Giving & Engagement Through “Fantasy Reunion”

Posted on 03/18/2018 - by Dan Allenby

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 came 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 captains, alumni organized themselves into affinity-based teams of eleven and then earn points for participating in various activities:

  • 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

Teams that earned the most points between mid-January and the end of March were awarded prizes (e.g., apple watch, event tickets, swag). There is also a prize for the individual with the highest score.

Fantasy Reunion is a great way to engage volunteers online, encourage support for the university and ensure that reunion programs are successful.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Engaging Volunteers Online.

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Raising Minimum Donations for Giving Societies

Posted on 03/11/2018 - by Dan Allenby

Economists will tell you that inflation is one of life’s realities. The truth is, most people expect prices to increase over time—whether it’s for something as small as a morning cup of coffee or as big as college tuition. Yet the idea of raising minimum donation requirements for giving societies causes anxiety and concern for many advancement professionals.

Giving societies—and their different levels—provide a way to thank and steward donors, create a community among donors and alumni, and provide a pathway to greater involvement and philanthropic investment over time. But because they can be so ingrained into the culture for many institutions, some are reluctant to make changes to them even when doing so could have a positive impact on their fundraising.

When the advancement team at Gettysburg College looked into raising minimum gift requirements for their annual fund leadership giving club, called the Cupola Society, they found it had been 17 years since the last increase! That fact was just one of many that gave the team confidence in their ultimate decision to raise the minimum gift requirement. If your institution is mulling a similar change, consider the following four tips shared by the experts at Gettysburg College.

1. Plan it, really plan itGettysburg spent a full year reviewing and evaluating their entire annual giving plan, studying peer programs, and conducting focus groups with current giving society donors. Gettysburg describes the process of preparing the transition as research intensive and very intentional. They weighed all of the potential risks and rewards and examined all of the possible pitfalls. And when they did finally make their decision to increase the minimum leadership giving level for the Cupola Society from $1,500 to $2,500, they started communicating with key constituents six months in advance of the change.

2. Give it context – Key to the process of raising the minimum gift requirement was the larger context of their comprehensive campaign, Gettysburg Great: a Campaign for our College. By the time Gettysburg started talking with donors about raising the minimum gift requirement, the school was in year four of a seven-year, $150 million campaign. For several years, donors, alumni, parents, and friends had already been receiving consistent campaign messages from the president, asking them to make an impact in whatever way they could. So by the time Cupola Society donors were asked to help lead the charge, the request had the full framework of the campaign behind it, lending credence and urgency to the ask and the increase of the minimum gift requirement.

3. Communicate it – In terms of what was most essential in the transition to a higher minimum gift level, Gettysburg points to a strong messaging platform and strategic communications plan. Advancement leaders honed the messages that rippled out across the college and beyond. They say their coordination among fellow advancement professionals was the foundation that ultimately ensured success.

Annual giving and stewardship professionals trained the entire advancement unit on the messages to use, which not only resulted in consistency in letters, calls, and emails but also a change in giving levels of other programs, such as an annual golf tournament. Just as important was the communication to institutional leaders. The first step was a presentation to the development committee of the Board of Trustees; and several months later, a presentation to the full Board of Trustees.

Communication directly to donors included focus groups among faculty and staff donors and Cupola Society donors, letters to donors six months in advance, individualized emails and phone calls to particular donor segments and hand-signed letters from the Board Chair once a gift was made post-transition.

And of course, advancement worked with alumni relations and marketing and communications so they could develop articles and features in the newsletter, alumni magazine, and beyond. Overall, executing Gettysburg’s strategic communications plan—from the macro down to the micro level—was less painful than they anticipated. The reason, however, all came down to the planning on the front end.

4. Steward it – It goes without saying that the primary reason to increase the minimum gift requirements for a giving society is to boost your fundraising results. But almost as positive for Gettysburg College were the rich and meaningful stewardship opportunities that resulted. With each outreach to parents, current Cupola Society donors, or faculty and staff, advancement professionals had an opportunity to make a significant contact. They asked donors’ opinions on what type of stewardship was most meaningful to them and how they wanted to be involved in the college; they invited them to events, or simply took an additional opportunity to say a heartfelt ‘thank you.’

The results one year after the transition showed that Gettysburg’s work paid off. The retention rate of donors in the Cupola Society who were previously giving below $2,500 was nearly 80 percent and giving from this group increased by 70 percent. When asked about the most frequent comment donors made once the minimum was raised, they said it was, “It’s about time!”–which simply reinforces Gettysburg’s decision to “level up” for the good of the institution and its students.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Upgrading Donors to Higher Giving Levels.

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Renewing Donors During The Tax Season

Posted on 03/04/2018 - by Dan Allenby

Fundraising is full of uncertainty. You never know how an event will go over, an appeal will perform, or a donor will respond to your request for support. You also never know how current events will impact your efforts. News and economics, unfortunately, have a lot more to do with the success of campaigns than most presidents and boards will let their advancement staff admit.

Rather than focus on what you don’t know, try to focus on what you do know. For example, you know that donors have a life of their own with demands that have nothing to do with your institution. Their seasonal calendars and daily schedules are determined by the birthdays and anniversaries of their loved ones, friends, and colleagues, and the events and holidays of their professions, cultures, and faiths. Getting in sync with the cycles of your donors (rather than those of your institution or yourself) is important – especially in annual giving.

Ben Franklin famously said that there are only two things in life that are certain: death and taxes. That’s why The University of Central Florida (UCF) developed a donor renewal campaign that capitalizes on the fact that donors are used to receiving tax-related documents shortly after the new year. Called the “Tax Statement Appeal,” it’s a direct mail piece designed to look like a tax receipt, and it goes out at the beginning of tax season. Although not an official document, the statement is sent to anyone who donated in the prior calendar year and contains the total amount the recipient gave in the past 12 months.

It’s very basic in terms of concept and design – with a simple tear-off reply device on a standard 8.5” x 11” sheet – but it has one of the highest returns of all of their annual appeals. Using low-cost window envelopes and mailing it at a non-profit postage rate, UCF is able to keep the cost down to around 40 cents per piece. An email follow-up goes out to those who have yet to respond two weeks after the mailer was due for arrival, referencing the form and delivering a second call to action.

The piece is tagged with a unique appeal code that makes it possible to record each reply and track performance in their database. Last year, this mailing brought in 334 gifts at a 5.3% response rate with total contributions over $33,000. A typical renewal appeal for the university nets between $5,000 and $12,000. Based on the results, it only cost them only about 6 cents to raise 1 dollar.

While the primary purpose of the tax statement is to acknowledge and thank past donors, it also serves as a soft way to renew and win back support. By syncing their efforts with their donors’ schedules, UCF helps ensure that the university’s needs and priorities don’t get lost when donors are otherwise focused on other things. And because it goes out halfway through their annual campaign, it reduces the uncertainty that often comes later when so many annual giving teams are scrambling to find donors and dollars before the end of the fiscal year.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Maximizing Donor Retention.

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“Retargeting” to Enhance Your Digital Fundraising

Posted on 02/25/2018 - by Dan Allenby

There’s a new buzzword getting a lot of attention from annual giving programs these days: retargeting. In a nutshell, it’s a form of digital advertising that provides a way to build a customized audience by keeping track of supporters who have visited your web page and then displaying ads they’ve already been exposed to in their own social channels such as Facebook and Instagram.

At UCLA, the Blue & Gold Challenge is a popular fundraising drive designed to capitalize on the spirit and energy generated in the days leading up to the school’s annual football game against crosstown rival USC. A one-week appeal, the campaign “challenges” alumni to reach a predetermined number of gifts in order to unlock a six-figure dollar amount pledged by a leader donor. This past year, the campaign asked the UCLA community to meet the target of 3,600 pledged gifts to claim the additional prize of $350,000 for the annual fund.

To help achieve its goals for the latest Blue & Gold Challenge, the annual giving team added a new element to this digitally-driven event that’s centered around a website landing page and includes email blasts, social media posts, and a series of inspiring videos released in stages throughout the campaign. This use of retargeting may seem too technologically advanced to some, but it’s actually rather simple to understand and implement.

Setting up UCLA’s retargeting campaign was a team effort involving everyone from the department director, production manager, and media team to the folks in data and IT. To execute this tactic, an institution must be on Facebook and signed up for a Business Manager account. It’s also critical to have a web developer or someone who can successfully implement code on your website. From there, the process boils down to three easy steps:

  1. Go to your Facebook advertising account and follow prompts for setting up the pixel.
  2. Copy the pixel code and provide it to your IT person for implementation on your website.
  3. Once implemented, go back to your Facebook account, navigate to “Audiences” and select “Web Traffic” to create a custom audience using the pixel data.

UCLA’s pixel was able to automatically detect anyone visiting the Blue & Gold Challenge site while logged into Facebook, making it possible to retarget those individuals with ads promoting the videos unlocked during the week. It’s a great way to make sure people who have viewed the campaign and potentially already contributed come back to check out the progress that’s been made and take further action by pledging an additional gift or sharing with friends.

It’s best to activate the pixel at least 24 hours in advance of when you intend to begin retargeting to get a head start on populating your custom web traffic audience. The more time you give the pixel to begin pulling visitor data, the more robust your audience. For this relatively short campaign, UCLA put up a teaser site with a clock counting down to the official kickoff that included the pixel code, allowing them to capture visitor data prior to launch and hit the ground running. The Blue & Gold Challenge goals were exceeded with a total of 3,875 donations (107% of target), by far the highest total in the campaign’s six-year history.

Interestingly, data showed visitor time on the website was down for the fundraiser, while conversion percentages were up. The combination of the video engagement fueled by the repeated exposure of retargeting had donors already warmed up by the time they made it to the website. All the annual giving team needed to do was make the process of giving as seamless as possible. This significant takeaway is prompting the university to use retargeted digital ads increasingly alongside traditional channels.

The marketing toolkit of successful annual giving programs isn’t limited to direct appeals and phonathons anymore. Employing new digital tactics – including retargeting prospects based on their online behaviors – are increasingly important ways to reach donors and communicate with them about the impact of giving. Understanding these opportunities, and incorporating them into your overall marketing strategy, will help to elevate awareness and boost results for all of your fundraising efforts.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Digital Advertising & Retargeting for Annual Funds.

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How to Inspire A Lifetime of Consistent Giving

Posted on 02/18/2018 - by Dan Allenby

Harold C. Ripley graduated from Dartmouth College in 1929. He was famous for his bow ties, his sense of humor, and his loyalty to Dartmouth. In fact, “Rip” gave to the College through the annual fund for 83 consecutive years—from his graduation in 1929 until his death in September 2011, at the age of 104.

The Harold C. Ripley ’29 Society was formed in 2009 to honor Rip and to recognize alumni who have demonstrated a commitment to giving through the Dartmouth College Fund every year since graduation. Today, there are more than 5,000 members.

One of the things that makes this recognition society unique is that it’s as much about looking forward as it is about looking back. Prior to graduation, members of Dartmouth’s senior class are asked to join the Ripley Society with a gift to the annual fund and a pledge to support Dartmouth every year after graduation (no requirement to guarantee a dollar amount). By making a gift and signing a pledge card, seniors become—and will remain—members of the Ripley Society unless they fail to make a gift one year.

Unlike a lot of university “loyalty societies,” the program isn’t marketed to the general alumni population. The Ripley Society is only promoted to students and alumni in the first year after graduation. If a senior doesn’t sign up before graduation, they have one more chance to join during their first year post-graduation. If they don’t join then, they’ve missed their opportunity.

The program was successful from the beginning and helped the college to increase participation of the recent graduation classes from around 30% to over 50%. Today, it continues to be an important part of Dartmouth’s annual giving efforts. It has a dedicated webpage which includes a space for members to share stories about how Dartmouth impacted their life and why they support the college every year.

Rip once told a Dartmouth staff member that he knew he wouldn’t be around in 100 years, so he wanted to give to an organization that would be around and would be doing good in the world. He knew that would be Dartmouth. What makes his story even more special is that one of the last things Rip did was make a gift to his alma mater. He passed away on a Friday and the college received his gift through the mail the following Monday.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Donor Loyalty Programs.



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5 Reasons Alumni Participation Is Important

Posted on 02/11/2018 - by Dan Allenby

Picture it. You’re standing alone before the Board of Trustees, ready to present the annual giving team’s strategy to increase your institution’s alumni participation rate. You’ve got a deck full of slides filled with goals, schedules, examples, charts, and metrics. You launch into your presentation confidently (you’ve been practicing!) when suddenly one of the board members cuts you off and says, “All this talk of alumni participation. So what? Why does it even matter? After all, you can’t take participation rates to the bank!”

When you boil it all down, the two most basic and fundamental metrics for any annual giving program are donors and dollars. Donors reflect the number of individuals or organizations who make a gift and dollars reflect the amount of money donated.

Most advancement professionals don’t have a hard time explaining why annual fund dollars are important. They provide an important source of “flexible” and “spendable” revenue that has an impact on today’s students, faculty, and programs. It’s money to “live on” versus money to “grow on,” which typically comes in the form of capital/endowment support. Annual support can be just as significant as endowment support. For example, a $5 million annual fund can have the same financial impact as a $100 million endowment in a given year.

On the other hand, many struggle to articulate the importance of alumni participation. For most educational institutions, the majority of donors will be alumni – although there are other significant donors groups that are also important, such as parents, students, faculty, staff, and friends. Alumni donor counts are used to calculate alumni participation by dividing them by the number of living alumni on record. For example, if your institution has 100,000 alumni of record (i.e., living with a good address) and 10,000 of them made a gift last year, your alumni participation rate was 10%.

The next time you’re put on the spot to explain why participation rates matter (by a volunteer, a colleague, a boss, or a friend), make sure you’re prepared with a good answer. To help you out, here are 5 reasons why alumni participation is important:

  1. Alumni participation creates a broad and diverse base of support as well as a pipeline of future support.
  2. Consistent giving by alumni (even at modest levels) in the years immediately following their graduation increases the likelihood that they will become major donors later in life.
  3. Alumni who give regularly (even at modest levels) throughout their life are more likely to make planned gifts and/or include their alma mater in their estate plans.
  4. Alumni participation rates are 1 of the 7 factors considered by U.S. News & World Report when evaluating and ranking colleges and universities. Rankings can affect reputation, reputation can affect enrollment, and enrollment can affect revenue from tuition.
  5. High levels of alumni participation can inspire major donors, corporations, and foundations to increase their own support. People and organizations want to invest in successful institutions that others are supporting too.

Understanding, and being able to explain, why alumni participation rates are significant isn’t just important so that you have a good answer when someone asks. It will also help you appreciate the core purpose of annual giving and the reason why it is so fundamental to the success of advancement programs overall. No doubt, strong alumni participation rates are the key to sustainable philanthropy support and the long-term success of educational institutions.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Alumni Participation Strategies.

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Growing Your Donor Base With “Incentives”

Posted on 02/04/2018 - by Dan Allenby

In addition to water, light, and warmth, a little fertilizer can go a long way in producing a plush lawn. When used properly, fertilizer can often be the difference between a good-looking lawn and a great-looking lawn. It can give your grass a little extra green!

Using special “incentives” (i.e., free token gifts like address labels, bumper stickers or socks) to entice donors to give is a lot like using fertilizer. Assuming you’re able to get through to them in the first place and that you’re making a strong case for support, incentives can make your appeals shine a little brighter and give your prospects the extra nudge they need to say yes. In their own way, they can give your campaign a little extra green.

There are many different kinds of donor incentives, and it’s important to consider which ones will resonate with which audiences. Generally speaking, incentives can motivate younger audiences and be particularly effective in inspiring new donors who may be looking for a good reason to choose your organization over another.

Incentives work for a number of reasons. For starters, everybody loves a deal. People are motivated when they know that they’re going to get a little extra value for taking action. Consumer marketers have figured this out, using coupons and sales frequently. In annual giving, premiums or token gifts can encourage donors in much the same way.

After Ole Miss’s football team upset Alabama, excited fans rushed the field and tore down the goal post. The university launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay the $74,000 they owed in fines and damages. As an incentive, the university offered rewards to donors at various levels. For example, a $5 contribution got you a personalized letter from the coach, a $25 contribution got you a commemorative computer desktop background, a $250 contribution got you a commemorative print, and a $1,000 contribution got you a six-inch piece of the actual goal post.

Although token gifts can be an effective way to entice donors in the short term, beware! They’re not necessarily a very good long-term strategy. If sustainable support is what you seek (and it should be!), there’s no substitute for good old-fashioned donor stewardship. Let your donors know that you care about them and that their gifts are making a difference. When you do, your campaigns will get greener each and every year that goes by.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on First-Time Donor Stewardship & Retention.

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Why The “Quiet Dinner” Tactic No Longer Works

Posted on 01/28/2018 - by Dan Allenby

Twenty years ago, a popular tactic for annual giving programs was to send a postcard to alumni with the humorous ultimatum, “Make a gift now and we won’t call you at dinner.” It was based on the notion that alumni would be asked to make a gift only once a year—hence, the annual reference in annual giving. Once alumni contributed, they’d be held out of the annual fund pool for further appeals until the start of the next fiscal year.

If you tried this “quiet dinner” tactic today, you’d probably encounter a couple of problems. First, it might not make sense to the recipient. The image of a nuclear family sitting around the table when the ring of a (rotary) phone interrupts their quiet dinner isn’t one that would resonate with many alumni now—especially younger ones.

Second, it’s simply no longer true. Annual giving programs can’t promise that they’ll ask alumni to give only once each year. New opportunities to solicit gifts are popping up every week. Giving days, crowdfunding, and other time-bound or “flash” campaigns offer compelling and entertaining ways to engage donors. In many cases, these opportunities are more in line with the interests, beliefs, and behaviors of younger alumni. But to take advantage of these opportunities, it’s nearly impossible to also control how often alumni will be asked to participate. To be effective, annual giving programs need to rethink how they contact—and ultimately, solicit—alumni.

Start by considering that annual giving programs used to spend a lot of time evaluating the effectiveness of direct appeal efforts in terms of causation. Based on response codes, managers would make observations about which appeals “caused” someone to make a gift. A lot of emphasis was placed on how much money and how many donors came in as the result of a specific mailing or calling campaign. Today, this kind of approach to planning and evaluating gift appeals is far less useful and effective.

