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:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

Guest Blog: Video Production for Fundraising – Part I

A few years ago I took a course on the “Business of Film” hosted by Ken Nakamura, who at the time was the founder the Grand River Film Festival. The first day of the course he presented what I will call the “Triangle of Filmmaking”, which you can see below. He said this was the most important lesson to remember and it is indeed the only thing I remember him talking about.

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This graphic provides ample peace of mind for filmmakers since we can blame the chart instead of our own lack of talent or resourcefulness.

It is also a good lesson for fundraisers when commissioning a video for your campaign. The priorities of the video must be fundamentally understood before moving forward and as an organization you must define what “good”, “fast”, and “cheap” mean to you.

Every campaign and event can have a complementary video, so the first challenge is determining your limitations, which is why the triangle is such a valuable resource.

For example: You suddenly think of adding a video to your campaign two weeks before the campaign kicks off. What do you do? In this case you may not have a lot of time (this means you are occupying the Fast angle of the triangle).

  • Do you have lots of money? If you must get the video produced by an external company, know that your lack of planning and foresight will cost you, but the video will probably turn out okay.
  • Like most fundraisers, you probably don’t have a huge budget to work with so you can tick off the Cheap angle of the triangle. With fast turnarounds within two weeks the video will probably have to be produced, filmed and edited in-house – do you have someone with those skills?

As you can start to see, you can’t have it all at once. As an organization, you have to determine what angles of the “Triangle of Filmmaking” you’re operating in. Is it essential that your videos are television broadcast quality? Are these videos supposed to look like they were made by students? Do you know your campaign strategy well in advance to negotiate lower costs with production companies?

Once you have determined your priorities for the video, you then have to plan out the production. Start off by thinking about these elements:

  • Have you identified:
    • Who needs to be in the film
      • Are they available in your timeframe?
    • Where will you film them? (Check out Part II on May 9th for more info!)
    • What key sounds bites are you hoping they will say? Unless it’s a long video with a long story, you want short sentences that make sense if they stand alone
      • It’s always better to write out what you want them to say and don’t stop filming until they say it. In fact, ask them “So could you say XYZ”
      • People often want clear direction on camera, so provide clarity
      • Ask them to include the question in their reply
        • Ie: Q: “Why is donating meaningful to you?” A: “Donating is meaningful to me because I’m able to impact someone’s life I wouldn’t otherwise be able to.”
  • Have you created a “Beat Sheet”?
    • If you’re asking someone to make a video for you, you must create an outline of what you want the finished product to be.
    • Make a chart breaking down the timing of the video (will it be 30 seconds or 15 minutes?) What do you want happening throughout that timeline?
Scene Run-Time Beat Description
1.0 00:00 Opening Interview with Joe Smith, Director of Development[Add list of key answers]Example: “I’ve never felt happier than I have working in the field of development” 
1.2 00:25 Logo Organization Logo
1.3 0:30 Closing Thank you statement

Depending on your organization’s definition of Cheap, Fast and Good you will have different priorities. If something turned out pretty good for being fast and cheap, it may not make it good in the broader context of what your audience is used to. But it may be all you wanted out of the video. Accept your limitations and work within them.

I have made many different kinds of videos throughout my career and with my limitations defined I have always felt proud of what I created. Additionally, videos aren’t concrete creations. They are living entities that can grow, develop and change as your organization changes. Everything can be changed, edited or added to so you’re never making a life-long decision.

For example, maybe the first couple of years your organization values the cheap/fast model, but as you cultivate an identity on video and see the value from that medium, you’re then able to invest more in larger, more complex productions.

Know that video isn’t scary and it’s not something you should be avoiding. Experiment, find comfort in failure and learn from doing.

~~

Stay tuned for Part II of this amazing guest blog post!  Kimberly will speak further about quality control in fundraising videos.

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Written by Kimberly Elworthy

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Kimberly is a communications specialist in educational fundraising and alumni relations who worked in lifestyle television for four years. She is currently on the Board of Directors for the Grand River Film Festival. (Click here for more).

