By most accounts, March is a pretty important time. It’s when spring begins, when we celebrate women’s history month, and when the best teams in college basketball compete for the national title in a tournament that’s become known as March Madness.
At SUNY Oswego, March is also when GOLD alumni (i.e., Graduate of the Last Decade) are challenged to increase their participation in the annual fund. They call it March Matchness.
The rules are simple. The annual fund sets a goal of securing a specific number of GOLD donors in March. If the goal is reached, then a generous donor (who’s often a recent graduate) agrees to award a prize in the form of a leadership level donation to the university.
In the first year alone, the goal was surpassed by over 25%, doubling the amount of money raised and tripling the number of March gifts from recent graduates compared to the previous year. What’s even more impressive is that, in every year since the challenge started, half of each year’s GOLD donors give in March.
Joy Knopp, SUNY Oswego’s Director of Annual Giving describes March Matchness as, “a great way to get GOLD alumni engaged and motivated to make a gift. Since the focus is on participation rather than gift size, many alumni make a symbolic gift to honor their class year. For example, members of the class of 2011 are encouraged to donate $20.11.”
She adds, “When looking for a March Matcher (i.e., the challenge donor) we typically start with on members of the 10th Reunion Class. It’s particularly special to make a significant gift in a reunion year that’s also their last year as GOLD.”
At the beginning of each semester at Humboldt State University, the Phonathon gathers its student callers for a group photo. The image is used create postcards. Then, after every successful call, students use these postcards to write a handwritten thank you note on the back. On the front, they circle themselves.
“We implemented this idea several ago”, says Travis Williams, Director of Annual Giving at Humboldt State. “In a time of when telephone contact rates are declining, we wanted a way to personalize each and every call. The postcard not only allows us to thank our donors, but it reconnects them to the students.”
Williams jokes that the hardest part is getting all of the callers in one place at one time. He adds that another challenge is coordinating the postcards with the normal pledge letter process. This is overcome by attaching a sticky note (with donor database ID) to the postcard, so it can be inserted into the mail package during production.
“The best part is that this simple idea has led to a culture change in the call room”, says Williams. “Students now treat every phone call as a personal and ongoing conversation with alumni.”
The worst thing you can hear after soliciting a gift is, “yes.”
Why? Because it means that you didn’t ask for enough.
The truth is that you’ll never know how much someone will give unless you ask them. Whether it’s $10 or $10,000, people are more likely to donate a specific amount when they are asked for a specific amount. But, once they’ve said yes, you can’t go back and ask for more (at least not right away.) On the other hand, when someone says no it creates an opportunity for you to try again.
As the above chart shows, the majority of organizations (according to AGN’s 2013 survey) begin gift society membership between $1,000 and $1,499. However, when we analyzed those organizations that begin membership above $1,500, we found that revenue per alum was nearly double that of organizations below the $1,500 threshold.
It’s probably safe to assume that higher membership thresholds may result in fewer members. However, if you’re goal is to raise money, then your strategy should be clear. Set the bar high.
A career in Annual Giving can offer many rewards. It’s not only an opportunity to help great organizations achieve great things, but it’s a chance to meet and work with great people. It’s complex, challenging, and always changing. But what’s the earning potential?
According to AGN’s 2013 survey of 175 educational institutions, salaries for annual giving directors ranged from $26,500 to $182,000 and had a median of $70,000 (an increase of 4% over the previous year). The median number of years experience reported was 8, the median age was 39, and 68% of respondents were women.
Additionally (as the chart below shows) median salary for annual giving directors varies by organizational type. The highest earnings were at private colleges and universities with more than 100,000 alumni, while the lowest earning were at small private colleges and universities with fewer than 100,000 alumni.
Click here to download a free copy of AGN’s 2013 Survey Report.
What is flapitude? It’s the “attitude of gratitude” displayed by 407 students, faculty and staff who gathered to flap their arms for five straight minutes to show their thanks for the university’s scholarship donors – a feat that, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, has never before been accomplished.
“We used the flapitude event to launch a new scholarship initiative on campus,” says Molly Robbins, Executive Director of The Saint Joseph’s Fund. “We thought it would help raise awareness about the impact of giving and allow us to thank our donors in the process. Our mascot (the hawk) never stops flapping just like we hope that our alumni will never stop being part of our community and never stop supporting the university.”
As they hoped, people did show up and word spread quickly afterward. In fact, it was featured on ESPN’s play of the day and an adjudicator from Guinness was in attendance to make sure that it was accurately recorded for the books.
But even though the event was a big success, it also left the university with some important questions to consider. If inspiring a culture of philanthropy involves broadening awareness about the impact of giving, what else does it involve? And, while flapitude may be a good start, what else needs to be done to keep alumni engaged and supporting their alma mater year after year?
There are many circumstances in which this is a very valid request – like when someone has specifically asked not to receive appeals or when a prospect is going to be solicited for a major gift in the next few months. There are other times, however, when it’s not valid – like when the gifts officer claims that they’re developing a relationship with a prospect and fear that an annual appeal will derail that effort.
One of the fundamental differences between annual and major giving is time. Annual giving campaigns are relatively short with the primary goal of maximizing participation. When they’re complete, you get to learn from your missteps and (if there weren’t too many) try things again for the next 12 months.
