Customization vs. Personalization

Customizationvs.Personalization

Happy New Year, readers! I hope 2015 brings you great things!

Now, for the first post of the new year, starting with an important question:

Why do donors keep giving to a cause? Because we make them feel special! 

That’s a simple reason, but it’s true!

How do we make them feel special? I’ll tell you one way we wouldn’t make them feel special: if they gave us $1,000 and we wrote a thank you letter to them that said “Dear Friend…”. No! That was part of a long-gone era of fundraising; what Fraser Green would call the “Industrial Age of Fundraising”. We’re now in what Mr. Green would call the “Post-Industrial Age” of Fundraising. The idea of pumping out a million things that look exactly the same – case in point: thank you letters written to the same “Friend” – don’t appeal to our donors. What do we do? We customize.

So our thank you letter now – thanks to mail merge – starts with “Dear Jane…”. Satisfied? YES!

NO!!! I sat down with an acquaintance recently and he commented on a fundraising video he’d received from his alma mater. It was innovative, it was different, and it was customized! The email he’d received had a subject line with his name in it! The body of the email had his name in it! The video had his name in it! I was rejoicing! Great work, alma mater!

You know what he said? It creeped him out. Why?! I asked, full of despair! He said that all that video told him was that his alma mater paid a lot of money to a video company and that they had a database full of information about him. That’s when I realized:

It was customized, but it wasn’t personal.

We’re past the age of customization. Having the technology to insert someone’s first name into something is no longer innovative. Taking the time to write a personal note, acknowledge something specific to a donor, hand-address an envelope… that shows something. It’s not necessarily innovative, in fact it’s pretty old school, and that’s why it’ll cut through the rest.

What do you think???

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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

The 5 Most Interesting Things I Learned on Day 1 of #AGCongress14

 

the 5 most interesting things I learned on day 1 of #AGCongress14

Ideally I would save this blog post for next week, but my sanity relies on routine, so I’ll stick with my regularly scheduled “every other Friday at 10:00 a.m.”.

What’s today’s post about? Well, right at this very moment I am in a session called “Picasso & Edison: Learn how to be both an artist and scientist in today’s fundraising world”, led by Samantha Laprade, CFRE (a.k.a. @GryphonReport). No, I am not blogging in front of her rather than paying attention to her session! I am writing this post from the comfort of my hotel room in Toronto on Thursday at 5:00 pm. I have just attended Day 1 of the 2014 Canadian Higher Education Annual Giving Congress in Toronto a.k.a. #AGCongress14. Yes, it’s me and dozens of other Annual Giving nerds talking about what we do and how we can be excellent at it. I’m in heaven!

So on that note, today’s post is the five most interesting things I learned yesterday on Day 1 of Congress. Here goes…

  1. STOP! Be stupidly creative. The very inspiring Joel Faflak of Western University started the day off by telling us to stop doing what you’re doing and do something mindlessly creative. Draw, see a musical, do something! Our creativity is being threatened by the business of our every day work, but we can’t stop cultivating it.
  2. Don’t solicit young alumni with the traditional academic segmentation. My friend Ryan Brejak of the University of Guelph (and a guest blogger for this site) delivered a great session on young alumni giving and stressed that millennials need to be segmented differently rather than by their faculty. Segment them by the non-academic affinities they have.
  3. Why would they care? I attended a panel about “How to Write for Development” and asked them what’s more important in a fundraising letter, to emphasize need or success. Chuck Chan of University of Toronto replied that it’s most important to focus on why the reader would care about this. Would they care about a dilapidated building, or would they care about what’s going to happen in a new one?
  4. There are three types of donors. I attended my mentor Paul Nazareth‘s session about planned giving and he outlined three types of donors: (1) the DNA donor, where giving is in their DNA, and so is your organization; (2) the academic, who values your institution because of how they turned what they learned into success; (3) and the trouble makers and weirdos who had a great time at your institution who will give back because of their experiences.
  5. Everyone should be an annual fund prospect all the time. The last session of the day was led by two fundraising powerhouses: Lorna SomersBob Burdenski. They talked about the worlds of major giving and annual giving colliding, and Lorna stressed that major gift prospects/donors should never be taken out of annual solicitations. They should always receive the calls, direct mailings, etc. and major gifts should “opt out” of this if really necessary, whereas the default will be that they’re solicited annually.