In this new era for annual giving, appeal efforts are much more integrated—a constant and interwoven mix of marketing and communication channels. This makes it harder to know that a specific appeal caused someone to make a gift. For example, someone could receive a printed appeal in the mail and then decide to make a gift online. When that occurs, which channel deserves credit? Instead of focusing on causation, annual giving programs must consider the correlation of multiple efforts happening simultaneously and the role each plays in compelling someone to make a gift.

These days, programs are having the most success when they find ways for various channels to work together. You’re more likely to get a prospect to respond—typically to the channel that most resonates with them—if you coordinate your communication effectively around a common message or goal. Even if it happens more than once a year or (gasp!) during dinnertime.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Integrated Multi-Channel Marketing.

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Assessing a Donor’s Capacity and Inclination

Posted on 01/21/2018 - by Dan Allenby

When it comes to raising money, advancement professionals have no shortage of things to do. That’s why it’s so important that they focus on the right prospects – those who truly care about the institution and also have the ability to provide philanthropic support. Unfortunately, the fundamentals of prospect research are often overlooked. When you discover a new prospect (or potential prospect), one of the first things that needs to be done is an assessment of their capacity and their inclination.

If a prospect has capacity, it means that they have the financial ability to make a significant gift. There are several ways to identify capacity. Analyzing their biographic and demographic characteristics is a good start. For example, having a zip code from an affluent area (e.g., 90210), a senior level job title (e.g., CEO, Vice President), or an advanced degree (e.g., JD, MBA, MD) can all point to the possibility of wealth. Past giving can also be an indicator of capacity. For example, if someone has donated $1,000 in the past, it suggests that they may have the means to do it again in the future.

When someone has inclination, it means they have some interest in making a gift. Similar to capacity, there could be many clues within your data (and other data sources) that reveal something about someone’s inclination. For example, there’s a correlation between past giving, event attendance, volunteering, and even recently-updated contact information (e.g., email, phone number, home address) and the likelihood that someone will make a gift in the future. These and other details can be a sign of donor inclination.

Of course, not everyone will have the same level of capacity and inclination, so it helps to have some kind of scoring system that allows you to track and compare prospects. For example, assign alphabetical codes to prospect records on a scale of A through E so that A suggests very high capacity and E suggests very low capacity. Then assign numeric codes on a scale of 1 through 5 so that 1 suggests very high inclination and 5 suggests very low inclination. Someone coded as an A2 is likely a better prospect than someone coded as an A3 and someone coded as a C1 is probably better than a B5. This system will help you and others prioritize prospects.

Understanding donor potential in terms of capacity and inclination will help you develop the best possible plan for communicating with and engaging prospects. It will also help you determine how to allocate your institution’s resources, your time, and the time of others. Researching the capacity and inclination of prospective donors doesn’t need to be complicated, but it is important to do from the start.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Research and Prospect Management.

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Employing Students Outside The Call Center

Posted on 01/14/2018 - by Dan Allenby

It’s not unusual to walk into a phonathon center these days and make these two observations: One, the room is filled with intelligent and competent students, prepared to do their jobs, represent the institution proudly, and raise money for the annual fund. Two, these terrific human resources are being underutilized either because prospects don’t answer the phone at the same rate that they used to or because the students themselves are capable and interested in doing more.

For well over a decade, the University of Scranton’s annual fund had enjoyed a mature, high performing phonathon. But, like many programs, it was struggling with a decline in prospect contact rates. The new reality was an all too often quiet room of students waiting patiently for someone to answer their calls. Management knew they needed to find ways to utilize their talented callers, so they decided to put them to work outside of the call center by creating a new role within the annual fund for Student Development Officers.

Inspired by the student discovery program pioneered over a decade ago by Georgetown University, these student development officers made personal visits to under-engaged alumni and parent prospects. They focused on local visits while school was in session and they visited prospects in their hometowns during academic breaks. The student development officer team was comprised of the most mature and talented student callers, who received additional training on how to secure, conduct, and follow up on visits. Their primary goals were to collect information and solicit annual fund gifts. Most were assigned to lapsed and non-donors with some indication of leadership gift potential.

Student development officers also assisted with stewardship projects, attended events, and helped to manage a four-year philanthropy program aimed at educating students beginning in their freshman year. Additionally, the program helped prepare the students for careers in development. In its first year alone, three of Scranton’s top student development officers secured full-time university fundraising positions after their graduation.

Not only does an initiative like this help engage rated prospects in a more personal way, but it can make better use of university resources when your phonathon isn’t reaching its full potential. Combine these key benefits with the valuable experience provided to your student development officers, and you’ve turned an otherwise discouraging situation into a win-win-win.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Rethinking Phonathons.

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When Donors Are Selfie-Involved

Posted on 01/07/2018 - by Dan Allenby

Union College Dog ImageAn ancient proverb goes like this: Tell me and I’ll forget. Show me and I’ll remember. Involve me and I’ll understand.

Annual giving programs are well-equipped to show and tell. Letters, emails, infographics, and videos are useful tools for telling stories and showing why a donor’s support is needed. Our institution is doing important things! Your support is necessary to achieve those things!

One of the benefits of show and tell is that it has economies of scale. The cost to reach an individual prospect goes down as the size of the target audience goes up. Unfortunately, scale isn’t as easy to take advantage of when it comes to involving prospects. That requires a little extra creativity.

Union College came up with a great way to involve large numbers of constituents in their giving day. Two weeks prior to the online event in April they sent a mail piece to 24,000 alumni, parents, and friends. It provided details about the day and included a detachable blank sign with the header, “I support Union because…”

Recipients, including past donors as well as those who had never supported the college before, were asked to do three things:

  1. Write in their reason for supporting the college
  2. Take a selfie picture
  3. Post it on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the giving day hashtag

Participants could then visit Union’s giving day website to view all the selfies and get updates on the day’s fundraising progress. The idea involved a lot of new and existing donors and helped them better understand the important role philanthropy plays at the college. In 24 hours, Union College secured gifts from 1632 donors – nearly 25 percent of whom had already made a gift earlier in the fiscal year.

Don’t limit your fundraising efforts to show and tell. Take the extra step of getting your donors involved. There are many ways to do this: ask them to host an event, invite them to participate in a focus group, recruit them to serve on a committee. Though sometimes, simply asking them to take little actions – like a selfie – will be all you need to create energized and successful fundraising campaigns for your institution, as well as more interesting and rewarding experiences for your donors.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Engaging Volunteers Online.

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The Right Time To Ask A Donor For More

Posted on 01/02/2018 - by Dan Allenby

In the world of fundraising, giving patterns vary widely. Every donor gives in a manner and at times that are uniquely right for them. In the case of most educational institutions, the majority of alumni won’t even make a single gift during their lifetime. Fewer still will ever make a major or planned gift. Even so, recognizing common giving patterns for those who do give can help you, as a fundraiser, plan solicitations that will (hopefully) steadily increase a donor’s giving over time.

Consider the lifelong pattern of an ideal alumni donor, which might look something like this:

  • Before graduation, they make their first gift through the senior class gift campaign
  • 1-15 years out, they make consistent donations to the annual fund
  • 15-30 years out, they make leadership gifts to the annual fund
  • 30+ years out, they make a major gift or planned gift

These stages suggest a model for cultivating alumni in a way that’s most likely to be in line with their own circumstances and capacity. For example, it’s probably not realistic to expect a recent graduate to be able to make a major gift since they are just starting out in their careers and in accumulating assets. Nor is it realistic to expect someone who has never donated before to make a major or planned gift if your institution has done nothing to build a relationship with them over time.

Encouraging people to move through these various stages of giving is often referred to as building a pipeline, and it’s one of the most important functions of an annual giving program. It begins with identifying and acquiring new donors, encouraging their consistent support, and raising their sights in a way that leads to their increased giving over time. A strong pipeline will ultimately produce a pool of prospects that have been regularly solicited, appropriately stewarded, and prepared for a conversation about a major or planned gift.

Make no mistake: every donor is unique with his or her own motives and interests. Cultivating relationships with donors based on their individual characteristics – and timing your solicitations accordingly – is fundamental and essential for successful fundraising. But it’s also important to be able to step back and see individual donors within a bigger context. Doing so can not only help you determine when it’s an appropriate time to ask for a gift, but it can also help you gauge when it’s the right time to go back and ask for more.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Upgrading Donors to Higher Giving Levels.

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Participate Events for Young Alumni

Posted on 12/27/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Shoaling is a term used in biology to describe when a group of fish stick close together. In general, fish shoal with others of similar size and appearance, choosing members of their own species whenever possible. There are many reasons why fish shoal. Collectively, it makes them more effective at searching for food and moving through the water. It’s a defense strategy — large groups are less vulnerable to predators than individual fish — and is also thought to increase the likelihood of finding a mate.

Since their beginning, alumni relations programs have expended a considerable amount of time and effort helping alumni shoal. Among their more traditional approaches have been holding campus events like homecoming or class-specific celebrations such as reunions. For many programs, regional chapters and clubs have also provided a way for alumni to gather at happy hours or sporting events. Realizing the value of bringing alumni together, today’s annual giving programs are also beginning to leverage events as a way to achieve their fundraising goals and provide better donor stewardship.

Realizing the value of bringing alumni together, today’s annual giving programs are also beginning to leverage events as a way to achieve their fundraising goals and provide better donor stewardship. A few years ago, the University of Chicago launched “Participate” — a series of festive parties organized to encourage young alumni to give. To get on the invitation list for a Participate event you must have a) graduated in the last ten years and b) made a gift in the current fiscal year of any size to any designation. Events are organized in key regions throughout the country where there are significant populations of alumni. They’re promoted through email, social media, and word of mouth by volunteers.

Attendees are treated to high-end drinks and delicious appetizers while they greet old friends and make new connections. There’s no dress code but — as the university’s website jokes — that doesn’t stop many alumni from looking snazzy when they show up. For those who aren’t sure if they qualify for an invitation, the annual fund’s website includes an Honor Role of Donors so they can look for their name.

Helping alumni shoal may not make annual giving programs less vulnerable to predators or more likely to find a mate, but the University of Chicago has seen that it can increase young alumni giving and engagement, which is arguably more important.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Young Alumni Giving.

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Tackling The Planning Process

Posted on 12/17/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Similarly, the process of developing a plan for any annual giving campaign often ends up being even more valuable than the end product. It’s the process that brings the key stakeholders together and collects their input. It’s the process that gives staff a sense of ownership, which makes them more likely to want the plan to succeed.

Getting started can be the hardest part. It may be tempting to wait until after the books close and the fiscal year is complete, but planning should begin four to six months before the end of the fiscal year. You won’t have the final results at that point, but you will have at least half of the year behind you and should have a sense of what has or hasn’t been working.

A good way to kick off the planning process is to bring together all of the annual fund stakeholders for a meeting. This can include the annual fund staff as well as colleagues from other advancement units who do work on behalf of the annual fund (e.g., alumni relations, advancement services, communications, major gifts). You may also want to include campus partners (e.g., student life) or vendors.

If time and resources permit, consider making this initial meeting a retreat or hosting it at an offsite location. This will give the meeting a greater sense of importance, and it will help participants by reducing the distractions that inevitably arise during a typical day in the office. It’s worth dedicating at least a half-day to your initial planning meeting. Depending on the size and complexity of your program, it may even be worth scheduling a full day or more.

Appoint someone to lead the meeting. This person might be the annual fund program director or someone from outside your team or the organization, such as a consultant or a colleague from a peer institution. One of the benefits of a third party facilitator is their objectivity, since they are not immersed in the challenges and politics that you and other staff face every day. Facilitators can also help ensure that everyone has a chance to participate rather than having the meeting dominated by one or a few individuals.

Set an agenda in advance of the meeting to ensure that you make good use of everyone’s time. It doesn’t need to be long or detailed, but it should allow time to review the past year’s activities and performance, discuss goals and expectations, and address any special projects or issues that are especially relevant to the program. Be sure to dedicate some time to talk about new initiatives or recurring challenges, and maintain a “parking lot” list for important topics or ideas that need to be addressed at a later time. Bring data to the meeting to help you reflect back and look forward. For example, a report showing the volume of annual fund activity by month can be useful when identifying pockets of opportunity for the coming year.

Without a doubt, what happens after the initial planning meeting is just as important as what happens during the meeting itself. Your work will likely continue for the next few months as your plan unfolds and you refine your strategy. Although the duration of this work can vary widely depending on your circumstances, consider the following timeline to help guide your team through the remainder of the planning process:

  • Organize and distribute meeting notes to all participants and stakeholders within 1–2 weeks after the initial planning meeting
  • Ask for feedback in writing within 1–2 weeks after the meeting notes are distributed
  • Create and distribute a draft of your plan within 2–3 weeks of receiving feedback
  • Distribute the draft plan and ask for feedback in writing within 2–3 weeks
  • Revise the plan within 2–3 weeks of receiving feedback, including final results and performance data for the prior fiscal year
  • Distribute a final plan within 1–2 months of starting the new fiscal year

Like any process, planning requires patience to get it right. Think of it like creating a sculpture. Your kick-off meeting will produce a block of concepts. Then you’ll need to chip away at that block to remove the parts that aren’t needed and accentuate the parts that are most important – until what’s left is a thoughtful and strategic plan. This won’t happen overnight, but in the end, it will provide your team with something that everyone can appreciate and find beneficial.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Planning Your Direct Appeal Calendar.

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Personalized Gift Proposal Mailings

Posted on 12/10/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Direct mail can be a highly effective way to solicit leadership gifts. The key is to make the package feel special. First and foremost, it should stand out and look important. Using a first-class stamp and thicker paper stock or investing in good writing and design can go a long way. It may cost you more to produce, but a look of class and excellence will pay off. Some institutions even send their most important leadership appeals inside Priority Mail envelopes so that they will be noticed and opened.

Making reference to one’s past giving or recent campus involvement or including handwritten notes at the bottom of the page can also help to make an appeal seem more personal. Whatever it is, ensure you do something to make your most important appeals stand out and show the recipients that your institution recognizes them as leaders.

Oregon State University views its leadership annual fund appeals as a way to strengthen their pipeline and prepare the next generation of major gift donors. Each year, they send personalized direct mail pieces to each of their annual fund leadership gift prospects. Resembling a proposal that would be presented to major gift prospects, the package contains all the basics—a thoughtful cover letter, a full-page response form with suggested gift levels, and a reply envelope. As an added touch, the materials are held together with a gold paper clip and inserted in a hand-addressed and hand-stamped booklet envelope.

The quality of the package is so high that when prospects receive it they know they are part of an exclusive and important group. It makes them feel special. The mailing raises over $180,000, with average gifts of over $2,400 and a response rate of over 10 percent. One prospect responded to the appeal with a $25,000 gift.

Leadership gift donors are some of your most important constituents, and the way you go about asking them to increase or renew their support can be a delicate process. No doubt, the most effective way to solicit a leadership gift is through a face-to-face conversation. However, when that’s not possible, customizing your direct mail appeals with personal touches can go a long way toward making those donors feel important and helping to guarantee that your message stands out and generates your desired response.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Rethinking Direct Mail Appeals.


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Comparing Apples To Apples

Posted on 12/03/2017 - by Dan Allenby

One of the best ways to assess your annual fund performance is through institutional benchmarking. In other words, compare the results of your program to the results seen at other schools. A very general way to benchmark is to look at the overall industry trends that take into account a large sampling of other institutions. The problem with this approach is that, with so many different types of institutions out there, you don’t always have meaningful points of reference.

For example, if your institution has a 5 percent alumni participation rate and you compare it to the median national rate of 8.3 percent, then you might infer that your program is not doing well. But beware. You may be jumping to inaccurate conclusions since you’re including a lot of different types of institutions in your comparison.

To get a clear apples-to-apples idea of how your program stacks up, you’ll have to compare your program to ones at institutions that look and act like yours. If you’re a small liberal arts college with 5,000 alumni and are interested in knowing if you have a sufficient number of calling stations in your call center, it’s not going to be helpful to compare your program to one at a large public university with 300,000 alumni. Instead, you’ll want to identify a peer group or cohort of between five to 15 programs that resemble your institution in terms of size, mission, and academic offerings.

Once you’ve established a peer group, you’ll need to determine which metrics you want to benchmark. Consider organizational characteristics of each program (e.g., number of annual giving staff, budget), key performance metrics (e.g., alumni participation rates, retention rates), and strategic aspects such as the criteria used to account for annual fund revenue and the way staff are deployed to focus on leadership annual fund gifts.

Next, you’ll want to collect the data. Depending on the scope of your benchmarking goals, you may wish to gather data yourself by reaching out to colleagues directly, or you may decide to hire a firm or consultant to conduct the study on your behalf. It will help to create a matrix to record and organize information (see the figure below). This will make it easier to organize and analyze the data and ultimately to determine where your program’s characteristics and outcomes are strongest and where you have the greatest opportunities for adjustments, improvements, and investments compared to peer institutions.

When you’re able to put your program’s results into context, they highlight the elements that need attention. Assuming nothing disruptive has occurred (e.g., staff turnover, problem at the mail shop, economic downturn), the vast majority of your program’s parts will typically operate and perform the way you expect them to. But when your analysis helps to identify a trend or an outlier – either a positive or a negative one – it gives you an opportunity to act on it, to make changes and improvements. Doing so is being strategic and data-driven.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE  for AGN’s Webinar on AGN’s 2017 Report: Benchmarking for Annual Giving Success.

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Annual Fund vs. Annual Giving

Posted on 11/26/2017 - by Dan Allenby


Although the terms are often used interchangeably, annual giving is not necessarily the same as the annual fund. The latter is a financial term. It’s an account or a group of accounts where monetary gifts are held. There is no universal definition for an annual fund, and criteria vary from one institution to the next.

For some organizations, the annual fund may be comprised of purely unrestricted gifts. These are gifts contributed for general purposes; donors leave it up to the institution to decide how best to allocate the funds so that they will have the biggest impact. For others, the annual fund may represent spendable gifts, regardless of their purpose or designation. This would exclude gifts to the endowment or grants, or money tied up in certain capital projects. The definition doesn’t necessarily matter as long as it is in line with institutional needs and priorities, and it’s understood by staff, volunteers, and donors.

