#whatgiveswednesday | young (non)donors week nine | guest post: boom! what? harness the millennials!

I recently attended a conference in Seattle, WA (Academic Impressions Young Alumni: Establishing Lifelong Relationships) and was inspired to “guest blog” about my trip.

Full disclosure: When I was in high school, the Macarena was the biggest dance craze. As such, I am fully aware I can never be part of the Millennial movement (although I’ve seen some great mashup-revivals of those moves recently…)

However, just as I can appreciate great feminist literature or how Bill James could influence major league baseball without ever playing pro ball, I’ve been turning my professional attention to this next great generation: The Millennials (aka Gen Y) despite not being “one of them.” I’ll try not to focus on the myth that they don’t give (and get off my lawn, you meddling kids!) because it’s simply not true (87% of millennial employees donated to a nonprofit in 2013) but rather how our collective mindset and paradigms need to change to allow this group of highly creative, socially motivated folks to connect their money with their passions.

First, this is the #ShowMe generation. Having instant access to information (accurate or not) has trained them to expect to see the impact of their gifts immediately and in a way that aligns with their passion or sense of self. Thank you Facebook and Google Analytics! Make sure your donor relations strategy allows your students and younger alumni to access stats and metrics on the direct impact of their gifts. Also, tie their support to tangible projects that will impact their donor experience. Disinterest in donating to general funds is also trending.

Second, this group has been connected via the internet most of their lives. They know how to navigate web and mobile devices and have no patience for multiple click thrus or ugly websites. Is your content accessible and mobile friendly? 83% of Millennials currently use a SmartPhone and in 2014, mobile access surpassed desktop access. Invest in your marketing and communications online strategies for this group and be intentional.

Third, remember when commercials used to be 30 seconds and YouTube videos were 5 minutes long? Now, we see 6 second Vines, video viewing rates dropping off after 48 seconds, and if it doesn’t fit in 140 characters, it’s not worth saying. Be clear, be concise, and be honest. Every generation has its own vernacular, be sure to use images and short videos for millennials. User-generated content is great and sometimes preferable to “institution-produced” adverts. When Arthur Brisbane said, “a picture is worth a thousand words” I’m not sure he was ready for Instagram, where 8 million pictures and videos are posted every hour. Every HOUR!

And finally, keep in mind that Gen X and Millennials are set to inherit $40 trillion (with a “T”!) in the next 50 years. Can you afford not to speak their language?  

The better we all do as an industry to change our stewardship and donor relations strategies, the more connected, engaged, and INVESTED this key demographic will be. Boom! What? Harness the Millennials!

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Written by Ben Seewald

unnamedGrowing up, Ben Seewald wasn’t like every other kid, who dreamed about being a doctor, or a kangaroo, or an astronaut – he always wanted to work with phenomenal people in Alumni Relations at a University. Ben is living his dream at Queen’s University as an Alumni Officer, working on student and recent graduate engagement programming.

Connect with Ben via:
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#whatgiveswednesday | young (non)donors week five | guest post: five ways we increased our young alumni giving participation rate

5 ways we increased our young alumni participation rate

We did it! We finally stopped talking about young alumni and started talking to them. At The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG), 30% of our alumni base are considered “young”, or graduates of the last decade. This is a large enough percent to make us blink twice and get to work.

Since we began focusing on young alumni, we have seen an increase in our young alumni giving participation rate of approximately 50% compared to this time last year. There are so many different ways you can engage this group of alumni, but here are five ways that have worked well for us so far.

