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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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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Giving Societies… What Gives?!

I am in program analysis / program planning mode for my Leadership Giving program in my new role, and with that comes a lot of thought and reflection… what is a leadership gift? What makes someone a leadership donor? What needs to happen in order for me to consider moving a donor into major gift territory?  I find the process energizing and exciting, but it brings up some tough questions.  One of those tough questions is:

Do donors care about giving societies???

As I plan the year ahead for the Leadership Giving program, I’m considering whether it would be effective to create a concrete leadership-level giving society.  The thing that makes this consideration tough is whether giving societies only mean something internally and the donor doesn’t really care.  Would a giving society strengthen a culture of philanthropy?  Would donors who make it in the society care, and really identify as part of that society?  Would a society make someone stretch their giving to a new level so that they can be part of something?

When giving societies are effective (because sometimes they really are), why are they effective?  Is it when they’re really established and have been around a while?  Is it when being at a certain level means certain perks, like invitations to events and/or some kind of tangible benefit like a pin or a special name tag?  Does the giving society have to equal some kind of prestige?

If a giving society has to be well-established in order to mean something, then is it in our best interest to start them if it will take such a long time to establish them?  Will it be worth the time and resources to push on until, say, the 20-year mark where it starts to mean something?

Or do people care about these things any more? Do giving societies promote giving and/or a culture of philanthropy, or do we just like to think they do? Do we like it internally because we have an easy way to refer to certain levels or giving and certain donors?

Regardless of all this, can we still refer to a group in a specific way in mailings? For example, whether there’s a society or not, can I refer to my donors as leadership donors in a direct mail piece? If they don’t already identify with that label and there’s no concrete giving society, can I still use it to give them a sense of their being special?

 

What do you think??? Are giving societies worth our time and thought?

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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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Prospect Management at a Cocktail Party for Introverted Fundraisers

Prospect Management at a Cocktail Party for Introverted Fundraisers

I know I’ve spoken about being an introvert before. This is not a weakness of mine nor is it an area for improvement, but in a world dominated by extroversion, you do have to make a concerted effort as an introvert to determine your approach. Case in point: prospect management in a cocktail party setting.

In my role at Laurier, I am a prospect manager. I now have my own portfolio of prospects to cultivate, solicit, and steward. This occasionally involves a cocktail party-format donor appreciation event, one of which took place this past Tuesday.

Now, I wouldn’t say these kinds of events aren’t natural for me, nor would I say I find them difficult… I’d just say I find them draining. I might even say I find them very draining. So for a person who’s trying to strategically use their energy in that kind of event, what should the approach be???

Make a plan: One thing that helps me in these situations is making a plan in advance. I figure out how many prospects I have attending and write their names down on a list that I can reference throughout the event. On Tuesday I had 4 prospects who RSVP’d yes, so I wrote down their names and planned to connect with all of them.

Adjust the plan: Does everyone who RSVPs to an event show up?  Never.  On Tuesday I hovered near the nametag table a few times to see if my 4 prospects had shown up.  In the end, only 3 of them had.  I adjusted my list and now planned to connect with my 3 prospects throughout the evening.

Take breaks: I can mingle pretty decently, but as I’ve said, it takes a lot out of me.  In order to survive the cocktail party, I need breaks.  On Tuesday there was a room where the staff had put their coats and things, so 3 or so times during the event I escaped to the room to check my notes, take a breath, take a break, and then head back into the fray.

Quality over quantity: With 3 prospects at the event there was nothing stopping me from meaningfully connecting with them all, but that doesn’t mean I could expect a lengthy conversation with all of them, nor did I necessarily have the stamina for it.  My mantra for cocktail parties has become quality over quantity.  Small talk and glad-handing takes a lot out of me, so I try to find an opportunity for a meaningful conversation with even just one person at an event of this nature. On Tuesday I was fortunate enough to have that opportunity; one of my prospects – the one I knew the least of the 3 – was sitting alone eating at a table.  I approached him, asked if I could join, and we got to know one another over the course of about 30 minutes.  It was fantastic; I was sitting down, in a quieter area of the venue, and got to really understand the passions and interests of an unknown prospect.  These kinds of conversations do in fact energize me, and they’re what made me want to do one-on-one fundraising in the first place.

With all of those strategies in place, I was able to have a personally and professionally successful evening.

What are your strategies, for introverts or extroverts???

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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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On the hunt for fundraising priorities

I haven’t written my own blog post since I started my new job at Wilfrid Laurier University!  I’ve been lucky to have three amazing guest bloggers fill in for me over the past… nearly two months!  Wow.  It worked out well though because I’ve had my plate full with learning the ropes of a new position at a new organization.  Plus, one of the things I love about www.whatgivesphilanthropy.com is the range of voices that you get to hear from.  Philanthropy and fundraising can be such personal experiences, and so I’ll always emphasize the need for guest bloggers!

That being said, I’m excited to have this opportunity to reflect on my experience so far at Laurier.  As I think I’ve mentioned, my position is in Annual Giving, and my portfolio focuses on what we call Leadership Giving at Laurier.  It’s sort of the area that sits between the average annual gift and major gifts, which at Laurier start at $25,000.  We’ve got these amazingly committed donors who might be giving $1,000 a year, which is such a generous contribution, and so my role is to give them a little more dedicated attention.  Perhaps they’ve only ever given in response to direct mail appeals, so I get to meet with them in person, thank them for their giving, hear their story, and sometimes find ways for them to become even more engaged in the life of the institution… maybe through alumni programming, maybe through a new giving opportunity like a scholarship, or maybe just the personal touch of meeting with someone (me!) on an annual basis.  It’s a great position to be in!

However, something funny happened about 4-6 weeks into my position: I realized I wasn’t fully-equipped to speak to Laurier’s priorities.  I’m an alumna of this institution, I worked for 3.5 years when I was a student in the Annual Giving Call Centre, and I was on the Alumni Association for 2.5 years between graduation and returning to work at this wonderful university.  I would’ve thought I was perfectly equipped to speak to the university’s priorities, but I realized I just didn’t have a handle on them like I wanted to.  On top of that, unlike our major gift officers, who each focus on a specific faculty/department, I have to speak about all the faculties to some degree or another.  Of course, not in great detail, but I just really wanted to have my finger on the pulse of the high-level priorities to a greater degree than I did… which was not really at all.

So, I pulled up my socks and booked meetings with all of the major gift officers in our office, and I’m in the process of sitting down with them all to discuss their faculties’ priorities.  My approach has been to learn about the big updates and priorities so that I have an exciting story to tell, but also to find out specific opportunities that would be in my prospects’ capacities, too.  So far the exercise has been great, and cultivating strong relationships with the MGOs is never a bad thing, because I have no doubt they will be great supports to me moving forward.

So there you have it!  Things are off to a great start, and as each day goes by, I’m feeling more confident and capable in my role.  Most importantly, I’m loving it!  Fundraising for my alma mater is truly a dream come true!

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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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Guest Post: Annual FUND? More like Annual FUN!

Annual FUND- More like Annual FUN!

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…

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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:

  1. Transparency
  2. Honesty
  3. Straight-forwardness.

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.

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Written by Ryan Brejak

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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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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:
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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!

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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 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

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