Northeastern University doesn’t have too much trouble getting its alumni to donate. As a matter of fact, nearly 40% have made a gift at some point in their lifetime. Like many institutions, though, their challenge is getting alumni to give every year. The truth is that only around 12% of Northeastern’s alumni make a gift to their alma mater annually.
“We were looking for a way to encourage consistent annual support while highlighting the impact of gifts at all levels”, said Bill Woodman, Director of The Northeastern Fund”, “so we created a special club to encourage consistent giving and honor those who support the university year after year. We call it The Husky Cornerstone Club.”
Membership in the Husky Cornerstone Club is granted to donors who make gifts (of any amount, to any area of the university) in two or more consecutive years. Benefits include special access to campus events, recognition in the published donor roster, and fun gifts (like decals or key chains) so alumni and parents can show their Husky pride. Members also receive insider updates so that they’re the first to see what the university is accomplishing as the result of their donations.
Northeastern isn’t alone. Many other programs have launched similar clubs or societies in recent years. Brown University (whose annual fund was founded exactly 100 years ago as the “Loyalty Fund”) launched the 1764 Society to recognize donors with five or more consecutive years of giving. Dartmouth College’s Hal Ripley Society recognizes donors who have given every year since graduation.
Donor loyalty programs come in all shapes and sizes. Beyond the basic requirements, some offer premium membership with added benefits for reaching milestones (e.g., 20 years of consecutive giving) or the opportunity to “buy back” years in which a donation was missed. Others use their clubs or societies as a way to engage volunteers through advisory councils or by appointing chairs to lead their membership efforts.
One thing that is consistent across all of these programs is that their primary goal isn’t to maximize the the amount of money raised. Instead, it’s to encourage annual support (regardless of gift size) and to celebrate one of the most valuable things of all…loyalty.
Is your online giving form up to snuff? One way to tell is by measuring its conversion rate. This is the percentage of visitors who end up making a donation. While it can vary widely depending on the type of program or institution, it typically ranges somewhere between 30-50%. In some ways it’s similar to phonathon program’s conversion rate (i.e., the percentage of those prospects who answer the phone and then go on to make a pledge or gift.)
If your online giving form is experiencing a low conversion rate, then ask yourself some questions.
First, is your marketing at all misleading? Could your prospective donors think that your links (those in your emails, on your webpages, or in your social media) will take them somewhere other than your online giving form? Might they have expected to end up somewhere else?
Second, is your online giving form hard to use? Are your donors required to fill out more than ten fields? Do they have to click through more than four pages to complete their transaction? Does it include a lot of unnecessary text or distracting content? Is the design cluttered and cold? Does it feel like a shopping cart? Do they have “pinch and scroll” to view it clearly on a mobile phone?
If so, your online giving form may be due for a makeover.
Giving is an emotional experience. Do your best to make it a positive one.
Developing a household budget is a relatively simple task. First, you set aside money to live on – for rent, food, utilities, and (hopefully) a little fun. Then, you put aside money to invest in your future – for education, retirement, and other life goals. It’s not that different for nonprofit organizations. They also need money to grown on. Often, this comes from endowment or capital gifts that are invested or used to construct or improve facilities.
Educational, healthcare, and other nonprofit organizations need money to live on too. Typically, this comes from dues, tuition, and other fees. Unfortunately, this is rarely enough to fully support an organization’s operating budget, which is why annual funds are so important.
There is no single or universal definition of what should be counted in an annual fund. In fact, organizations choose to define their annual funds in many different ways. What is universal, however, is that nonprofits don’t just need money to help them grow. They need money to help them operate, to run, to work, to function.
They need money to live on. They need annual giving.
Phonathon programs, once the lifeblood of most annual giving programs, are facing new challenges every year. In 2013, the average phonathon accounted for less than 30% of annual fund donors and less than 15% of annual fund revenue at U.S. educational institutions.
As the world becomes more mobile and negative stigmas persist around telemarketing, phonathon contact rates continue to decline. Today, there’s only a 50% chance that someone will answer the phone each time a caller dials.
The truth is that running a phonathon program has never been easy. It’s just plain hard work. With staff retention rates often at or below 65%, every program needs an incentive plan. While “free food” continues to be a simple and effective way to motivate callers, other effective incentives today include guest speakers, “caller of the week” awards, and parties to celebrate milestone achievements.
At Southern New Hampshire University, the phonathon team wanted to create a point based incentive system that not only rewarded callers for productivity, but one that underscored that some outcomes were more desirable than others. They awarded extra credit for acquiring a new donor, upgrading an existing donor, or securing a credit card payment.