Annual giving, by contrast, is a much broader term, one that cannot always be measured with exactness. In many ways, it’s simply the hope and aspiration that alumni or any donor will support the institution each and every year regardless of where their gifts are designated.

Annual giving is also different from major giving. If the 80‑20 rule tells you that most of the money in a fundraising effort will come from a few major donors, then it stands to reason that annual giving makes up most of the rest. In other words, annual giving can be viewed as the way the majority of donors will contribute to an institution’s overall fundraising effort.

Several characteristics of annual gifts distinguish them from major gifts. The most obvious difference is their size—major gifts are usually larger. Of course, larger is a relative term. What’s a large gift for one institution may not seem that large to another. In any case, major gifts usually take longer to cultivate and—whereas annual gift payments are typically transacted within a single fiscal year—it’s not uncommon for major gifts to be made (and “booked”) in the form of pledges and paid out over multiple years.

Another difference is their purpose. While major gifts often go to support long-term needs, annual gifts typically support current operating needs. In this context, you could also say that there are two kinds of money: money to grow on and money to live on. Liken it to developing a household budget. On the one hand, you set aside money to grow on—for long-term needs like savings, education, and retirement. On the other hand, you expend money to live on—for rent, food, and utilities. For most schools, it’s the same. They need money to grow on, which often comes from endowment or capital support in the form of major gifts. They also have money to live on, which often comes from annual giving.

Annual giving is also distinct from membership—a model used by many alumni associations. Although the techniques used to acquire and renew alumni association members and annual donors are similar across both activities, membership implies quid pro quo (i.e., an exchange of benefits or services in return for paying dues), whereas annual giving is an act of philanthropy in which nothing is promised to the donor in return, other than the good feeling it gives the donor about the impact the gift will have on others.

To be able to distinguish an annual fund from annual giving, and also to distinguish annual giving from other aspects of advancement, is important for two reasons. First, it allows you to make a stronger and clearer case for annual support to your alumni and donors. Second, it allows others (e.g., major gift officers, alumni relations officers, volunteers) to make the case for annual giving alongside competing priorities. For example, it helps them explain why it’s important to have restricted and unrestricted support, why it’s important for major donors to continue their annual giving, and why it’s important for members of the alumni association to also support the annual fund. When the entire community embraces annual giving, it serves to strengthen the institution’s culture of philanthropy.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Branding for Annual Giving Success.

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3 Rules of Managing Volunteers

Posted on 11/19/2017 - by Dan Allenby

As hard as you try to make your appeals feel intimate, the truth is that they always run the risk of coming across as a little cold and impersonal to your prospects. One of the best ways to warm up solicitations is to coordinate them through volunteers. There’s even evidence to show that working through volunteers can pay off: institutions whose annual giving programs report having a “reliance on volunteers” have alumni participation rates nearly twice that of programs that report not relying on volunteers.

Annual giving has a long tradition of getting alumni volunteers involved as class agents or as members of reunion gift committees. Now, new roles are emerging for volunteers to lend a hand.

When the University of Massachusetts was preparing to launch their first ever online-giving day—appropriately named UMass Gives—they hoped that it would inspire many young alumni to support the university for the first time. To that end, they knew they would need to look beyond traditional volunteer roles for help spreading the word. So, they created a new role for volunteers called “online ambassadors.”

To identify potential ambassadors, they compiled a list of past telefund callers, former senior class gift committee members, new young alumni donors, and alumni who were particularly active on the university’s social media channels. Then they sent these individuals an email describing the role and inviting them to join the ranks. Once a team of ambassadors had been recruited, UMass set out to make sure that this new resource was used effectively. Following the three conventional rules of managing volunteers, the annual fund team made sure to:

  1. Tell them what to do. The online ambassadors were asked to post and share university-generated content about Giving Day through their social networks and to email friends leading up to and during the event. They were also encouraged to post their own pictures and comments and to share their feelings about philanthropy, and why the university matters to them.
  2. Give them tools to do it. Although online ambassadors already had the primary tools necessary to perform their roles (i.e., their own social networks), the annual giving staff provided them with sample text to use in their posts and emails. They were also given special Giving Day T-shirts and were asked to take selfie pictures and post them online along with the #UMassGives hashtag.
  3. Acknowledge when they’d done it. When the day was over, one of the first things the annual giving team did was to send an email to each ambassador with a first glimpse of the final results and a note of gratitude for their help.

All in all, 140 online ambassadors were involved in the event, which not only proved to be great for spreading the word but also engaged them in a meaningful and fun way. Not wanting these important new volunteers to sit idly until the next Giving Day, the annual giving team continued to keep them involved, sending them regular email and news updates about the university that they could share.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Planning a Successful Giving Day.

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Strengthening Student Foundations

Posted on 11/12/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Everybody has at least one thing they’re good at—everyone has a talent. Some people are creative. Others are analytical. Some people are detail-oriented. Others are good at getting things done. For annual giving programs, recruiting volunteers who have an array of talents and who are willing to lead by example can be one of the best ways to spread the word about the importance of giving. It can also be an effective way to teach students about philanthropy and give them a chance to put their talents to good use.

The student foundation is nothing new at Oklahoma State University—it’s been around for decades—but it had a few shortcomings. First, it wasn’t getting the support it needed from staff. Second, it wasn’t always clear to members what was expected of them. Third, the foundation didn’t accurately reflect the diversity of the university’s student population. When the annual giving team realized that the foundation wasn’t living up to its full potential, they didn’t waste a moment looking for ways to improve it.

One of the first things they did was dedicate a staff position to supporting student philanthropy programs. This position focused on recruiting and supporting volunteers, coordinating events and marketing efforts, and developing programs to teach students about philanthropy. The position was also responsible for developing a stronger partnership with the office of student affairs and identifying ways for the foundation to be more involved in student life in general, as well as in important events like matriculation and commencement.

Next, they created a volunteer job description that outlined their specific expectations of members. It stated that each foundation member was required to be present at meetings, help spread the word about giving, and join one of the subcommittees through which they could assist with development-related projects like crowdfunding or event planning. Having a job description gave volunteers a clearer sense of what they were signing up for in advance and helped ensure that they knew how they could put their talents to good use.

Finally, they revised the recruitment process for foundation members in an effort to encourage more diverse student membership. In the past, it had been limited largely to word of mouth. The new process included proactive recruiting through various campus offices, faculty, and student groups. They specifically sought out students with diverse characteristics, backgrounds, and talents.

Taking time to rethink the support, expectations, and diversity of volunteers not only gave new life to the student foundation but also created a more effective vehicle for teaching students about giving. The volunteers themselves ended up having a more meaningful experience and their talents were used more productively, which in turn helped spread the word to other students around campus about the impact of philanthropy.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Engaging Student Volunteers in Fundraising.

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Preparing The Next Generation of Major Donors

Posted on 11/05/2017 - 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 Johns 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 that is should be realistic 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 that 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 are 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 campaigns that the university undertakes in the future.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Cultivating Young Alumni Leadership Donors.

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2017 Survey of Annual Giving Programs

Posted on 10/29/2017 - by Dan Allenby

AGN is pleased to announce the launch of its 2017 Annual Giving Survey, which will uncover the latest trends and best practices in the field of annual giving. All colleges, universities, and independent schools are invited to participate. Every institution that completes the survey will receive a FREE copy of the survey’s executive summary report, a chance to win ice cream for your team, and a $50 discount on any AGN service including job ads, webinar registrations, and program assessments (one discount per institution; offer valid until 12/31).

All AGN Plus Members who complete the survey will receive an additional report that provides peer benchmarks and evaluates staffing levels, budget allocation, and ROI. These customized assessments are tools to help annual giving programs improve strategy and make the case for additional investment.

The survey contains 13 questions and takes less than 10 minutes to complete. All responses will be kept confidential. To minimize the length of time it takes to complete the survey, please have the following information from your LAST FISCAL YEAR on hand before you begin:

  • Total # of living alumni AND # of alumni donors (grad/undergrad combined)
  • Total $ revenue AND # of gifts generated through annual giving
  • Total $ revenue AND # of gifts from direct mail, phonathon, and online giving
  • Total $ budget for the annual giving program overall as well as for direct mail, phonathon, and professional development (exclude staff salaries, include caller wages)
  • Total $ private support to your institution (cash and pledge payments from major AND annual giving combined)

The survey will remain open until November 3rd. Limit one submission per institution. For more information, please contact [email protected].

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6 Ways To Improve Your Online Giving Form

Posted on 10/22/2017 - by Dan Allenby

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Make sure it’s optimized for viewing on a mobile device.
  3. Minimize the amount of time required to complete the transaction by reducing the number of pages, fields, and required data entry.
  4. 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.
  5. Offer an “other” option for donors to write-in a desired designation that isn’t otherwise listed.
  6. 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!

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Annual Fund Websites & Giving Forms.

7.4_HBS_Preselected Gift Amount Online


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3 Steps To Handling A Donor Complaint

Posted on 10/15/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Wouldn’t it be nice if 100% of your donors were happy 100% of the time? If that were so, your annual giving program would surely see lower donor attrition and significantly higher participation rates. Keep dreaming. The truth is that there are going to be times when your team will get a call or an email from one of your supporters with a complaint.

It might be because their name was spelled wrong on an appeal or because they weren’t invited to an important event. Perhaps the phonathon calls them too often or your office under-reported their gift amount on the annual donor report (oh no!).

Sometimes grievances will be legitimate. Somebody wasn’t paying close enough attention or simply made a mistake. Other times, it might be something that’s out of your control. Regardless of the circumstances, it’s generally best to handle it as if the customer (or, in your case, the donor) is always right.

In fundraising, knowing how to respond and what to do when a gripe comes your way is as important as knowing how to solicit a donation or write a gift acknowledgment. “AAA” is a good way to remember how best to react when a donor complains:

  1. Accept – take responsibility for the issue on behalf of the institution
  2. Apologize – simply say you’re sorry
  3. Act – tell them what you’re going to do to fix it

Following these three steps when dealing with a complaint will not only prevent the issue from escalating into a bigger problem, but it may even end up being a good donor cultivation move. Who knows? If handled properly, a complaint today could lead to an opportunity tomorrow.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Maximizing Annual Fund Stewardship.

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Reunion Zero

Posted on 10/08/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Shoaling is a term used in biology to describe when a group of fish stick close together. In general, fish shoal with others of similar size and appearance, choosing members of their own species whenever possible. There are many reasons why fish shoal. Collectively, it makes them more effective at searching for food and more efficient at moving through the water. It’s a defense strategy (large groups are less vulnerable to predators than individual fish), and it is also thought to increase the likelihood of finding a mate.

Since the beginning, alumni relations programs have expended a considerable amount of time and effort helping alumni to shoal. Among their more traditional approaches are campus events like homecoming or class-specific celebrations such as reunions. For many programs, regional chapters and clubs have provided a way for alumni to gather at happy hours or sporting events. One of the biggest mistakes institutions make, however, is waiting too long to connect alumni in this way.

Recognizing how important it is to keep recent graduates engaged, especially during their first few years as alumni, Elon University created Reunion Zero. Rather than wait five or ten years to hold a class’ first reunion, they invite their newest alumni class to return to campus only a few months after graduation for a special event around homecoming in the fall.

Reunion Zero not only provides a way to welcome the newest members of the alumni community, but it also creates an opportunity to engage volunteers and leaders. Former senior class gift committee members and past phonathon callers are recruited to be part of the Reunion Zero Committee, which helps with event planning, communications, and fundraising activities.

Alumni Relations (and Annual Giving!) programs have an especially important role in the first few years after students leave the confines of campus. This includes bringing them together so that they can realize the benefits of belonging to an alumni community. In doing so, they’ll be far more likely to provide their support in a number of important ways when the time comes for them to be asked. When students are taught about the important role and impact of philanthropy and then nurtured in consistent and meaningful ways after they graduate, they’ll be much more inclined to pay attention when their alma mater calls on them.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Transitioning Students to Young Alumni Donors.

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Minimizing Annual Fund Staff Turnover

Posted on 10/01/2017 - by Dan Allenby

I'm A Keeper ShirtJonathan 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 exciting 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.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Strong Teams and Collaborations.

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The Best Time To Teach Students About Philanthropy

Posted on 09/24/2017 - by Dan Allenby

When is the best time to begin teaching students about philanthropy? Not surprisingly, this is a debated question. Some advancement professionals feel that it’s important to give students a chance to get acclimated for a few years first—holding off on talking about the subject until senior year. Others address the topic the minute students set foot on campus—pointing out buildings bearing the names of donors during campus tours or espousing the tradition of alumni support during matriculation speeches.

Agnes Scott College in Georgia doesn’t wait long to involve students in philanthropy; they get them started in their freshman year. Agnes Scott is a women’s college, so, in lieu of a fall football homecoming event, they celebrate Black Cat Week. Throughout the week, various competitions take place among all four classes. Points are awarded for winning field events, creating campus decorations, and giving to the annual fund.

The 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. For seniors, this week also forms the “nucleus fund” for the senior gift campaign, which ramps up its fundraising efforts later in the fall and into the spring.

The effectiveness of each class’ 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 who 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% for freshmen, 19% for sophomores, 25% for juniors, and 36% for seniors—not a bad way to start off a senior class gift campaign that has ended up averaging 83%. The increase in participation from one class year to the next is evidence that starting early can create momentum that can continue once the students become alumni.

Whether your institution begins talking with students about philanthropy right away, or waits a few years until the students are more acclimated, is often a matter of institutional culture. Even though the annual giving team might see value in getting started early, it’s also important that everyone be on the same page. Getting buy-in beforehand from institutional leaders, campus partners and student influencers (e.g., faculty, the office of student affairs) can be just as important as beginning the conversation with students themselves.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Student Philanthropy Programs.

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Avoiding The Lapsed Donor Cliff

Posted on 09/17/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Donor retention rates are measured by taking the population of donors from a given year and calculating the percentage of those donors who made a gift in the following year. For example, if you had 1,000 donors in year 1 and then 600 of those same donors made a gift in year 2, then your retention rate would be 60%.

While retention rates can vary widely from one institution to the next, the median retention rate for competitive colleges and universities in the U.S. is, in fact, around 60%. One of the reasons it’s important to track retention rates is because they serve as a barometer of donor satisfaction and help you assess the quality of your stewardship efforts. They’re also a primary driver of donor counts and participation rates.

Prior year donors (often referred to in annual giving circles as LYBUNTs) are more likely to renew than any other segment.  What’s more, the likelihood that a donor will renew increases based on how recently they made their last gift. For example, a donor who made a gift 12 months ago is statistically more likely to give again than a donor who gave 36 months ago. Knowing this doesn’t guarantee that the donor who gave 12 months ago will renew, but it can help you think about your segments and prioritize your resources.

Inversely, the likelihood that a donor will give again declines with every year that the donor lapses – in other words, each year that s/he doesn’t make a gift. “The Cliff” (as it’s commonly referred to) is the point at which the odds of getting a lapsed donor to give again are lower than those of getting a non-donor (i.e., someone who has never given) to make a gift. For most institutions, this is usually at 4-5 years.

Lapsed donors, interestingly, are also 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

So while it can be tempting to focus on your current and most recent donors, make sure that you don’t ignore your lapsed donors. They can be some of your best donors. Pay attention to their unique behaviors and giving patterns prior to their lapsing. Then build a segmentation strategy for your appeals and stewardship efforts that makes the most of your limited resources and, most importantly, keeps those past donors from going over The Cliff.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Reactivating Lapsed Donors. 

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How To Secure A Meeting With A Prospective Donor

Posted on 09/10/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Several things need to be aligned for a successful face-to-face gift solicitation. First of all, you need to find the right prospect. This is someone who either has a relationship or an interest in your institution, as well as the capacity to make a gift.

You also need to determine the right time. Maybe it’s been a year since the prospect’s last gift, it’s a reunion year for their class, or a special occasion for your institution—like an anniversary of its founding. Or maybe they’ve recently been engaged in some way by visiting campus, volunteering, or receiving an award.

Finding the right place to meet is important too. The best location is always where the prospect feels the most comfortable. So, if you have a say, try to meet at the prospect’s home or office, where you can see them in their own element. This will allow you to look for clues about their interests and learn more about them as a person.

Remember that a meeting doesn’t just happen on its own. You’re going to have to ask for it. When you do, make sure it’s clear to the prospect why you want to meet with them. Even though “asking for money” might be on your agenda, try to focus on some of the other good reasons why you might be asking for a meeting. For example:

  • You’d like to give them an update on what’s been going on around campus
  • You’d like to talk with them about their reunion or other upcoming event
  • You’d like to say thank you for their past giving and tell them how it’s having an impact
  • You’d like to get their opinion
  • You’d like to talk with them about “leadership”

When you’re clear and direct about why you want to meet with a prospect, the likelihood that they’ll take the meeting goes way up. The same can be said for the solicitation itself. The more clear and direct you are about why you’re asking and how their support will have an impact, the greater the likelihood that your solicitation will end in a yes.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Meeting with Donors & Prospects.

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Answer Your Phone!

Posted on 09/03/2017 - by Dan Allenby

There’s nothing more disheartening to a phonathon manager than a center filled with callers listening to phones ring and voicemail greetings. Unfortunately, for many annual fund programs, this is the current reality.

Gone are the days when reaching prospects required little more than dialing. Thanks to caller ID, mobile devices, and the negative stigma associated with telemarketing, alumni (particularly young alumni) are less and less likely to answer when their alma mater calls. Today, the likelihood that a prospect will even pick up is less than 50%. This is troubling because phone solicitations typically have much higher donor conversion rates than other channels like direct mail or email. What’s more is that phonathon programs can be expensive to sustain.

Like a lot of programs, the University of Buffalo had watched its phonathon contact rates decline for years and they were particularly concerned by the low contact rates among their most recent graduates. They felt like they were missing the opportunity to connect with these graduates in a personal way and worried they weren’t making full use of the phonathon center, which wasn’t cheap to maintain. So they decided to test something new.

They sent a postcard to alumni offering a chance to win a gift card for simply answering the phone—regardless of whether or not they made a gift. Their goal was to get more alumni (especially younger alumni) to engage in a discussion, not just respond to a solicitation. They believed that if they focused on connecting with alumni, it would give them an opportunity to update their contact information (paving the way for future communication) and engage them in a personal way. Soliciting contributions would be secondary.

