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!

~~

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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Cause vs. Cause

This past Monday, September 9, 2013, an individual named Hamilton Nolan posted an anna-netrebko_1355827carticle to www.gawker.com, entitled “Do Not Give a Dollar to the Opera”.

I encourage you to read the article in full, but my short synopsis is this: the New York City Opera will have to cancel the rest of its season and all of next year’s season if it doesn’t raise $20 million soon.  Nolan argues that no one should give the NYC Opera $20 million because “opera … will survive” whereas there are so many causes in greater need that save lives.

I’ve heard this one before.  I work in educational fundraising, and specifically I raise funds for an independent school.  Occasionally I’ve had a friend or acquaintance ask me whether I believe the school is really in need.  Well, first of all, I don’t consider the school on a global scale where it’s competing against causes that raise money for malaria nets.  I consider the school in its own market where it’s competing to offer the best financial assistance to the most deserving students.  It is in need in order to stay competitive, increase the size of its endowment, and offer the best educational experience to students.

Moreover, I’ll occasionally raise the argument that the people solving the world’s most pressing and live-saving problems are educated people.  So my work, albeit in an indirect way, is contributing to those bigger world issues.

But that’s education, so what about the arts?  It was once suggested to Winston Churchill that he cut funding to the arts to pay for Britain’s war, to which he responded, “Then what would we be fighting for?”

Because that’s the thing about the arts (and education, too): they increase quality of life.  Maybe they aren’t life-saving (though maybe some could argue they are), but they contribute to humanity’s happiness and enjoyment of life.

Now I’m not making the argument that the arts or education are more important than causes that do save lives, I’m just saying they are not frivolous causes to support philanthropically.  And I also don’t think we can compare these causes to each other.

I think just as with investing, you should diversify your philanthropic portfolio; make an effort to support the causes you love and the causes that need your support (if they aren’t one in the same).  If you don’t love opera, don’t give a dollar to the New York City Opera, but if you do love opera, then please support it!  And never forget the other causes that might need your help, too.

 

What do you think???  Share your thoughts in the comment section or tweet your thoughts to me @fundraisermaeve.

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

 

Introduction

Welcome to What Gives???: a blog dedicated to topics surrounding fundraising, philanthropy, charities, the not-for-profit sector, who gives, why give…

What gives???

I thought I’d use my first post to introduce myself – my name is Maeve and I identify as a fundraiser. I say “identify” because my job title is not “Fundraiser”, nor is that all I do, but that’s who I am and that’s what I love to do – fundraising! I currently work in educational fundraising, combined with a healthy dose of alumni relations in my portfolio, and as such, quite a bit of event planning as well.

I’ve been in fundraising now for nearly five years, give or take a few months. I started out in a university phonathon program as a student caller. What began as a means for some extra cash transformed into a full-blown passion. After raising over $7,000 for Annual Giving as a caller, I was hooked, and was then promoted to a supervisory position. I held that position for over three years; I trained callers, coached callers, and motivated callers. I calculated caller statistics, helped define goals, and advised callers on how to improve. I documented all supervisory procedures to promote succession planning and helped bring in a new group of supervisors. I lived and breathed the university phonathon, and also tried to earn my undergraduate degree when I wasn’t in the call centre. Then I graduated, and it was time to move on to the real world.

As I said, I still work in educational fundraising, but now in an independent school instead of a university. Moreover, I’m working less so in annual giving and more in supporting a capital campaign. That said, in a small shop like this, I get to do a little of everything… reunion giving, alumni relations, endowment reporting, alumni communications, major giving… the list goes on!

The fact is — I love fundraising! I’m fascinated by the psychology of it, I’m energized by the passion involved in the field, and I’m excited to continue on in my career, learning more and more as I go.

SO – welcome to “What Gives???”, thanks for reading my first post, and please stay tuned for more!!!

 

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