What a great day Day 1 was. I bet I’m already energized by Day 2 and it’s only 10:00 a.m.

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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

A shocking concept!

You know what I hate? When every other Friday comes along (that’s when I post on here) and I have no clue what I’m going to write.

You know what I love? When every other Friday comes along and I have one awesome post ready to go, and then something happens and I schedule that post for later and write another even more awesome post. That’s what happened this week, and I hope this energizes you like it energizes me.

This week I got to have a beer with John Lepp. John Lepp is awesome! John is a Partner at Agents of Good. Please check out his Twitter and the company’s website. The work they do is so inspiring!

Last week I had a coffee with Paul Nazareth. I think you already know how awesome I think Paul is. Anyway, when I met with Paul, he mentioned John, and I said, “Funnily enough I have a beer scheduled with John next week!” Paul was delighted to hear it, and referred to John as a “disruptive leader”. That made me even more excited for some one-on-one time with John.

So John and I met at a half-way point between where we both live, and we started talking shop, of course. John’s expertise is in direct mail, so we talked a lot about that. He shared the truth, which is that every single organization is doing the same thing. We talked about that for a while, and then I commented that somehow I didn’t find that discouraging, but the opposite – encouraging. John agreed and said it was exciting! It means it’s not hard to surprise people with something different.

So I said, “John, what can we do? If you could distill your knowledge and insight down to a few actions, what are they?” John replied with a number of things, but one of them stood out the most for me. Hold onto your seats, because this is going to come as a bit of a shock:

Call your donors.

Get on the phone, call them, and see how they’re doing. It doesn’t have to be an ask, it’s not even really a thank you call – though we should take every opportunity to say thank you, I think – it’s just a personal, meaningful check-in.

When I worked at the Annual Giving Call Centre, even the longest calls barely took five minutes. John gave me a soft challenge of spending one hour a week calling donors.

Here’s the thing, and this is a shameful secret of mine: I hate making phone callsThis is a personal and professional challenge. I’m great at communicating via email, I feel confident and comfortable in person, but the thought of getting on the phone is just… I don’t like it.

One of my mentors – not John or Paul, though they’re both now on my personal Board of Directors (great blog post about that concept from Paul here) – reminded me recently that the way to get comfortable with something is to do it repeatedly.

So here’s my personal challenge, and please take the challenge yourself, too, if you need to: Call donors. For one hour a week. I find making my challenges public always gives me the extra drive to achieve them, so I will. I can’t wait to share the results!

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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

Is your organization’s brand authentic?

Do your communications to your donors and prospective donors reflect what they love most about your organization???

My colleague and recent What Gives Philanthropy guest blogger, Kimberly Elworthy, and I were having a conversation about our respective university experiences and how much we had enjoyed them.  Both working in alumni relations-esque positions, we went on to discuss whether we felt that the alumni communications we received reflected that experience.

As an educational fundraiser, I know how powerful a tool nostalgia is when engaging alumni in the life of your institution, as well as when soliciting gifts.  If an alumnus is going to make a donation, they have to care.  We’d like to assume they care because they attended the institution, but can we make that assumption?  Perhaps they’re 20+ years removed from their graduation.  Assuming they had a great experience, can they still recall that?  Or, is their perception of the university based entirely on their alumni experience now?  And, if so, does that make their perception of the university positive?

I think these issues apply to whatever fundraising you’re doing.  Are you creating a strong brand for your organization?  Is that brand based on what’s considered to make up a powerful brand these days, or is it authentic?  Hopefully it can be both, but my feelings are that it needs to start out as authentic.  The people who are engaged in your organization care about your cause for a reason.  To keep them engaged, and to engage more people, they must feel their experience and passion reflected in your branding.  Otherwise, that dreaded “institutional voice” will overpower your authenticity, and when you don’t seem authentic, donors get skeptical.  Don’t let that happen to you!