Alumni who received the postcard ended up answering the phone at higher contact rates than those who did not, which allowed the callers to connect with alumni even if only for a few minutes. In addition, alumni who received the postcard pledged at higher rates, even though fundraising was not the primary goal of the effort.

The battleground for each channel has its own unique opportunities and pitfalls, so be mindful of what you’re communicating as well as how you’re communicating it. Cutting through the static to reach your alumni via phonathon requires you to be creative and methodical, assertive and direct. With the right balance, you should find that your alumni will answer the phone.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Rethinking Phonathons.



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The Most Important Metrics in Annual Giving

Posted on 08/27/2017 - 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 it’s 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 five 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 gifts 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 percentage 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 five 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.”

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on the Fundamentals of Data-Driven Annual Giving.

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How To Be An Effective Annual Giving Leader

Posted on 08/20/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Coach. Cheerleader. Teacher. Champion. Obstacle-clearer.

Of all the characteristics that are beneficial for an annual giving leader—whose team’s importance can sometimes be overlooked amid the ongoing quest for mega-gifts—one stands out above all others. A survey of over 200 annual giving program directors asked participants to identify the first word that came to mind when hearing the phrase “annual giving leader.” Popular responses were clustered to create a word cloud; the more frequently a word was mentioned, the larger the font used. As you can see from the image below, the most common response was strategic.

As chief strategists, leadership-level annual giving professionals are responsible for piloting the planning process, establishing goals (and aligning them with the larger institutional goals), and ensuring their program’s productivity. They need to monitor industry trends and best practices and determine how to adapt and incorporate good ideas. They also need to analyze the results and trends of their own programs and then translate key findings into new and improved approaches. At the same time, they have to be able to “manage up”—to help senior advancement leaders understand the capabilities and limits of the annual giving program.

Leadership-level annual giving professionals are also the ones responsible for making decisions about where to allocate resources. They need to be able to identify problems and impediments as well as devise effective solutions to deal with them. Since it’s not always easy or possible to get more resources or change people’s expectations, leaders face the challenge of getting the most out of the resources they already have. Focusing on strategy means they need to delegate tasks and responsibilities to others, find ways to empower and retain the most talented staff, and address issues of underperformance.

Needless to say, strategic leadership takes work.

Above all, being a strategic annual giving leader requires focusing a significant amount of time and attention on the things that will have the biggest impact on fundraising as well as participation. This means working closely with advancement colleagues—especially those in major gifts and alumni relations—as well as with others across campus, including deans, faculty and other senior administrators. It also means being proactive in thinking about the role, the potential, and the expectations of the annual fund in the context of broader advancement initiatives—something that’s increasingly important as educational institutions find themselves going into, coming out of, or in the middle of comprehensive fundraising campaigns.

Originally used in a military context, the broader concept of strategy describes a plan to achieve a goal over a given period of time and under conditions of uncertainty. For many leadership-level annual giving professionals, this context still rings true today, and its use proves to be as important as ever.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Developing an Annual Fund Plan.


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5 Tactics For Boosting Phonathon Contact Rates

Posted on 08/13/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Running a phonathon program isn’t cheap. Recruiting and training a staff of quality callers (not to mention maintaining the hardware and software in your call center) requires a lot of time, a lot of effort, and a lot of money. Fortunately, phonathons have a lot of benefits. They have higher conversion rates than direct mail and email appeals, they’re an effective way to acquire new donors and upgrade current donors, and they’re the most efficient way to engage a lot of prospects in a personal way. But you can’t take advantage of any of these if your prospects don’t pick up the phone.

Here are five ways to boost your phonathon’s contact rates and ensure that your callers talk to as many prospects as possible.


  1. Give them a heads up – Let prospects know you’ll be calling with some advance notice. Mail them a pre-call post card, send them a pre-call email, or even run a targeted pre-call ad on your facebook page.
  2. Target “phone-friendly” prospects – Don’t spend too much time calling people who have only responded to direct mail or email appeals in the past. Focus first on prospects who have responded to your phone calls in the past. For non-donor segments, try to identify those who share characteristics with your past phonathon responders.
  3. Let tired lists rest – Keep your lists as fresh as possible. Avoid calling the same prospects over and over when they don’t answer. Give segments a break after you’ve attempted them 3 or 4 times within a period of a couple weeks. After that, you can try putting them back in the calling pool.
  4. Mobilize – As the landline phone makes its way onto the endangered species list, it’s increasingly important to maintain good mobile phone numbers on all of your prospects. Create incentives for prospects to provide you with their mobile phone numbers and consider investing in mobile phone append services.
  5. Leave messages – Don’t assume that just because someone doesn’t answer your call, they don’t see you calling. It’s very possible that they’re screening your calls because they don’t know who you are or why you’re calling. Leaving a voicemail can actually increase the likelihood that they’ll answer the next time you try. This is especially true for young alumni and parents.

Increasing your contact rates is key if you expect to raise more money and secure more donors through your phonathon. Remember, if you don’t hear “hello,” they’ll be nothing to show.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Maximizing Your Phonathon.

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3 Reasons To Always Write A Contact Report

Posted on 08/06/2017 - by Dan Allenby

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Maybe. Maybe not. Now, if you have a great meeting with a prospect and you forget to log a contact report, does it really matter? Absolutely.

A contact report is a written summary of a development officer’s interaction with a prospect. It records the time and purpose of the meeting and highlights important information that came out of the meeting. Too often, however, development officers don’t take take the time to write contact reports after meeting with a donor, which can end up being a big loss for the organization. Here are 3 reasons that you should always write a contact report:

First, they provide an easy way to share intelligence with others who work with or on behalf of the prospect. It’s a much more efficient method of communicating a lot of information to a lot of people than having to rely on additional meetings or conversations. Distributing contact reports to colleagues is a good and common practice. It can be as simple as sending an email.

Second, the mere act of writing a contact report forces you to reflect back on your meeting and determine what was and what wasn’t important about it. A good contact report is concise and only includes information that is relevant as it relates to advancing a prospect’s relationship with the institution. A contact report should not tell the reader what color tie the prospect was wearing, that his sister’s husband’s cousin just got a speeding ticket, or that the waiter spilled orange juice on your lap. It should, however, tell you how he feels about the direction of the institution, what campus events he recently attended, or which professor the prospect liked best when he was in school. It’s also beneficial to include other details that, while maybe not directly related to your institution, help to paint a picture of the person, like their political views or other philanthropic causes they support.

Third and finally, contact reports are good for posterity. Staff comes and goes (some stay longer than others) but a prospect’s relationship with an institution can often last a lifetime. Contact reports can not only help new staff when they need to get up to speed quickly and learn about the prospects they’re going to be responsible for cultivating, but they can help experienced staff recall important details and past events. They also provide a useful point of reference when thinking about how to best engage a prospect going forward.

The best time to write a contact report is as soon as possible while the details of the meeting are still fresh in your head. Don’t get caught up thinking it has to be long or elaborate. In fact, short and sweet is usually best. It’s not a novel; it’s the cliff notes. At a minimum, though, it should include:

  • Your name
  • Prospect’s name and their relationship to the institution (e.g. alumnus from Class 1994)
  • Prospect’s estimated wealth, giving patterns, gift capacity, and inclination rating
  • Date, time and location of the meeting
  • Other participants (e.g. spouse, dean)
  • Summary of the meeting (no more than 5 sentences)
  • Key outcomes from the meeting (in bullet form)
  • List of next steps and your goals for cultivating and soliciting the prospect in the future
  • Other items of note (this is where the extra details go)

Unfortunately, writing a contact report is easily (and frequently) put off. But the longer you wait, the more likely it is that it will never get done. When a contact report goes unwritten, a lot can get lost. Colleagues may not get clued in, you may not have a chance to process the meeting thoroughly, and future generations may never know about those things that you worked so hard to uncover. Sometimes, when a contact report goes unwritten, it’s as if the meeting never happened at all.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Meeting with Donors & Prospects.

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The Secret Behind Effective Gift Impact Reports

Posted on 07/30/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Ask someone to explain the role of stewardship in annual giving and they might tell you about the acknowledgment letters they produce, the donor rosters they publish, and the plaques that hang in their institution’s hallways. While these are all important aspects of stewardship, they’re secondary to the task to showing donors how their gifts have made a difference.

One of the challenges in annual giving, however, is that you can’t always tell a donor exactly how their donation was spent. While major gifts typically go to support a very specific need, annual gifts are often pooled together and distributed where an institution’s leadership thinks support is needed most. But even though you can’t show a $50 annual fund donor exactly how that money was used, you can help them to understand the kind of collective impact that results from annual giving. Telling stories can, even in a general way, let annual donors know that their past gifts are making a difference.

Recognizing the importance of this, Boston College’s annual giving program produces impact reports. These online reports are filled with pictures, videos, and stories about the impact of annual giving on the lives of students and faculty. Donors are sent emails letting them know that the reports are available.

Donors also receive quarterly impact report emails, which come from an individual student or faculty member who has benefited directly from annual giving. They include compelling stories and specific examples of how donor support has made a difference in their lives. The impact reports and emails are coordinated as part of the university’s donor loyalty program known as The Neenan Society, since both are considered a core element of the annual fund’s stewardship and donor retention efforts.

In the first year after launching their impact reports, Boston College saw an increase in their donor retention rate. But that’s not the only way they knew their efforts were effective. The annual fund staff also received heartfelt emails back from donors telling them how much they enjoyed received the reports.

One of the fundraising’s best kept secret’s is this: It’s not about the money. It’s about what the money does that matters most. That is especially true in annual giving. So, make a point of talking to your institution’s students and faculty as well as others in your community who are the beneficiaries of annual support. Listen to their stories, collect them, and (most importantly) share them with the donors who made those stories possible.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Stewardship for Annual Fund Donors.

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Grad Fair Days for Senior Class Giving

Posted on 07/23/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland found that babies can learn a lot before they’re even born. Their study examined two groups of mothers-to-be, half of whom were exposed to loud recordings of made-up words in their final months of pregnancy. After birth, the babies who had heard the recordings in utero recognized the made-up words; the other group of babies did not. The researchers could tell because brain activity in the exposed babies increased when those words were played, whereas babies who didn’t hear the recordings in the womb did not react as much.

A student’s final semester is like the final weeks of a baby’s time in utero. During this period of great growth and change, students prepare to enter the real world. It’s a time filled with excitement and uncertainty. Many students face the tasks of searching for a job and considering what it’s going to be like to pay rent on their own for the first time. The experiences that students have and the information they take in during their senior year will have a lasting impression on their lives as alumni.

Many institutions see the commencement ceremony itself as an opportunity to tell students what life will be like as alumni and what they can expect once they graduate. Letting students know that they are about to become part of a meaningful and active alumni community, that belonging to this community has value, and that resources are available through the institution that can help them grow personally and professionally can have a significant impact on them.

At the same time, many graduating students will look to their school to help them navigate through what can be an overwhelming time. The weeks leading up to graduation can be particularly hectic. Aside from all the questions (and anxieties) that arise about life after graduation, many students are cramming for final exams, saying farewell to good friends, and preparing for the commencement celebration.

Lehigh University found a way to make life easier for seniors while making sure important messages get delivered and tasks get completed. Through a cross-campus partnership with the alumni association, career services, and the bookstore, the annual giving team developed a program to help students get ready for graduation and to prepare them for their lives as alumni. They call it Grad Fair Days.

When seniors come to the university bookstore, they are greeted by a representative who helps them get fitted for their caps and gowns, look at class rings and shop for diploma frames. But the representative can also talk knowledgeably about what to expect when they become alumni.

Students learn about the opportunities and benefits available through the alumni association, resources they can access through career services, and the significance of supporting the annual fund. Then, after a brief consultation, students are escorted to a bank of laptop computers and guided through a five-step process of verifying their contact information, completing a career services survey, creating their alumni network account, submitting their cap and gown order, and visiting the web page for the senior class gift.

The process not only aids students in checking off a lot of important tasks on their list, but it does so in an efficient way that helps to alleviate some of their anxiety. Making it a seamless process requires a lot of interdepartmental collaboration on the institution’s part because there are so many tasks to coordinate (e.g., floor layout, staffing, regalia, computer setup and support). But the teamwork pays off. In the first year alone, the university saw an increase in the number of completed career services surveys, new alumni network accounts, and senior class gifts.

When students hear and see that their school is there not just to prepare them for life as adults but also to provide continued help and support throughout the remainder of their personal and professional lives, it makes the bond with their alma mater stronger. The role of the nurturing mother doesn’t end when students are handed a diploma. The truth is, from the standpoint of an annual giving or advancement professional, that’s really where the work begins.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Transitioning Students to Young Alumni Donors.

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The Best Advice You’ll Ever Ask For

Posted on 07/16/2017 - by Dan Allenby

There’s an old adage in fundraising that goes like this: If you ask someone for money, they’ll probably respond with advice. But, if you ask for advice, don’t be surprised if they end up giving you money.

If you work in annual giving, then you’ve heard it before: The only time I hear from my alma mater is when they need money! While it’s easy to see how some alumni could feel this way, the truth is that soliciting donations is an important responsibility of any annual giving program. In fact, one of the biggest mistakes you can make is not asking enough.

The most successful programs certainly aren’t shy about asking. They appeal to alumni for donations on a regular (sometimes monthly!) basis, and they don’t necessarily stop asking after someone makes a gift. Many will follow up with a second appeal shortly after. Research shows that the more frequently a donor is asked – and subsequently gives – the more likely they will be to give again in the future. But don’t confuse this to mean that institutions should only ask for money.

Stanford University’s annual giving team knows that engaging alumni and donors involves more than just gift solicitations, which is why they created a mail piece that specifically asks alumni for their advice. With a headline that reads, “Whether you graduated five or 55 years ago (who’s counting?), you probably have some very useful advice for today’s undergraduates,” the piece includes a reply card so alumni can respond with their opinions about the best place to study on campus, whether or not “fountain hopping” is a good idea, and other suggestions that might be helpful to current students.

The mailing, which was sent in early May, was done as a test alongside a “bio update” mailing that is typically sent around the same time each year. The goal was to mimic the experience of filling something out and sending a gift. An email, which included a link to a digital survey, was sent a few weeks later as a follow-up to the print mail piece. Although it was not intended to come across as a gift solicitation, the mailing did include a subtle plug for financial support at the bottom of the page. See below for an example of the printed piece.

Good engagement and fundraising strategies involve a lot of asking. But don’t be too narrow in what you’re asking for. Gifts come in many sizes – time, talent and treasure. When a donor is willing to give any one of these things, it’s important to take notice. And when you find someone who cares enough about the institution to give all three, then you’ve found something that’s not only rare but truly special.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Stewardship for Annual Fund Donors.

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Using Central Tendency To Assess Results

Posted on 07/09/2017 - by Dan Allenby

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said that “those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” Indeed, what you see is always relative to what surrounds it. At no time is this more important to keep in mind than when analyzing the performance of your programs.

Just about anybody can click a button to run a standard report, look over a spreadsheet, or recite how many donors came in as the result of the last appeal. But don’t confuse these actions alone with being analytical. Observing the data is an important first step in analyzing your efforts, but the next step is interpreting the data. This means figuring out what stories the data have to tell.

Interpreting data requires context. Rather than looking at metrics in a vacuum, you need to compare them to something. For example, if someone asks how your alumni participation efforts are going and you reply that your alumni participation rate is 12 percent, that doesn’t provide any context. Is 12 percent good? If so, how good, and what evidence do you have to support this claim? By itself, 12 percent is just a number; but comparing that number to something else gives it context and makes it relevant.

One of the simplest and most useful ways to give context to your metrics is to compare them to one of the three measures of central tendency: the mean, the median, and the mode.

The mean (also known as the average) is the most common measure of central tendency. It’s the sum of every number in a data set divided by the total number of data points. For example, if your annual fund raised $1 million last year from 10,000 donors, then the average gift per donor would be $100 ($1,000,000/10,000 = $100). However, the mean can be skewed by outlier gifts. For example, if one of those 10,000 donors made a single donation of $500,000, it would inflate the mean. Without that one donation included in the calculation, the figure would be only $50, so it’s important to remember that the mean does not necessarily give an accurate representation of the typical donor’s gift.

The median is the middle value when the numbers in a data set are arranged in ascending or descending order. If the number of values in a data set is even, then the median is the mean of the two middle numbers. For example, imagine that your phonathon received five gifts last night in the amounts of $60, $75, $100, $125 and $500. In this case, the median gift would be $100, since it is in the middle when you sort the gift amounts from lowest to highest. This is significantly lower than the mean gift of $172. Since outlier gifts can be common in annual giving (remember the Pareto principle), the median can be a good way to measure central tendency and paint a more accurate picture of a typical giving pattern.

The mode is the value that occurs most frequently in a data set. For example, if your program received five gifts in response to an email appeal in the amounts of $25, $25, $25, $500, and $1,000, then the modal gift would be $25, because it occurred more often than any other gift amount. Understanding where a distribution of gifts tends to cluster can be helpful when assessing the messages and ask amounts that go into your appeals or reside on your online giving forms.

These three measures of central tendency offer annual giving professionals a variety of tools to evaluate the performance of their appeals and programs. By providing context to your results, each of these tools can help you understand how an individual metric compares to the greater population and where it falls within the overall range of outcomes. Ultimately, this will let you know whether you can celebrate your success, or if it’s time for your team to head back to the drawing board.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Fundamentals of Data-Driven Annual Giving.

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Posted on 07/02/2017 - by Dan Allenby

StopThe Annual Fund is always going.

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.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Planning Your Direct Appeal Calendar.

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5 Ways To Improve Subject Lines for Email Appeals

Posted on 06/25/2017 - by Dan Allenby

In direct mail fundraising, an envelope has two jobs. The first is to get delivered to the right mailbox. The second is to get opened. You can say that the envelope is the battleground for an annual fund’s print appeals. Getting someone to open it gets you one step “closer to the castle” of getting them to make a donation. Similarly, getting someone to answer a phonathon call or getting someone to take a meeting with a gift officer is a key step in ultimately getting someone to make a donation.

In email, the battleground is the subject line. It’s the first (and quite possibly the only) thing that a prospect will see, which is why it’s so important to choose your words carefully. Keep in mind that your donors are likely getting dozens – if not hundreds – of other emails each day, so you need to make sure your subject lines stand out, get noticed, and resonate.

