Black Cat Week

Posted on 04/15/2015 - by Dan Allenby

Black Cat ImageAgnes Scott College doesn’t hold back when it comes to engaging all of its students in philanthropy. “We’re a women’s college so, in lieu of a fall football homecoming event, we celebrate Black Cat Week”, said Meghan Spencer Assistant Director of the Fund for Agnes Scott. “Throughout the week various competitions take place between all four classes. Points are awarded for answering trivia questions, winning field events, creating campus decorations, and giving to the Annual Fund.”

Agnes Scott’s Black Cat Week tradition began in 1915 as a “contest of wits” between first-year students and sophomores, as a substitute for freshman hazing and named in honor of a favorite professor’s pet. Annual Fund participation was added to the competition in 2007.

The effectiveness of each class’s fundraising effort often depends on two things: leadership and competitive spirit. Each class elects a service chair to head up the effort. Successful classes often have service chairs that are proactive about generating lists and soliciting their peers. Many volunteers get the attention of their classmates by setting up tables in prominent campus locations like the dining hall.

Class fundraising results are announced at the end of the week as part of Junior Production, a satiric variety show written and performed by the Junior Class. Class participation in the Black Cat campaign averages 16 percent for freshmen, 19 percent for sophomores, 25 percent for juniors and 36 percent for seniors. For seniors this week also forms the “nucleus fund’ for the senior gift campaign in the Spring, which has averaged 83 percent participation since 2004.

Spencer points out that there are numerous opportunities throughout the week to share stories about the impact of the gifts and she often overhears students talking with their peers about the annual fund without being unprompted by her or other staff. She also notes that, regardless of how much money is raised, it helps educate all students about philanthropy before their senior gift campaign even begins…and gives students a chance to have some fun in the process.

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The George Eastman Circle

Posted on 04/08/2015 - by Dan Allenby

Rochester_George Eastman Circle LogoIt started as a back of a napkin idea when The University of Rochester was making plans to launch a major comprehensive fundraising campaign. Its leadership knew the campaign wouldn’t be considered a success unless it built a strong prospect base and inspired a “community of leaders”

It was with these goals in mind that they launched The George Eastman Circle, a new leadership giving society for the annual fund. While gift societies are certainly not unusual for colleges and universities, this one was unique in that membership requires a multi-year commitment at a leadership level.

With a minimum pledge of $7,500 (i.e., $1,500 per year for five years), members are able to support their passions and interests with a gift to any of the university’s 200+ annual funds. In return, they’re given access to exclusive leadership networking events and recognized as leaders in the online donor roster. Additionally, “Plus One” events are offered periodically where members can bring a friend.

“There was a lot of effort (and a lot of fanfare) spent on securing charter membership during the first two years of the program”, said Martha Krohn, AVP for Advancement & Annual Giving Programs. “We set a goal of 250 charter members and ended up with 1,087.  For the next few years, we’ll focus on renewing charter members, whose pledges are now beginning to expire. We’ll also be launching regional councils to provide volunteer opportunities to our members and key volunteers.”

As of 2013, The George Eastman Circle has welcomed more than 2,650 members and raised over $50 million for the university’s annual fund. Click here to learn more and view the program’s website.

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Webinar: Email Strategy for Annual Giving

Posted on 04/01/2015 - by Dan Allenby

Tuesday, May 12th at 1pm EDT (60 min)

Presented by Liz Sullivan – Senior Digital Fundraising Strategist at U. of Chicago

Click here to learn more or REGISTER TODAY!

Liz Sullivan PictureEmail has become an essential part of every successful annual giving program. But making sure your emails get opened, read and most importantly yield a response requires a lot more than just a catchy subject line. It requires authenticity and creativity as well as thoughtful attention to content, design, segmentation, and integration.

Register online for your entire team to learn how to use email to raise more money and secure more donors for your Annual Fund.



  • Strategies for planning successful email campaigns
  • Tactics for maximizing open, click through, and conversion rates
  • Methods for building effective segments and analyzing results
  • Examples that have worked at other institutions
  • And more


  • Access to the LIVE webinar: invite your entire team
  • Guarantee to have your questions answered by an expert
  • List of event participants so you can expand your network
  • Copies of the presentation materials and resources
  • Link to watch a recording of the webinar for 60 days following the live event


Liz Sullivan is a Senior Digital Fundraising Strategist and Interim Director of Marketing & Participation at The University of Chicago where she oversees email, social media, and online marketing programs for the Office of Annual Giving.

Previously she served as The Director of Marketing Services at the American Bar Association. She holds BA from Northern Illinois University and is a Gates Award Recipient.

Click here to learn more or REGISTER TODAY!

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Ugly Betty

Posted on 03/25/2015 - by Dan Allenby

Ugly-Betty-PictureThey call her Ugly Betty. And, while she may be lacking in fashion sense, she knows a thing or two about renewing gifts from prior donors. Who is she? She’s a no-frills direct mail package that’s gaining popularity among annual giving programs. She doesn’t contain a wordy case for support or compelling pictures. In fact, she looks more like an invoice than a traditional fundraising appeal.