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past seven years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | LinkedIn | Email

Guest Blog: Video Production for Fundraising – Part II – Quality Control

This is Kimberly Elworthy’s second guest post for What Gives Philanthropy.
Click here to read “Video Production for Fundraising – Part I”.

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I do believe there is a minimum standard in this day and age that can be and must be achieved if you are choosing to represent your organization through the visual medium of video. These basic necessities I outline below; you must follow these 3 principles:

  1. Lighting. Lighting. Lighting. The sun is free. Please use this resource. If your videos are not well lit, they will be pixilated, they will be unattractive, they will look dated and your organization will look out of touch. The best rule of thumb is to keep the back of the videographer (that is the person holding the camera) to be facing the lighting source. Therefore if you are in a room with windows and the sun is shining in, the videographer should be standing in front of the window with their back facing the window. The films subject will then be lit by the sun. If you are outside, always have your subject shaded by trees, never film into the sun. If you’re going to be doing a lot of outdoor filming, invest in one of these: http://www.filmtools.com/ligdep/lighting-control.html. If the space you’re in doesn’t have lighting and you cannot bring in any additional lighting sources, I would highly recommend you move. Bad lighting = bad quality = bad reflection on your organization.
  2. Framing + Depth. Video is a visual medium. People like watching videos not because they don’t want to read, but because people are attracted to pretty things. This is the basis film and it is why Hollywood is so superficial. While filmmakers try not to adhere to this sad outlook on life, it might as well be a universal truth: the better your video looks, the more people will enjoy watching it and the more people will watch it.  So when conducting an on-camera interview I find the following rules to be generally a knock-out (see below image for example):
    1. Frame the subject on the left or on the right. If including multiple interviews, stagger what side the interview is on to mix it up when editing.
    2. Do not move. Cheaper cameras or cell phone videos do not focus well when in motion. You must film interviews on a tripod. The subject can be standing or sitting, but the camera must be at eye level, slightly looking down (never looking upwards à double chin no-no). Tell the subject not move their feet around and not to sway back and forth. These slight movements on camera are exaggerated and communicate discomfort which then makes the viewer uncomfortable.
    3. Always have a background with depth. Alternatively, never film on a flat wall. Unless someone professional is filming, I would avoid this look because it comes down to the lighting to create depth so if you don’t have the proper lighting don’t do it! This also means never have the subject of the film at the deepest point in the space. So make sure there is a hallway behind the film subject, or have the subject sit in the middle of the room so the aesthetically pleasing décor is behind the subject. You will have to adjust the normal set up of the room and you will have to physically edit the scene to fit with the framing.
  3. BROLL. A-Roll means your “a” footage, such as your interview footage; it’s probably the footage with the sound you want to use as the focus of the video. B-Roll (broll, BROLL, b roll) is the supporting footage or the “b” footage. Never ever make a video that is longer than 45 seconds without BROLL. Interview-based videos without BROLL are called “talking heads” and again defeats the whole purpose of video as a visual medium. Nobody wants to watch someone talk and talk and talk on film, it’s boring. I can read interviews and I will probably find it more enjoyable. The beauty of BROLL is below:
    1. It can be any visual. Pictures, other videos, newspapers, magazines, computer screen tutorials, etc. If you’re interviewing a donor about their donation, you can insert photos or videos of their donation in action. If you are making a case for your organization, you can add pictures of your staff, your space and your interaction in the community. The beauty of broll is that you are connecting the dots for your audience in front of them.
      • To determine what broll you’ll need to find listen to the interviewee: what key words do they say that you can add visuals to? Do they talk about funding a new building? If so insert an image or multiple images of an architect’s mock-up for the building.
    2. It has no audio. Sometimes when we film in the real world, people say things we don’t want to hear in our video. Broll plays over the interview, so while you see the broll footage, you hear the interview (aroll footage).
    3. You can edit long winded interviews down better. BROLL is a great cover for difficult interviews. People ramble on and on and you probably only needed a few of the sentences they said. BROLL eases the flow of a cut up interview so that you can better edit the sound bites together and you don’t have to worry about the interview footage cutting together poorly.