Here are five ways to create more effective subject lines and ultimately get your prospects to open your email appeals.

  1. Grab attention – Be concise and direct. Pull them in and make them want to read more. Try to make it read like a newspaper headline.
  2. Generate curiosity – Ask questions like “Is your name on this list?” or try numbered phrases “6 reasons you should donate today.”
  3. Make it relevant – The point is not to trick someone into opening your email. The point is to get those who will be interested in what’s inside to open it. It’s better to have a lower open rate and a higher click-through or conversion rate than the other way around. If you have a video to share, preview that with a subject line like “Watch this video!”
  4. Create urgency – Use deadlines. Let them know if “Time is running out” or if it’s their “Last chance” to get their gift matched. Year-ends and challenges provide natural opportunities to create a sense of urgency.
  5. Beware of spam filters – Certain phrases or characters can cause your emails to get flagged as mass emails and automatically dumped in “junk” or “spam” folders where it’s likely your alumni will never even see them. To avoid this, try not to use words like “free” or “exclusive” in your subject line and shy away from using special characters or capital letters. If it looks or sounds like something a sleazy salesperson might say, there’s a good chance it’ll end up in a spam filter.

Don’t underestimate the importance of compelling subject lines for your email appeals. And don’t try to figure out the right one all alone. In fact, come up with a few options and share them with others for their feedback. This might take a little extra time, but it’ll be worth the effort. Remember, the subject line is the battleground in email fundraising. Anytime a prospect opens your email appeal, your chances of victory (i.e., securing a donation) go way up.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Email Strategy for Annual Giving. 

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You Are Perfect

Posted on 06/18/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Donor retention rates measure the portion of prior year donors who give again in the following year. For example, if there were 100 donors to your institution two years ago and 65 of those same donors made a gift again last year, then your program’s alumni donor retention rate for last year would be 65 percent.

In fact, for competitive colleges and universities, a typical alumni donor retention rate is around 65 percent. For high performing annual giving programs, alumni donor retention rates can be as high as 80 percent. However, for the majority of college and university annual giving programs across the U.S., alumni donor retention rates are usually closer to 50 percent.

In the case of new donors (i.e., those who made their first gift in the prior year), retention rates are typically much lower. For most programs, this will often be below 20 percent. In the case of recent graduates, who made their first gift as part of their senior class gift campaign, it’s not unusual for retention rates to be below 10 percent.

To reduce this kind of attrition and to highlight the importance of ongoing support by new alumni, the Penn Fund launched its “You Are Perfect” campaign. It started several years ago as a fiscal year-end postcard sent to all first-year alumni who had donated to their senior class gift campaign in the prior year. The message was simple: You Are Perfect. Don’t Change!

The initial mailing generated a 14 percent response rate and accounted for one-quarter of all giving from the class. In recognition for their gifts, donors received personal acknowledgment letters and were listed as “perfect donors” in the university’s donor roster publication. In the following year, they rolled it out to all graduates of the past four years with perfect giving records. It generated a 16 percent response rate and accounted for 10 percent of giving by pre-5th reunion classes.

Encouraging consistent giving (regardless of the gift amount) by recent graduates not only helps to increase retention rates each year, but it’s one of the most important things you can do to boost your alumni participation rates over the long term.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Transitioning Students to Young Alumni Donors.

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7 Tips for Writing an Appeal Letter

Posted on 06/11/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Annual Fund appeals come in many different shapes and sizes. The variety of images and text you select for your brochures, pamphlets, and postcards offer an endless combination of ways to convey your message and ask for support. But sometimes, nothing beats black letters on a white piece of paper – the good old-fashioned letter.

When you sit down to write an appeal letter, the first thing you should do is determine the audience. Are you asking someone to make a gift for the first time or are you addressing a group of consistent donors? Are you hoping to win back a supporter who has lapsed or are you trying to upgrade someone to a leadership level? Are you writing to alumni, parents, faculty or staff? The more you know about your audience, the better you can address them in a personal and meaningful way.

Perfection is the enemy of progress, so don’t get hung up trying to make your letter flawless the first time through. Just get something written down – a first draft is a big step. You can focus on making it “good” later. Here are a few ideas to consider as you start your next appeal letter:

  1. Grab the readers’ attention at the very beginning with a story, question or quote.
  2. Share an example of gift impact. Mention a specific student, faculty member, or someone else who has benefited from donor support.
  3. Use the word “you” as much as possible.
  4. Don’t bury the ask. Suggest an amount and describe what it will achieve. Explain the consequences of inaction.
  5. Highlight the things that are most important (e.g., the ask, goals, deadlines) by using italics, bold type, and underlining.
  6. Have it come from (i.e., signed by) someone the audience will relate to
  7. Use a postscript! It’s one of the first things (and sometimes the only thing) people read.

In a world where fundraisers have a seemingly endless number of tools in their toolkit, it can be easy to overlook the importance of those classic approaches that have worked for years. Don’t forget about the value of a well-written appeal letter. And don’t expect that your first draft will be perfect. Review and revise it several times. Get a colleague (or several colleagues) to read it and make suggestions. Remember that nothing is ever well-written, only well re-written.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Writing for Annual Funds.

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6 Ways To Segment By Giving History

Posted on 06/04/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Fruit SegmentationNo two donors are the same. Each one has had a different experience as it relates to giving that influences the way you should communicate with them. They do, however, all share one thing in common: none of them has either a 0% or a 100% chance of giving in the future.

Organizing past donors into segments allows you to create customized messages that will increase the likelihood that they will respond to your appeals. While there is an unlimited number of ways you can subdivide your donor populations (e.g., interests, behaviors or demographics), a good place to start is to consider their giving record.

Here are 6 ways to segment your donors based on their giving history:

  • Current Donors are those individuals who have given in the present fiscal year. Since they’ve already been “counted” toward your participation goal, your messaging should focus on acknowledging their giving and its impact. While a traditional annual giving approach is to hold off on further solicitations for this group, it’s not uncommon for programs today to pursue additional gifts from current donors. If you do, however, it’s particularly important to let them know that you’re aware and appreciative of their recent support.
  • Prior-Year Donors are those individuals who gave during the last full fiscal year but who have not yet given in the current fiscal year. A term that’s often used to describe this segment is LYBUNT, an acronym which stands for “Last Year But Unfortunately Not This.” Generally speaking, prior-year donors are the most likely segment to renew their giving. Among competitive colleges and universities, approximately 60% of prior-year donors can be expected to give again in the current fiscal year.
  • Multi-Year Donors are a sub-segment of prior-year donors and are those individuals who have donated in more than one past year. This is important because the likelihood that a donor will renew their giving increases with each successive year that they donate. For example, someone who has donated in each of the past four years is more likely to donate than someone who has donated in each of the past two years. Among competitive colleges and universities, approximately 66% of multi-year donors can be expected to renew their giving. Moreover, the likelihood that a multi-year donor will renew their gift is over 80% once a donor gives for five years in a row. Therefore, a useful goal for any donor is to get them to the five-year mark as the “tipping point” in ensuring they become a consistent lifelong donor.
  • New Donors are another sub-segment of prior-year donors and are those individuals who made their first gift last year. New donor retention rates are usually much lower than the overall prior year donor segment. Among competitive colleges and universities, approximately 26% of new donors can be expected to renew their giving. In the case of first-year-out graduates who made their first gift as part of their senior class gift campaign, it’s not unusual for fewer than 10% to renew their giving. For this reason, new donors represent a huge opportunity when it comes to increasing the rate of renewal as well as overall participation.
  • Lapsed Donors are those individuals who have given at some point in the past but who did not give in the prior fiscal year. A term that’s often used to describe this segment is SYBUNT, an acronym that stands for “Some Year But Unfortunately Not This.” Lapsing is the term often used to describe when a past donor misses or skips a year of giving. Among competitive colleges and universities, approximately 15% of donors who are fewer than five years lapsed can be expected to renew their giving. Within the lapsed donor populations are several sub-segments that deserve your extra attention: those who made a leadership gift before lapsing, those who made multiple gifts in a single year before lapsing, and those who had a streak of consecutive giving before lapsing. Each of these sub-segments is more likely to donate and more likely to upgrade than the lapsed donor population in general.
  • Long-Lapsed Donors are individuals who have given at some point in the past but have not done so in a significant number of years. In the same way that multi-year donors become more likely to give again with each subsequent gift, the likelihood that someone will donate declines with each additional year that they lapse. Once a donor lapses more than five years, the chance of them giving again the following year is often less than the chance of getting someone to give for the first time. This tipping point is commonly referred to as “the cliff,” and you should do your best to avoid letting your lapsed donors fall over it.

Segmenting your donor populations based on giving history will allow you to give each group the attention it needs, create more personalized messages, and allocate your resources based on your goals and priorities. While giving history certainly isn’t the only way to segment your target audience, it’s often the best place to start.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Segmentation Strategy.

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Managed Prospects & The Year-End Blitz

Posted on 05/28/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Most annual giving professionals spend the final weeks of a fiscal year vigorously looking for every last donor and every last dollar they can find. The best ones let no stone go unturned. Year-end activities range from simple tasks like updating your voicemail greeting or email signature with a reminder that the end is near, to more involved undertakings like calling donors with open pledges or sending targeted appeals to lybunts asking them to renew.

One of the most effective – yet often overlooked – ways to increase year-end support is sitting right there next to you: the major gift officer. Their portfolios are filled with your institution’s best prospects. Depending on the size of your organization, this could represent hundreds if not thousands of potential annual donors. Needless to say, major gift officers can be an annual giving professional’s best friend during the year-end blitz.

But don’t expect them to come to you. Unlike annual giving, major giving strategies tend to take a longer-term view. Major gift officers may not be as focused on (or motivated by) fiscal year goals and deadlines. That means that the burden is on you to motivate them to help. One of the easiest ways to do this is to provide them with information about how their prospect portfolios have performed in terms of annual gift participation. Consider the following example of an email that you could send to each gift officer at your institution:

Dear Colleague:

There are only a few weeks left in the fiscal year and, thanks to the good work of you and others, we are on pace for a strong finish. However, there are many managed prospects who have still not made a gift or pledge payment this fiscal year. You can see how your own portfolio has performed on the spreadsheet below.

Our primary goal is, with few exceptions, to ensure that all managed prospects are asked to make an annual gift (or pledge payment) before the end of the fiscal year. Ideally, these asks will be made in person over the next few weeks. If not, we would like to encourage you to call each of your prospects. As a last resort, you may consider sending them a letter or email.

The annual giving team will be monitoring progress carefully and will be providing updates regularly. In the meantime, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if there is anything we can do to support you in these solicitations. Many thanks for your help!

-The Annual Giving Team

The closer you get to the end of the fiscal year, the fewer options there are for securing annual gifts from donors. While it’s important to send broad-based appeals and reach out to your own prospects and volunteers, it’s equally important to work through others. Major gift officers can be a tremendous source of help for annual giving programs. They have knowledge of and relationships with your institution’s best prospects. And while annual giving may not always be at the top of their mind, a little reminder from you in the final months of the fiscal year can have a big impact on your institution and its annual fund.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Annual Fund & Major Gift Partnerships.

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A Million Hours

Posted on 05/21/2017 - by Dan Allenby

If you’re like so many other annual giving or advancement professionals, you may feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that’s expected of you. And your prospects and volunteers more than likely feel the same way. Living in a “time famine” is what makes it particularly special (and rare) when someone is willing to give a significant amount of his or her time to help your organization.

When Boston University launched its first public capital fundraising campaign, it set out not only to raise a lot of money but also to increase support from all of its constituencies—including students. Knowing that most students would not be in a position to make significant monetary gifts to the campaign, the university found a way for students to contribute without having to open their wallets.

Soon after the campaign launched, BU students collectively made a pledge to complete one million hours of community service before the campaign ended. To put this into perspective, the million-hour goal is equivalent to one person volunteering nonstop for over 100 years. The idea was inspired by a commitment from the then-student union president who, prior to the launch of the campaign, pledged one hour of community service for each undergraduate student.

As the campaign got underway, students were able to participate through a variety of volunteer programs, including the student-run Community Service Center, the First Year Student Outreach Project, Alternative Spring Break, and any service performed in conjunction with Greek life, religious groups, clubs or student organizations. The administration even developed a mobile app that allowed students to log their service hours in real time and track overall progress toward the goal.

Emphasizing the value of time is particularly important for students who are still in the process of developing talent, and have likely not yet amassed much in terms of treasure. What’s more, finding ways to harvest their time in productive and meaningful ways not only can offset some of your own time and resource limitations, but also can plant a seed that yields other forms of continued support down the line.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Student Philanthropy Programs.

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12 Tips for Hiring the Right Annual Giving Professional

Posted on 05/14/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Hiring the right person for a job is one of the most important decisions a manager can make. It’s particularly important in annual giving, where staff turnover is a common problem. According to an AGN Salary & Professional Development Report published last year, 38 percent of annual giving professionals are not satisfied in their current job and 41 percent have searched or interviewed for another job in the past year.

Hiring the wrong person can cause big problems down the line. Whether they’re unhappy or simply not cut out to do the job, a mismatch can leave you facing one of two undesirable situations. The employee will either quit – leaving you with the time-consuming task of recruiting their replacement – or they’ll stick around, becoming a drag on the organization.

Here’s some advice to help you hire the “right” annual giving professional:

  1. Recruit internally first. Don’t assume that you need to launch a long and exhaustive search. Sometimes the best candidate is right in front of your eyes.
  2. Look for someone who is running to something rather than running from something. Be suspicious of those who say negative things about their current employer.
  3. Beware of job hoppers. Calculate the average time they’ve spent at previous jobs and assume that’s how long they’ll stick around your organization.
  4. Consider their enthusiasm. Playing “hard to get” can make someone appealing at first, but it can also be a sign that your organization or the opportunity just doesn’t excite them.
  5. Find out who has mentored them. The people they look up to and whom they’ve learned from can be far more important than any talent or skill they possess.
  6. Don’t look for perfection. Those who appear to know what they don’t know are almost always more effective than those who appear to know everything.
  7. Value experience. Those who have been at it longer may not be smarter, but they probably have more experience making – and hopefully learning from – mistakes.
  8. Get input from others. Don’t carry the burden of making this decision on your shoulders alone. Ask a group of colleagues to interview candidates (or at least the finalists) too. If the majority shares a feeling (positive or negative) about someone, it can be indicative of how well they fit into with your office culture.
  9. Test their endurance. Don’t be afraid to invite candidates back for multiple interviews. Try a different setting (conference room, coffee shop, colleague’s office) each time. It’ll give you a chance to see them in different lights.
  10. Do the math. Create a scorecard that lists out the five or six success factors and rate candidates on a scale of 1-5 for each one. When everyone has been interviewed, see who comes out on top.
  11. Be thorough with references. And not just the ones they give you.
  12. Don’t rush into any decisions. A wise person once said, when it comes to building a successful team, you should “fire quick and hire slow.”

Above all else, trust your gut. Regardless of what your colleagues or your scorecard tell you, listen to that voice in your head. The above tips can help guide your decision-making process. But, when it comes to hiring the right person, you’re the one who’s going to have to live with your decision. If you’ve been thorough and thoughtful during the recruitment process and, in the end, someone simply feels like the right person for the job, then chances are, they probably are.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Strong Teams & Collaborations.

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The First To Know

Posted on 05/07/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Running an annual fund gift society isn’t difficult. Just about anyone can come up with a name and a list of levels and benefits. But will that be enough to get alumni to join and renew? Will it compel members to increase their giving from one year to the next? Will it make them want to tell their friends about it? No; developing a gift society that’s truly appealing and valuable for members requires something more.

Take the name, for example. Some programs choose a generic name like the president’s circle, the headmaster’s society or the dean’s associates – titles that could be applied to any institution, at any time, anywhere in the world. But finding a name that’s unique and meaningful to your specific alumni and donors can make them feel like they’re part of something truly important. Many institutions use a significant year, a person, or a place in their history to brand their gift society or the various recognition levels within it.

Similarly, some annual giving programs rely on loosely-defined benefits to incentivize membership and encourage donors to move “up” to higher giving levels over time. After all, the less specific you are, the easier is it to get by when you don’t deliver, right? Common among these generic promises are “dedicated communications,” “special events,” or “distinct recognition.” Some institutions even offer stuff (think wall calendar!) to members in return for their support. According to an AGN poll, 59 percent of gift societies at educational institutions offer members tangible perks.

While these things might be enticing to some, the truth is that what members find most valuable isn’t necessarily something you can read or attend or hold. More often than not, what they really want is insider access. They want to be the first to know when something important happens. There’s no better way to help set your members apart as an important group and let them know that they are special. And a lot of times, this won’t cost you a dime.

Amherst College gets it. Their 1821 Society (named after the year of their founding) has everything you might expect to find in an annual fund leadership donor society. Its approximately 1,500 members are required to donate a minimum of $1,821 each year. Graduates of the past decade can join at a discounted rate ($1,000 for those who are 6-10 years out and $500 for those who are 1-5 years out), and there are premium tiers and perks for those who give at the $10,000+ and $25,000+ levels.

In return, all members receive a copy of The 1821 Journal and invitations to attend four special 1821 Society events (primarily breakfasts and cocktail parties) which are held on campus around reunion and homecoming, as well as in major cities throughout the year. Each event features a talk from a faculty member or a student who has an inspiring story to tell. For many alumni (especially younger alumni) these events are viewed as great professional networking opportunities.

What makes The 1821 Society so effective, though, is the insider access it provides to its members. For example, when the Board of Trustees made a resolution to discontinue the use of “Lord Jeffery” as its unofficial mascot following a series of controversies related to the historical figure, the college set up a conference call with 1821 Society members to give them the inside scoop. The President participated in the call and offered members a chance to ask questions and voice opinions. The annual fund’s phonathon callers were also put on the front lines during this time, calling members to ensure that they heard the news before others.

Successful gift societies don’t need to be fancy or complicated and they don’t need to offer members free stuff. In fact, the most effective gift societies are quite simple. What sets them apart, is that they offer members something unique, meaningful and valuable – something that they can’t find or buy anywhere else. Sometimes that can be as basic as making sure they are the first to know when something important occurs.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Gift Clubs & Societies.