  1. We established a GOLD Council (Graduates Of the Last Decade). This group serves as an advisory board for young alumni initiatives in the areas of philanthropy, programming and marketing. These volunteers are eager to help with peer to peer solicitations and educating young grads on how to get involved in the life of the university.
  1. We segmented our email appeals for young alumni. In a world of texts and tweets, most young alumni don’t take time to read an entire email. We started using shorter sentences, more photos, and began sharing our calls to action in the form of infographics.
  1. We completed “check-in calls” in our telefund/phonathon instead of soliciting them for donations over the phone. Our student callers contacted the most recent UNCG graduates who have been out of school for six months or less. We asked how they were doing, updated contact information, and connected them to our career services center if they were still looking for employment.
  1. In May 2014, we launched our very first 24-hour giving day. We knew these were all the buzz, but didn’t know if it would work for us. It was a great success and allowed us to talk about giving in a new way. Our alumni were given the chance to make a gift, wear our school colors, and tell the world why they #BelieveInTheG on social media. We are continuing the campaign this year but for 48-hours and hope to get even more donors.
  1. We beefed up our alumni club events and networking socials. By offering more opportunities for alumni to gather, we learned that we do have a lot of young alumni who want to get more involved. They just need to know how to get plugged in. Taking time to make personal connections with young alumni at these events is key in making sure they stay engaged and eventually give of their time and their treasure.

Yes, we have seen growth, but we have a long way to go. We have learned that if you take time to invest in alumni while they are young, then you have a better chance of retaining them as donors in the future. How have you targeted young alumni in your annual giving strategy???

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Written by Sarah Kathryn Coley

Sarah-Kathryn-Coley-114x160Sarah Kathryn Coley is an Associate Director for Annual Giving and Alumni Engagement at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is passionate about helping young alumni understand why it is important to give back.

Connect with Sarah Kathryn via:
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Competition

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I’m not a big fan of Monopoly or Scrabble. The thing is, I’m not an inherently competitive person. That’s part of the reason I like educational fundraising and alumni relations: they’re not inherently competitive either! My counterparts at other schools and I are always sharing resources and ideas because our “customers” aren’t the same. We don’t share alumni, so there’s no competition, right?

WRONG! I realize now that not feeling the inherent competition in fundraising – educational or otherwise – is not advisable.

Paul Nazareth is a big proponent of reading business books. I recently read Little Bets by Peter Sims and The Opening Playbook by Andrew Dietz, both recommended by Paul. I had to sift through some of the more “businessy” stuff to find what’s relevant for me, but what I found is that the concepts are much more relevant to fundraising than I would’ve expected.

Here’s the thing: we all know that donors are now choosing to support fewer charities. They believe larger donations to fewer organizations make a bigger impact, and they’re not wrong. So how do we make their list? We have to compete.

So let’s ask ourselves: what do we do better than any other charity? Are we better at articulating how we meet needs? Do we provide the best information to donors on the impact their giving makes? Are our communications more eye-catching? Do we make our donors feel better than other charities do?

Think about it! Your competition is.

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Written by Maeve Strathy


Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in fundraising for over eight years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

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The 5 Most Interesting Things I Learned on Day 1 of #AGCongress14

 

the 5 most interesting things I learned on day 1 of #AGCongress14

Ideally I would save this blog post for next week, but my sanity relies on routine, so I’ll stick with my regularly scheduled “every other Friday at 10:00 a.m.”.

What’s today’s post about? Well, right at this very moment I am in a session called “Picasso & Edison: Learn how to be both an artist and scientist in today’s fundraising world”, led by Samantha Laprade, CFRE (a.k.a. @GryphonReport). No, I am not blogging in front of her rather than paying attention to her session! I am writing this post from the comfort of my hotel room in Toronto on Thursday at 5:00 pm. I have just attended Day 1 of the 2014 Canadian Higher Education Annual Giving Congress in Toronto a.k.a. #AGCongress14. Yes, it’s me and dozens of other Annual Giving nerds talking about what we do and how we can be excellent at it. I’m in heaven!

