Measuring Alumni Engagement

Posted on May 25, 2016 - by Dan Allenby

Measuring Alumni Engagement 2Annual Giving and Alumni Relations are team sports. Unfortunately, there are plenty of things that can get in the way when they try to work together.

Sometimes the obstacles are organizational: the teams have different bosses, report to separate units or are located in different offices or buildings around campus. Other times, the obstacles are strategic: one team viewing its role as separate and distinct from the other’s. For example, the annual giving team might be focused on generating donors and dollars while the alumni relations team is concentrated on planning events, offering career and educational programs, and connecting alumni through online, regional or affinity networks.

Whether they realize it or not, annual giving and alumni relations teams ultimately share one common goal: increasing alumni engagement.

When people see value in an organization they’re more inclined to act when called upon to do so. In the case of educational institutions, alumni who see value in their alma mater (and/or in their association with it) are more likely to attend an event, volunteer, or make a gift. These actions are just a few of the many ways alumni can engage with their alma mater. The reason why alumni engagement is so important is that each of its forms can give way to another. For example, alumni who attend events are more likely to be donors, and alumni who volunteer for their alma mater are more likely to attend an event (and vice versa).

So how do successful annual giving and alumni relations teams work together toward the common goal of increasing alumni engagement? Start by determining how engagement should be measured; then develop a plan to increase it. Consider the following exercise as one approach:

  1. Pull a random sample of 200 alumni records from your database.
  2. Assign 1 point to each record when you see evidence of any of the following actions: attending an event, serving as a volunteer, making a donation.
  3. Sum up the total points for each record and assign an “engagement score” to it between 0 and 3.
  4. Calculate the median “engagement score” for the entire sample population.
  5. Establish a common/shared goal for the alumni relations and annual giving teams to increase the median engagement score over a one year period.
  6. Empower each team to develop strategies that increase the overall alumni engagement score by increasing all of the actions that drive it.
  7. Pull and re-score another random sample one year later to determine how the score has changed.
  8. Adjust your strategies based on your results and try it again next year. Good luck!

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5 Most Important Metrics in Annual Giving

Posted on May 18, 2016 - by Dan Allenby

scubaMeasuring the results of your annual giving effort can be daunting. There’s an ocean of metrics out there to help you track the progress of your program and the individual appeals, constituencies and funds that contribute to its success. Sometimes the waters get murky and its not always clear which ones you should focus on.

Reporting becomes particularly important around the end of the fiscal year when others – your boss, your boards, your colleagues – really start paying attention. You need to be able to articulate your progress in a clear and concise way. While it’s tempting to take a deep dive into the details, you should always start with the 5 basics. They are, quite simply, the most important metrics in annual giving.

  1. Revenue – This is the amount of money raised for your annual fund. Unfortunately there’s no universal definition for it. Some institutions count only unrestricted gifts while others might include all current-use gifts, all gifts up to a certain threshold or gifts received in response to a direct appeal. Before you start throwing out numbers, take a moment to remind your audience how your institution defines annual fund revenue.
  2. Donors – This is the number of individuals and organizations who make a gift to your institution or to a specific group of funds. There are two categories of donors: those who receive hard credit (also known as legal or tax credit) and those who receive soft credit (also known as recognition credit). While only hard credit is important when tracking revenue, both types of credit should be considered when tracking the number of donors. Be careful not to double count.
  3. Participation – This is the portion of your constituents who make a gift to your institution in any given year. Think of it as the overall solicitation response rate or what those who work in the private sector call “market share.” For a growing number of educational institutions, alumni participation (calculated as the number of alumni donors divided by the number of living alumni with a good address) is a top priority. The national median for alumni participation is just under 9 percent.
  4. Retention – This is the percent of donors from the previous year who make a gift in the following year. It’s a barometer of donor satisfaction and says something about the efficiency of your programs. It’s more effective (and less expensive) to renew past donors than it is to acquire new ones. The national median for donor retention rates is around 60 percent.
  5. Leadership Giving – This is the relatively small number of large gifts that will almost always make up the majority of your annual fund revenue. You should solicit and steward the donors who make these gifts as carefully and personally as possible. They’re also the most likely donors to renew next year. While the threshold for a “leadership gift” is different from one institution to the next, the most common level for educational institutions is $1,000 or more.