Connect with Kimberly via:
Twitter | LinkedIn

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!

~~

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:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email

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…

surveysays

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.

~~

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.

Connect with Ryan 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:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email

Mid-Level Gifts

Happy New Year!!!  I hope that everyone enjoyed a lovely holiday season and that 2014 is off to a good start for you.  I am a person that really enjoys the promise a new year brings – opportunities for fresh starts, recommitting to goals, reflecting on the accomplishments of the last year, and considering with excitement the year to come.  Bring it on!

But on a totally unrelated note, I’d like to talk briefly about mid-level gifts.  When I attended the 2013 CCAE National Conference last June in St. John’s, Newfoundland, I attended a session on mid-level gifts.  These gifts, categorized differently by different organizations, are becoming a bit of a hot topic in fundraising.  We keep our annual funds running smoothly (they are the life-blood of our organizations, after all), and we focus our attention on those ever-important major gifts, but what about the area in between???  What about those people who are giving (or have the capacity to give) year after year in, for example, the $5,000 – $25,000 range?  These are meaningful gifts, making a measurable difference for your organization.  Are they getting attention?  Do you know anything about these donors?  Are you stewarding them?

What do we know about mid-level donors?  Some of the things I’ve learned from colleagues, at conferences, and in my own experiences, are that these donors don’t necessarily know the difference they’re making through their gifts.  They give loyally and consistently, and aren’t asking for much in return.  There’s not much of a culture built around these gifts.  6-figure and up gifts often have more fanfare – naming opportunities, receptions, gift agreement contracts, and expectations from the donors, but mid-level gifts don’t have that.  I’m not saying they should, but perhaps mid-level donors should have a bit of a community built around them.  I talked about a culture of philanthropy in my last post of 2013… perhaps there could be a culture of mid-level giving…

What would a culture around mid-level giving mean?  Well, it could mean that mid-level donors know that they’re mid-level donors.  They have “chinned themselves up”, to borrow a term from my current Executive Director, to a larger gift than the average annual donor, because they have the capacity to, and the passion to.  Their gifts are making a significant impact on your organization, and they ought to know it.  Perhaps this group of donors could have a name, and a way of being recognized, like an annual cocktail party.  Maybe instead of just passively watching those larger gifts come in, you could meet these people face-to-face; get to know them, have them get to know you, understand where their passion lies at your organization, and then let all that information simmer so that when the right project comes along… they could be the major donor.  

But don’t get me wrong, it’s not only about the donor pipeline.  Yes, these mid-level donors have the potential to be major donors down the line, but they’re also incredible just as they are… and we need to make sure they know it!

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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 6 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 II

Young Alumni Fundraising - Part I (1)

On April 26th I wrote Young Alumni Fundraising – Part I, and shared with you the many reasons why you cannot ignore your young alumni.  I ended the post by promising to share how to ask your young alumni, so here is Part II answering “how?”.

Again, this post in two parts is the result of my passion for young alumni fundraising combined with the enthusiasm for this topic that I’ve developed, thanks in large part to the dynamic discussions I’ve participated in on LinkedIn.  Members of those discussions requested that I share with them some samples of solicitation techniques I’ve used and/or fundraising appeals.  I intend to share some of those pieces with you, too.

Here are five techniques I’ve found work best:

  1. A specific, manageable amount
    Back when I was a phonathon caller, I learned that asking for a specific amount is crucial.  If you leave it open-ended, potential donors feel uncertain and confused and may give much less than they’re able simply because they weren’t given any guidelines.  Young alumni are no different.  I find using a consistent, concrete, and manageable ask amount for young alumni across the board (I’m referring to GOLD – a.k.a. “Grads Of the Last Decade) yields great results.  What number do I use?  $25.  There’s something about that number that jives well with me, and it seems to jive well with the young alum, too, because 8 times out of 10 they give exactly that.  It’s reasonable, it doesn’t have much pressure attached to it, and it emphasizes the important message that participation is what counts, not how much you give!  For the record, $25 isn’t the only amount I include on our pledge cards, but it’s the one I use in my messaging and emails, etc.  It’s not scary, it’s specific, and young alumni feel comfortable with it.
  2. Regular updates
    My solicitation process with young alumni follows a particular plan, and last fiscal year (2011/2012) it went a little something like this:a) Direct mailing – In the Spring (there had been no solicitations sent out before then), I sent out a letter to every member of GOLD that we had a mailing address for.  More than that, I sent each of the past 10 graduating classes a letter customized for their class.  The bulk of it was the same, but there was a custom message identifying their participation rate from last year and their participation goal for this year. (Click here for a version of that letter).b) Two weeks after the direct mailing went out, I sent out a short and sweet email – again, customized per class – linking to a PDF version of the letter and letting them know they should’ve received it in the mail.c) Two weeks after that, I sent out another email.  The purpose of this
    message was to update them on the gifts made so far, encourage them
    once again to donate, and let them know how many people would have to
    give in order to reach their participation goal.d) A few weeks before our fiscal year-end, I sent an email to all of GOLD (not
    class-specific) to update them on overall GOLD progress, and encourage
    people to give in order to be included in our 2011/2012 totals.  It also
    featured specific class totals.e) And lastly, I sent a final email in August 2012, after the FY year-end, to
    update each class individually on their final totals.  I even mentioned each
    of the donors by name!  I thought this email was crucial; why push them so
    hard to meet their goals if I wasn’t going to tell them how they did? (Click
    here
     for a version of that email).For the record, I never received any complaints for over-soliciting these classes by
    email.  My purpose wasn’t to inundate them, but to regularly keep them posted on
    how they were doing. My sense was that it really got them uniting as a class, keen to
    meet their participation goal.  And with each email blast that I sent out, gifts came
    rolling in.  So in my humble opinion, the plan worked!
  3. A project they can rally behind
    We all know that donors are changing; people making donations expect their gift to go to exactly what they want it to go to, they expect follow-up, they want to know how they’ve impacted your organization, and they hold you accountable and expect you to do what you’ve said you’ll do.  Young alumni have the same expectations, and they only want to give to something they care about.  Of course, they care about your institution, but many of them don’t want to see their hard-earned money go to superficial things; they want to make a difference.So, when approaching young alumni, the project/gift designation is key.  I’ve found the best project is – and will increasingly be – financial assistance.  I’m not saying this is the only project that works, it just needs to be something that tugs at the heart strings and that they consider personal.  Whether they received financial assistance or not, they want to support the best, brightest, and most deserving students so that they can attend their alma mater.  And it’s a need that’s difficult to argue, and it’s only becoming more important.  Again, financial assistance isn’t the only project that falls into this category.  Perhaps their residence needs sprucing up, or the sport they were passionate about needs funding… whatever it is, you need to consider it.  I don’t think young alumni are interested in supporting the area of greatest need, so be creative, think hard, and put forward something they can really rally behind and believe in.
  4. Class-specific goals
    I already highlighted the importance of this when I outlined my solicitation plan to you, but I’ll say it again: customized and/or class-specific goals and appeals are great! When you present to them the fact that they’re part of GOLD or the young alumni society, or whatever it is, they feel a part of something.  When they then consider the fact that within GOLD, they stand with their classmates and have the opportunity to challenge themselves and make a difference, there’s power to that.  Sure, you can ignite some friendly competition, too, but something I like writing in letters to young alumni is: “Show GOLD what you’re made of.”  In other words, you are part of a smaller community within the alumni community, and within that community, your class can make the biggest and best impact together.
  5. Creating a young alumni giving culture
    I was getting at this with point #4: create a culture.  I talked in my last post about planting the seed and creating a culture of philanthropy.  But don’t just throw young alumni into the big sea of all your alumni; make them something different. Acknowledge the meaning of them giving back when they’ve only just recently graduated.  Recognize the difficulty of giving at a young age, when they haven’t yet established themselves.  Tell them you understand, but that they can still make a difference.  Treat them as a separate class within GOLD, but when GOLD does great, acknowledge the whole group!  As one class, they might be happy with reaching a participation rate of 5%, but they might not think their total dollars matter much.  Tell them the total that GOLD raised, and they’ll put it into perspective.  Create that culture and nourish it, with regular updates, consistent messaging during their years in GOLD, and constant encouragement and celebration.  They need it, and it’s worth your time and investment of energy and more, because they’ll deliver!