So on that note, today’s post is the five most interesting things I learned yesterday on Day 1 of Congress. Here goes…

  1. STOP! Be stupidly creative. The very inspiring Joel Faflak of Western University started the day off by telling us to stop doing what you’re doing and do something mindlessly creative. Draw, see a musical, do something! Our creativity is being threatened by the business of our every day work, but we can’t stop cultivating it.
  2. Don’t solicit young alumni with the traditional academic segmentation. My friend Ryan Brejak of the University of Guelph (and a guest blogger for this site) delivered a great session on young alumni giving and stressed that millennials need to be segmented differently rather than by their faculty. Segment them by the non-academic affinities they have.
  3. Why would they care? I attended a panel about “How to Write for Development” and asked them what’s more important in a fundraising letter, to emphasize need or success. Chuck Chan of University of Toronto replied that it’s most important to focus on why the reader would care about this. Would they care about a dilapidated building, or would they care about what’s going to happen in a new one?
  4. There are three types of donors. I attended my mentor Paul Nazareth‘s session about planned giving and he outlined three types of donors: (1) the DNA donor, where giving is in their DNA, and so is your organization; (2) the academic, who values your institution because of how they turned what they learned into success; (3) and the trouble makers and weirdos who had a great time at your institution who will give back because of their experiences.
  5. Everyone should be an annual fund prospect all the time. The last session of the day was led by two fundraising powerhouses: Lorna SomersBob Burdenski. They talked about the worlds of major giving and annual giving colliding, and Lorna stressed that major gift prospects/donors should never be taken out of annual solicitations. They should always receive the calls, direct mailings, etc. and major gifts should “opt out” of this if really necessary, whereas the default will be that they’re solicited annually.

What a great day Day 1 was. I bet I’m already energized by Day 2 and it’s only 10:00 a.m.

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past seven years. Click here to learn more about Maeve.

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Why weren’t we all born in Finland???

Mea culpa. Uncharacteristically I missed one of my scheduled post days for this blog – June 20. Sometimes I pull something together the day of a scheduled post – rather than a well-thought-out post written over a period of time, which I also do – but I always try to write about something I’m working on, inspired by, and/or questions I have for readers (whether they go answered or not). Unfortunately I wasn’t able to do that this time.

Why? Well, on June 20 I was in transit from Helsinki, Finland, as a matter of fact. I went on a two-week vacation there to explore the city and visit one of my best friends in the whole world. Having been decidedly out of the country, I hope you’ll forgive my negligence. (I had a great time, by the way.)

Now that I’m back, I thought I’d use my trip as inspiration for today’s post. I had some great conversations with my friend about universities in Finland vs. Canada. We consider ourselves pretty lucky in Canada with relatively well-subsidized post-secondary education, and we are lucky. However, post-secondary education in Finland is FREE! That’s right – free! Even my Canadian citizen friend gets free education there, rather than the exorbitant fees international students pay here. As he put it, from kindergarten to PhD is free for all!

So how do they do it? I won’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of Finnish government, but clearly they prioritize education. According to this source, the Finnish government guarantees sufficient core funding for universities. That means all basic needs of universities are met. Can you imagine that?

So naturally I asked my friend: do Finnish universities fundraise??? The answer is kind of. One thing they don’t do is ask alumni or students’ parents for money. They do allow philanthropic donations, but they won’t actively solicit individual gifts. At most, they’ll focus their efforts on corporations and foundations.

And when Finnish universities do fundraise, they get more for their efforts! Obviously “sufficient core funding” is huge, but we know more than that is likely needed, at least some of the time. A new Universities Act (2010) shifted the focus of universities’ financial structures more towards outside funding, but the government isn’t neglecting institutions. Instead, it committed to match the basic funding any university collects as private donations at a ratio of 2.5 to 1. Whatever you fundraise, the Finnish government will give you 2.5x that.

What does that mean for alumni? You go to university for free, you’re educated (and in Finland, have a much better chance at a job after you graduate), and your university asks you for nothing in return. I don’t know much about Finnish alumni, but I imagine more positive impressions of your alma mater and potentially higher engagement with the university after graduation.