If you take these lessons to heart, even the most amateur filmmaker can make a visually-appealing, engaging video that they should be proud of. Fundraising is becoming all about storytelling, so to be able to add a dynamic visual element such as a video when sharing a story or an achievement means donors won’t have to work to get the point.

You want donors to know they are doing good in the world, so show them!

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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

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.

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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

Guest Post: Five pointers for creating the most engaging donation web page possible

The Internet has created a new way for charities and non-profits to collect donations from supporters around the globe. Even smaller charities with limited budgets are able to market and use social media to effectively spread their message.

Web design and page layout are often overlooked when creating a donations page, but both play an important part in how effective an online fundraising campaign can be. Since the homepage is the online headquarters for most fundraising campaigns, make sure it’s set up to accept credit cards, in-kind donations, provides a list of events, and comprehensively outlines the mission and goals.

 

Create positive and original content that promotes discussion and sharing.

(1) Offer Something to See and Do
The campaign’s mission and goals should be outlined and easy to find, including how any donations are spent and whether or not they are tax deductible. Use images to enhance the story, and stay away from text-heavy pages. Videos are a great way to tell the story and evoke emotion, and updates on the campaign’s progress should be included when goals and milestones are reached.

People are more willing to donate when the funds are being put to good use and progress can be seen. Offer users a forum to discuss the cause and exchange ideas with one another.

Create a “donate” button that stands out from the rest of the site.

 

(2) Provide Multiple Ways to Donate
In addition to setting up the campaign’s website to accept credit cards, donations should be able to be accepted via text message, PayPal, social media, and through the mail. In addition to accepting credit cards, offer the option to donate cash, checque, or money order.

Users shouldn’t have to navigate all over the site to make a donation, so add a way to donate money right on the campaign’s homepage. PayPal offers a “donation” button that can be setup with minimal code.


(3) Spread the Word
In order for a campaign to be successful, people must know about it. One of the most effective ways to spread the word is through the use of social media. Create a Twitter account, Facebook page, and blog. Stay active on the accounts by creating positive content, engaging your supporters, and promoting conversation. Post thought-provoking updates that people will want to share with their networks.

Link the campaign’s social media accounts to the homepage so users can easily navigate between the two. Add “Like” buttons to stories and videos, and blog about the fundraiser’s progress as often as possible. Include images, videos, audio, and other rich media within the blog posts, as well.


(4) Create an Online Store
Although this may be a bit harder for those on a tight budget, it’s never a bad idea to offer products that can be purchased directly through the website. This includes t-shirts, hats, buttons, bumper stickers, pens, and other novelty items that promote the cause. Make sure a portion of all proceeds go back towards the charity, while other funds may be used to help offset administrative costs. These types of products are an additional way to market the campaign offline, too.


(5) Recruit Volunteers

The more help the campaign has, the better. Provide a way for people to get involved and lend a helping hand. Send out a monthly newsletter with information about local events and appearances. Create street teams that spread the word by going door-to-door or by holding events in public places.

If people are passionate about the cause, it may be easy to find others willing to volunteer their time and effort. Include ways people can help directly on the homepage, and provide contact information for those looking for more information.
By creating thought-provoking and engaging content, offering an easy way for people to donate, and sharing the message through social media, any fundraising campaign has the potential to be successful. It’s also a great idea to accept in-kind donations for those who are unable to donate money.

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Written by Brian Flax

Brian Flax is a freelance writer based in the Washington, D.C. area. He is experienced in a variety of topics including technology and Internet-based applications. Follow Brian on Twitter @BrianFlax.

