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:
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End-of-Year Giving

My years so far in fundraising have taught me so much, and one thing they’ve taught me is that we use parts of the year as anchors for good solicitations.  Certain times of the year are better for fundraising than others; the summer, for instance, is a bit of a wash!  Fall and spring seem to be the best time of the year for direct mail appeals.  And then there’s December…

I thought this would be a timely discussion right now: end-of-year incentives to give.  The end of the calendar year seems to be a great anchor for good fundraising.  The question is: what’s your angle???

I sit on the alumni association at my alma mater and had the chance to proofread an end-of-year email blast for the Annual Giving office there.  Their angle was to encourage alumni to give NOW so that they can be receipted for this tax year.  Many donors plan their giving around tax-related things, so this is a worthwhile angle to use; this could really compel some people to give now rather than later.

Then, of course, I also work in an educational institution myself, where we sent out Christmas cards to our alumni encouraging giving with more of a “’tis the season” angle.

Both are meaningful angles; one is more practical than the other, perhaps, but they both strike some kind of chord and hopefully spur action.  Could you say that using the tax year as the incentive is kind of dry?  Well, you could… but you could also say that sending out Christmas cards is risky to those that don’t celebrate Christmas…

At the end of the day you have to make a thoughtful decision on how to make an ask in December, but I think we can all agree that with the spirit of giving in the air, it’s a good time to make the ask.

 

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And with that, dear readers, I am done posting for 2012.  It’s been a great year at What Gives Philanthropy, with engaging content, new guest blogger friends, and lots of interaction on the site, Twitter, and offline.  I hope you have a very enjoyable holiday season, and you’ll hear from me on Friday, January 4, 2013.  All the best!!!

 

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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Why don’t people give???

I participated recently in an “interview” with an individual who is working to develop a social media strategy for the Development & Alumni Relations department at a higher-ed institution.  His intention was to get my input on what alumni want from their alma mater and how that might be provided through social media.  I was pleased when alumni giving made its way into the conversation and intrigued by his approach to the topic; he asked me, “Why don’t alumni give???” What a great question!  And one that definitely applies to all forms of fundraising – not just educational.  There are, of course, a myriad of reasons people don’t give.  Drawing once again from my experience as an Annual Giving phonathon caller, I heard reasons including a negative experience at the university, still paying off student loans, big transitions in life with big costs attached (getting married, buying a house, starting a family), and sometimes a plain old “not interested”. But then I thought, “Why DO people give?”  And as any good fundraiser knows, the #1 reason people give is … say it with me … because they are asked!!!  Yes, it’s often that simple!  So, would that mean that the opposite is true???  Do people NOT give because they’re NOT asked?  Well, let me say this, rarely do fundraisers hear from their prospects that they’re not being asked enough… So, what is it?  Perhaps people don’t give because they’re not asked right. What do I mean by that?  Is it that best practice fundraising approaches should be thrown out the window?  Not at all!  My thought is that we’re doing a great job except that we’re not giving our prospects enough info on HOW to give.  We’re telling them who to give to (our organization), when to give (now), why to give, what amount to give, where to designate, but are we giving them the right options at that point on HOW to make their gift?  And I’m not talking about which credit card to donate with… It’s my belief that many people don’t give because (a) they think only enormous major gifts matter and (b) they don’t know their options.  For example, I donate regularly to four causes, and in all four cases I’m a monthly donor.  Are we as fundraisers making options like monthly giving clear when we make our ask?  This is just one example, of course, but I think it’s part of a key “toolkit” we ought to be sharing.  A $240 gift may seem intimidating, but $20/month might not… So I told this individual I had my social media interview with that sharing quick updates on Facebook and Twitter, not asking for donations but informing people on how to make them, could be a potential way of engaging more alumni in giving… I guess we’ll see if it works! Food for thought… Why do YOU think people don’t give???

 

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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Guest Post: Giving Circles at Illinois Wesleyen University

Sharon Lipinski, What Gives???’s original guest blogger and Founder of Change Gangs, is back with her second guest post, which she has generously shared from her own blog: Giving Circles Help. Read more about Sharon and her amazing organization by clicking here.

Also, right click to download the mP3 of Sharon’s interview with Jeffrey Mavros to your computer: Giving Circles at Illinois Wesleyn University.
Or, of course, click the link to hear the interview now!

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Jeffrey Mavros was looking to increase donations and engagement with their younger graduates, and three years ago he hoped that giving circles would be a great tool for reaching the Millennial generation. They now have 16 different giving circles with over 200 participants funding 16 different scholarships for current Wesleyen students.

This is a win-win situation. The alumnus feels like he/she is doing their part for the university and making a significant contribution to a student. And the university engages their young alumni, develops long-term, deep relationships with them, and raises more money for scholarships for the university’s current students.

I hope you enjoy discovering how giving circles may work for your university.