So is our government failing us? Perhaps. For me, it makes me realize how much better our case for support has to be. Our reality is different and we have to work within this context. I could dream of better government funding, but then again, that could mean I’d be out of a job. Knowing how Finnish education works, at the very least, makes me more sympathetic to our commonly heard objections: “I already paid tuition” or “I’m still paying back student loans”. Our alumni are saying, “What more do you want from me?” And I get it… why weren’t we all just born in Finland?

So if we’re going to have the audacity to ask (because our alumni must feel that way about fundraising sometimes), then we better give them a good reason why they should give.

What do you think???  How do governments like Finland’s make you feel?  Depressed, or inspired to work that much harder?

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past seven years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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Is your organization’s brand authentic?

Do your communications to your donors and prospective donors reflect what they love most about your organization???

My colleague and recent What Gives Philanthropy guest blogger, Kimberly Elworthy, and I were having a conversation about our respective university experiences and how much we had enjoyed them.  Both working in alumni relations-esque positions, we went on to discuss whether we felt that the alumni communications we received reflected that experience.

As an educational fundraiser, I know how powerful a tool nostalgia is when engaging alumni in the life of your institution, as well as when soliciting gifts.  If an alumnus is going to make a donation, they have to care.  We’d like to assume they care because they attended the institution, but can we make that assumption?  Perhaps they’re 20+ years removed from their graduation.  Assuming they had a great experience, can they still recall that?  Or, is their perception of the university based entirely on their alumni experience now?  And, if so, does that make their perception of the university positive?

I think these issues apply to whatever fundraising you’re doing.  Are you creating a strong brand for your organization?  Is that brand based on what’s considered to make up a powerful brand these days, or is it authentic?  Hopefully it can be both, but my feelings are that it needs to start out as authentic.  The people who are engaged in your organization care about your cause for a reason.  To keep them engaged, and to engage more people, they must feel their experience and passion reflected in your branding.  Otherwise, that dreaded “institutional voice” will overpower your authenticity, and when you don’t seem authentic, donors get skeptical.  Don’t let that happen to you!

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past seven years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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5 Things I’ve Learned about Fundraising at Trinity College School

Today is bittersweet.  It’s my last day in my office at Trinity College School where I’ve served as Alumni Development Officer for 3.5 years.  The sweet part is departing TCS for an exciting new position at my alma mater Wilfrid Laurier University, but it is always difficult leaving an incredible work experience like TCS has been for me.

So, in honour of Trinity College School, its alumni, and all of my outstanding colleagues that I’ve had the pleasure to work with and learn from, I wanted to share with my readers what I’ve learned about fundraising at TCS (I’ve boiled it down to five things, but there are actually hundreds).

What I’ve Learned about Fundraising at Trinity College School

Young People Will Give
You know my feelings on young alumni by now – you must ask them to support your school.  Why do I feel so passionately about that?  Because at TCS I’ve learned that they will give.

Yes, they’re different.  They won’t just give because it’s a habit or because it’s expected of them.  They’re skeptical; they want to see how you provide value, to them or to your community.  They want to know what the impact of their gift will be, and they want to be told that their $25 will make a difference.

So what?  They have different needs than other donors.  So meet those needs, and ask. Because they will give.

Major Gifts Take Time
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a small taste of major gift fundraising while at TCS, which is an area of fundraising that I’m really keen to pursue further.  My first exposure to major gift solicitations was simply observing, listening to, and learning from my Executive Director.  What did I learn?  That these gifts take time and that you must be persistent.  It’s not just wining, dining, and schmoozing.  It’s not just having the confidence and courage to sit across from someone and ask them for $1 million.  It’s identifying, cultivating, researching, planning, strategizing, and then asking… and then waiting… following up, asking again… trying from a different angle, and then waiting again… and then following up again, and then – maybe – there’s a “yes”.