There’s a lot of noise out there” says one annual fund manager referring to mailboxes cluttered with charity appeals and consumer offers, “and Ugly Betty helps convey our most important message in a succinct way. In addition to our more traditional letters, we send as many as four Ugly Betties to our recently lapsed donors each year.”

Megan Doud, Director of Annual Giving at The University of Michigan, describes Ugly Betty as one of their most successful appeals (see sample below.) “On average, we see a 14% response rate for prior year donors and 3.5% response rate for 1-2 year lapsed donors. Some schools and colleges see response rates from priors of around 20-25%!” See an example below.

Today’s donors are busy. Even those who are committed to supporting your organization can use a little reminder now and then. Ugly Betty may not be the best approach when it comes to acquiring new donors, but she may be able to help you convey an important message to your most loyal supports – it’s time to renew your support!

Ugly Betty Michigan


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The Cliff

Posted on 03/18/2015 - by Dan Allenby

The CliffRetention rates are calculated by taking the number of donors who have made gifts in both the current year and the prior year and then dividing it by the number of donors who made a gift in the prior year. This is important because last year’s donors are more likely to renew than any other segment. The median retention rate for colleges and universities is 62% according to Target Analytics Index of Higher Education.

The likelihood that a donor will renew decreases with every year that the donor lapses. In other words, each year that s/he doesn’t make a gift. “The Cliff” is the point at which the odds of getting a lapsed donor back are less than the non-donor (i.e., someone who has never given) will make a gift.  For most institutions, this is usually at 4-5 years.

Another reason why it’s important to pay attention to your lapsed donors is that they are more likely to upgrade (i.e., increase the amount of their gift) than any other segment. This is particularly true for donors who have made:

  • multiple gifts in a single year before lapsing
  • a gift of $1,000 or more in a year before lapsing
  • gifts in 5 or more consecutive years before lapsing

Thanks to our good friend Meredith Blair for reminding us about the importance of donor retention and reactivation, and for keeping us away from The Cliff!

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Posted on 03/11/2015 - by Dan Allenby

TAG Day Image

Heidelberg University was searching for a way to increase philanthropy awareness on campus and introduce their own Student Philanthropy Day. So the Heidelberg Fund team and the Student Alumni Association put their heads together and came up with an innovative idea. They called it TAG Day.

“We considered the idea of a Tuition Freedom Day – a popular idea on other campuses as a way to point out when (in the academic year) tuition dollars would theoretically run-out and private support would take over,” says Ashley Helmstetter, Executive Director at Heidelberg. “But that model didn’t resonate for us. Since 99% of our students receive scholarship and financial aid, we were mostly interested in highlighting the specific impact gifts that we have on our campus.”

The word “TAG” is an acronym (Thank-A-Giver) as well as a call to action. Students use the day as an opportunity to reach out and thank donors for support – many write handwritten notes. In addition, they spend the day “tagging” stickers onto items around campus that exist as the result of donor support. This includes material objects items like buildings, books, and art work as well as human objects including faculty, staff and students.

Now in its third year, TAG Day continues to gain momentum. “We add a new (fun) element every year,” says Helmstetter, “but our fundamental focus remains on stewardship, engagement, and education.”

Click here to watch this great TAG Day video. Go Student Princes!

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5 Common Mistakes

Posted on 03/04/2015 - by Dan Allenby

MistakesWhat does it take to have a successful career in annual giving?

For starters, you need to be goal driven, creative, personable, analytical, flexible, and committed. You need to be open to new ideas and willing to take risks. You also have to make decisions (lots of them) such as who to visit, when to send appeals, how to segment audiences, and which messages to communicate. In other words, you have to do a lot. With so much going on, it’s easy to slip-up, get distracted, and misstep.

Here are 5 common mistakes made by annual giving professionals that can get in between you and a long and successful career.

  1. They try to go it alone. It’s a team sport. Your colleagues, your bosses, and your volunteers will likely have as much (if not more) to do with your programs success than you will. Know when to step up, when to delegate, and when to stay out of the way.
  2. They don’t use enough data. “That’s the way we’ve always done it” and “That’s what I assume” won’t get you very far in this business. Conduct surveys and focus groups. Study what other programs are doing. Test, don’t guess. If you can’t find any data to support an assumption, then that’s all it is – an assumption.
  3. They use too much data. If you’re spending more than 10% of your day staring at reports, then you need to find a better use of your time. Avoid analysis paralysis. Get out there and do something.
  4. They don’t focus on their current donors. Your best donor is the one you already have, so make sure that’s where your spending your time and resources. If less than 60% of last year’s donors don’t give again this year, then you have a problem.
  5. They get distracted by “shinny new objects.” It’s important to keep up with the latest trends and try new things, but don’t forget about the fundamentals. Crowdfunding, Giving Days, and Text to Pledge may be important, but they’re not silver bullets. Remember where the majority of your gifts and donors still come from.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It means your trying. One of the benefits of working in annual giving is that you get to make mistakes, learn from them, and start over fresh every 12 months.