Image courtesy of photoraidz / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Trinkets & Trash”

What do you think of the practice of sending donors “trinkets and trash” to encourage giving???  I know that’s a rather pejorative way of referring to it, so I guess you can gather that I’m not a fan of this approach.  Though I should preface this by saying that I’ve never worked for an organization that did this, so I haven’t been in the position where I’ve had to justify it before.  Furthermore, I do hear that organizations have a great return on those mailings, so if it ain’t broke…

Let me give some background on why this is on my mind.  I recently made what was intended to be a one-time donation to a well-known, Toronto-based charity.  I read one of their ads and was so moved by it that I felt compelled to give.  And then the onslaught of mail and trinkets and trash began.  I’m pretty sure I made my gift within this calendar year, and I swear I’ve received 6-10 mailings from them already, with 3-4 containing gifts of some sort; gifts I’ll never use, gifts I never asked for, gifts I never wanted.  These gifts are not motivating me to give.  In fact, they’re irritating me, numbing me to the cause, and making me feel far less inclined to give.  The gifts are getting in the way of their message, which is what inspired me to donate in the first place.

I wasn’t sure if I was the only one who felt this way, and luckily I had the perfect opportunity last night to see what others thought of it.  What was the opportunity, you ask?  #maevesmeetup!  Last night I held my third #maevesmeetup event, formerly known as the Midtown Toronto Fundraisers Social.  I started this event at the suggestion of one of my mentors, Paul Nazareth (@UinvitedU), and held the first social in May of this year, and the second in July.  Last night was another great event, with a smaller group, so it was a more intimate experience.  Regardless, it was a great evening!  Thanks to all that joined us!  (Click here to read more about the event.)

photo 1When the first people started arriving, I posed my question about trinkets and trash: what do you think?  Everyone said they didn’t like this approach, and from what I could tell, nobody worked for an organization that practiced it.  One of the attendees, Stacey Charles (@Stacey_Charles), put it well: it’s “old school”.  There is a generation of donors who like getting gifts, but I’m not part of that generation.  I want to sense a need in the charities I’m supporting, and sending me gifts doesn’t express need in the same way an inspiring letter does.  I want to sense that my dollars went straight to work, so I don’t want to have to worry that they’re being spent on gifts for donors.

What do you think???  Is the ROI worth it?  Is this a worthwhile approach?  Or is it going the way of the dodo bird…?

 

Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email

 

Personalization pays!

Personalization Pays!

I know I’ve talked about compassion/donor fatigue before.  We have so many communication channels available to us, and every one of them – from email to Facebook to snail mail – are asking us to give.  These weapons of mass communication are powerful, and they’re a positive tool on the one hand, but we have to work that much harder to connect with people when using them.  What can we do, say, or design that will catch people’s attention???  Is a video enough?

The best tool I’ve learned to use is personalization.  I was working on an event recently – an art auction – and was brainstorming some ways to get more attendees there.  I didn’t just want more attendees though, I wanted people to attend who would actually buy the art.  So since this was the fifth time the event has taken place, I looked back at records to find out who had bought art in the past, which artist’s art they had bought, and whether the same artist was submitting again this year.  If they were, I wrote a personalized email to each of these past buyers, inviting them to the event, letting them know that “their favourite artist” was submitting again, linking them to the event website (specifically to where this artist’s piece was featured), and also letting them know that they could submit an absentee bid if they couldn’t make it.

This process was lengthy and tedious, but it comes with a great ROI.  A few of these individuals submitted absentee bids, many of them attended, and at least one purchased another piece by “their favourite artist”.  Regardless of the outcome though, this personal touch is a great way to engage members of your community.  One person I emailed was impressed we even knew what he’d bought before, and others were simply pleased to have been personally contacted.

This event is simply an example though, and the strategy can be even more effective with fundraising.  I’ve worked on custom proposal packages that include archival photos of an alumnus from when he/she was at the school, videos that have the head of the school addressing the major gift prospect who is meant to receive the video… the list goes on, and the result is always positive.  Personalized communication resulting in a large gift or a piece of art being purchased is really the cherry on top.  No matter what, personally connecting with people is always worth your while.

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Part of this post was inspired by Dan Allenby’s recent blog post, “Content vs. Distribution”, from his amazing website: The Annual Giving Network.

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Written by Maeve Strathy

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Email

 

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

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Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

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