Several years ago in a small coastal town there was a terrible flood. Fortunately, most of the townspeople were able to evacuate safely in advance. However, there was one person – a development officer – who insisted on staying put.
As the floodwater rose, the development officer climbed onto the roof. A rescue boat soon arrived and called for him to climb in. He refused claiming that, as person of faith and service, he would be safe.
The rain continued to fall and the water rose. The development officer climbed higher onto the roof and soon a second boat arrived. Once again the he refused to climb in. “I’ve devoted my life to helping others and important causes”, he said. “God will protect me.”
Well, the rain didn’t let up and the water rose higher. The development officer climbed to the very top of the roof. As he clung to a weather vane, a rescue helicopter hovered overhead and let down a rope ladder. Once again, he refused help.
Sadly, the flood got worse and the development officer drowned. When he arrived in heaven he took the first opportunity to speak with God. Trying his best to hide his frustration the development officer asked, “God, I devoted my entire life to helping others and important causes. Why didn’t you save me?”
God sat quietly for a moment. Then, with a warm smile and a gentle shrug of his shoulders he said, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter. What more did you want?”
Appreciate what’s right in front of you. Happy Thanksgiving!
Events bring people together. They remind us that we belong to something bigger than ourselves. Events can also entertain and provide special access – opportunities to network or an insider’s view into an organization.
But, when it comes to event planning, geography can be a big obstacle. If I live in New York and your event is in LA, the chances that I’ll attend go way down (even if I want to be there.)
So, what about virtual events?
The University of Chicago invites its highest level of Chicago Society donors and volunteers to attend exclusive webinars. These “stakeholder calls” provide supporters with an opportunity to hear from a prominent member of campus without having to take a day off work or buy an expensive plane ticket. The also provide attendees with a chance to ask the special guest questions in real time. The last call took place in April and featured the university’s athletic director. Of the 125 donors and volunteers who were invited, 46 were able to attend.
Of course, there’s no replacement for a live show. But sometimes a little virtual engagement beats no engagement at all.
#GivingTuesday takes place on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving. It aims to raise awareness about philanthropy and provide a good reason for people to give (rather than get) following the commercially driven Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Last year, nearly 1 in 3 colleges, universities and independent schools participated in #GivingTuesday according to The Annual Giving Network’s 2014 Survey.
This year #GivingTuesday is planned for December 2, 2014. Here are 6 things you can do that day to help make it a success…and they won’t cost you an extra dime.
- Set a goal – start by considering how much was raised on December 2nd last year.
- Email this video to your prospects and donors.
- Focus your phonathon on younger constituents, mentioning #GivingTuesday early in the call.
- Encourage your volunteers to change their Facebook profile pictures to your organization’s logo.
- Collect Twitter @handles from your donors – then tweet thanks to each one using the hashtag #GivingTuesday.
- Send a #GivingTuesday announcement to your organization’s LinkedIn group – include a link to the giving form.
Click here to learn more about #GivingTuesday.
The following article was published in the October 2014 issue of Currents Magazine. To download a PDF version of this article click here.
The world of advancement is facing a crisis—in numbers. In 1990, 18 percent of college and university alumni gave to their alma mater, according to the Council for Aid to Education. By 2013, that number had been cut in half to less than 9 percent—a record low and a culmination of a trend that has persisted for more than two decades. Some shrug off the decline as a new reality—a problem too far along to fix. Others ask, what’s the big deal? After all, in this era of big campaigns and mega-gifts, colleges and universities have raised more money even though fewer alumni are giving.
But the implications of this trend cannot be ignored.
Alumni participation rates can have a major impact on institutional reputation. U.S. News & World Report considers undergraduate alumni participation rates a barometer of alumni satisfaction and factors them into its rankings. No matter how you feel about rankings, they are a big deal. Rankings create reputation, reputation affects enrollment, and enrollment affects tuition revenue.
But it’s bigger than that. Substantial participation allows us to build a broad base of support and expand the pipeline for major gifts and future campaigns. Mega-gifts may have helped educational institutions raise more money over the past several decades, but relying on them isn’t a stable model. What if the pipeline dries up? And while a large group of supportive alumni can influence the direction of their school and its effect on the world, putting the future of our institutions in the hands of a relative few is not in our best interest.
It’s time to ask some new questions and set better goals for our institutions. It’s time to examine what is and isn’t working in our advancement practices and to look at how we can provide the best service to our alumni base.