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Webinar: Fiscal Year End Strategies

Posted on 02/25/2015 - by Dan Allenby

Tuesday, April 14, 2015 at 1pm EDT (60 min)

Presented by Martha Krohn – Assistant VP for Annual Giving at The University of Rochester

Click here to learn more or REGISTER TODAY!

Martha-Krohn-Picture-Small2The fiscal year will be ending soon for many annual giving programs. Fortunately, there is still a lot that can be done in the coming weeks to acquire more donors and raise more money for your Annual Fund. If your anxiety is as high as your goals, then this webinar is for you!

Register online for your entire team to learn how to close out your fiscal year on a high note and leave no stone unturned.



• Strategies to reach your prospects using your resources
• Tactics that can be implemented quickly and don’t cost a lot of money
• Methods for motivating staff and volunteers
• Examples that have worked at other institutions
• And more


• Access to the LIVE webinar; invite your entire team (limit 1 login per registration)
• Guarantee to have your questions answered by an expert
• Copies of the presentation materials and resources
• Link to watch a recording of the webinar for 60 days following the live event


Martha Krohn is the Assistant Vice President for Advancement & Annual Giving at The University of Rochester where she oversees a comprehensive program including leadership and regional annual giving, direct marketing, reunion giving, and special constituency fundraising.

Her 15-year career in annual giving and advancement also includes leadership roles at Carnegie Mellon University, The University of Connecticut, and Emerson College.

Martha is a foundation board member at the Young Women’s College Prep School and an active volunteer for numerous nonprofit organizations in the Rochester region. She holds a Bachelors Degree from Susquehanna University and remains involved as a volunteer for their Advancement efforts.

Click here to learn more or REGISTER TODAY!

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Stewardship is A RIVER

Posted on 02/18/2015 - by Dan Allenby

RiverThe word “stewardship” gets used a lot in the world of annual giving. But ask a group of people to explain its meaning and you’re likely to get a lot of different responses. That’s because stewardship isn’t just one thing. It’s many things. And it’s not something you do just once. It’s constant and fluid. In many ways, it’s like a river.

A RIVER is also an acronym to help you think about and remember the many ways stewardship should flow through your fundraising operation:

Acknowledgement – Let donors know that their gifts have been received as soon as possible. This might include something as standard as a receipt or as personal as a handwritten note. The best acknowledgements arrive quickly.

Recognition – Nothing stands out like the letters in one’s own name. Identifying donors in print or online not only let’s them know that their support is recognized, but it can also incentivize others to donate. It can be just as motivating to notice that your name is missing from a list, as it is to see that your name on it.

Impact – It’s not about the money. It’s about what the money does. Show donors the impact of their gifts. Provide examples. Tell stories.

Value – Most donors aren’t looking for something in return, but offering them small tokens of appreciation (e.g., invitations, keepsakes, discounts) can go a long way. Give and you shall receive.

Experience – Starbucks doesn’t sell coffee, they sell an experience. What kinds of experience are you giving to your donors?

Reminders – Chances are that your donors have as much (if not more) going on than you do. Reminding them when their pledge payments are due or that a year has elapsed since their last annual fund gift isn’t nagging. It’s good stewardship.

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Caller Thank You Videos

Posted on 02/11/2015 - by Dan Allenby

UCSD Thank You Video ImageThere’s a lot that can influence someone’s decision to respond to an appeal. When does it occur? Who’s asking? How compelling is the case? How much is asked for? How long has it been since any previous gifts and what have you done for them since?

Personalization also plays a big role. Suffice it to say, the more personal that an appeal feels, the higher the likelihood that the prospect will respond positively to it. That’s one reason why conversion rates for email and direct mail appeals are generally lower than conversion rates for phone calls or face-to-face asks.

The Phonathon Program at The University of California, San Diego has found a great way to connect with their prospects in a personal way. After each pledge, they use an iPad camera to film the student caller saying saying a personal thanks to the person with whom they spoke. Then they email it to the prospect with the subject line: “A Quick Thank You” They record using QuickTime movie and send it in an email as an attachment. Because they’re short and quick, they’re actually really small file size (2MB) and easy to email.

Click here to watch a sample of this video from one of their callers.

“Right now, we send thank you videos to anyone who makes a pledge or gift”, says Meredith Blair, Executive Director of Annual Giving & Regional Advancement. “When our supervisors were short-staffed, we had to cut back to first time and newly reacquired donors, but we’re back to all donors again!”

The videos are unscripted and usually shot in one take—and as a result, they’re often admittedly unpolished; even intentionally unpolished. Blair said that they really set out to make them quick and timely, so they arrive within a few minutes of getting off the phone. They also felt strongly that they needed to be real, organic, and “charmingly authentic.” She feels like the fact that they are clearly not slick, pre-shot videos fosters a stronger feeling of connection between donors and students.

And the 60 seconds or so that it takes to make and send this video is quickly proving to be a worthwhile investment. “It is strengthening retention and fulfillment rates already,” says Blair “and we’re getting a lot of really touching feedback. People really love them—we’re building stronger relationships, creating positive giving experiences in our phonathon, and increasing results…all for the low, low price of two cheap iPads.”

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