Grad Fair Days

Posted on 04/23/2014 - by Dan Allenby

Lehigh BookstoreIt’s spring – the time of year when many graduating students flock to the bookstore to order their caps and gowns. At many colleges and universities this is also a time when students are encouraged to think about life after graduation and what it will mean to be alumni. This can lead to a lot of questions, decisions, and confusion.

To avoid confusion, and ensure that important messages get delivered, Lehigh University figured out a way to make things simple. Through a cross campus partnership between the Bookstore, Annual Fund, Alumni Association, Advancement Services, and Career Services, the university developed a new process for its traditional three-day event known as “Grad Fair Days.”

Now, when a student comes to the Bookstore they are greeted by a trained representative, who not only helps them get fitted for their caps and gowns, look at class rings, and shop for diploma frames, but can also talk knowledgably about the Alumni Association and the importance of the senior class gift. Students are then escorted to a station of laptop computers and guided through a five step process of:

  1. creating their alumni network account
  2. verifying their contact information
  3. completing a career services survey
  4. visiting the senior class gift web page
  5. submitting their cap and gown order

“There were a lot of moving pieces and building the new system definitely required a team effort”, says Chad Davis, Director of the Lehigh Fund. “The Bookstore and vendors were a huge help with the physical layout, staffing, and regalia, while our Advancement Services team did a remarkable job developing and supporting our computer hardware and system needs.”

“We wanted a way to talk with them about the importance of the senior class gifts without having to coerce them over to our tables”, says Davis. “The new process allows for that, as well as other important conversations about career services and what to expect when they become alumni. In the first year alone we saw an increase in the number of completed career services surveys, new alumni network accounts, and senior class gifts.”

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A Thousand Words

Posted on 04/16/2014 - by Dan Allenby

Every organization has its story to tell. The problem is that we live in a time famine. Today, people are busier than ever and getting their attention isn’t easy. So, when we finally do, we need to be able to tell our story in a way that’s compelling and succinct.

The good people in the Annual Fund at Peddie School in Hightstown, NJ discovered this on their own. After years of using traditional black-on-white letters, they realized that their annual fund appeals required a new approach. “Our alumni weren’t responding at the levels we needed”, says Liz Dixon-Eversole, Director of the Peddie Fund. “We had to find a way to reconnect them, remind them about the school’s great stories, and demonstrate the impact of their support.”

Peddie Old Bike ImageTo achieve this, Peddie decided to bring their appeals to life with more creative, image-centric designs and formats. Their new appeal strategy focused on employing imagery that would resonate with each donor. Using variable-data printing technology, Peddie’s appeals incorporated photos that were specific to class years, athletic interests, clubs and other personalized information that was readily available via their database. To execute this strategy, Peddie partnered with BCG Connect – a Boston-based agency – who designed, produced and mailed the appeals.

The strategy paid off. Peddie saw an immediate impact in their first year with total dollars-raised through direct mail increasing by 50%. “This wasn’t a one-time idea, it was a long-term plan”, said Dixon-Eversole. “We’ve continued to make images and personalized data a central part of our annual giving strategy and, as a result, we’ve seen a consistent increase in alumni response over the past several years.”

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. At Peddie, however, a good image might just be worth a whole lot more.

Peddie New Bike Image


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Posted on 04/09/2014 - by Dan Allenby

When someone says “annual giving”, what’s the first word that comes to mind? We asked this question of 175 annual giving program leaders with the hope better understanding how they view their work, their purpose, and their industry.

Word Cloud Picture FileThen we clustered similar responses, removed words that were mentioned less than four times, and used what remained to create the above word cloud. The more frequently a word was mentioned, the larger the font.

So what was the most commonly mentioned word? To our surprise it wasn’t unrestricted, participation, or loyal. It was…sustain.


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Sound The Alarm!

Posted on 04/02/2014 - by Dan Allenby

The Council for Aid to Education recently released its annual survey results. Last year, once again, the percentage of U.S. alumni who made a gift to their alma mater (i.e., alumni participation rate) declined to 8.7% — a trend that has persisted year over year for more than two decades. For anyone who cares about or works in education, this is cause for alarm.

Alumni participation is important for many reasons. For starters, it’s one way to measure alumni satisfaction and is a factor in institutional rankings. Longer term, though, it helps develop a broad base of support and serves as pipeline for major gifts and future campaigns.

Sound The Alarm Image 1Some oversimplify the problem, suggesting that the decline in alumni participation is the result of larger alumni populations (colleges and universities are indeed granting far more degrees today) or a growing reluctance by alumni to answer our calls. Unfortunately, the problem is much more complex.

