A common question that event planners face is whether or not to charge for admission. While offering free access tends to drive registrant numbers up, it also tends to result in a lower yield of attendees. On the other hand, charging for events typically results in a lower number of registrants but a higher yield of attendees.
For example, a free event might generate 80 registrants with only 40 of them actually showing up – a 50 percent yield. But if you were to charge a fee (even a nominal one) for that same event, your attendee yield percentage would likely increase even though it might generate fewer actual registrants. This is because the paid event is perceived as more valuable to attendees. They’re invested, which makes it harder to skip if something else comes up.
The same phenomenon can play out in your work with volunteers and donors.
Have you ever found yourself trying to recruit a volunteer to serve on a board or a committee and saying something along these lines? “We’d love for you to get involved and we know you’re very busy. Don’t worry. This won’t require much of your time and there won’t be any heavy lifting.”
When you say things like this, it actually devalues the role you’re asking them to play. Instead, emphasize that the role is important. While it may require a significant commitment of their time and effort, their involvement will not only make a difference for the institution, it will also be a truly valuable experience for them.
Don’t devalue what you need from your volunteers and donors just because it makes asking for it a little more comfortable. Set high expectations. It’s ok if that causes fewer people to respond with a yes. Because those who do are more likely to show up, contribute thoughtful ideas and do what it is you need.
For many, it will make your request even more appealing.
Stanford University announced in an email to its alumni this week (see below) that it will be discontinuing its fundraising calls. The news has already shocked (and even saddened) many advancement professionals who have known student phonathons to be a central component of college and university annual giving programs ever since Yale launched the first paid student calling effort back in the 1970s.
It’s no secret that phonathons have struggled in recent years as it’s gotten more difficult to get alumni to pick up the phone. Contact rates have declined year-after-year for nearly a decade, a trend that has been precipitated by mobile technology and social media changing the way alumni communicate with their alma maters. Today, online donations represent more than half of all annual gifts.
One of the challenges of phonathons is their cost. Compared to other, albeit less personal, print and digital channels, running a call center is expensive. Caller wages, equipment and software expenses aren’t cheap. And while they could once boast impressive dollar totals and high returns on their investment, many of today’s call centers barely break even. Some programs even operate at a loss, only justifying their existence as a necessity for acquiring new donors and negotiating current donors to higher gift levels.
Stanford isn’t alone. Dartmouth College and the University of South Florida have also made decisions to end their phonathons. Dartmouth will be phasing out their program gradually: while it won’t use mass calling efforts to acquire new donors anymore, it will make sure that those alumni who have consistently responded to phonathon solicitations in the past continue to get a personal call from someone at the college.
Reactions to Stanford’s decision have ranged from “Well, they’re Stanford, they can afford to do stuff like that,” to “That seems a little extreme.” Some have even commented, “They’ll be back.”
Whatever the future holds for Stanford, its decision will surely elicit conversations at other institutions about the future of their own programs. For some, it will be business as usual: dialing for dollars. Others will find new ways to use their call centers: to engage and steward alumni, update contact information, conduct research, promote events, secure appointments, or simply to remind alumni that their alma mater is filled with resources, programs and networks that can be valuable for them.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE to register for AGN’s upcoming webinar on Rethinking Phonathons.
In algebra, PEMDAS explains the correct order of operations within a mathematical expression. It’s an acronym that stands for Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, and Subtraction and it states what you’re supposed to do first, second, third, etc. when trying to solve a complex math problem. For example, 1 + 3 x 2 = 7 (not 8) because you should do multiplication before addition.
A mnemonic to help teach students PEMDAS is “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.” This fun phrase helps them keep the acronym straight in their heads and remember the correct prioritization.
Setting priorities is also important in annual giving, and there are many tips and tricks to assist you. One is RFM (i.e., Recency, Frequency, Monetary), which can help to identify donors that are most likely to respond to appeals. How recently a donor made a gift, the number of times they’ve given in the past, and the size of their last gift can all help indicate if they are likely to give again in the future. For example:
- A donor who gave last year is more likely to give than a donor whose last gift was many years ago
- A donor who has made several gifts is more likely to give than one who has given only once
- A donor who made a large gift is more likely to give than one who gave a smaller gift
It would be ideal to be able to afford to solicit every one of your prospects often and give them all the same amount of personal attention. Unfortunately, when time and budgets are limited, that’s not possible. Therefore, you need to prioritize.