This has been a great lesson to learn, because it’s not really the attitude I went into fundraising with.  I imagined it being difficult, but not because of the time it takes.  This takes special skills that not everyone has, and if I’m to continue in the direction of major gift fundraising, I’m grateful that I learned from the best, and I intend to cultivate and sharpen those skills in myself.

Mobile Giving is Tricky
Mobile giving a.k.a. text-to-give or text-to-pledge continues to be a hot topic among fundraisers.  I had the opportunity to implement a mobile giving program while working at TCS.  Our program uses the text-to-pledge method, whereby a donor can text us with their name and the amount of their donation.  We receive an email with their name, donation amount, and phone number, and then we can follow up by phone to confirm and process the donation.

The nice thing about this process is that, unlike other programs, no percentage of the donation goes to the service provider and we receive the name of the person making the donation.  Normally with mobile giving programs, all you would get is the money, minus the portion that goes to the service provider.  That’s why mobile giving works so well for disaster relief.  An organization raising money to aid, for example, people after the earthquake in Haiti just needs money!  It doesn’t matter who’s giving it, it just matters that the money is coming in, and that it’s coming in fast.  That’s another key element to make mobile giving work: urgency.  When people sense urgency and a genuine need for money, they’ll respond quickly, and move on with their day.

So mobile giving is great for unique, urgent situations, but will it become an alternative to sending your cheque in the mail?  My feeling is no.  I don’t think mobile giving is another way of giving as part of a regular Annual Fund.  Giving online via your smart phone is one thing, but people still want a connection when they’re making a donation for the most part, so we still want to keep it as personal as possible.  My verdict is that mobile giving does not work for the average organization.

Customized Fundraising is the Key
What is the future of fundraising???  Customization/Personalization.  This is not a new insight, to be sure.  People are always more likely to respond to something if they feel it is written to them.  When you get a mass email, you feel no remorse in deleting it, but if you feel something has been sent specifically and thoughtfully to you, you may pause and give it more attention.

Fundraisers everywhere are getting really excited about new trends like crowdfunding and mobile giving, and there is certainly some great new technology out there that we can capitalize on, but I think our best bet as fundraisers is using new technologies to complement our existing programs, and take advantages of the ways that technology can assist in a customized and personalized giving experience.

I’m sure you want an example, so here it is: one of the coolest projects I worked on while at TCS was an animated video that we made with an incredible company called Switch Video.  The video was intended for all of our alumni and parents, to educate them on two capital projects that are the top priorities of the school’s current capital campaign.  There was hope that we would encourage more gifts to the campaign, but the main focus was building awareness of the projects.  The video was cool simply because it was animated; a totally different approach from a 150 year-old school that uses traditional marketing for the most part.

That said, the video’s “coolness” went far beyond animation.  The video was also customized for 5,500 unique recipients.  These recipients would receive a unique email with their name in the subject line, their name in the body of the email, and a unique URL to view the video.  Then the video was also customized to include their name (and grad year, if applicable) in different parts of the animation.  For example, when called to make a contribution to the campaign, an envelope popped up on the screen with the TCS logo in the return address spot, and the alumnus’ or parent’s name in the centre.  Pretty cool, eh?  Think of it as a mail merge, but for video.

This is the future of fundraising.  We need to focus on using new technologies to assist us in the age-old effective tool when it comes to fundraising: personalization.  When we’re looking for a big gift, we wouldn’t send a general letter to someone, would we?  We’d meet them in person.  So let’s take that idea and apply it elsewhere!  I’m glad TCS reinforced this idea for me through this amazing project (and many others).

Alumni Engagement is a Beautiful Thing
Finally – alumni engagement.  I don’t know where else I’ll work in my career, but in many ways it’s hard to imagine an alumni community more engaged than the alumni I’ve met at Trinity College School.  Perhaps it’s the significant tuition they pay that makes them feel more invested in the life of the school.  Perhaps it’s the formative years they attend TCS during (ages 15-18, in particular).  Perhaps it’s the extremely small community they’re a part of, and that the intimate size is easier to stay engaged with.