These 5 metrics are just the beginning. Sharing them will surely set off a string of questions and require you to take a deeper dive into that ocean of metrics. In some cases, you’ll know the answers right away. In others, you won’t. And that’s okay. Don’t ever feel uncomfortable saying “I’m not sure. I’ll look into it and get back to you.”

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Webinar: Developing an Annual Fund Plan

Posted on May 11, 2016 - by Dan Allenby

Tuesday, June 7th at 1PM EDT (75 minutes)

Presented by Molly Robbins, Executive Director of the Saint Joseph’s Fund at St. Joseph’s University

Click here to learn more or REGISTER TODAY!


An Annual Fund is always going. No sooner does one fiscal year end than another one begins, which is why it is important to end each year on a good note while, at the same time, developing a plan for the next year before it even begins. Managing the transition from one year to the next is essential when it comes to raising more money and securing more donors for your annual fund.

Register online for your entire team to learn how to have a productive end to your current fiscal year and start the next year on the right foot.


  • Guidelines for developing an annual fund plan, setting goals, and tracking progress throughout the year
  • Tactics for ensuring a smooth transition from one year to the next
  • Recommendations for maximizing year-end budget and achieving great results this year
  • Examples from other institutions
  • And more!


  • One log-in to the LIVE webinar; invite your entire team
  • 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
  • Eligible for 1.25 points of CFRE credit
  • Members can get FREE webinar registration. Click here to learn more.


Molly Robbins is Executive Director of the Saint Joseph’s Fund at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, where she oversees the design and execution of a comprehensive annual giving strategy. She has over a decade of experience managing volunteer programs, direct marketing, social media, and events and she launched the Philadelphia Annual Giving Workshop Series through a CASE Venture Capital Grant. She holds a Masters in Organizational Leadership and Development from Saint Joseph’s University and a Bachelors in Political Science from the University of Pittsburgh.

Click here to learn more or REGISTER TODAY!

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11 Tips for the 11th Hour

Posted on May 4, 2016 - by Dan Allenby

Hour glass 2There are a number of expressions one could use to explain the mood of an annual giving department near the end of its fiscal year. One is “hustle and bustle.” That’s because teams are busy monitoring progress, preparing final appeals and communicating with donors and volunteers. Another is “11th hour.” That’s because there’s a sense of urgency and only a limited amount of time remaining to do what needs to be done.

Annual Giving Programs have exactly 365 days each year to secure as many gifts and raise as much money as possible. That’s about eight thousand hours or just over a half million minutes. While that might feel like a lot of time at the beginning of the fiscal year, that’s no longer the case once the sands have started slipping through the hour glass.

The final months of the fiscal year are critical. What you do during this time can determine whether or not your goals are achieved and your institution receives the resources it needs to fulfill its mission. So here’s a fiscal year-end checklist: 11 tips to guide you and your team through the 11th hour of your annual giving campaign.

  1. Review your goals – Make sure everyone is on the same page, centered around the same priorities, and monitoring key performance metrics.
  2. Spend your budget – If you don’t use it, you might lose it. Some finance offices assume that unspent money is unnecessary money. Those who think you can’t address an issue or solve a problem by throwing money it, probably just don’t know how to throw money.
  3. Focus on last year’s donors – They’re the most likely prospects to give now. The three keys to a successful annual giving effort are retention, retention, and retention.
  4. Remind those with open pledges – Verbal commitments can be easy to forget. Don’t be shy about sending reminders via print or email – or both!
  5. Try second asksGo back to those who already made a gift in the current fiscal year and ask them to give AGAIN. This might be a good way for them to support something new OR join/step up to the next level in a gift society.
  6. Spend time with gift officers – Schedule time to sit down and review lists of the prospects they manage. Try to determine when and how to solicit each one for an annual fund gift. Ask what you can do to help. Offer to produce personalized year-end appeal letters on their behalf.
  7. Lobby your Boards – Sometimes the most important volunteers and donors are the easiest to overlook when it comes to annual fund gifts.
  8. Update your signature and voicemail greetingInclude a reminder about the fiscal year-end date – people respond to deadlines – and offer instructions for those who might want to donate.
  9. Provide a “cheat sheet” to your colleagues and volunteers – Create a simple 1-page document outlining the various ways people can donate. Include the URL for your online giving form, wire transfer instructions, a phone number to call and an email address to contact for assistance.
  10. Make sure your gift processing team is prepared – If all goes well, they should expect a jump in activity. Share a copy of your appeal schedule and samples of any reply devices they can expect to receive.
  11. Start planning for next year – Don’t wait until after the year ends to start thinking about what’s ahead. If you do, you’re bound to miss out on early opportunities.