Major giving, on the other hand, is a much slower process with the goal of producing a few significant donations that will have a major and lasting impact. It can take years to cultivate a major gift and, when missteps are made, you don’t often get a second chance.
If you look up the word “exclude” in a thesaurus and you find synonyms like alienate, omit, segregate, reject, disenfranchise, and marginalize. Whether we work in annual or major giving, it’s likely we don’t want any of these things for our prospects.
So, next time a major gift officer asks to have a prospect excluded from annual appeals because they are working on developing a relationship, politely remind them that giving makes a relationship stronger. Then, offer to work with them to produce a personal appeal – something that makes the prospect feel noticed and special, something that makes them feel part of something important, something that makes them feel included.
For football fans, halftime can be a welcome respite – an opportunity to discuss the highlights and follies of the first two quarters, freshen up, or refill the salsa bowl.
Halftime (i.e., 6 months into a fiscal year) is an important time in annual giving too. It gives us a chance to pause, reflect, and recalibrate. It’s also a time when someone (probably a boss or volunteer) will inevitably ask you, “So, how’s the annual fund doing?” When this happens, don’t get caught off guard. Make sure you have some data.
HOW IS YOUR ANNUAL GIVING PROGRAM DOING THROUGH DEC 2013?
Reciting how much money has been raised and how many people have donated may be a good place to start, but these metrics (alone) don’t provide any context for how the program is really doing. You should also be able to explain how these data compare with your program’s performance at the same time last year and how your results compare with other institutions.
The above chart might help. It shows the results of a recent AGN poll of 46 annual giving programs in which 77% report being up in revenue and 56% report being up in donors through December 2013. What’s more, 43% reported being up in both compared to the same time last year.
Understanding how your program is doing comparatively will not only give you more credibility, but it will put you in a better position to address the more important question that follows: Why?
During the 1992 U.S. Presidential Campaign, James Carville coined the phrase, “The Economy, Stupid” as one of his party’s core messages.
What the democratic strategist meant was that it’s often the economy, above all other issues, that influences an election. And, in 1992, he may have been right. Bill Clinton went on to defeat George H. W. Bush, who’s approval rating declined from 90% to 64% during the recession of the early 1990s.
As fundraisers, we spend a lot of time looking for those things that influence our campaigns. We’re always asking WHY? Did we get the donor’s attention? Did we ask for the right amount? Was our case compelling? These things are, in theory, within our control. But what about those things that are out of our control?
The above chart (compliments of CAE and Marts & Lundy) shows the trend in annual giving (i.e., current unrestricted gifts) compared to major economic indicators at 50 private research universities over the past decade. One could conclude that there is a correlation between annual giving and the economy.
There will always be things that are beyond our control – individual moods, institutional scandals, the economy. The truth is that your best chance to influence an outcome has nothing to do with analyzing these things. It does, however, have everything to do with identifying happy prospects, hiring quality callers, recruiting passionate volunteers, articulating a case, demonstrating gift impact, and going good stewardship.
Focus on the things that are within your control. Focusing on anything else is just, well, stupid.
In January 1943, Woody Guthrie (American folks music legend) wrote down a list of 33 resolutions in his diary. He called them rulins – personal promises (like learn people better and dream good) to help start the year on the right note.
With 2014 underway, The Annual Giving Network (AGN) has some rulins of its own. To begin, we’ve launched a new look to our website - AnnualGiving.com - where we promise to post the latest information, ideas, and job opportunities to help advance your program and career.
AGN also promises to expand its educational webinar and workshop series. If you’re interested in being a presenter at one of our workshops or webinars, please let us know by clicking here.
To help you get started a good note, here are 10 Annual Giving Rulins for 2014.
- Send more handwritten thank you notes
- Encourage monthly giving
- Benchmark phonathon metrics with peers
- Train your callers to be better listeners
- See who your donors are following on Twitter
- Take a major gifts officer to lunch every month
- Do predictive modeling to determine who you should (and shouldn’t) mail
- Research prospects using LinkedIn
- Survey lapsed donors to find out why they stopped giving
- Subscribe to AGN’s monthly newsletter – you can do so here.
The following chart shows the monthly breakdown (as a % of the annual total) for annual fund revenue (blue line) and gifts (red line) for one organization last fiscal year. It’s clear that that highest volume for both metrics comes in December and June. This should come as no surprise considering that these mark the end of the calendar and fiscal years, two periods when most organizations concentrate their fundraising appeals. Look closer, though, and you’ll see something else. While the single biggest month for gifts is December, the single biggest month for revenue is June. What’s more is that the average gift is nearly 40% higher in June then it is in December. Why is this?
Consider that almost everyone in the U.S. is aware of the calendar year and, for many donors, a tax deduction can be a significant motivator. Far fewer, though, are in tune with organizational fiscal years. They’re internal constructs and often lost on the masses. However, there are some donors that do understand our fiscal years. Who are they?
It’s likely that some of them are our volunteers and our leaders – our committees, our councils, and our boards. They’re in tune with our fiscal years because we engage them in our work, we ask them to help us set and monitor our goals, and we support them as the voice of our appeals. We do, don’t we?