It’s Not About The Money

Posted on 08/26/2015 - by Dan Allenby

Impact ImageToo often we focus on the money. It’s tempting to talk about our ambitious campaign goals or celebrate how much was generously donated to the Annual Fund. But, when we do, we miss the point. It’s not about the money. It’s about what the money does.

Ask someone to explain the role of stewardship in annual giving and they might tell you about the acknowledgement letters they produce, the donor rosters they publish, and the plaques that hang in their institution’s hallways. While these are all important aspects of stewardship, they’re secondary to the task to showing donors how their gifts have made a difference.

Each year, The Boston College Fund produces impact reports. Published online, these reports are filled with pictures, videos, and stories about the impact of annual giving on the lives of students and faculty. Donors are sent an email letting them know that the reports are available.

In addition, donors receive quarterly impact emails, which come from an individual student or faculty member who has benefited directly from annual giving. They include compelling stories and specific examples of how donor support has made a difference in their lives.

In the first year after launching their impact reports, Boston College saw an increase in their donor retention rate. But that’s not the only way they knew their efforts were effective. “The emails that we get back from donors after receiving these tell us that they’re worthwhile”, say Theresa Lee, Executive Director of Annual Giving. “Many of the responses are heartfelt. Sometimes, it can be emotional to read them.”

The impact reports and emails are coordinated as part of the university’s donor loyalty program known as The Neenan Society. Click here to learn more.

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Webinar: Planning a Giving Day

Posted on 08/19/2015 - by Dan Allenby

Thursday, October 1st at 1PM EDT (60 minutes)

Presented by Skylar Beaver, Director of Annual Giving at Washington and Lee University

Click here to learn more or REGISTER TODAY!


Giving Days or “flash campaigns” are gaining popularity in the fundraising world as a way to build excitement and urgency around giving while highlighting the impact of donor support. In addition to attracting new and reactivating past donors, Giving Days can also be an effective way to improve collaboration between departments and strengthen the sense of community around campus.

Register online to learn how to plan and execute a successful Giving Day for your institution.


  • Guidelines for setting goals, securing challenge gifts, and developing a project timeline
  • Methods for creating an effective website and using social media to promote the event
  • Tactics for engaging current volunteers and recruiting new ones
  • Examples from different institutions
  • And more!


  • Access to the LIVE webinar; invite your entire team (1 log-in per registration)
  • Your questions answered by an expert
  • Copies of the presentation materials and resources
  • List of event participants so you can expand your network
  • Link to watch a recording of the webinar following the live event


Skylar Beaver is the Director of Annual Giving at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA where she oversees a multi-channel solicitation program including reunion giving, class agents, young alumni and student philanthropy. Previously, she served as the Director of the Annual Fund at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY. She is an active member and past Chair of STAFF (Sharing the Annual Fund Fundamentals) and holds a B.A. in Sociology from Hobart and William Smith Colleges and a M.P.A in nonprofit management from SUNY Brockport.

Click here to learn more or REGISTER TODAY!


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Email Subject Lines: The New Battleground

Posted on 08/12/2015 - by Dan Allenby

CastleAn envelope has two jobs. The first is to get delivered to the right mailbox. The second is to get opened.

The envelope is the battleground for an annual fund’s print appeals. Getting someone someone to open it gets you one step closer to the castle. Similarly, getting someone to answer a phonathon call or getting someone to take a meeting with a gift officer is a key step in ultimately getting someone to make a donation.

In email, the battleground is the subject line. It’s the first (and quite possibly the only) thing that a prospect will see, which is why it’s so important to choose your words carefully. Keep in mind that your donors are likely getting dozens if not hundreds of other emails each day, so you need to make sure your subject lines stand out, get noticed and resonate. Here’s how:

  • Grab their attention – Be concise and direct. Pull them in and make them want to read more. Try to make it read like a newspaper headline.
  • Generate curiosity – Ask questions like “Is your name on this list?” or try numbered phrases “6 reasons you should donate today”
  • Make it relevant – The point is not to trick someone into opening your email. The point is to get those who will be interested in what’s inside to open it. It’s better to have a lower open rate and a higher click through or conversion rate than the other way around. If you have a video to share then let them know it with a subject line like “Watch this video!”
  • Create urgency – Use deadlines. Let them know if “Time is running out” or if it’s their “Last chance” to get their gift matched. Year ends and challenges provide natural opportunities to create a sense of urgency.
  • Beware of spam filters – Certain phrases or characters can cause your emails to get flagged as mass emails and automatically dumped in “junk” or “spam” folders where it’s likely you’re alumni will never even see them. To avoid this, try not to use words like “Free” or “Exclusive” in your subject line and shy away from using special characters or capital letters. If it sounds or looks like something a sleazy sales person might say, than there’s a good chance it’ll end up in a spam filter.