And that brings me to my last point.  I know you fundraisers, you want proof!  Well, last fiscal year (2011/2012) saw GOLD participation in the Annual Fund double.  Yes, double.  In fact, participation more than doubled.  The final participation rate for all of GOLD last year was 4.9%, and the year before that it was 2.2%.  The year before was my first year on the job and all I did was send out one direct mailing, and maybe the same letter via email, but no regular updates, no specific strategy, nothing like that.  So it shows that when you put the effort in, the young alumni respond.

This year is on track to be even greater.  I don’t know that we’ll see another doubling of participation, but it will grow, and the more the culture is established, the more growth we will see.

 

I hope you enjoyed part II of this post and that you found some practical, implementable ideas within.  Please comment here with questions, concerns, and ideas, email me at maeve@whatgivesphilanthropy.com, or interact with me on Twitter @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

 

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

 

To be a fundraiser, do you have to give???

At Wilfrid Laurier University – my alma mater, and the place where I got my start in fundraising – there was, and I think still is, a program called Our Community, Our Laurier.  This is a fundraising program for staff and faculty of the school, and it’s my first reference point when I ponder the question in the title of this blog post: To be a fundraiser, do you have to give???

When I learned about Our Community, Our Laurier, I learned about the importance of staff giving.  Why is it important?  Well, of course, at the very base of it, staff donors are giving to your organization.  More donors and higher fundraising totals = good!

…but of course it’s much more than that.  Staff giving means something very important: your staff support your cause.  If these people are spending (at least) 40 hours a week working for your organization, then you hope that they support the cause… you assume they support the cause… but when they give to the cause, their support is self-evident.

Staff giving results in a totally different culture at your organization.  Everyone is behind the mission, everyone is putting their money where their mouth is; whether they’re administrative staff, professors (at a university), doctors (at a hospital), marketing and communications staff, or part of the fundraising team, they believe in what they do.

But it goes further than that, too, because it’s also a great thing to share with donors or potential donors.  Being able to say (if I can dare to dream) that 100% of your staff are donors is a powerful message.  It’s the same with having 100% participation from your Board of Directors; it tells your community that the family behind the organization – staff, Board members, Trustees, etc. – are 100% behind the organization’s mission… and you (the donor) should be, too!

But I’m talking generally about staff giving, whereas my question focuses on the fundraiser.  To be in this position, must we be philanthropic?

I’m really curious to know what YOU think!  I don’t know that we can say there’s a definite answer to this, but I’m willing to share mine…

…and it’s YES!  I think we as fundraisers should be philanthropic.  I’m not saying we should donate 20% of our pay cheque or anything like that, but the spirit of philanthropy should be within us.

I think we should give to our organizations, and I think we should give to organizations we are passionate about.  I don’t think we need to give a lot, but I think we should give, and the reasons why, in my opinion, are twofold:

  1. We know how easy it can be!  I’m a young fundraising professional and I don’t have a wildly disposable income, but I know that monthly gifts of $20, for example, can make a meaningful impact.  It’s easy, it’s not too much money at any one time, but over the course of a year it becomes $240 and that’s a contribution I can be proud of. 
  2. If our job is to ignite passion for our organization in our donors or prospects, then I think that job will be significantly easier and more meaningful if we actually give ourselves.  I think it is our duty to support our organization in whatever capacity we can.  It shows our confidence and belief in the mission… never mind the fact that it saves us if a prospect ever asks if we give… an awkward situation worth avoiding…

But once again, that’s my opinion.  What’s yours???  Please leave your thoughts in the comment section.  I’m keen to know what 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:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email