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Podcast: Interview with Dan Allenby

Posted on 04/30/2017 - by Dan Allenby

AGN’s Founder, Dan Allenby, recently joined the “Fundraising Voices” podcast for a candid conversation about his 20-year journey through the field of annual giving. Among the many topics covered in this exclusive interview are how he got his start, some of the big surprises he’s encountered along the way, the real story behind the creation of AGN, and the goals and aspirations for its rapidly growing Plus Membership program.

The interview also includes highlights from Dan’s new book and AGN’s Annual Report, as well as some of his personal predictions for the future of the annual giving industry. Click on the green audio player to listen to the podcast now or read an excerpt from the interview transcript below.

Interviewer: Use your crystal ball here. You’ve got a ton of experience working with institutions in terms of what they’re doing for their annual giving programs. What do you think is the future of annual giving? What’s going to happen next? What are the Allenby predictions?

Dan Allenby: I think it’s going to become more important. I think as we see media and analytics sort of become increasingly sophisticated, you’re going to see a lot of that live within annual giving. I think you’re going to see more investment in annual giving as an industry. I do think you will eventually sort of see a plateauing to the alumni participation rate, but I think that’s going to play out for a few more years.

I think naturally you’re going to see a movement towards more digital programs, using social media and mining social data. I think you’re going to see annual giving programs playing catch-up, really, to where the Amazon’s of the world are right now and a lot of banking institutions and sort of figuring out “how do you give your donors – in the same way that Amazon and Bank of America give their customers – an online experience?” Whether they’re trying to consume some information about the institution and about giving to the institution or just simply trying to transact, I think that’s going to be an important skill that’s going to live within annual giving.

I think you’re going to begin to find annual giving much more integrated with alumni relations and alumni engagement, too.

We were talking before about Stanford’s big decision to eliminate their phone program, but if I had to predict, I don’t think you’re going to see the end of the phone program any time too soon. I think what you are going to see is a rethinking of phonathon programs and their role within advancement shops. It’s not necessarily going to be measured in terms of ROI and how much cash those programs bring in. I think those phonathon programs are going to be used in much more flexible ways. They’re going to be used to engage alumni and connect with them and understand alumni and increase engagement. It’s going to be used to promote events, do market research, conduct stewardship. I think you’re going to see it used and integrated with planned giving and major giving to do plan giving prospect research or maybe even help secure appointments for gift offices when they’re out there.

All of these things combined together, it’s not going to be about how much did the program bring in. It’s going to be more of a “how do we use this as part of our overall prospect and alumni engagement strategy?” Stay tuned. I think you’re going to see phone programs go through a lot of change. I don’t think you’re going to see the end of the phonathon program any time soon. As a matter of fact, you talked about the report that we just put out. Close to 90% of institutions haven’t even thought about getting rid of their phone program, even though Stanford recently kind of shocked the world by eliminating theirs. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see programs like Stanford – I won’t call them out specifically – but I think you’re going to see programs changing the way they utilize their phonathon resource.

Eliminating them completely? I’m not sure that’s going to happen anytime soon.

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Recurring Gifts Make Donating “Easy To Swallow”

Posted on 04/23/2017 - by Dan Allenby

If mortgage and car payments were due only once a year, a lot of people would have a hard time coming up with the full amount. If cable bills were paid only once a year, there would probably be far fewer television viewers. Banks and media companies understand that customers are more inclined to make big purchases when the payments can be broken up into small increments.

The same can be said in fundraising, which is why monthly giving can be so appealing. On one hand, it offers convenience for the donor. On the other hand, it can help charities increase retention rates and encourage upgrades. For example, rather than soliciting a $1,000 gift all at once, ask for $83.33 each month. Or, see if a current $1,000 donor will upgrade to $1,500 with monthly gifts of $125.

Franklin & Marshall College understands the value in monthly giving, and they have set up an entire webpage to prove it. Along with enrollment instructions, they address some frequently asked questions to help explain the benefits of monthly giving:

  • What is the Monthly Giving program? – The Monthly Giving program allows donors to easily make their gift to the Franklin & Marshall Fund in regular monthly installments from a credit card or checking/savings account.
  • How does the program help F&M? – Monthly contributions provide the College with an on-going, reliable source of funding. Gifts made through this program reduce our administrative costs and allow more of each gift to be used immediately to support Franklin & Marshall’s top priorities. Monthly gifts are also “greener” by cutting down on paper and gas and emissions produced by mailings.
  • How does the program help you? – Enrolling in the program means you won’t have to worry about writing and sending a check, and the number of phone and mail reminders you receive from the College will decrease. If you choose to allow deductions to continue from year to year, you will be counted among F&M’s most loyal and valued donors and be recognized for your participation in this program in the Annual Report of Gifts. Monthly Giving also allows you to make your yearly contribution at a leadership level because your gift is divided into manageable monthly increments.

To illustrate this clearly, the page also includes a chart (below) showing the monthly contribution required to join the annual fund leadership gift society at its various levels. Another chart on the page breaks down the monthly payment for alumni in each of the last ten graduating classes, who can join at discounted rates.

It’s important to encourage donors to think big about their donations. Raising sights is key to achieving goals and helping your programs to grow. At the same time, it’s important to make giving convenient for your donors. Recurring gifts can be a great way to make consistent giving manageable and leadership giving easy to swallow.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Recurring Gift Programs.


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Using Volunteers to Create Engagement Scores

Posted on 04/16/2017 - by Dan Allenby

The University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business knew that their alumni were engaged in many ways—assisting with admissions referrals, serving as career mentors, hiring graduates and making donations were just a few examples. The problem was that they didn’t have a clear or consistent method for measuring this engagement. So they decided to develop an engagement score to help identify which alumni were already most engaged and to predict who was most likely to become engaged in the future.

They started by identifying 14 different alumni engagement activities that were actively being tracked in their database. Then they asked their 30-member alumni board to participate in a focus group with the goal of ranking the activities in order of importance.

The board was asked to break into groups and describe how important they felt each activity was in terms of connecting alumni to the institution. Based on the board’s feedback, a “weight” was assigned to each means of engagement and a score was calculated for individual alumni. The higher the score, the more likely the alumni were to be engaged in the future. The scoring system helped staff to identify new volunteers as well as potential volunteer leaders. It was also helpful for determining donor interest and was used to inform the annual fund’s segmentation schemes. And, the score was a fluid calculation—changing continually as the advancement office discovered new activities to include or found it necessary to tweak their methodology.

With some work from their staff and—most notably—thanks to the assistance and expertise of their alumni board, Notre Dame’s College of Business was able to develop more thoughtful models and strategies for engaging their alumni. After all, who better to help with alumni engagement than current alumni volunteers?

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Predictive Modeling for Annual Giving.

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Setting Goals for a Giving Day

Posted on 04/09/2017 - by Dan Allenby

When McGill University launched their first ever Giving Day two years ago, the goal was pretty clear. With the big event scheduled just one month before the end of the fiscal year, their aim was to secure just enough donors and dollars necessary to achieve their overall annual fund targets as well as to enhance the culture of philanthropy on and off campus. But when they decided to undertake their second Giving Day (known as McGill24), things got a bit more sophisticated.

Understanding that the right goals would help motivate the team, set expectations, and raise sites, they didn’t want to just pull random numbers out of thin air. Instead, they wanted to be data-driven and set goals that were both realistic and ambitious. So, when McGill’s annual giving team began their planning process more than six months in advance, they undertook a goal-setting exercise that took the following seven elements in account:

  1. Benchmarking – A look at peer programs confirmed what they already suspected: there aren’t currently industry standards for Giving Day accounting, and institutions make their own decisions about what kinds of gifts to count, when to start counting, and how to tally the final results.
  2. Gift categories – The peer review also identified three types of gifts that are commonly included in Giving Day fundraising totals. These were challenge gifts (i.e., larger gifts secured months in advance that are used as an incentive for others to give), silent phase gifts (i.e., gifts secured through targeted email and phone solicitations in the few weeks leading up to the event), and day-of gifts (i.e., donations made online or received on the day itself).
  3. Past results – Reflecting on the donor and dollar totals from McGill’s first Giving Day provided them with a conservative baseline to project what they might achieve next time. They also looked at historic giving results for March 15th (the date of McGill24) as well as typical giving patterns for the first two weeks leading up to that date. They also considered a “best case scenario” based on the previous record for a single day of online giving.
  4. 80/20 rule – It became clear that while the majority (roughly 80%) of the gift transactions would come on the day itself, the remainder (the other 20%) would come as part of the silent phase or in the form of challenge gifts.
  5. Donor behavior – Analysis of donor segments from the previous few annual cycles as well as the last giving day helped to project that about 40% of Giving Day participants would be current or prior year donors, 20% would be reactivated lapsed donors, and 40% would be new donors making their first gift ever.
  6. Alumni perceptions – Using data collected in a survey, the team was able to better understand how McGill alumni would respond to Giving Day. This not only informed how aggressive they should be with projections; it also influenced much of their messaging and branding.
  7. Leadership expectations – Regardless of how much data they were able to compile, they knew their goal setting wouldn’t be complete without input from organizational leadership.

When the analysis was complete, the team set an internal goal of raising $1 million from 1,500 donors. While they didn’t broadcast the goal publicly, they did find it to be a useful tool internally. And that must have worked because, when all was said and done, McGill24 ended up exceeding its goal – raising over $1.4 million from 3,400 donors. That’s 1 gift every 25 seconds.

Goals can serve a lot of purposes. They can be a motivator, helping individuals and teams to get and stay focused. They can help set and manage expectations – especially when a lot of different stakeholders are involved. They can also raise sites and help organizations strive to do better, to accomplish more – particularly when programs have become complacent or satisfied with the status quo. Regardless of their purpose, goals work best when they’re conceived thoughtfully, developed collaboratively, and informed by data.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Planning a Giving Day.

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Build The Dam

Posted on 04/02/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Beavers are nature’s architects, well-known for constructing stick dams alongside rivers and ponds. While these fascinating creatures probably take great pride in their handy work, their primary motivation isn’t to show off or to be admired by others. It’s to make a cozy home for their families, to keep out predators, and to create a lush wetland ecosystem where they can thrive alongside other species.

Similarly, most donors don’t make charitable gifts just because they want to be noticed by their peers. More than likely, they give because they feel a sense of pride in their relationship with an institution, because they feel grateful for something the institution has given to them, and/or because they believe the institution will be able to use the money to help others. But that doesn’t mean that donors don’t appreciate a little recognition now and then.

Oregon State University (whose mascot happens to be Benny Beaver) put their own unique spin on donor recognition when they implemented a Build the Dam campaign. Launched by their athletics annual giving team in conjunction with the kick-off of the fall football season, the effort aimed to attract new donors and generate support for the university’s athletic program beyond ticket sales.

Donors who made gifts of $100 or more were honored with a custom-made wood panel with their name inscribed on it. Once complete, the panels were affixed to a portable donor wall which was referred to as “The Dam.” The wall had wheels so that it could be transported around campus for all to see. When the athletics season ended, The Dam was disassembled and the wood panels were mailed to donors along with thank you notes.

Promoted through targeted mailings, the student phonathon, and social media, the campaign included stories about gift impact and featured pictures and videos of donors picking up their panels and showing support for the university’s athletic programs. The campaign was also promoted through P.A. announcements and video board displays to live audiences during games.

In its first year, the campaign turned out to be a huge success. It helped to secure 295 donors and generated over $67,000 – far exceeding their initial expectations and goals. It also gave the annual giving program a strong start to the fiscal year while creating a lot of goodwill for the athletics program and the university in general.

Before the year had even ended, new ways to improve future campaigns were already being considered. Some ideas included working with the university’s own College of Forestry to produce the wood panels, using the display to cover up some of the less aesthetic spots around campus (e.g., exposed water pipes), and incorporating it into the décor of the football stadium.

There are a lot of different considerations that can motivate a donor to give. And while recognition is rarely the only motive, it can be an important factor. Finding fun and creative ways to let donors know that their generosity is noticed and appreciated can go a long way in making sure that their support continues in the future.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Donor Recognition.

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March Mayhem

Posted on 03/26/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Annual Giving can be a lot like a basketball game – fast-paced and full of activity. There are quick passes to the printer to get appeals out the door and last minute calls to prospects to beat the buzzer at the end of the fiscal year. Don’t forget about the occasional slam dunk meeting with a donor that results in a big gift agreement. It’s the tempo and the excitement that makes it such an exhilarating field to work in.

But it’s not all fun and games. It’s hard work too, especially when it comes to finding new and interesting ways to engage and solicit prospects. Next time you’re out of fresh ideas, stop for a moment and take inventory of what’s going on around you. Is there an important event taking place on campus, an upcoming holiday or something in the news that will be on the minds of your alumni and the rest of your supporters?

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s annual giving team found their inspiration in the NCAA spring basketball tournament. They used it as the basis for a campaign to encourage participation by young alumni which they called March Mayhem. Although they had originally planned to organize a young alumni push around graduation later in the spring, they were able to seize on the excitement of their team’s invitation to the tournament and create a new concept in just a few weeks.

Hoping to encourage recent graduates to make a gift of any amount (to any designation), young alumni were urged to make symbolic gifts that were significant to the university’s basketball history such as:

  • $23 to honor the jersey number 23 of former UNC star Michael Jordan
  • $46 to honor the 46 years UNC had appeared in the tournament
  • $106 in honor of the 106 seasons of basketball in UNC’s history
  • $879 in memory of Dean Smith and his 879 wins as their basketball coach

March Mayhem was promoted through a series of emails, and dozens of “online ambassadors” helped spread the word online. The office provided these virtual volunteers with message templates and links, and together they boosted cheeky language posts on Facebook and other social networking sites using the #UNCMarchMayhem hashtag. Messages were also posted on regional young alumni pages throughout the country. For young alumni who live near campus, the office sponsored a March Mayhem happy hour. The event featured a digital photo booth and encouraged attendees to share their fun photos online using the challenge’s hashtag as another way to get the word out to others.

UNC ended up making it to the championship game, which allowed them to host a bigger happy hour in Houston during the Final Four weekend. What’s more, six young alumni volunteers hosted events of their own. These events included 150 attendees and served as a way to collect updated contact information from many “lost” alumni who were in attendance.

When the clock ran out, March Mayhem proved to be a huge success, helping to secure over $87,000 from 455 young alumni donors. This was 291% above the goal of 156 young alumni donors – one donor for every tournament game UNC has played throughout their history. The effort was also a major factor in increasing UNC’s overall alumni participation rate by 1.5% for the entire year.

While not every school makes it to the NCAA basketball tournament (much less the national championship), every school or organization does have an opportunity to use the events going around them as inspiration and as a way to keep things fresh and interesting for their donors. So, what’s going on in your neck of the woods?

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Young Alumni Giving.

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Donor Coverage Ratios

Posted on 03/19/2017 - by Dan Allenby

There’s an ever-present grind to annual giving. Each year programs are expected to generate as many – if not more – donors than they did the year before. This is an especially big challenge for educational institutions who are faced with increasing competition from other non-profits and changing attitudes among alumni regarding giving back to their alma mater.

One of the things that can help annual giving programs face this challenge is having a goal and breaking it down into a few smaller parts. In the case of donor counts, this can be accomplished by analyzing what’s known as the donor coverage ratio. Simply put, this is the number of new and reactivated donors you secured compared to those lost through attrition. Here’s an example:

Assume that two years ago your program generated a total of 1,000 donors. Then assume that 600 of those donors renewed last year. In other words, you lost 400 donors. At the same time, you had to replace those lost donors. There are only two ways to do this. The first is to acquire new donors. The second is to reactivate lapsed donors. Assume that last year you acquired 200 new donors and reactivated 200 lapsed donors.

In this case, the donor coverage ratio for last year is 100%, meaning that your program secured exactly the right amount of new and reactivated donors to cover what you lost in attrition. It also means that there was no change in overall donor counts from one year to the next. Had the ratio been less than 100%, it would have meant that the year resulted in an overall decrease in donors. Had it been higher than 100%, it would have meant that there was growth in donors counts from the previous year.

The donor coverage ratio can also help you assess the efficiency of your efforts. Typically, acquiring new donors and reactivating lapsed donors is less efficient and requires more resources than retaining current or recent donors. By increasing your retention rates through targeted outreach and ongoing stewardship, you can also drive up your donor coverage ratio, even if your acquisition and reactivation results remain flat. High donor coverage ratios can be an indicator of higher efficiency.

The grind of increasing donor counts year after year is never easy, but setting a clear goal and determining a path for achieving that goal can be a big help. Get to know how your program has performed in the past. Then use that information to make sure it’s productive and efficient going forward.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Analytics for Annual Giving.

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Tuition Freedom Day

Posted on 03/12/2017 - by Dan Allenby

It’s no secret that the cost of higher education is rising at an alarming rate. Many parents lie awake at night worrying about how they will be able to afford to send their children to college. But few institutions have done a good job explaining why costs have risen so steeply.

While there are several contributing factors, many student and parents don’t realize that their own expectations are a major reason why tuition has increased so steeply. There was a time when college students may have been satisfied with a bunk and a book. Today, schools feel pressure to offer rock-climbing walls, wifi, and single apartments if they want to attract the best students.

In some industries, competition drives costs down. For example, imagine that you own a shoe store that sells one brand of shoes for $50. Then, someone comes along and opens a store next door selling that same pair of shoes for $40. All things equal, you’ll have to lower your price by $10 in order to remain competitive. The opposite is true for many educational institutions. Imagine two universities that are competing for the same students. All things equal, if one university builds a brand new student exercise facility, the other one may feel compelled to do the same in order to remain competitive.

Money doesn’t grow on trees and there aren’t many ways for educational institutions to generate revenue to cover rising costs. Many colleges and universities rely on tuition to cover a majority of their operating budgets. This means that when costs go up for whatever reason, tuition may be the only way to cover the additional expenses. Philanthropy can be a great alternative.

At Kalamazoo College in Michigan, tuition covers approximately 67% of the cost to run the college. Donations cover a large portion of the remaining expenses. To highlight this point, the annual fund team sponsors Tuition Freedom Day, marking the approximate point in the academic year when tuition revenue theoretically “runs out” and philanthropic support takes over. Student volunteers spend the day writing thank you notes. Because there are many different ways to support the college, they make a point of sending notes to all types of donors, not just those who make big endowment or capital gifts.