Considering all the time it takes to create compelling content for your email appeals, don’t rush the subject line. Take time to think about it carefully. Come up with a few options and share them with others for their feedback.

Once you’re inside the castle, your chances of victory go way up.

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Overcoming Objections

Posted on 08/05/2015 - by Dan Allenby

DisguiseThe worst thing you can hear after asking someone for a gift is “yes.” Why? Because it means you could have asked for more. But what do you do when you hear “no?”

Whether you’re on the front lines or working in a call center, the ability to overcome objections is a skill that every fundraiser needs. To keep the conversation alive after someone declines your initial request, you should:

  • Keep it positive. Remember that little yeses lead to bigger yeses.
  • Be specific, confident, and concise. Avoid sluggish talk like “well then” or “how about.”
  • Acknowledge their concerns. Lead with phrases like “I understand” and “I’m sorry to hear that.”
  • Insert a reason before each subsequent ask.

While it’s easy to let “no” get you down, it can actually be a chance to engage a prospect in a meaningful conversation and (possibly) change the way they they think about your institution. Here are some common objections with suggestions for how you can respond. If they say:

  • “This is not a good time” then you say, “Of course. Is there a better time when we could call you back?”
  • “That’s more than I can afford” then you say, “I understand. Is there a specific amount that would be more comfortable for you?”
  • “I had a bad experience with the institution” then you say, “I’m sorry to hear that. Have you considered that your gift could ensure that others have a better experience?”
  • “I don’t like the direction the organization is headed” then you say, “I’ll make a note of your concern. Please know that the institution listens carefully to its supportive alumni.”
  • “My gift won’t make a difference” then you say, “Every gift counts. Participation rates can have a positive impact on institutional rankings and often influence major donors and foundations.”

Sometimes no simply means no. Other times it’s just an opportunity in disguise.

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You Are Perfect

Posted on 07/29/2015 - by Dan Allenby

Donor retention rates measure the portion of prior year donors who give again in the following year. For competitive colleges and universities this is often around 60 percent. For new donors (i.e., those who made their first gift in the prior year) retention rates can be much lower – often below 20 percent. In the case of recent graduates who made their first gift as part of their senior class gift campaign, it’s not unusual for retention rates to be below 10 percent.

To reduce this kind of attrition and to highlight the importance of ongoing support by new alumni, the Penn Fund launched its “You Are Perfect” campaign. It started several years ago as a fiscal-year-end postcard sent to all first year alumni who had donated to their senior class gift campaign in the prior year. The message was simple: You Are Perfect. Don’t Change!


The initial mailing generated a 14% response rate and accounted for one quarter of all giving from the class. In recognition for their gifts, donors received personal acknowledgement letters and were listed as “perfect donors” in the university’s donor roster publication. In the following year, they rolled it out to all graduates of the past four years with perfect giving records. It generated a 16% response rate and accounting for 10% of giving by pre-5th reunion classes.

Encouraging consistent giving (regardless of the gift amount) by recent graduates not only helps to increase retention rates each year, but its one of the most important things you can do to boost your alumni participation rates over the long term.

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Webinar: Cultivating Student Philanthropy

Posted on 07/22/2015 - by Dan Allenby

Tuesday, September 1st at 1PM EDT (60 minutes)

Presented by Missy Kennedy, Director of Annual Giving at the University of North Carolina Wilmington

Click here to learn more or REGISTER TODAY!

Missy Kennedy PhotoBuilding a culture of philanthropy begins with students, which is why it is so important to engage and support them before they graduate. Through events, volunteers, and multi-channel marketing efforts, you can teach students why giving matters and how they can make a difference in the life of their institution.

Register online for your entire team to learn how to develop student philanthropy programs that will entertain, educate and encourage the next generation of support for your institution.


