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
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.