Finding ways to teach students and families about the impact of philanthropy is important. But it’s also important to explain how philanthropy fits into the bigger picture. Explaining the financial aspects of running an educational institution is an important part of that picture.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Student Philanthropy Programs.

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Mixing It Up

Posted on 03/04/2017 - by Dan Allenby

One of the things that many professionals enjoy about working in annual giving is that it’s cyclical. A new campaign begins every 365 days, offering an opportunity for programs to start over with new goals and a fresh strategy. At the same time, this can be challenging for many programs. Constantly coming up with different approaches isn’t easy.

The Westminster Schools in Atlanta, GA had relied on a competition-based challenge with a rival school every fall to create extra interest around giving. Although this approach had helped to increase participation rates in its first couple of years, results eventually leveled out. That’s when they decided to try something new, launching the EveryCat Challenge.

Named after their mascot (the wildcat), the goal of the challenge was to secure 2,200 commitments—one for every student and faculty member—to the annual fund by the end of October. In addition to generating much-needed support, the new approach also helped to:

  • Focus attention on the beneficiaries of annual fund support and allow for more “storytelling.” Marketing materials featured student and faculty profiles that described how annual fund support had affected them personally.
  • Encourage participation by every member of the community. All gifts from alumni, parents, and friends were counted.
  • Raise sites. The goal of 2,200 gifts represented an increase of 200 over what had been achieved by the end of October in previous years.
  • Engage the institution’s leadership in annual giving. The board agreed to serve as the challenge’s sponsors, offering up $100,000 in bonus funds when the goal was reached.

Marketing for the challenge, which included a website, a series of emails and targeted Facebook ads, took place only during the month of October. Parent and alumni volunteers were also instrumental in spreading the word. They were asked to make calls, send emails and share on their social networks.

In the two years that Westminster has held the EveryCat Challenge, the results have been very positive. Each year, the goal has been achieved by the October deadline, helping to pave the way to end the year up in annual fund revenue and participation. What’s more, the student and faculty stories generated a lot of positive feedback – something that helped create a positive experience for staff and volunteers.

Consistency and repetition can be great assets in annual giving where creating giving “habits” is an important goal. But it’s also important to recognize when old ideas aren’t working as well as they once did. When that’s the case, it’s probably time to start mixing it up.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Integrated Multi-Channel Marketing.

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Annual Appeals for Major Gift Prospects?

Posted on 02/25/2017 - by Dan Allenby

If you’ve worked in annual giving for long, chances are that you’ve received a request from a major gift officer to have a prospect excluded from receiving annual fund appeals.

There are many circumstances for which this is a very valid request – like when someone has specifically asked not to receive appeals or when a prospect is going to be solicited for a major gift in the next few months. There are other times, however, when it’s not valid – like when the gift officer claims that they’re developing a relationship with a prospect and fear that an annual appeal will derail that effort.

One of the fundamental differences between annual and major giving is time. Annual giving campaigns are relatively short with the primary goal of maximizing participation. When they’re complete, you get to learn from your missteps and (if there weren’t too many) try things again for the next 12 months.

Major giving, on the other hand, is a much slower process with the goal of producing a few significant donations that will have a major and lasting impact. It can take years to cultivate a major gift and, when missteps are made, you don’t often get a second chance.

If you look up the word exclude, you find synonyms like alienate, omit, segregate, reject, disenfranchise, and marginalize. Whether we work in annual or major giving, it’s likely we don’t want any of these things for our prospects.

So, the next time a major gift officer asks to have a prospect excluded from annual appeals because they are working on developing a relationship, politely remind them that giving makes a relationship stronger. Then, offer to work with them to produce a personal appeal – something that makes the prospect feel noticed and special, something that makes them feel part of something important, something that makes them feel included.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Annual Fund & Major Gift Partnerships.

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Second Asks

Posted on 02/18/2017 - by Dan Allenby

One of the oldest taglines in annual giving goes like this: Make a gift now and we won’t ask again for another year. But there are a growing number of programs today that can’t make that claim. Why? Because they’re implementing “second asks” – going back to donors who have already made a gift and asking them for additional support. Some programs are reluctant to take this approach for fear of offending donors or hurting future retention rates. Rutgers University isn’t one of them.

Rutgers typically runs two second ask campaigns per year – one in January and one in May. In January, they reach out to donors whose previous gift was made between June and November. Then, in May, they target donors whose previous gift was made between December and March. Sometimes the second asks are for a general fund (e.g., scholarships) but the best response rates often come when donors are asked to support a specific area that’s important or personal to them. For Rutgers, it’s not unusual to see as many as 3,500 second gifts in a year, which can add up to more than $350,000.

Second asks can be a great way to upgrade donors and strengthen the pipeline. For example, if someone has been consistently contributing $750, a second ask for $250 can serve as a way to increase their total giving to $1,000 and welcome them as a member of a leadership gift society. For programs that encourage unrestricted support the first time around, a second ask can be a way for them to support a special interest, such as a department or an athletic team.

The big question for many annual giving professionals is what happens after someone makes a second gift? Does their likelihood of giving in the following year decrease? Surprisingly, no. In fact, the more gifts a donor contributes in a single year, the more likely they are to renew their support the following year. At Rutgers, a donor is 13% more likely to renew if they make a second gift, and 23% more likely to renew if they make 3 or more gifts in a year.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And even when you do succeed, it may be worth trying again.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Leadership Gifts for Annual Funds.

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2016 Year in Review Report

Posted on 02/11/2017 - by Dan Allenby

For the 5th consecutive year, AGN has produced a special report to share trends and best practices in the field of annual giving. AGN research is based on data collected from annual giving programs at over a thousand educational institutions around the world.

This year’s report highlights more than 25 live interactive webinars offered by AGN in 2016. Each page summarizes data from event poll results and other research and offers a useful example from a specific webinar. Want to learn more? Every page also includes a link to view that webinar in its entirety via AGN’s on-demand training library.

AGN Plus Member institutions enjoy unlimited free access to all live and on-demand AGN webinars. They also receive special access to experts, opportunities to network and benchmark with other members, and exclusive research, publications and case studies. Click here to learn more about becoming an AGN Plus Member.

Want to join or renew your membership? Contact our member services department at [email protected] or 888.407.5064.

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I Packed Your Parachute

Posted on 02/04/2017 - by Dan Allenby

J. Charles Plumb was a jet fighter pilot in the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. On his 76th combat mission, his plane was shot down. After ejecting from the plane and parachuting into enemy territory, he spent the next six years as a prisoner of war. Years later, after he had returned to the United States, he was with his wife at a restaurant when a stranger approached. To his surprise, the stranger recognized him as the former prisoner of war. When Plumb asked him how he knew who he was, the man replied, “I packed your parachute!”

After their conversation, Plumb spent a lot of time thinking about that man who had packed his parachute (and the parachutes of many others) from a wooden table at the bottom of an aircraft carrier. He thought about how he had probably seen his colleague many times but that he had just never noticed him. After all, Plumb was a pilot and the man was just a sailor. Little did he know that this man would save his life—simply by doing his job well.

The importance of teamwork can be easy to overlook. Whether you’re a pilot in the middle of a military crisis or an annual giving professional working on behalf of an educational institution, the fact is that everyone has an important role to play. Building a strong team has less to do with recruiting superstars and more to do with getting everyone to do their jobs well. This involves a commitment to your team members and to each member’s professional development.

As you think about developing yourself or your team, keep in mind that educational institutions come in many shapes and sizes—large, small, private, public, primary, secondary, centralized and decentralized. Each institution has its own unique needs and challenges when it comes to staff growth. For example, a small school with fewer employees might be able to offer staff the chance to learn and do many different tasks. However, it might also lack financial resources, and opportunities for career advancement may arise less frequently. In contrast, a larger organization may have more financial resources and be able to offer opportunities for career advancement more frequently. However, it might also be hamstrung by its size and complexity.

Regardless of the type of institution, many resources are available to help annual giving professionals with their professional development. Conferences, webinars, books, blogs or simply talking with colleagues can help you broaden your understanding of the field and learn new skills. One of the common challenges many annual giving professionals face, however, is in knowing what to focus on at various stages in their career. The skills required to be successful in your first few years in the field are vastly different from those required to lead a program. What’s more, determining how to best advance your own career is an important, but too often neglected, skill. Helping individuals to develop competencies and talents that are relevant to their roles and career stages is an essential part of building a strong team. And annual giving is a team sport, after all.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Strong Teams and Collaborations.

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The Circled Caller

Posted on 01/28/2017 - by Dan Allenby

It takes a lot of time, effort, and resources to run a phonathon. Those investments usually pay off in that calling programs allow institutions to engage and solicit large numbers of alumni and donors in a personal way. But, as organizations face the fact that fewer prospects are answering their phones, it’s important that they find ways to run programs efficiently, but without losing the personal touch that makes calling so effective in the first place.

At the beginning of each semester, the phonathon program at Humboldt State University gathers its student callers for a group photo. The image is used to produce a large batch of postcards which are given to callers at the beginning of each shift. Then, after every successful call, students use these postcards to handwrite a short thank you note. And on the front, they circle themselves.

One of the hardest parts of producing the postcard is purely logistical: getting all of the callers in one place at one time. That’s why the shoot is usually organized at the beginning of each semester. Another challenge is more complex: integrating the sending of the postcards into the regular, ongoing 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.

With just this little extra effort, “The Circled Caller” postcard helps to achieve a few important things. Primarily, it’s a quick and personal way to acknowledge a donor’s pledge or gift. Additionally, by featuring a group of smiling students, it reminds the donor of the very thing their gift supports. And finally, it helps to build a sense of community in the call center. Rather than just showing up to their shifts to pound the phones, callers have a constant reminder that they’re part of something bigger.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Maximizing Your Phonathon.

Humbolt State U. Postcard Image_Back

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Measuring Gift Impact

Posted on 01/21/2017 - by Dan Allenby

Today’s donors do not seem to care much about stories that describe why other donors give or seeing their own name listed on a roster. Instead, they want to know what, in measurable terms, their past support has helped to achieve. When making a decision to give again, some of the questions donors ask themselves include, “How have my past gifts been used?” and “What would another gift from me help achieve?”

That’s why UCLA’s annual giving team has started putting more effort into creating collateral that shows philanthropic impact in measurable terms with tangible outcomes. They’re highlighting how philanthropy bridges the tuition gap from state funding, influences rankings, and provides students with financial aid. They’re also pointing out that smaller gifts can add up to support bigger (and specific) things. For example, 28 gifts of $50 can fund a year’s worth of books and supplies, or 15 gifts of $100 can renew one of the many academic journal subscriptions at the university’s library.

The focus on measurable impact hasn’t been just a one-off effort. It’s part of a year-round, multi-channel print and digital marketing and stewardship effort that includes outbound (direct mail, email) and inbound (website). Their recent postcard (below) features an infographic that describes the various ways donors’ support can make an impact. This messaging is consistently presented on a gift impact page on the UCLA Fund’s website.

While this initiative was originally conceived as a “stewardship” campaign to be promoted over the summer before the fall appeals went underway, it actually evolved into something more. A few weeks after the website was originally made live, the staff added a few give buttons at the bottom of the page so that readers wouldn’t have to navigate elsewhere to make a gift. To their surprise, they discovered (after tracking the page through Google Analytics) that visitors to the gift impact page were actually clicking through to the online donation form. In fact, the page generated double-digit conversion rates.

Donor honor rolls and stories may be appealing, but show your supporters tangible examples of their impact, and you’ll be sure to measure up!

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Stewardship for Annual Giving.

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Lapsed Donor Surveys

Posted on 01/14/2017 - by Dan Allenby

SYBUNT is an acronym that stands for “Some Year But Unfortunately Not This.” It’s commonly used in annual giving to describe someone who has given at some point in the past, but has not given in the current or the last fiscal year. The term that’s often used to describe when a donor skips a year of giving is “lapsing.”

There are numerous things that could cause a donor to lapse. Did they have a bad experience last time they made a gift? Could they have moved and you haven’t been able to update their new address? Was their last donation inspired by a challenge, a class reunion, or some token incentive that got them excited – but only for a moment? Did they just forget?

Understanding why someone lapsed can be an important step to winning them back, which is why The University of Houston conducted a survey of their SYBUNTs (see example below). In it, they asked their lapsed donors:

  • What motivated you to give in the past?
  • Why haven’t you given recently?
  • What would increase the likelihood that you’d give in the future?
  • How could our annual giving program improve our efforts?

To encourage responses, all participants were offered personalized return address labels. Within a few months, the survey received over 400 replies. The data was used to inform their donor reactivation strategies and think about shortcomings in their donor stewardship efforts. Among the most common comments received was that people wanted the university to do a better job of explaining how their gifts were used.

Data wasn’t the only benefit of the survey. Many donors used it as a chance to update their personal and employment information. Others used it as an opportunity to renew their gift, with over 250 participants sending back donations after taking the survey.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Reactivating Lapsed Donors.

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7 Predictions for 2017

Posted on 01/07/2017 - by Dan Allenby

In ancient Roman mythology, Janus is the god of beginnings and endings. In statues and paintings, he is often depicted as having two faces. One face looks to the past and the other looks to the future. It’s for this reason that many believe that the month of January is named for Janus, since it’s both a time to reflect on months past and a time to prepare for new things to come.

For educational institutions and their annual giving programs, the first month of the calendar year is indeed an important time. Many use it as a mid-point review for their fundraising/fiscal years and an opportunity to recalibrate a game plan for the “second half.” January is also a good time to step outside of your own program, look at the big picture, and get a sense of what lies ahead for the industry as a whole.

Here are 7 “annual giving predictions” for 2017 that will help you think about what lies ahead and help put your own goals and strategies into perspective:

  1. The decline in alumni participation, which has persisted year-over-year for more than two decades, will continue. Annual Giving programs will be under pressure to buck the trend and to increase the number of alumni donors to give back each year, while also generating important unrestricted and current use annual fund support.
  2. Digital marketing will be an increasingly important skill for successful annual giving programs, which will need to become more sophisticated in their use of email, video, and social media to enhance online donor experiences if they are to compete with the 1.5 million other charities.
  3. Frontline fundraising will play a smaller role in the success of annual giving efforts. Instead of relying on one-to-one outreach, staff will turn to one-to-many outreach strategies, peer-to-peer engagement, and major gift partnerships to secure annual fund leadership gifts and fuel revenue growth.
  4. Data analytics and predictive modeling will become an essential tool for successful annual giving programs. The ability to track interests by monitoring the online behaviors of prospects (e.g., Facebook likes, clicks on links) will lead to better targeting and higher giving rates.
  5. Annual Fund stewardship and retention strategies will be reshaped by loyalty clubs and societies. More programs will offer member benefits to incentivize and reward regular giving at all levels. This will be particularly appealing to younger prospects and those of modest means.
  6. More advancement professionals will see annual giving as a long-term career rather than a stepping stone to a career in major gifts. This will begin to reduce the high levels of staff turnover that exist in many annual giving shops.
  7. Annual Giving will continue to evolve as a specialty and an area of expertise within the field of advancement. This will increase expectations for quality training for annual giving professionals and will result in a greater demand for annual fund leadership at competitive institutions.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s webinar on Developing an Annual Fund Plan.

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Counting Gifts from Alumni

Posted on 12/31/2016 - by Dan Allenby

Reporting alumni giving data to the Council for Aid to Education and U.S. News & World Report is, for the most part, a straightforward process. However, questions do arise about what should or should not be included in the reported data.

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) offers the following guidelines for counting gifts from alumni. These guidelines were developed by the CASE Commission on Alumni Relations in consultation with the CASE Commission on Philanthropy. For other purposes, transparency, consistency and accountability in reporting are encouraged and in the best interests of an institution and its various constituents.

Q: Should graduating seniors be included in alumni giving data?

A: Graduating seniors present an interesting dilemma. Often seniors make a gift in the latter part of their senior year but by the time the data is reported, they are alumni. Therefore, counting philanthropic gifts from seniors is acceptable as long as all seniors are counted among alumni of record. In other words, if gifts from graduating seniors are included in alumni giving data, then the complete cohort—all graduating seniors—must be included in the total alumni census. It is not acceptable to include seniors who donate but to exclude seniors who do not donate when calculating overall alumni giving. To report fair and accurate data, any donors reported in the numerator must have their entire cohort in the denominator.

Q: Is it appropriate to ask alumni for a minuscule amount of money ($1, for example) just to boost the percentage of alumni giving?

A: No. Our mission to build support for our institutions is not properly served by attempting to manipulate reporting data. Energies are best spent on sound practices to increase institutional support from alumni. Whether initiated by advancement staff or volunteers, it does not build greater support for the institution to ask alumni for “an extra dollar” to boost the class participation percentage. On the other hand, asking seniors in the Class of 2008 to give $20.08 as a means to capture their interest and encourage a habit of giving would be acceptable.

Q: Is it acceptable to count other income from alumni (such as magazine subscriptions, reunion fees, membership dues) toward alumni giving?

A: No. A good rule of thumb is to consider the donor’s intention in giving this money. If the donor intended to make a philanthropic gift to the institution, then it is a gift and should be reported. If the donor wrote a check to receive something in return—a magazine, admission to an event or membership in an organization—then the amount should not be considered in alumni giving totals, even if the donor receives a receipt from the institution.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Reporting Annual Fund Results.

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Do Not Call “Refresh”

Posted on 12/21/2016 - by Dan Allenby

There are five words that every phonathon caller dreads hearing: Take me off your list.

Applying a “Do Not Call” code (or any of the many “Do Not Contact” codes that exist in our databases) to a prospect record is a pretty extreme measure. That’s why it’s important that a prospect’s true intentions are clearly understood, accurately recorded, and kept up to date. But that isn’t always as simple as it sounds.

Intentions can be misunderstood or misnoted. For example, “Now is not a good time” might sound a lot like “Don’t ever call again!” when it’s coming out of the mouth of an irritated prospect. And it’s not uncommon for major gift officers to use “Do Not Call” codes to prevent their prospects from receiving annual fund appeals. (For the record, they should NEVER do this!)

The Annual Giving team at The University of Kentucky periodically reviews the comments associated with all of their “Do Not Call” requests. In doing so they have noticed that, while some records had been coded for very legitimate reasons (e.g., “hard of hearing”), there were other reasons that didn’t seem as credible.