  • Strategies for teaching students about philanthropy’s impact
  • Tactics for engaging and supporting student groups and volunteers
  • Methods for designing successful student and senior class giving campaigns
  • Examples that have worked at other institutions
  • And more


  • Access to the LIVE webinar; invite your entire team (limit 1 login per registration)
  • Have your questions answered by an expert
  • Copies of the presentation materials and resources
  • List of event participants so you can expand your network
  • Link to watch a recording of the webinar following the live event


Missy Kennedy is the Director of Annual Giving at the University of North Carolina Wilmington where she oversees the development and execution of alumni, parent, faculty-staff, and student giving campaigns. Her 15-year career in annual giving, marketing and promotions includes work with NextMedia Group and House of Blues. She holds a bachelors degree in Communication Studies from UNC Wilmington and her programs have received CASE’s Special Merit and Grand Excellence Awards.

Click here to learn more or REGISTER TODAY!


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Reporting Alumni Participation Rates

Posted on 07/15/2015 - by Dan Allenby

Alumni Giving ImageColleges and universities are free to publish alumni participation rates however they want within their own materials and communications. However, there are two organizations that every annual giving program should pay attention to when it comes to reporting them externally. They are the Council for Aid to Education (CAE) and US News & World Report.

CAE sends its annual VSE survey to educational institutions each summer requesting giving data for total alumni (graduate and undergraduate combined.) They also offer the option of providing additional data on undergraduate alumni specifically although it’s not required. Responses are due back around September and their annual report is published in May.

US News & World Report sends out its annual survey each April requesting data for undergraduate alumni only. This data is used as part of it’s institutional rankings as it is viewed as an “indirect measure of student satisfaction.” Using the average percentage of living alumni with bachelors degrees who gave to the school during the previous two fiscal years, it counts alumni giving as 5% of the total ranking formula. Responses are due back in May and rankings are published in September.

Both organizations include the same three questions in the surveys as it relates to alumni giving:

  • Number of alumni of record
  • Number of alumni solicited
  • Number of alumni donors

Institutional alumni participation rates are calculated by dividing the number of alumni donors by the number of alumni of record. Alumni of record counts should include living alumni with a good address. They would not include any alumni records who are marked as deceased, lost, or inactive but would include records marked with any type of “do not solicit” code. Alumni donor counts should include any alumni record with hard or soft credit for making a monetary or in-kind gift to any designation within the previous fiscal year. Married spouses would each count as a donor even if they made only one gift.

The Council for the Advancement & Support of Education (CASE) offers the following FAQ on their website on counting gifts from alumni as it relates to reporting figures to CAE. These guidelines were developed by the CASE Commission on Alumni Relations in consultation with the CASE Commission on Philanthropy. For other purposes, transparency, consistency and accountability in reporting are encouraged and in the best interests of an institution and its various constituents.

Q: Should graduating seniors be included in alumni giving data?

A: Graduating seniors present an interesting dilemma. Often seniors make a gift in the latter part of their senior year but by the time the data is reported, they are alumni. Therefore, counting philanthropic gifts from seniors is acceptable as long as all seniors are counted among alumni of record. In other words, if gifts from graduating seniors are included in alumni giving data, then the complete cohort—all graduating seniors—must be included in the total alumni census. It is not acceptable to include seniors who donate but to exclude seniors who do not donate when calculating overall alumni giving. To report fair and accurate data, any donors reported in the numerator must have their entire cohort in the denominator.

Q: Is it appropriate to ask alumni for a minuscule amount of money ($1, for example) just to boost the percentage of alumni giving?

A: No. Our mission to build support for our institutions is not properly served by attempting to manipulate reporting data. Energies are best spent on sound practices to increase institutional support from alumni. Whether initiated by advancement staff or volunteers, it does not build greater support for the institution to ask alumni for “an extra dollar” to boost the class participation percentage. On the other hand, asking seniors in the Class of 2008 to give $20.08 as a means to capture their interest and encourage a habit of giving would be acceptable.

Q: Is it acceptable to count other income from alumni (such as magazine subscriptions, reunion fees, membership dues) toward alumni giving?

A: No. A good rule of thumb is to consider the donor’s intention in giving this money. If the donor intended to make a philanthropic gift to the institution, then it is a gift and should be reported. If the donor wrote a check to receive something in return—a magazine, admission to an event or membership in an organization—then the amount should not be considered in alumni giving totals, even if the donor receives a receipt from the institution.

Q: Is it appropriate to count a single donation over multiple years to boost the percentage of alumni giving?