Why Participation Rates Are Falling
As colleges and universities increase their student population, they’re also producing more alumni. This means that many institutions need to add more donors each year just to maintain the same levels of alumni participation. This makes it difficult to keep up the pace, but it also distracts us from the real problem: Alumni today (especially young alumni) have different attitudes and needs. The world has changed, and so have the ways and reasons alumni relate to their institutions. Unfortunately, we in advancement haven’t adapted.
Historically, the value offered to alumni has run along two tracks. First, alumni (as students) received an experience that taught them how to think, helped them form lifelong relationships, and prepared them to live and succeed after graduation. For many, this included job training. Back when the cost of this experience was relatively low, alumni felt like they had gotten a deal and were more willing to give back after they graduated. Imagine going to a restaurant and getting a delicious meal, wonderful service, and a great glass of wine—all for less than 20 bucks! You’d probably be inclined to leave a big tip, right? More important—from the restaurant’s point of view—you’d be likely to eat there again.
In the last decade, the price index for U.S. college tuition rates grew by nearly 80 percent—almost twice as fast as growth in medical care and more than twice as fast as the overall consumer price index, according to U.S. Labor Department statistics. Although tuition increases have slowed recently, data from the College Board suggests that federal aid has not kept up with rising costs, resulting in students and families paying more out-of-pocket expenses. A regular patron of a restaurant might not be so inclined to leave a tip if prices go up but the food quality remains the same.
On the second track, colleges and universities have offered value in the form of connectivity. Alumni associations and alumni relations programs were uniquely positioned to connect alumni through class reunions, regional chapters, alumni magazines, and alumni directories. They also connected alumni to personal and professional development opportunities through events, trips, and networking programs.
But in recent years, things have changed a lot. Tuition and fees have risen at an alarming rate. Many graduates are burdened with debt and don’t think they owe anything more. Few alumni understand why higher education has gotten so expensive—and few institutions have adequately explained that phenomenon.
Alumni are like the iconic old lady in the 1984 Wendy’s commercial who asked, “Where’s the beef?” It is a valid question.
Update Messages and Tools for a New Generation
To effectively serve our alumni, we need to examine what is no longer working:
- We have relied too long on traditional tools. Contact rates for student phonathons, once the lifeblood of many annual giving programs, have plummeted as the world moves further online and mobile phones become more prevalent: Less than 58 percent of annual donors in 2012 came from mail appeals or phonathon programs, according to the Annual Giving Network. The remaining 42 percent arrived through online channels and other sources.
- We haven’t updated our terminology. Too many annual giving programs still appeal for “unrestricted” gifts and use slogans like “give back.” Well, consider those terms for a second. “Unrestricted” simply doesn’t resonate anymore: The CAE reports that the percentage of total private support to unrestricted current operations has been cut in half at private and public institutions since 1984. And how can we expect alumni to give back when they haven’t finished paying the original bill?
- Alumni no longer need us to stay connected. Before social media, colleges and universities were the gatekeepers to alumni information and networks. Today, online platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn are far more likely to have current information on our alumni than our own increasingly archaic databases. If I want to find an old classmate, I go to Facebook. If I need to develop my business or career, LinkedIn can open doors through peer connections and networking groups. I have options—lots of them. Good for me, maybe bad for my alma mater.
In a fast-moving world of likes and hashtags, the old benefits alone are no longer working. We need to find new services and develop new strategies. We need to rethink our role so that it involves a little more investment and a little less control.
Avoid the Crisis
Despite the overall decline nationally, some institutions have successfully increased their alumni giving rates in recent years. How did they do it? By following these steps:
- Make alumni participation a priority. Increasing the number of gifts doesn’t happen on its own; it takes an effort. Virginia’s Christopher Newport University, which has doubled its participation rate in the past five years, has put this goal front and center in its campaign case statement and directed resources to support student and young alumni engagement. Successful universities also focus on student giving—Mount St. Mary’s University, a small Catholic institution in Maryland, nearly tripled its senior class gift participation rate over a four-year period. This played a huge role in helping the university increase its overall alumni participation rate from 17 percent to 24 percent in just a few years.
- Take a fresh and data-driven approach to annual giving. Don’t include stale clichés like “give back” in your appeals. Tell stories about gift impact (and not just the impact of big gifts) and translate those into tangible ideas. On its website, Stanford University in California tells young alumni what their gifts added up to, allowing them to quantify their contributions: “Put another way, that’s about eight scholarships, nine research grants, and three student groups.” These institutions recognize the importance of restricted giving as a way of fulfilling special interests and providing transparency to donors. The University of California, San Diego, credits much of its success to ditching an organization-centric model in favor of a donor-centric model. The institution uses data to focus on donors’ specific interests, rather than trying to force-feed what the university may want alumni to support.