Whatever it is, it made working at TCS a total pleasure.  There’s a big event that I organize annually; it’s a shinny (hockey) tournament for alumni, parents, and friends of the school.  Coincidentally, it takes place tomorrow, and will mark my last day of work at the school.  Unfortunately, the event was created to honour the memory of an alumnus of the school who was tragically killed while cycling across Canada.  But, the goodwill it creates in the community, and the positive way it honours the memory of this alumnus, is a beautiful thing.  With many events, we have to work really hard to get good attendance.  With this tournament, I sit back and watch the registrations roll in.  People are delighted to drive up to the school for a day of hockey and a dinner at the end of the day.  It involves a lot of organization, but not a lot of “work”.  It’s a pleasure to be involved with.

There’s also the Alumni Association, a small volunteer group made up of a variety of alumni from different grad years.  I’ve gotten quite close to a lot of the members of this group, and seeing their genuine interest in and love for the school makes my work so meaningful.  They want to provide value for their fellow alumni, organize events that provide new ways to engage the disengaged, connect alumni together and celebrate the thing they have in common: that they attended Trinity College School.  It’s hard not to get excited about their passion.  It’s what makes the work I do so… fun!!!

The alumni engagement at TCS is something I will always take with me, and will positively inform the communities I work with in the future.  I’m forever grateful.

 

And with that, I sign off as the TCS Alumni Development Officer!  www.whatgivesphilanthropy.com will continue strong, always with the memory of TCS, but with new experiences and projects, too!

Thank you, TCS!

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Written by Maeve Strathy

livestrong
Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past seven years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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Why I love what I do: reason #3

I head off today to St. John’s, Newfoundland to attend the Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education (CCAE) National Conference.  In fact, more than just having the opportunity to attend, I’ve been accepted to present at the conference, and will be delivering a presentation on Monday, June 10 entitled “Alumni Mentorship Programs: Connecting, Engaging, and Tapping In”.  I’m really looking forward to it!

CCAE conferences are made up of professionals in educational fundraising and alumni relations, and I love being around those individuals.  In fact, that’s what inspired today’s post.  So without further ado… and I’ll catch you on the flip side when I’m back from the east coast…

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I’ve written before about Why I love what I do (here and here) and I thought of another reason: the lack of competition.

I would guess that this has much more to do with the fact that I’m in educational fundraising/alumni relations and not another kind of fundraising.  I know non-profit organizations don’t usually compete against one another, but they are usually competing for funding, albeit maybe indirectly.

Schools, however, aren’t really competing against other schools.  I mean, they are for admissions purposes, but once you get the students to attend your school, and they graduate… they’re not an alumnus of any other high school (if you’re a high school), undergraduate program (if you’re an undergraduate university), and so on.

So what does that mean???  Well, to me it means that there’s no competition among educational institutions in terms of our alumni communities.  I’m not writing solicitation letters to your school’s alumni, just mine.  So I will gladly share my successful young alumni appeal letter with you (remember when I did that?), because I don’t lose anything by doing so!  If anything, I gain your respect, and we create an open channel for sharing.  It’s a very congenial track of fundraising to work within!

So I look forward to my conference, because it will be full of experiences like that!  People completely open to helping you out, sharing resources, and celebrating one another’s successes!

 

Written by Maeve Strathy

livestrong
Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email

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If you didn’t see it yet, my last post “A question of ethics” stirred up some amazing comments from three great fundraising professionals.  Read the comments here.

Young Alumni Fundraising – Part I

Young Alumni Fundraising - Part I

YOU CANNOT IGNORE YOUR YOUNG ALUMNI!!!

Do I have your attention???  Good.  I wanted to start this post off with a bang.  I’ve engaged in a few discussions lately, some in person and many on LinkedIn, about how to approach young alumni fundraising.  The opinions are varied, but I’d like to share mine here.