A: When a donor makes a single gift with the expectation that the gift is a one-time gift, it is not appropriate to count the donor in more than one reporting year. Multi-year gifts and pledges are acceptable as long as the donor made the intention of a multiple-year commitment. Taking a single gift and counting it over multiple years without the donor’s knowledge or intention is not appropriate.

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5 Ways To Boost Contact Rates

Posted on 07/08/2015 - by Dan Allenby

Lucy Answering PhoneRunning a phonathon program isn’t cheap. Recruiting and training a staff of quality callers (not to mention maintaining the hardware and software in your call center) requires a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of money. Fortunately, phonathons have a lot of benefits. They have higher conversion rates than direct mail and email appeals, they’re an effective way to acquire new donors and upgrade current donors, and they’re the most efficient way to engage a lot of prospects in a personal way. But you can’t take advantage of any of these benefits if your prospects don’t pick up the phone.

Here’s are 5 ways to boost your phonathon’s contact rates and ensure that your callers talk to as many prospects as possible.

  1. Give them a heads up – Let prospects know you’ll be calling with some advance notice. Mail them a pre-call post card, send them a pre-call email, or even run a targeted pre-call ad on your facebook page.
  2. Target “phone-friendly” prospects – Don’t spend too much time calling people who have only responded to direct mail or email appeals in the past. Focus first on prospects who have responded to your phone calls in the past. For non-donor segments, try to identify those who share characteristics with your past phonathon responders.
  3. Let tired lists rest – Keep your lists as fresh as possible. Avoid calling the same prospects over and over when they don’t answer. Give segments a break after you’ve attempted them 3 or 4 times within a period of a couple weeks. After you’ve given them a break, then try putting them back in the calling pool.
  4. Mobilize – As the landline phone makes its way onto the endangered species list, it’s increasingly important to maintain good mobile phone numbers on all of your prospects. Create incentives for prospects to provide you with their mobile phone numbers and consider investing in mobile phone append services.
  5. Leave messages – Don’t assume that just because someone doesn’t answer your call that they don’t see you calling. It’s very possible that they’re screening your calls because they don’t know who you are or why your calling. Leaving a voicemail can actually increase the likelihood that they’ll answer next time you call. This is especially true for young alumni and parents.

Increasing your contact rates is key if you expect to raise more money and secure more donors through your phonathon. Remember, if you don’t hear “hello” they’ll be nothing to show.


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Posted on 07/01/2015 - by Dan Allenby

StopThe Annual Fund is always going.

There’s always an upcoming mailing to produce, another phone call to make, or a new thank you note to write. There’s always a prospect who has yet to connect (or reconnect) with your institution. There are always reports to run, pledgers to remind, and volunteers to support.

Annual Fund campaigns are like life. The most dramatic stuff happens at the beginning and the end, but it’s what happens in the middle that defines.

So when you find yourself at the end of your fundraising year, be sure to stop. Get away. Take a vacation. Don’t think about it. Clean the slate.

Because when you come back, it starts all over again.

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Webinar: Successful Crowdfunding

Posted on 06/24/2015 - by Dan Allenby

Tuesday, August 4th at 1PM EDT (60 minutes)

Presented by Meredith Blair, Executive Director of Annual Giving at UC San Diego

Click here to learn more or REGISTER TODAY!

Meredith_Blair_Head ShotCrowdfunding is about more than just raising money online. It’s a tool to help engage students and faculty, generate awareness, and build a culture of philanthropy. It can also help identify new fundraising opportunities while highlighting the innovative work that takes place on your campus every day.

Whether you’re just starting out or trying improve on your existing crowdfunding program, understanding best practices will ensure that you get the highest return for your time and budget.



  • Processes for identifying and supporting viable projects
  • Methods for engaging leadership and driving participation
  • Guidelines for ensuring proper stewardship and retention
  • Examples of successful projects from different institutions
  • And more


  • Access to the LIVE webinar; invite your entire team (limit 1 connection per registration)
  • Have your questions answered by an expert
  • Copies of the presentation materials and resources
  • List of event participants so you can expand your network
  • Link to watch a recording of the webinar following the live event


Meredith Blair is the Executive Director of Annual Giving & Regional Advancement at The University of California San Diego, where she oversees multi-channel marketing and development programs across the university. Previously, she served as the Associate Vice President for Annual Giving at Oklahoma State University and as an Executive Communications Specialist at Southwest Airlines. An active instructor and presenter with CASE, she holds a M.A. in Literature and a B.A. in Communications from the University of North Texas.

Click here to learn more or REGISTER TODAY!


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