The real trick is balancing your solicitations – and stewardship – in a way that focuses on your best prospects without ignoring anyone completely. Because you can never be 100% certain who your next big donor will be.
Take a moment to celebrate digital fundraising. There is no question that new media and technology have empowered more individuals and non-profit organizations to go out and raise money. Today’s digital toolkits contain instruments that are easier to access, easier to afford and easier to use than ever before.
Crowdfunding, Giving Days, and Text-to-Donate are just a few of the shiny objects that have caught the eye of fundraisers in recent years. In fact, many of these tactics have already been woven into the fabric of annual giving programs and become key components of their strategy. But nothing digital has changed the fundamentals of what drives successful fundraising. Not one bit.
Just about anybody can go out and ask for money. Just about any organization can try to run a campaign. But building a sustainable fundraising program or leading a successful campaign depends on details like diligence, follow-up, quality, personal relationships and patience. These are the cornerstones of good fundraising. Unfortunately, they’re also becoming increasingly rare.
So, go ahead: embrace digital fundraising. Seek out shiny objects. They will help to keep your strategies fresh while attracting and engaging new donors. But don’t forget about the fundamentals. They may not be as flashy, but they’ll do more to advance your program in the long run than the latest digital trend.
There’s a restaurant tucked up in the green hills of Vermont, not far from the New Hampshire border, that gets it right. As soon as you sit down for dinner, you’re greeted – as you would be at almost any other reputable establishment – by a smiling server prepared to take your drink order. But instead of hearing, “What would you like to drink?”, you’ll hear the same question framed in a different way. Here, they ask, “What would you like to enjoy?”
Asking it this way makes all the difference. Rather than focusing simply on the beverage itself, it prompts the guests to imagine themselves sipping that drink and how doing so will make them feel. A margarita might help someone feel festive. A gin and tonic – sophisticated. A glass of wine – relaxed. An iced tea – refreshed. The way a drink makes you feel is much more important than how it looks or even how it tastes.
This same idea can be applied in annual giving. When it comes to soliciting charitable gifts, there is often too much emphasis placed on the monetary aspects of the potential donation. Would you consider a gift of $100 to help us reach our goal? When you take this approach, you’re really just asking for a donation for the sake of a donation.
Instead, try to focus on what that donation will accomplish and how giving a gift will make the donor feel. Will they feel like a leader? Will they feel like they belong to something important? Will they feel like they’re making an impact?
With this in mind, try framing your solicitation a different way: Will you become a leader in our community and make a difference in the life of a needy student with a gift of $100?
Your boss pokes her head into your office doorway and asks how the annual fund is doing. You respond (proudly) that it’s up compared to last year and on track to hit its goal. She nods and gives you a smile to suggest that she’s pleased with the news. But then she throws out another question. This one catches you a little off-guard.
“Do you know why we’re up?” she asks.
There’s an awkward silence for a few seconds, which (to you) feels like a few minutes. You begin to mumble something about higher quality appeals or a better economy or something like that until you stop and, looking embarrassed, admit the truth.
“I don’t know,” you reply.
Little has improved the field of annual giving in recent years more than data and analytics. The ability to harness and mine information empowers programs to identify and understand prospects, deploy resources in efficient and effective ways, and report progress in real time. Better access to data also allows annual giving professionals to pinpoint trends and explain which factors are contributing to their program’s performance.
In this case, start by looking for changes in donors or dollars within the three key donor behavior segments: new donors, retained donors and reactivated donors. Then look for similar changes among key constituencies, fund designations, solicitation channels or gift amount ranges. Recognizing such changes (also known as “gaps” or as “variance”) may provide insight, but is also the first step in addressing shortcomings before it’s too late.
Access to data doesn’t mean that you need to have all of the answers all of the time. You do, however, need to know how to go about finding the answers. So follow up your “I don’t know” with, “But I can find out.”
The term alum refers to any of various double sulfates of a trivalent metal such as aluminum, chromium, or iron and a univalent metal such as potassium or sodium. Alums are useful for a range of industrial, culinary or medical processes.
While it’s understandable that an alum may be quite relevant to a scientist, chef or doctor, it may also be surprising that it’s not particularly useful to those who work in advancement.
On the other hand, an alumnus (male) or alumna (female) is clearly a former student (often a graduate) of a school, college, or university. The term alumnae is used to describe a group of female former students and the term alumni describes a group of male former students or a group of both males and females.