[Disclaimer: Although this post will focus on – and use the language of – educational fundraising, I know that young individuals are an important demographic for all of us fundraisers.  So, I hope regardless of what kind of organization you fundraise for, that you can find some helpful information here.]

I’m going to start with the obvious: why do alumni give?  Say it with me now: because they are asked.  There are of course myriad reasons why, but that one has always been #1.  How can alumni give if they’re not asked???  The same goes for young alumni.  If they aren’t given the opportunity to donate to their alma mater, they very well may not.

There’s also the idea of planting the seed.  To create a culture of philanthropic giving in your institution, you have to begin educating your alumni on the importance of giving early on… in fact, ideally they’re not even alumni yet when you begin this process; they should be students.  I know a lot of you probably have a Leaving Class Gift/grad gift program.  If you do – which is great – then I hope you’re not then stopping solicitations for 5+ years after they graduate.  What’s the point in educating and creating awareness around philanthropy, having graduating students rally around a project and get excited about giving, if you’re then going to say, “Thanks so much!  Now we’ll back off and you won’t hear from us for the next five years while you…”

While they what?  Let’s backtrack now.  Why would people not ask young alumni???  The truth is that I completely understand people’s hesitations to ask, or even their strategic choice not to ask.  I would say that the main reasons why are that young alumni have no money, and if you’re fundraising for a university then they might even have massive student loans that they’re paying off.  You don’t want to scare them away now by asking them, so you’ll give them 5 or so years to settle down, graduate from university (in the case of us independent schools), graduate from grad schools (in the case of universities), and/or settle into their first steady job with their first steady income and then when they’re all set to go, you’ll pop out of the woodwork and ask them for money.  And they’ll think, “Wow, I haven’t heard from you for a while.  Now that I have a little extra money, I want to donate it to my school that’s ignored me for five years.”

I’m being very facetious, but believe me, I get the approach.  It comes from a place of compassion.  But here’s what it comes down to: what hurts you more???  Asking from the get-go and risking bothering a small percentage of alumni?  OR not asking and not communicating with your alumni for a number of years and risking a larger percentage of alumni becoming totally disengaged as a result?

Let’s get back to why asking young alumni is good.  So you send your most recent graduating class their first solicitation letter after they graduate.  They get to learn about some of the stuff happening at the school, which informs and engages them.  They get to feel pretty cool for being an alumnus and for being solicited.  Here are some potential reactions to your solicitation letter:

“Sounds like some cool stuff is happening at my old school, but I’m broke so I can’t give.”

“Wow, those fundraising priorities sound great!  I don’t know if my $25 is going to count for much, but I’ll still donate!”

“I have no interest in giving back to my old school.”

And then a very small percentage of people might think: “I can’t believe they’re asking me for money!  I just graduated!  I have no money and am paying back student loans. There’s no way I’m making a donation!”

So of those four reactions, only one results in a gift, but two of them result in increased awareness and alumni engagement, and only one would really be considered a negative reaction.

Then let’s say you send this same class solicitations for the next five years.  Five years later, you’re mailing to less people because some of them have asked not to be solicited, so the group you’re now reaching out to aren’t necessarily opposed to receiving these letters.  This is an informed group of people, and maybe the person who gave $25 last time is now giving $50 and the person who liked to hear about what’s going on now has more of a disposable income, so they’re giving $25.  See how things have started to change?

And that brings me to my next point: your current young alumni are your major donors of tomorrow.  It’s just the plain truth.  Every one of your loyal, engaged, and generous donors started as one of your young alumni however many years ago.  But they didn’t start giving only when they made their first million, did they?  They’ve always cared about the school, and every time they were given the chance to give back, they did.  They didn’t necessarily make those opportunities for themselves though, did they?  You asked.