Want to learn more about fiscal year transitions and planning? CLICK HERE to register for AGN’s upcoming webinar on Developing an Annual Fund Plan.

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Next Generation of Major Donors

Posted on April 27, 2016 - by Dan Allenby

Young Leader ImageMost educational institutions today have programs in place that appeal to young alumni and engage them in philanthropy. Some offer loyalty clubs to encourage and recognize consistent support regardless of the size of an individual’s gift. Many offer discounted giving requirements to recent graduates who want to become members of the annual fund’s leadership gift society. Others offer volunteer opportunities for young alumni who want to serve as committee members, class agents and online ambassadors.

Such efforts are typically coordinated as part of an institution’s annual giving program. Unfortunately, few advancement programs today are doing much to identify and cultivate the next generation of major donors. Campaign and development strategies typically focus on those prospects who show signs of wealth capacity and inclination now – not necessarily those who are likely to be institutional leaders or major gift prospects in the future.

Johns Hopkins University is an exception. A few years ago they launched their John’s Hopkins Fellows program as a way to cultivate and educate their top leadership prospects, most under the age of 50. The program engages approximately 25 members at a time, each one serving a two-year term.

While there are no specific membership requirements, the rule of thumb used when vetting potential candidates is whether it’s realistic to expect that they will be capable of making a major philanthropic commitment to the university in the next 5-10 years and be suitable for advisory boards or other university leadership positions. Since it’s a decentralized organization, prospective members are nominated by the deans and advancement officers from each of the university’s schools and units. At the same time, there are no set giving requirements for members. Instead, gift expectations are determined on a case-by-case basis and left up to the schools and units who nominated them.

Once on board, members are put through a rigorous “curriculum” to teach them about the inner-workings of the university. This deep dive into university management includes two on-campus meetings, two optional webinars and one seminar event in a major city each year. Activities are coordinated around university board meetings since trustees are often invited to participate. Member meetings might include an update from the university’s president and/or other university leadership, an overview of key institutional functions (e.g., finance, enrollment, academic programs, advancement) and a chance to hear from important groups (e.g., a student panel, discussions with deans).

The Johns Hopkins Fellows program is supported by one full-time dedicated staff person who works in partnership with officers from across the university to ensure that the recruitment and engagement of each and every member is carefully and thoughtfully orchestrated. While this small group of young leaders may not necessarily be critical to the university’s major gift fundraising efforts today, it will most certainly be a key element in the success of the campaigns that the university undertakes in the future.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE to watch a recording of AGN’s Webinar on “Young Alumni Giving.”



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Webinar: Digital Strategy for Annual Giving

Posted on April 20, 2016 - by Dan Allenby

Tuesday, May 17th at 1PM EDT (75 minutes)

Presented by Liz Sullivan, Executive Director of Annual Giving at Northwestern University

Click here to learn more or REGISTER TODAY!

Liz_Sullivan_PictureDigital strategy today is more than a slick website. It requires an integrated mix of email, video, crowdfunding and social media, and needs to be coordinated with traditional marketing and communication efforts. This session will help you develop an online fundraising strategy that is integrated, engaging, and effective.

Register online for your entire team to learn how to develop an effective digital strategy for your annual fund.


  • Guidelines for segmenting, designing, and producing effective online appeals
  • Tactics for leveraging digital channels, events and volunteers to solicit and steward donors
  • Methods for measuring online engagement and analyzing online appeal results
  • Examples that have worked at other institutions
  • And more!


  • One log-in to the LIVE webinar; invite your entire team
  • 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
  • Eligible for 1.25 points of CFRE credit
  • Members can get FREE webinar registration. Click here to learn more.