- Celebrate consistent support. Encourage, recognize, and reward donor loyalty, and tell alumni (especially younger alumni) that consistent giving is just as important as major giving. The Oak Leaf Society has helped Vanderbilt University in Tennessee increase alumni participation by recognizing donors who make gifts of any amount, to any area of the university, for two or more consecutive fiscal years. At Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, you can only be a member of the Harold C. Ripley ’29 Society if you make a gift, of any amount, every year after graduation.
- Support professional development. Colleges and universities today need to provide lifelong career development for alumni-online and offline. Virginia’s James Madison University, which has increased its alumni participation rate every year for the past five years, credits some of its success to the goodwill created by career programs and services. The University of Chicago has done substantial work to develop affinity groups that benefit alumni professionally and personally.
- Embrace social media. Successful institutions are thinking outside of their own databases, and becoming more interested in determining how to add value to existing networks than being gatekeepers to information. Several years ago, my team at Boston University started a LinkedIn group to help alumni network and seek career advice. One problem: A self-starting alumnus had already created an alumni group a few years earlier. Our BU-based group struggled to grow because alumni assumed that his group—which was significantly larger—was the official one. His group, however, soon became overrun with spam, irrelevant content, and members who had no affiliation with the university because (despite all good intentions) he lacked the resources to maintain the group. What resulted were two competing groups, neither of which was effective. Picture two gardens side by side, one overrun with weeds and preventing the other from getting sunlight and nutrients. The situation was confusing to our alumni and made it difficult for either group to serve the needs of the network. After some negotiation, we reached an agreement with the alumnus and are now combining both groups. Did this require us to rethink our role? Absolutely. But we’re creating a better space where our alumni will find unique value from their affiliation with the university.
Value in Numbers
Prior to graduation, Boston University’s president has been known to ask seniors to think of their diploma as if it were a stock certificate. As the quality of the institution grows, so does the value of their degree. If we expect alumni to invest in our institutions, we need to offer that value long after they graduate.
Higher education in the United States is a treasure. If we continue down the current path, the future won’t be as bright. Our institutions and alumni will lose something if we rely on mega-gifts to support advancement efforts. Beholden to a relative few, our schools will give up flexibility and autonomy. Our alumni will give up something just as important: their voice.
If alumni support continues its decline, those voices run the risk of going unheard.
Applying a “Do Not Call” code (or any of the many “Do Not Contact” codes that exist on our databases) to a prospect record is a pretty extreme measure. That’s why it’s important that a prospect’s true intentions are clearly understood, accurately recorded, and kept up to date. But that isn’t always as simple as it sounds.
Intentions can be misunderstood or inaccurately recorded. For example, “Now is not a good time” might sound a lot like “Don’t ever call again!” when it’s coming out of the mouth of an irritated prospect. And it’s not uncommon for major gift officers to use “Do Not Call” codes to prevent their prospects from receiving annual fund appeals. (For the record, they should NEVER do this!)
The Annual Giving team at The University of Kentucky periodically reviews the comments associated with all of their “Do Not Call” requests. In doing so they noticed that, while some records had been coded for very legitimate reasons (e.g., “hard of hearing”), there were other reasons that didn’t seem as credible.
“Quite a few of our prospects cited the performance of our basketball team as a reason for not wanting to be called.”, says Anne Vanderhorst, Director of Annual Giving at The University of Kentucky. “But after winning our 8th National Championship, we thought it might be time reconsider some of our exclusions.”
So they sent a “We Miss You” postcard to every person who had been coded “Do Not Call” three or more years ago. The postcard informed prospects that they would be returned to the university’s calling pool unless they contacted the office and requested otherwise. It included simple instructions for those who wanted to continue being excluded.
“We sent the postcard to just under 5,500 prospects”, says Vanderhorst, “and we received less than 175 phone calls from prospects wanting to continue their exclusion. The remaining records were returned to the calling pool.”
Life is full of unexpected twists and turns. People can be misunderstood and sometimes they simply change their minds. So, when someone uses extreme and permanent words like “forever” and “never”, it’s ok to make sure they mean it.
Today, we collect and store mountains of information on our prospects – work they do, gifts they make, events they attend, groups they belong to, and opinions they share. All too often, though, our big data sits in our big databases and leaves us at a big loss for to how to use it.