Too often, those who work in annual giving and alumni relations don’t take the time to use these terms (and many other terms) correctly. When that happens, it not only makes you look casual, ill-informed and unprofessional, but it reflects poorly on your institution.
In the same way that the clothes you decide to wear to work each day make a statement, the language you use to communicate with your colleagues, your constituents and your volunteers says a lot about you and your organization.
Keeping this in mind, take time to select the right words and to use them in the proper way. It’s more important than you might think.
In the late 1950’s Oakland businessman Wilfred Winkenbach organized a contest for his friends and colleagues where individuals selected a “team” of professional golfers and tracked their scores over a period of time. When the tournament ended, the team with the best score would win. This was the earliest record of what’s known today as fantasy sports.
Online fantasy sports have exploded in recent years. Players assemble virtual teams of real professional athletes and compete based on the statistical performance of those athletes in actual games. Today there are over 57 million participants, as reported by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. Players tend to be younger and better educated, and have higher household incomes than non-players, according the Association. On average, participants spend over $556 each on league-related costs.
Johns Hopkins University has come up with a way to capitalize on the fantasy sports craze, engage volunteers and mobilize alumni to support class programs. It’s called “Fantasy Reunion.”
Led by team captains, alumni organize themselves into affinity-based teams of eleven and then earn points for participating in various activities. The teams that earn the most points between January 15 and April 1 are awarded prizes (e.g., apple watch, event tickets, swag). There is also a prize for the individual with the highest score. Points are awarded for:
- Registering for reunion, with extra points granted for registering early or from out-of-state
- Donating to the reunion class gift campaign
- Providing information about participant interests and affinities
- Communicating with one another
Fantasy Reunion is a great way to engage volunteers online, encourage support for the university and ensure that reunion programs are successful. Click here for more information.
Jonathan Winters once joked, “I couldn’t wait for success, so I went ahead without it.” Unfortunately, many annual giving professionals aren’t waiting around either. One of the biggest challenges in building strong annual giving teams is staff turnover. Many organizations struggle to retain employees long enough to train them properly, much less to grow them or help them become successful.
One of the most significant factors contributing to turnover has to do with staff expectations for career advancement. According to an AGN survey, the majority of new annual giving professionals expect to be promoted in less than two years. Most organizations are simply not equipped to promote employees this quickly – even those who are performing and producing results at an optimal level.
Expectations for rapid advancement exist amid – and may even contribute to – some level of discontent. In fact, 40 percent of annual giving professionals are not satisfied in their current jobs. 44 percent said they had either searched or interviewed for another job outside of their institution in the past year. 61 percent don’t feel that they’re paid appropriately.
Another factor contributing to the relatively short tenure of annual giving staff may be the number of opportunities available elsewhere. It’s a buyer’s market in many regions, with more job opportunities than there are qualified candidates. It’s hard to convince those who are in the early or middle stages of their careers to turn away from jobs that offer more money and better titles.
An annual giving program is only as good as the people who run it, which is why institutions need to make the retention of (great) staff a high priority. This begins by identifying the most talented employees, listening to their expectations, investing in their development and training, and offering them new challenges and opportunities to gain new skills along the way.
There’s a saying in annual giving that your most important donor is your current donor. Well, the same is true when it comes to employees. The most important members of your team are the ones who came into work this morning. Make it a priority to keep them around until tomorrow.
Nice work! You’ve managed to drive a prospective donor to your institution’s online giving form. While getting them there is certainly an important step, there is no guarantee that they will continue and make a gift. Even if they do, will it be a positive or a frustrating experience? What happens next has a lot to do with how well your giving form is designed.
Here are 6 ways to improve your institution’s online giving form, increase your conversion rates and create a positive experience for your donors:
- Keep the layout and content simple, visually appealing, and balanced by using fonts that are easy to read and by avoiding unnecessary images, videos or links that might distract attention.
- Make sure it’s optimized for viewing on a mobile device.
- Minimize the amount of time required to complete the transaction by reducing the number of pages, fields and required data entry.
- Put the gift amount and designation selections early in the process (while donors are excited!) before the more tedious tasks of providing contact and credit card information.
- Offer an “other” option for donors to write-in a desired designation that isn’t otherwise listed.
- Highlight important options like recurring gifts or split designations and encourage desired outcomes by preselecting high gift amounts.
Don’t underestimate the importance of the online giving experience and the impact it can have on the way your donors think and feel about your institution. Design matters!