Liz Sullivan is the Executive Director of Annual Giving at Northwestern University where she oversees the development and execution of an integrated annual giving strategy that leverages traditional and online channels, volunteers and staff. Her 18-year career includes work as the Senior Digital Strategist at The University of Chicago and 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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How To Annoy Annual Giving Professionals

Posted on April 13, 2016 - by Dan Allenby

10 Ways to Annoy Annual Fund ProfessionalsAnnual Giving is full of juxtapositions. It’s an art and a science. It’s fundamental but complex. It’s cyclical yet always full of surprises. It’s these contrasts that make it so challenging, interesting, and easy to love.

It’s also easy to love the people who work in annual giving. They’re curious, venturesome, and eager to improve their programs, their institutions, and their world. So how do you show the special annual giving professionals in your life how much you love them?

The answer is so simple that even children understand – you annoy them.

Here are 10 ways to annoy annual giving professionals and show them how much they mean to you:

  1. Code all managed prospects “do not solicit”
  2. Hide the call center headphones
  3. Fail to use an appeal code
  4. Do a rain dance on their Giving Day
  5. Mail in a credit card gift and leave the expiration date section blank
  6. Add the President to the appeal seed list
  7. Call them “friend-raisers”
  8. Take vacation during the last week of the fiscal year
  9. Collate before the ink is dry
  10. Forget to fulfill your pledge

Learn more about the characteristics and perspectives of today’s annual giving professional by reading AGN’s recently completed salary and professional development report. CLICK HERE to download a free copy.

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How To Ask For Money

Posted on April 6, 2016 - by Dan Allenby

How to Ask For MoneyThere are many reasons why people make charitable gifts. The #1 reason is because they’re asked. But asking for money doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Whether you’re a volunteer or a professional fundraiser, successful gift solicitations take work and practice. 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 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 and be able to provide specific examples of how their gifts with have an impact.
  • Be specific, confident and precise – always ask for a specific amount. Avoid casual second attempts that start out like, “well 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.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE to watch a recording of AGN’s Webinar on conducting “Face-to-Face Solicitations.”

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March Matchness

Posted on March 30, 2016 - by Dan Allenby

March MatchnessMarch 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., Graduates 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 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.”

March-Matchness image


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The Benefits of “No”

Posted on March 23, 2016 - by Dan Allenby

NoDespite its negative connotation, hearing the word “no” isn’t all bad. Even when it comes to raising money.

There’s an old adage that goes like this: The worst thing you can hear after asking someone for a gift is the word “yes.” Why? Because it lets you know that you might have been able to ask for more.

On the other hand, hearing “no” tells you something important. For one thing, it clarifies how much is too much for that particular person at that particular time.

Another benefit of hearing “no” is that it opens the door to ask another important question: why?

Gaining insight into prospect attitudes and perspectives is important at an individual and programmatic level. Take phonathons for example. Most educational institutions run a student or volunteer effort to call alumni and parents throughout the year in order to solicit donations for the annual fund. Inevitably, many of the prospects who are asked to make a donation will reply with a “no.” At that moment, the caller has an opportunity to ask why. Consider some of the common categories used when recording phonathon refusal reasons:

  • Paying off student loans
  • Out of work
  • Kids in college/paying tuition
  • Only contacted to ask for money
  • Already gave
  • Prefer to give online
  • Prefer to give through mail
  • Support other charities instead
  • Already left money in will/estate plans
  • On a fixed income
  • Not now, maybe in the future

Of course there are a number of other factors that could be contributing to an individual’s disinterest in giving. Perhaps something happened in the past that affected the way they feel about the organization, or maybe they don’t like the direction it appears to be headed now. It might be that the mission isn’t a priority for them or that the institution’s messages simply don’t resonate. Maybe you didn’t ask correctly. Keep in mind that it’s not always what you say, but how you say it.

Maintaining and analyzing refusal reasons is just one way phonathon programs can perform a “research” function in addition to being a solicitation channel. It allows them to gain a better sense of how prospects feel about the institution and what prevents them from supporting it. Being more informed empowers programs to adjust their approach (e.g., scripts, ask levels) and to be better prepared to respond to questions and concerns. This not only makes for more friendly and engaging conversations with prospects, but it increases the likelihood that they’ll say “yes” next time.

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