Location: Bloomington, IL
Founded: 2009
Website: http://wesleyanfund.wordpress.com/givingcircles/

Written by Sharon Lipinski
Founder of Change Gangs, Virtual Giving Circles
You can connect with Sharon via:
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Giving back time and talent

Alumni are thought to give their time, talent, or treasure back to their school.  They may not be in a position to give back financially, or perhaps their alma mater isn’t one of their philanthropic priorities, but a great way for alumni to give their time & talent is through an alumni mentorship programme.  These programmes offer opportunities for established alumni to share their professional know-how or industry-specific expertise with current students and/or young alumni.  I think this is a fantastic way to be philanthropic without opening your wallet, and I heartily support these alumni programmes.  Beyond that, I manage one for the educational institution I work at. Check out today’s Globe & Mail article “Private school alumni links enrich career options” for more on mentorship programmes, including a quote from yours truly!

 

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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Can we tap into technology without tapping out on our budget???

Working in educational fundraising in the summer can be equal parts wonderful and challenging.  On the one hand, the students are gone (at least at my 5-12 independent school), which takes a little life out of the campus, or at least alters the work environment.  On the other hand, the peace and quiet that summer brings makes it the ideal time for reflecting, researching, and planning for the school year ahead. One of my current projects is to do my due diligence on potentially implementing an app for our alumni community.  The way I see it, being perceived as “ahead of the pack”, “forwarding thinking”, or just plain “cool” by our alumni (especially our most recent grads) is worth its weight in gold, which is why I pursued this project in the first place.  That said, being cool comes with a price; can we justify spending money on this sort of initiative?  Will the ROI be worth our while?  It’s a friend-raising more than fundraising venture… can the ROI really be measured?  Perhaps it’s like my post on “impact per dollar raised”; maybe we should worry less about measurable results and recognize that a well-received, technology-related “gift” to the alumni community is priceless. What do you think???

 

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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Donor Fatigue

As you may know, I got my start in fundraising with a job as a student caller at Wilfrid Laurier University, calling alumni of the school as well as parents of current students, sharing updates and asking for their financial support.  Many friends of mine would comment on how tough it must be to make those “cold calls” to alumni, but I always replied saying, “They’re not cold calls, they’re warm calls”.  I don’t know where I’d picked up that term, and you could call it kind of corny, but it seemed applicable.  Calling alumni or parents was never cold, because at the very least – whether they were an enthusiastic supporter or not – they had some connection to the institution. I’m thinking about this because I recently read an article from The Globe & Mail entitled “Toronto hospitals are about to find out just how deep donors’ pockets are”.  The article begins by telling the story of Harvey Walker.  In short, Mr. Walker’s wife, Joan, died of pancreatic cancer and he wanted to find a way to honour her memory.  He decided the most fitting tribute would be to donate $100,000 in her name to the Scarborough Hospital, which provided compassion and care to Joan and her family.  According to the article: “Two years later, Mr. Walker has become something of a darling on the mailing lists of hospital foundations across the city.  Appeals for money arrive in his mailbox constantly.  He’s never donated to most of the hospitals asking for his cash and doesn’t even know how they got his name.” As someone who has only worked in educational fundraising thus far, this is a very interesting concept to me – contacting people who don’t have a clear connection to the institution I work for.  I’ve been to a few prospect research workshops where so much discussion surrounds making a prospect list based on other institutions’/organizations’ annual reports (for example), and for a while I didn’t even understand why.  It’s not as if I’m opposed to this because I know other organizations work differently, but when this article brought up the idea of “donor fatigue”, I could understand where that stems from. “But what about the risks? Hospital fundraising campaigns have become an incessant year-long event with appeals coming in the mail, online, on the radio and TV. Yet, as the fundraising pitches become increasingly enormous in size and scope, so too grows the worry that potential donors are beginning to tune out.” My point is not that one type of institution is better than the other, not at all.  It’s just interesting where our prospects come from and how that differs from organization to organization.  The truth is, too, that many of a school’s most generous donors are also turning up on other organizations’ – including hospitals’ – lists and so despite having a clear, personal connection to their alma mater, “donor fatigue” is still a concern. What are your thoughts? How do we combat donor fatigue???

 

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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Why I love what I do: reason #2

I’m reminded of why I love being a fundraiser in an educational setting every day of the week, but occasionally someone will engage me in a conversation about certain aspects of what I do, and a fire is lit inside me.  Just as I discussed in my first installment of “Why I love what I do”, it gets me excited to talk to people about how passionate I am about fundraising.  Getting excited about sharing with people what I love about what I do makes me even more excited to do it.  It’s a very happy cycle to get caught in.

So what’s another thing I love about what I do???  The fact that what I do seems to combine my passions together into one field of work.  For one thing, I love meeting new people and getting to know them – one-on-one (I’m an introvert, after all) – in a meaningful way.  I get to do that a lot as a fundraiser / alumni relations officer, and it’s a pleasure every time to chat with an individual about what they do now, how they stay engaged with their alma mater, and how their experience at my institution was.  Every story is unique and wonderful to hear.

