Challenging the Status Quo of Annual Fund Giving


It has to evoke a feeling.  

Whether your goal is more inquiries, applications or annual fund gifts, that’s the litmus test for great creative. Because when people feel moved, they feel compelled to act.

Too often, annual fund communications are stale, expected pleas for money. In May 2019, Creosote created an opportunity to harness the emotional ties within Saddle River Day School’s community and dramatically increased annual fund dollars and donors.  

After sustaining multiple years of average participation in their Spring Day of Giving—the critical final push before the end of the fiscal year—SRDS asked Creosote to reinvigorate the event in a way that would excite families and yield more donations.


So we introduced the Apple Challenge, a multifaceted, one-day fundraising campaign that would come together in a matter of weeks.

The Apple Challenge would capitalize on planned Teacher Appreciation Week celebrations by encouraging families in all divisions to make a gift in honor of their favorite SRDS teachers. On the day of the Apple Challenge, a randomly selected teacher from the division with the highest participation would receive an Apple Watch. Creosote implemented the following communications efforts:

  • Direct mail postcard introducing the Apple Challenge to families and alumni

  • Email campaign reinforcing the importance of supporting teachers and the Annual Fund

  • Social media campaign featuring videos of SRDS students and parents thanking teachers

  • Campus signs and apples with a branded tag that reminded parents to make a gift

SRDS AF 18-19 Spring Day of Giving Postcard.jpg

The Apple Challenge amassed more than $48,000, a 135% increase from the 2018 Spring Day of Giving, on gifts from 74 donors (68% more than 2018).


Creosote attributes the success of the Apple Challenge to several key factors:

  • Organic, authentic videos from the community that were not overproduced

  • Direct calls-to-action from multiple sources, including students, parents and school administration

  • Integration across multiple media channels, reinforcing the Apple Challenge messaging

  • Strong connection to what parents value most about their child’s education: the teachers

  • Sparking a healthy sense of competition between parents in their respective divisions

  • More interactive, less transactional experience




If your asks have become stale, try leveraging the emotional connections already present in your community. You’ll likely find that your fundraising efforts yield more energized, excited donors.

SRDS AF 18-19 Spring Day of Giving Signage copy.jpg

Written by Jack d’Epagnier, Copywriter at Creosote Affects

Creosote conducts research, develops marketing strategy and produces unmatched creative for independent schools and colleges.

Emily Hajjar