There are a lot of ways to get these two terms muddled together and confused. Having worked at large state-supported universities for most of my career, I'm guilty of using the terms "annual fund" and "annual giving" interchangeably.
Here's the crucial difference: some institutions need unrestricted funding in order to make their operating budget and provide basic services to meet their mission. They have an annual fund, which is unrestricted. And while these organizations accept and appreciate designated gifts to programs and named funds, they still require a certain amount of unrestricted giving. There is a laser focus on unrestricted giving. The pitch is all about the importance and uniqueness of that organization's mission in our world. The need for support is tied to the worthiness of the institution itself.
Other organizations just want loyal donors to make a gift of any level, every year. This is annual giving. Usually, it is not fund specific. For instance, at most large universities, the goal of the office of annual giving is to boost alumni participation rates and the ability to designate that gift to a niche department, program or scholarship is part of the pitch.
Why would an institution that doesn't need operating dollars run an annual campaign? There are many reasons but here are a few:
I now work for an institution that needs operating dollars and "annual fund" doesn't just mean "small gift amounts". Major donors play a big role in helping our organization to meet our goals. I had to completely clarify in my mind the differences between raising money for the "margin of excellence" versus raising money to meet our budget. Unrestricted giving isn't value-add at many small non-profits and smaller institutions of higher education; it is a necessity.
Deeply understanding that there are two very different approaches to annual fund/giving is essential if we are to communication effectively with our colleagues at other institutions. Make sure to ask questions about whether the annual fund is unrestricted giving only, whether it includes major gifts and whether your goals are calculated by what you can raise or by your budgetary needs. Finding a colleague at a similar institution is helpful if you are hoping to craft a perfect pitch for your annual campaign.
Do you work for an annual fund institution or an annual giving institution?
Jessica Cloud, CFRE
I've been called the Tasmanian Devil of fundraising and I'm here to talk shop with you.