Some of my favourite stories about philanthropic giving are about the quiet donor who gives a modest amount every single year, over and over and over, usually in response to a phonathon call or a direct mailing.  And then one day, they pass away and leave behind a 6 or 7-figure gift in their will.  They weren’t on anyone’s radar for a major or planned gift, but we kept asking and they kept giving, and they weren’t complacent about it; they cared.

And they started as a young alumnus.

Are you with me?  We can’t ignore young alumni!!!

But you’re probably saying (I hope), “Okay, you’ve convinced me, but how do I ask young alumni???

Well, I’ve got some thoughts and opinions on that, too, so I’ll be back in my next post – Young Alumni Fundraising – Part II with the answer to that question.

 

Let me know what you think about this post in the comments, or tweet at me @fundraisermaeve.  Thanks for reading!

~~

Written by Maeve Strathy

livestrong
Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email

 

Career Connections: teaching students about fundraising

I have to admit that this week I didn’t have the ease of inspiration that I usually do for writing my biweekly Friday posts.  Lately I’ve been so busy and have been lucky enough to have some incredible guest bloggers come in with their ideas, so when faced with coming up with one of my own… I uncharacteristically faltered.  However, I was saved by the fact that every once in a while I save a draft of a blog post on something while it’s fresh on my mind and figure that I’ll post it sometime in the future.  That’s why today I’m writing about an event I participated in back in November 2012 at my alma mater, Wilfrid Laurier University: Career Connections.

Career Connections was a combination of a career fair and a networking event: current university students had the opportunity to visit “exhibit tables” hosted by alumni where they could learn about a specific career they were interested in, or network with alumni in diverse occupations to inspire their own career paths.  Students were encouraged to ask questions about the alumnus’ current career, industry, and the path they took to get where they are today.  We – the alumni – were invited to share advice we have for students interested in pursuing a career in our field.  We were also encouraged to bring information about our organization and any other information that might be helpful for students thinking about a career in our industry.

Firstly, I was delighted to be asked to participate.  Being that I work in alumni relations, and organize events somewhat like this one, it’s always fun to be on the other side of the event.  Secondly, I was so grateful that – especially at a business-focused school like Laurier – the organizers were making an effort to include careers like fundraising, something that isn’t likely to spring into a 4th year student’s head when they’re thinking of what they’ll do after they graduate.  Thirdly, I was excited to have the chance to share the joys of my field with soon-to-be university graduates!!!

When I go to events like this, or networking events in general, my mission is simple: truly connect with a few people.  I’m not a mingle and small talk kind of girl; I would much rather invest in deep and meaningful conversation with 2-3 people than leave with 15 business cards of faces I can’t recall.  So at Career Connections, I didn’t pressure myself to have a line-up at my table, just a few students who I could have some good conversations with.  Thankfully, that’s what I’ve got.

I had three students come to my table and really stop to learn about what it is I do.  When asked by a student what I love most about my job, I said that every day is different; one day I could be out in Halifax hosting an alumni event, the next day I could be quietly working on a young alumni solicitation letter, and the next I could be calling a major gift prospect.

One student said that he was interested in education, but not in being a teacher.  I said educational fundraising is an amazing way to be involved in education if it’s something you’re passionate about; you might not be on the front lines teaching kids, but you’re actively working to raise funds so that the teachers can do what they do with the best resources available.

On the same vein as every day being different, I spoke to another student about how fundraising engages so many different “muscles” in you; there’s lots of opportunities to build and enhance interpersonal skills, many times I find myself using the critical thinking skills I learned in university to analyze fundraising communications materials, and when it comes to making the ask, it’s a great challenge every time!  You have to think hard to align the needs of the institution/organization with the passions and interests of the prospect.  It’s tough work, but rewarding, and fun!!!

Career Connections was a great experience, and I hope to have more opportunities in the future to share with others the joys of the field I love: fundraising.

 

Written by Maeve Strathy

livestrong
Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email