How can we make our databases smaller?
Predictive modeling (the use of statistics to predict an outcome) can help. It’s the same tool used by meteorologists to forecast the weather and by banks to evaluate someone’s likelihood to repay a loan. It can be also be used by fundraisers to segment a prospect pool, to decide how to allocate limited resource, and to make our vast databases feel smaller. Modeling can help to:
- Rate an individual’s likelihood to make a gift
- Determine the optimal solicitation channel for a prospect
- Set appropriate ask amounts
According to last year’s AGN survey, 1 out of 3 annual giving program leaders considers predictive modeling to be an important part of their strategy. What’s particularly interesting is that this group also reported higher response rates for their direct appeals when compared with programs that did not consider it to be important. Perhaps predictive modeling isn’t as popular as it is effective.
Title: Pushing The Envelope – Rethinking Direct Mail Strategy
Date: December 9, 2014 at 1:00 PM EDT (60 minutes)
Presenter: Meredith Blair, Executive Director of Annual Giving & Regional Advancement – UC San Diego
Click here to register today! Save $50 off the regular price when you register before November 21st.
Marketing, communications, and media have changed dramatically in recent years. But, make no mistake – direct mail is alive and well. In fact, direct mail is still the primary driver of donors and dollars at most annual giving programs today. Now, through data, analysis, and market research, we have an opportunity to rethink our mailings in new ways that improves results without increasing costs.
Register online for your entire team to learn how to develop a creative, efficient, and effective direct mail strategy for your Annual Fund.
What You Will Learn
Whether you’re a large, complex annual giving program or a one-person shop, our expert instructor will share ideas that are easy to implement, including:
- Strategies for acquiring, reactivating, retaining, and upgrading donors through direct mail
- Methods for leveraging analytics and market research to improve response rates and return on investment
- Tactics that don’t require a big budget
- Examples that have worked at other institutions
- And more
Click here to register today!
Asking for money doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Whether you’re a phonathon caller or a front line development officer, here are a few guidelines to consider for your next solicitation:
- Little yeses can lead to big yeses – warm up your prospective donors by asking them simple questions about themselves framed in a positive way. Are you enjoying this beautiful fall weather we’re having?
- Preface each ask with a reason – know your case for support. Click here if you need some ideas.
- Be specific, confident and precise – always ask for a specific amount. Avoid casual second attempts that start out like, “we’ll then how about…”
- Set the bar high – if at first you don’t succeed, you can always try again with a smaller amount. Once they say yes, you can’t ask for more.
- Make it palatable or symbolic – giving $83.33 each month may be easier to swallow than giving $1,000 all at once. If it’s participation that you seek, consider asking them for a penny per grad year (e.g., $20.11 for someone who graduated in 2011.)
- Be prepared to overcome objections – familiarize yourself with common refusal reasons. Prepare (and practice) a response to each one. I understand. That is a lot of money, but we never know unless we ask.
- The one who speaks first loses – don’t let an awkward silence get the better of you. After your ask, sit quietly and wait for them to respond.
Above all remember that it’s a conversation, not an auction. People make their own decisions about giving. You’re just there to lend a hand.
The term alum refers to any of various double sulfates of a trivalent metal such as aluminum, chromium, or iron and a univalent metal such as potassium or sodium.
While I imagine that alum may be quite interesting to a scientist or an engineer, it’s not clear how useful it is to those of us who work in advancement.
On the other hand, an alumnus (male) or alumna (female) is a former student (often a graduate) of a school, college, or university. The term alumnae is used to describe a group of female former students and the term alumni describes a group of male former students or a group of mixed sexes.
Words do matter.
Do you work in development or alumni relations? Are you interested in annual giving? Would you like to know more about the latest trends in our field? Could you use more data to help inform your strategy, improve your results, and guide your career?
If so, make sure you SIGN-UP TODAY to receive a free copy The Annual Giving Network’s 2014 Survey Report, which will uncover answers to the following questions and more:
- What’s a bigger priority for annual giving programs today: donors or dollars?
- How much do annual giving leaders earn today?
- Can “giving days” and crowdfunding really improve results?
- Which vendors and consultants are recommended by your peers?
- Are phonathon programs successfully adapting to the mobile migration?
- What ROI should you expect for your direct mail program?
- How are successful annual giving programs using social media?
Nearly 200 organizations participated in this year’s survey. The final report will be available soon!
CLICK HERE to have a free copy of the survey report emailed to you as soon as it’s available.
For more information, please contact email@example.com