They also looked for ways to include callers in decisions about segmentation and script development. “We want our students to love their job”, said Lisa St. Hilaire, Director of Annual Giving at Southern New Hampshire. “We believe that the more the students are involved, the more motivated they’ll be to succeed on the phone.
We work hard to make our volunteers and donors feel special through personal acknowledgment, public recognition, awards, and access. We spend a lot of time, thought, and money to create plaques, publish honor rolls, produce reports, and put on events.
We call this stewardship and our work here is never done.
But making someone feel special doesn’t have to involve a lot of pageantry or expense. It doesn’t have to be be difficult. Sometimes little things are the most meaningful. These can be things that all of us, regardless of our title or budget, are empowered to do any day and every day.
Next time you want to make someone feel special, just try:
- Calling them by name
- Looking them in the eye
- Asking for their advice
- Reminding them of something they’ve told you in the past
- Giving them a picture of something important to them
- Sending them a handwritten note
Simple and thoughtful is rare and it’s beautiful.
Farmers are important. They raise and grow stuff so that we can eat and live and go on to do important stuff ourselves. Anyone who’s ever spent time on a farm knows that it’s really hard work. But not many people appreciate how much planning and decision making goes into farming.
It’s estimated that each year a farmer has to make over 40 decisions. They consider what kind of seeds to plant, how much to water, which fertilizers and pesticides to use, and when to harvest. And, because some things (like weather) are completely out of their control, farmers also have to make costly and risky decisions like whether or not to buy crop insurance.
In annual giving, we have to make a lot of decisions too – like who to ask, when to ask, and how much to ask for. We determine which segments need more personalization, which callers to hire, which subject lines to test, and whether or not our online giving form is easy enough to use.
There are plenty of things (like the economy) that are out of our control, so it’s really important that we try to make the best decisions about the things we can control. The more information we have beforehand, the higher the likelihood that we’ll make a good decision.
Summer can be a great time to gather information, plan, and to start making decisions. But keep your eye on the clock. The harvest will be here before you know it!
For some, these stories lie in their history – their founders, their patrons, or the challenges that they’ve had to overcome. For others, they’re the important things that people are doing today – volunteers building homes, students growing into leaders, or researchers finding cures. For others, their stories are simply a matter of describing that which sets them apart and makes them unique.
With a rich history and a proud culture of educating young men, St. Aloysius’ College in Sydney, Australia has many great stories to tell. And, according The Guinness Book of World Records, it also has something unique – the world’s oldest teacher.
“Father Geoffrey Schneider, SJ, our Junior School Chaplain and Religious Education teacher, was in his 74th year of teaching when he turned 100 years old,” said Murray Happ, Director of Development at St. Aloysius, “To celebrate the milestone, we asked him to serve as the patron for our annual campaign. Who better to tell our stories then the very subject of one of our own?”
Father Schneider not only agreed to serve as patron, but he insisted on being involved in the planning and letter writing process. “And he was quick to correct any poor grammar”, joked Happ.
Was the campaign a success? Yes it was with nearly 20% of all constituents making a gift and an increase in the amount of money raised by over 5%.
Yes, every institution has stories to tell. They are, in essence, the case for support. What’s your story?
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.
Title: The Young & The Restless – Strategy for Young Alumni Giving
Date: September 9, 2014 at 1:00 PM EDT (60 minutes)
Presenter: Colin Hennessy, Executive Director of the Penn Fund
Click here to register today! Save $50 off the regular price when you register before August 15th.
As educational institutions enroll an increasing number of students, they’re also producing an increasing number of young alumni. Raised in a world of rapidly changing media and technology, these “Millennials” bring with them new attitudes and beliefs about philanthropy. Appealing to this important segment is not only important for annual giving success today, but it’s critical for the long term sustainability of our organizations.
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:
- Methods for educating young alumni about philanthropy before and after graduation
- Strategies for engaging and soliciting recent graduates through new and online media, affinity, events, and volunteer opportunities
- Tactics for increasing young alumni participation and loyalty
- Examples that have worked at other institutions
- And more
Click here to register today!
One of the challenges of annual giving is that it can feel generic. Sure, it supports our important missions, good ideas, and noble causes. In general, though, it’s…well…it’s general. Heritage Academy in Augusta, GA figured out way to talk about annual giving without being so general.
“It was near the end of our fiscal year and we found ourselves $40,000 behind”, said Darlene Walters, Director of Development at Heritage Academy. “So, we calculated the cost of operating the school for one day, which turned out to be $33 per student. Then, we sent a Pay for a Day appeal asking donors to make a gift of $33 (or more) before June 30th.”
A clearly stated need and a time sensitive message really paid off. They exceed their $40,000 goal and received nearly three times as many gifts in the final two months of the fiscal year compared to the year before.
The lesson? Don’t be generic.