Rising education costs, student debt loads, and competition from other non-profits are also contributing to the decline. Probably the most significant reason, however, is that many educational institutions have gotten lazy – neglecting to talk about the importance of annual giving and, more importantly, failing to demonstrate the impact of support.

The silver lining here is that institutional leaders, including Presidents and Boards, are starting to take notice. They’re recognizing the problem and are making bigger investments in annual giving. As a result, a new generation of annual giving leaders is beginning to emerge.

Today we’re seeing an increase in the number of AVPs and Executive Directors in charge of annual giving programs with a seat at the decision table. And, for more and more campaigns today, annual giving is a top priority.

The most concerning thing about the declining alumni participation rate is that it suggests a waning confidence in education as a cause worthy of individual philanthropic support. So, if you think that education matters, then it’s time for you to stand up and sound the alarm!


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Webinar: Build Your Donor Pipeline!

Posted on 03/26/2014 - by Dan Allenby

Topic: Leadership Gifts for Annual Funds – Build Your Donor Pipeline! (Register today!)

Date: May 6, 2014

Time: 1pm Eastern

In almost any fundraising campaign, the majority of the money raised will come from a relatively few large gifts and donors. Annual Fund campaigns are no exception. As a source of important gift revenue and a pipeline for future major gifts, a strong annual fund leadership giving program is essential for fundraising success today as well as for tomorrow.

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 identifying annual fund leadership gift prospects
  • Strategies for soliciting annual fund leadership gifts
  • Tactics for retaining and upgrading top level annual fund donors
  • Examples that have worked at other institutions
  • And more

Click here for more information or to REGISTER TODAY! (Special early bird rate before April 17th)

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Where Did You Go?

Posted on 03/19/2014 - by Dan Allenby

The annual giving team at George Washington University was worried.

They were worried that many of their young alumni were not receiving the alumni magazine, event invitations, or annual fund appeals. Why? Because they noticed that a large number of recent graduate home mailing addresses were still the same as their parent’s.

So they decided to send a series of emails to recent graduates asking them, “where did you go?” Each contained important information about alumni benefits, upcoming regional events, and a survey asking alumni to update (or confirm) their home and employment information. Anyone who completed the survey was entered for a chance to win an iPad. (See below for a sample of the email.)

The first email was sent to all graduates of the past decade and yielded a 21% survey response rate. Soon after, a second email was sent to the two most recently graduated classes and yielded a survey response rate of nearly 40%. By the end of the project, nearly 70% of all survey respondents proved to have outdated information.

“The biggest challenge was making it easy for our records staff to work through all of the new information”, said David Anderson, Associate Director of Annual Giving, “but through careful planning we were able to design an email and survey that was visually appealing and easy to process.”

Where Did You Go_Image


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Prime Time

Posted on 03/12/2014 - by Dan Allenby

Prime Time 2

My career in annual giving began nearly two decades ago when, fresh out of college, I sat down at a word processor to write a cover letter for a job running a student phonathon program at a university in Washington, D.C. My father, who worked in university development, noticed what I was doing and offered me two pieces of advice. First, he cautioned, never start a cover letter with I because it will make you appear conceited. Second, if you want to work in development, annual giving is a great place to start. I took his advice, and I also got the job.

Back then, annual giving departments played a role similar to farm teams in baseball: They were filled with young professionals eager to be drafted into a more important role in the major (gifts) league. The development landscape was different too. The Internet was in its infancy. Caller ID didn’t exist, which made prospective donors available (and vulnerable) to telemarketers.

Direct mail was simple and relatively cheap. Annual fund case statements typically focused on the need for unrestricted support. Give back was a good enough message to motivate alumni giving. The annual fund was an afterthought in most capital campaigns, and with the possible exception of elite institutions with a history of philanthropy, alumni participation simply wasn’t that important.

Click here to continue reading and for a printable copy of the full article.

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March Matchness

Posted on 03/05/2014 - by Dan Allenby

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.

March-Matchness image

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.”


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The Circled Caller

Posted on 02/26/2014 - by Dan Allenby

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.

Humbolt State U. Postcard Image_Front“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.”

Humbolt State U. Postcard Image_Back


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Set The Bar High

Posted on 02/19/2014 - by Dan Allenby

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.

Set The Bar HighThis same idea is important in the context of leadership annual giving programs. Consider, for example, the minimum gift requirement for membership in a donor recognition society.

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.


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