprehensive; while some questions may be very basic for some organizations, they may be useful for others in guiding internal assessment and planning.

• Do you have a constituent database? Is it enough to support a multifaceted annual giving program?

• How many discrete constituent records do you have in your database? How “clean” and up-to-date is your data?

• Are you actively adding constituents to your database and mailing list? How do you obtain these names?

• Do you currently have a donor base that you track in your database? What is the size of your donor base, including current/active and lapsed donors?

• Do you have an email platform, and if so, which one?

• Do you communicate with your supporters through email? How many names are on your email list?

• Do you mail or email a newsletter or other publications to your constituents?

• Do you use social media to communicate with supporters and prospects? How many of your constituents follow you on social media?

• Does your website easily accept and acknowledge online donations?

• Do you have a dedicated budget to support an annual giving program?

• Do you have staff and resources that can be dedicated to annual giving?

• Do you have a plan for rolling out your annual giving program? What are your initial goals for your annual giving program, including projected revenue and number of donors?

• Is your Board fully supportive of your plan to begin an annual giving program?

• Do you have plans to engage Board members or other volunteers with your annual giving program?

• Has your organization ever previously sent direct mail and/or email solicitations?

• Do you have a compelling case for support? What are you asking your constituents to support? How can you demonstrate the impact of their gift?

• What is your process for acknowledging gifts? Beyond a formal thank-you letter or email, do you do anything else to recognize and thank your donors?

Every organization won’t be able to answer all of these questions, but the exercise will help assess your current resources and needs.If your answers tell you that you’re not quite ready to start a program, you can use the questions as a guideline to put essential systems and resources in place. Ultimately, the goal in asking these questions is to create a solid program that positions your organization for success.