How could you not know what your alma mater’s annual fund is??? C’mon, it’s so well branded, has massive exposure, and is clearly visible on promo materials and your school’s alumni website. Okay, okay, fine… the annual fund is not really like that.
But, what you should know about the annual fund is that it is arguably the lifeblood of your schools fundraising efforts, not necessarily in terms of actual annual fundraising dollars but more about the vast number of alumni and donors that it cultivates annually.
A big part of the annual fund is students and young grads. These young and new graduates, beaming with pride for both a job well done and an institution that has helped get them there, are at the peak of their affiliation with your school. So… why not wait until they are making six-figure salaries in ten years and then send them an email saying “Hey, remember when you went to [insert school name here], well we are in a fundraising campaign and would love your support”. Survey says…
Working with young grads and students can really validate what we do in annual giving. These are grads who:
- Love your school so much that they will wear their hoodie when they travel
- Brave horrific weather to watch a football game
- Can be the best ambassadors of your institution and potentially the annual fund
You have to engage and educate them while they are at the top of the mountain, because once they start sliding down that slope, it is mighty hard to get them back to the top.
I believe that everyone in a fundraising department should get to go on meetings with new grads, if for no other reason than to feel reinvigorated by the enthusiasm, passion, drive and intellect that they have. Not to mention, the thousands of young grads who are doing absolutely amazing things that we just don’t know about until we meet them.
Introducing annual giving right away when students graduate is the best way to educate. Whether that is:
- An alumni handbook at convocation
- A welcome email to your alumni association or
- Ensuring they receive event invites right away.
All of these opportunities need to include some education on annual giving, or a direct opportunity for them to give back. There will surely be new grads that get annoyed or offended (as I may well have myself), as they look at their long OSAP or student loan bills, but it’s not even about the GIVING at this point, it’s about the education.
The best part about the current generation of grads, call them Millennials or Gen-Y’s (of which I consider myself part of… at least for the positives. If anyone asks about the negatives, I claim to be Gen-X), is that what they often really value from their alma mater is:
Most young grads aren’t offended or thrown off by us asking them to support their school and are more likely excited that someone from the school is actually taking the time to come and visit them. Sure, they may choose not to give to your annual fund, but often they just appreciate the update about what is happening on campus and it instils that sense of nostalgia and extends their engagement with your institution in ways that an email just can’t.
More surprisingly, if you have an exciting project to share with them, they often will donate. That first gift should be the start of a lifetime of giving, and it might be $5, $25 or a gift in honour of their graduation such as $20.14, but it’s a huge step in the right direction for developing a lifetime relationship with that alumnus. If you can communicate the value (both to the university and their personal budget) of monthly giving, that will further assist in their continued giving patterns.
I realize this blog post went in a few directions; annual fund, young alumni, and millennials as a generation, but they can be closely tied together. Working in both annual giving and working with young graduates on a daily basis, I am regularly inspired by their passion for the university and the goals and dreams that they have. As a development department, we need to tap into that energy, and educate them on philanthropy and giving back to your institution.
So, you are at the top of that mountain standing beside a young grad… get them to plant that flag in the ground so it’s there forever.
Written by Ryan Brejak
Ryan is an Alumni Advancement Manager at the University of Guelph, with a focus on engaging and fundraising with young alumni and students. Ryan previously managed the U of G alumni calling program for two years and has an interest in studying leadership and millennials.
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