I studied English in university and wasn’t sure if it’d be my BA that counted in getting my first job or my English degree, specifically.  Turns out it’s both!  A degree is important to get you in the door of the job you want, but I find my English degree – both in regards to my knowledge of writing and language, and my general critical thinking skills – is specifically valuable.  Plus, more than just knowing about writing, I love to write!  It’s my favourite and most efficient way of expressing myself, my thoughts, my intentions, and my ideas, and there are a lot of opportunities for writing in fundraising – whether it’s writing an appeal, writing a web article about exciting alumni news, or writing a customized proposal for a major gift prospect.

Secondly, I love words and language.  Word choice is an integral part of fundraising, both in spoken and written forms.  Sometimes it can come off as jargon (click here for an jargon-related, industry-specific laugh), but the truth is that the right word or phrase can evoke emotion, and emotion has so much to do with fundraising.

And that brings me to another thing I love about fundraising, I love the psychology of it.  It’s not just a business matter – although some donors prefer it to be that way – but instead an exchange of passion, emotion, nostalgia, and more.  In educational fundraising, a prospect’s memory of their time at the school, perhaps an opportunity made possible for them through a scholarship or bursary, can evoke such a strong sense of desire to give back.  If they see a current student who is only able to attend the school with the help of financial aid, they might reflect back on their own experience, and feel a need to contribute in order to provide this student or other students’ with the opportunities they once enjoyed.

Like I said, it’s not just a business matter or a transaction of money – it’s an experience.  An experience where a donor aligns his or her passions with their resources, matches their emotions up with their fortune.  And that’s another thing I love, it’s a feel-good industry to work in.  These aren’t static numbers on a spreadsheet.  I can see the look on people’s faces when they’re reflecting on the difference that they’ve made, and it’s magic.

This is once again a moment to share the perfect and eloquent simplicity of a child’s definition of philanthropy:

“Because if you help other people, you’ll be a good person, and you’ll feel good inside.”

And that’s another reason why I love doing what I do.

 

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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Time, talent & treasure

Happy National Volunteer Week!!!

Fundraisers are no strangers to the power and passion of volunteers.  Whether you’re talking about the members of a board of directors, a campaign cabinet, event chairs, or an alumni association executive committee, we get to cross paths with people who – out of the goodness of their hearts and love for your organization – are willing to part with their valuable time, talent, and treasure.

And that, dear readers, is a beautiful thing.

 

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

Do your prospects know where their dollar will go???

What is the biggest roadblock you face as a fundraiser???  I’m sure this answer is different for all of us and likely those answers touch on all sorts of different aspects of fundraising and philanthropy.  Perhaps it’s incomplete/invalid data on your prospects.  Maybe it’s having a tough time communicating your mission to a larger network.  OR, perhaps it’s that your prospects (or future prospects) don’t know exactly what you’re fundraising for.

I try to keep this blog pretty general, but being that I work in educational fundraising, it’s hard not to write from that slant.  However, I think this predicament happens for all fundraisers.  Your prospects/community may know that your organization has something to do with homelessness, or animals, or building wells in Africa.  They may even know more info about how exactly you help the homeless, which animals in particular you rescue, or which countries in Africa you focus your efforts on.  But, do your prospects know where their dollar goes when they donate???  Do they know what kind of projects their donations fund???

For example, working at an independent school (like I do!) or a university – your future prospects are your current students.  While in school, they’re not thinking about donating/fundraising.  If they’re university students, they’re overwhelmed as it is with tuition, and being asked to donate may even seem insulting.  So maybe we won’t ask you to donate as a current student, at least not until your grad year, but how do we educate you as a student on what exactly fundraising does for you, so that when you’re in a position to donate, you’ll know that it’s important???

That question is what inspired me to write this post in the first place, because schools like Wilfrid Laurier University (my alma mater) are attempting to answer that question with initiatives like Tag Day.  I highly suggest clicking the link to learn more, but in short: Tag Day was created to generate awareness of how donations and philanthropy positively impact Laurier and its student experience every day. Tag Day’s student volunteers attach purple tags to places and objects that are made possible or enhanced through donations.

This initiative is great because it presents a tangible way of illustrating the power of philanthropy.  Annual reports and web articles are all well and good, but a big, purple tag attached to a bookshelf in the library is pretty hard to ignore.  It grabs your attention and makes you think.  Kudos to Laurier for being innovative and inspiring with their fundraising and stewardship efforts.

What initiatives like Tag Day have you seen???  What efforts have you made to overcome roadblocks in your organization???

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What Gives???
Trivia: 

The latin term alma mater, used to refer to any school, college, or university someone has studied at and, presumably, graduated from, means “nourishing mother”.

 

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