“Quite a few of our prospects cited the performance of our basketball team as a reason for not wanting to be called,” says Anne Vanderhorst, Director of Annual Giving at The University of Kentucky. “But after winning our 8th National Championship, we thought it might be time to reconsider some of our exclusions.”

So they sent a “We Miss You” postcard to every person who had been coded “Do Not Call” three or more years ago. The postcard informed prospects that they would be returned to the university’s calling pool unless they contacted the office and requested otherwise. It included simple instructions for those who wanted to continue to be excluded.

“We sent the postcard to just under 5,500 prospects,” says Vanderhorst, “and we received less than 175 phone calls from prospects wanting to continue their exclusion. The remaining records were returned to the calling pool.”

Life is full of unexpected twists and turns. People can be misunderstood, or sometimes they simply change their minds. So, when someone uses extreme and permanent words like “forever” and “never,” it’s ok to follow up and make sure they mean it.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Maximizing Your Phonathon.

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Crowdfunding Open Houses

Posted on 12/14/2016 - by Dan Allenby

process-is-the-goalThe University of Missouri–St. Louis discovered that sometimes the process can be the best goal. Eager to respond to the many requests they were getting from students to provide support for crowdfunding projects, the advancement department invested in a new crowdfunding platform. This technology could be used to run short‐term online fundraising campaigns in support of specific student or faculty projects.

Soon after the platform was live, the big question for the advancement team was how to let members of the campus community know about the platform without being overwhelmed by requests. They decided to host monthly open houses (or information sessions) for anyone who was interested in getting support for a project or simply learning more about crowdfunding. They extended invitations to leaders of student groups, clubs, teams and activities across campus.

This approach gained a lot of interest from the very beginning, with 20–30 attendees at each meeting. The information sessions provided an opportunity to engage students and to teach them about philanthropy in general – not just about crowdfunding. They prompted a discussion about how the institution manages and allocates budgets, and uncovered fundraising opportunities and prospects that weren’t previously on the advancement team’s radar. Additionally, the sessions connected the development office with other parts of the university, including student affairs, athletics, and information systems. In many ways, they forced the advancement team to be more inward-facing.

After the open houses, interested students were invited to complete applications to be supported by the university in an official crowdfunding project. Interestingly, in many cases, it turned out that crowdfunding wasn’t actually the ideal strategy. Sometimes it made more sense to address the funding need by creating a new calling segment for the phonathon or by producing an email appeal. There were even times – when a proposed project was already in line with existing priorities – that university departments were able to fund a need directly.

The University of Missouri–St. Louis’ experience is a reminder that, while it’s worthwhile to develop certain programs with a goal in mind, it’s important to recognize that the process you go through to reach that goal may be just as – if not more – significant to your team’s success.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Building a Crowdfunding Program.

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New Book: Ideas for Annual Giving

Posted on 12/07/2016 - by Dan Allenby

book-cover-imageDan Allenby’s new book – Ideas for Annual Giving: Pea Pods, Parachutes and Other Designs for Boosting Alumni Participation – offers practical guidance and playful metaphors to provide readers with a modern (yet timeless) “design” for building an effective annual giving program. Through real-world techniques, examples and tips, this publication shows how to increase annual fund revenues and elevate the number of alumni who make charitable gifts ever year.

CLICK HERE to order a copy!

BNoston University Development Staff

For two decades, Dan Allenby has helped many of the world’s leading annual giving programs to recruit and train staff, design strategy, and assess performance. In 2010, he founded Annual Giving Network (AGN) – the world’s leading resource for annual giving programs. With a network of over 40,000 annual giving professionals, AGN is dedicated to bringing the industry’s top experts and current best practices to educational and nonprofit institutions.

A recipient of the prestigious CASE “Crystal Apple” award for teaching excellence, Allenby is an internationally recognized expert on annual giving. He has chaired CASE’s Institute for Senior Annual Giving Professionals and its Annual Giving Workshop for five collective terms and served on the faculty for CASE’s Summer Institute in Educational Fundraising. He received an MBA from Boston College and a BA from James Madison University, and is certified in the Management of Communication Organizations by Tufts University.

Here’s what people are saying:

“Ideas for Annual Giving is a terrific resource for understanding—and thriving in—annual giving in the 21st century. Dan Allenby captures the relevance, necessity and strategic importance of reimagining how we approach annual giving in an era of declining alumni participation and many competing philanthropic interests. This book is a must-read for newcomers to the advancement profession and is full of salient nuggets for even the most seasoned professional.”

   – Matthew T. Lambert, Vice President for University Advancement – College of William & Mary

“Dan Allenby is both a student of and a leader in the field of annual giving, and he has established himself as one of the true thinkers in the discipline. Ideas for Annual Giving is a terrific compilation of thoughts and tactics that reinforces the importance of the annual giving function in our comprehensive programs. Allenby provides strategy but also the philosophy that is the cornerstone of the annual giving enterprise.”

   – Fritz W. Schroeder, Vice President for Development & Alumni Relations – Johns Hopkins University

Dan Allenby is arguably the nation’s most highly regarded expert on the topic of annual giving. His Annual Giving Network (AGN) and accompanying programming is a sought-after resource for thousands of advancement professionals and volunteers. Ideas for Annual Giving is full of insights and how-to ideas for starting and enhancing an annual giving program. This book will become a standard reference on the bookshelves of advancement professionals nationwide.

   – Michael J. Morsberger, Vice President for Advancement – University of Central Florida

“Today’s advancement professionals are hungry for creative, innovative and provocative strategies to drive annual giving. Strategic prospect engagement and growth in alumni participation are essential for organizations cultivating the pipeline for sustainable growth in philanthropy. In Ideas for Annual Giving, Dan Allenby delivers across the board, providing clear, tangible and thought-provoking strategies to elevate annual giving in any organization. A must-read!”

   – Micki L. Kidder, Associate Vice President for Development – University of Notre Dame

“If fundraising is the noble process of creating philanthropists—and annual giving is college years—then Dan Allenby is the professor that we all wish we had. In this time of challenging alumni participation and giving uncertainty, Ideas for Annual Giving is the book we all need. No one is more connected to the pulse of 21st-century annual giving than Allenby.”

   – Joshua M. Birkholz, Principal – Bentz Whaley Flessner

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Alumni Participation Strategies.

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No Gift Is Too Small… Or Is It?

Posted on 11/30/2016 - by Dan Allenby

handymanIf you own a home (and you’re not the Home Depot type), you may one day find yourself looking for a handyman. When you do, keep in mind that their slogan can say a lot about them. Some slogans are assertive: We’ll fix it even if it’s not broken. Others are sincere: A helper with a heart. There are even a few that are humorous: I can repair what your husband fixed.

And then, of course, there’s the old handyman classic: No job is too small. One could argue that this translates easily to annual giving. In a world where donor participation is a high priority, it’s no surprise that encouraging gifts of all sizes has a commonplace in fundraising scripts and appeals.

But is it really true to suggest that no gift is too small?

It’s easy to understand why annual giving programs might want to pursue small donations. Soliciting nominal gifts ($1, for example) is a common way to include or “count” those who want to support the institution but simply don’t have much money. Many students and young alumni fall into this category. A dollar is better than nothing, right? Maybe not. There are, in fact, downsides to small gifts.

Consider the expense of processing a donation. When you factor in the staff time and budget required to record a gift in the database, produce an acknowledgment and mail the receipt, each gift usually costs organizations more than a few dollars.

Think about the future too – specifically donor retention rates. You may be counting the individual as a donor now, but what’s the likelihood that a $1 dollar donor will give again in the future? The following chart shows that there is a correlation between gift size and retention rates. The larger the gift amount, the higher the retention rate. This means, of course, that a smaller gift amount corresponds to a lower retention rate. So while a $1 gift might help you boost your participation rate in the short term, it likely won’t do much to help you build a sustainable base of support.


It’s worth recognizing that there is a difference between soliciting a small gift and accepting one. Don’t ignore industry standards: the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) guidelines clearly state that it is not appropriate to ask alumni for a minuscule amount of money just to boost your percentage of alumni giving.

CASE suggests that the mission of advancement programs is to build support for their institutions and that this is not properly served through token gifts. A recent poll of educational institutions shows that 75% require a gift of $5 or more when making an online gift. And it seems that having a minimum gift requirement won’t necessarily hurt your participation rates. Columbia University just secured 14,269 gifts as part of their Giving Day, despite the fact that they required a donation of at least $10.

So, if the door to your kitchen cabinet comes off its hinges, it might be nice to know that there are handymen out there who are eager to help you with even this small job. However, you might want to think twice before you apply the same idea to your annual giving strategy.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Leadership Gifts for Annual Funds.

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Recipe for Retention

Posted on 11/22/2016 - by Dan Allenby

bc-recipte-for-retentionWhat’s the secret to retaining donors from one year to the next? Does it lie in the timing of your appeals: when you solicit them again after their previous gift? Or could it depend upon the messages you convey: how well you describe the impact of their support or how clever your solicitations appear? Maybe it hangs on the experiences your donors have following their donation: whether or not they received a proper gift acknowledgment or if they were offered opportunities to engage with the institution through events or volunteering.

The reality is that there’s more than one ingredient in a good retention strategy. It’s a combination – and a balance – of all of these things that ultimately leaves a good taste in your donors’ mouths and makes them hungry to give more.

Boston College knows the importance of stewardship, which is why they do a little something extra for their donors around the holiday season. This year, just before Thanksgiving, they sent their donors a copy of the university’s holiday cookbook. This special online publication contains a list of recipes (all named after iconic features of the university and its campus) for such seasonable dishes as Eagle Pride Pork Loin, Burns Bread Pudding and Chestnut Hill Cranberry Kumquat Relish. Click here to read more.

Whether it’s during the holidays or some other time of year, it’s important to remind your donors that they’re special. Let them know that they’re appreciated, outside of those times when they’re being solicited. And don’t be afraid to give a little something back. When the time comes for them to decide whether or not to renew their support, your extra little gesture might just be the icing on the cake.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Increasing Donor Retention.



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Open Me

Posted on 11/16/2016 - by Dan Allenby

5-1_ucsd_open-meThere’s an old saying in direct mail: “An envelope has two jobs. The first is to get delivered to the right mailbox. The second is to get opened.” Getting prospects to open the envelope is a key step in having them read what’s inside and, ultimately, make a contribution.

The best way to get your alumni to notice (and want to open) the envelope is to capture their attention and make them curious. One way to do this to use envelopes that stand out either because they are unusual in size, shape or color or because they are creative or eye-catching in some other way. Using standard #10 envelopes for mailings may be easy and cost efficient, but doing so also increases the risk that your appeal will be overlooked.

Another way to increase the chances that your envelopes get noticed is to use teasers (i.e., short eye-catching messages or images) that lure alumni to look inside. A good place for teasers is between the recipient’s name and address (usually in the middle of the envelope) and the return address (usually in the top left corner of the envelope). These are the first two places people’s eyes go when they look at an envelope, and your message will stand out when their eyes move from one to the other.

Regardless of where it goes, a teaser should try to tap into the prospect’s emotions. For example, “Find out why your gift could help our rankings!” might evoke a sense of pride or connection. “Is your name on this list?” could make recipients curious (and possibly concerned) that they might be left out in some way if they don’t act. Don’t be afraid to try humor now and then. The University of California, San Diego used a teaser that read, “OPEN ME. Seriously, I can’t open myself. I don’t have hands because I’m an envelope.”

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Successful Direct Mail.

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11 Steps to Planning a Giving Day

Posted on 11/02/2016 - by Dan Allenby

day-of-givingGiving Days have become increasingly common in just the past few years as a way to create awareness about the impact of philanthropy, engage donors and volunteers, and raise money. Columbia University, who was one of the first to hold such an event, just completed their fifth Giving Day last week. Today, 3 out of 4 educational institutions report that they have held or are planning to hold a Giving Day of their own.

Often fueled by bonus funds or a sense of competition, there are many different ways to structure and organize a Giving Day. Every institution is unique, so there is no single model for creating a successful event. And yet, one element does prove to be universally applicable: if you want to do it well, you need to plan it well.

Simply throwing a date on the calendar and expecting people to “show up” is not a recipe for success. It takes a lot of coordination, starting up to a full year in advance. Here’s a project timeline for you to reference and customize as you plan your own Giving Day:

  1. Conduct high level planning and benchmarking of Giving Days at other schools (11-12 months out)
  2. Get internal buy-in from senior leadership and key campus partners (9-10 months out)
  3. Identify your technology needs and select any necessary vendors (8-9 months out)
  4. Design challenges and secure donors as “underwriters” (6-7 months out)
  5. Develop a marketing plan and promotional materials (5 months out)
  6. Recruit volunteers and online ambassadors to help spread the word (4 months out)
  7. Communicate key information and timelines internally (3 months out)
  8. Launch the “silent phase” to give your VIPs the early inside scoop (2 months out)
  9. Make the first public announcement with an advertisement, postcard or email (1 month out)
  10. Begin to promote the day aggressively through email and social media (2 weeks out)
  11. Create a buzz, raise lots of money, and make sure everybody has fun! (0 days out)

If this seems like a lot of work… well, that’s because it is. But all of your efforts can pay off, and the benefits go beyond donors and dollars. Giving Days can also encourage collaboration across campus – or even within your own advancement shop – while offering the annual giving team a common sense of purpose and focus throughout the year.

To most, your event will seem to be about a single day. For you and your team, however, it will be the work leading up to the big day that really makes a difference.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Planning a Giving Day.

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Listen to This

Posted on 10/26/2016 - by Dan Allenby


There are certain attributes to look for when searching for phonathon callers. Whether you’re hiring paid students or recruiting volunteers, you’ll want callers who are personable, articulate, informed, assertive, trustworthy and, of course, comfortable talking about and asking for money. Needless to say, good phonathon callers can be hard to find.

There’s another attribute that, although important, is frequently overlooked. More often than not, really good callers are really good listeners.

Listening doesn’t always come naturally, so make it part of the training process. Teach callers how to ask probing questions and offer guidelines for keeping their own talking to a minimum. Remind callers that they are in an advantageous position to hear how prospects feel about the institution, what interests them, who influences them, what they’re doing in their careers, and why they’ve decided to support (or not to support) the institution. If they’re speaking more than 30% of the time, it’s probably not a great call.

And it’s not just your callers who should be focused on listening. You should be listening too. Not in terms of monitoring calls, although doing so can be an effective way to evaluate performance. No, we’re talking about listening to your callers as a way to better understand and learn about your donors and prospective donors. Without listening, potentially valuable donor information is likely to – at best – get recorded in a contact report and stored in your database, where it typically remains, unread and unused.

Phonathon callers can learn from listening to institution staff, too. Invite leaders from around campus (e.g., faculty, coaches, administrators) to talk with them before shifts or during orientations. This will help callers become better informed and prepare them to engage prospects in more interesting discussions.

There’s real value in listening. Make a point of listening to your callers. Teach them how to listen. It’s as important a skill as any to contribute to the success of your phonathon program.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Maximizing Your Phonathon.

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Fail to Succeed

Posted on 10/19/2016 - by Dan Allenby

failureMichael Jordan, viewed by some as the greatest basketball player of all-time, once said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

No matter how hard you try, you’re not going to succeed all the time. In fact, 39 percent of annual giving programs report that something went wrong during their last fundraising year. This may raise concern for some, but it’s actually a good sign. It means they’re trying.

What should cause concern, however, is the fact that 84 percent of annual giving programs report that their current year plan is either exactly the same or only slightly modified compared to their plan from last year. While they may be trying, it seems that most are not trying hard enough.

How much has your annual giving strategy changed? Are you sending the same number of appeals, scheduling around the same dates, organizing your prospects in the same segments, relying on the same leadership donors and volunteers? Repeating the same old strategy year-in and year-out might feel safe, but it isn’t usually a very good recipe for growth.

Some of the most important ingredients of annual giving success are creativity and innovation – it’s important to try new things. Don’t be mistaken; you don’t need to suddenly abandon the tactics that are working well, and there’s certainly no virtue in making radical or unfounded changes. But don’t be afraid to add or adjust along the way, either. The fear of failure can often leave programs complacent and unwilling to take risks. Pushing the envelope and venturing into uncharted territories can not only keep things fresh and interesting for your donors, volunteers and colleagues, it’s generally the best way to make progress.

Accept failure. Think of it as evidence that you’re trying, and an important part of program growth. As Michael Jordan might say, it’s OK to lose. When you do, just don’t lose the lesson.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Testing Direct Appeals.

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What A Difference A Year Can Make

Posted on 10/12/2016 - by Dan Allenby

hour-glassWith a name like annual giving, it should come as no surprise that the concept of “year” is an important one to those who work the field. In fact, there are even a lot of ways to use this measure to benefit your program.

One of the most useful functions of a “year” is that it provides a clear deadline. It offers a 365-day timeline – with a defined starting and ending point – between which goals are set and work is done, in order to secure as many donors and as much support as possible. Deadlines, in and of themselves, can be motivating both internally for staff and externally for volunteers and donors.

Take it a step further. The significance of “years” can help annual giving programs connect with and inspire donors. Anniversaries are a good example. Celebrating the number of years that have elapsed since graduation is the very basis for reunion and class gift fundraising – a primary driver of annual fund donors and dollars for many educational institutions.

But even if your institution doesn’t have a formal class reunion program or hold reunion events on campus, there’s still an opportunity to leverage graduation milestones to raise funds. Simply reminding alumni that they have reached a significant milestone can evoke feelings of nostalgia, which can then yield higher response rates when used as part of a solicitation. In honor of the 25 years that have elapsed since your graduation, would you consider joining our leadership gift society?

Anniversaries can also be applied to past giving. Colorado State University wishes donors a “Happy Anniversary” by sending emails letting donors knows that they made their gifts “one year ago this week.” This tactic not only serves as a belated “thank you,” but it’s also a friendly reminder that it’s time to renew one’s annual support.


Some programs use this same tactic to solicit lapsed donors. While annual fund staff tend to be hyper-aware of fiscal year timelines, many donors are not as cognizant. Don’t be surprised if a lapsed donor thinks their giving is current when it’s not. Did you know that your last gift was 3 years ago this week? Please give today and get counted again!

And there are many other ways to make the most of “years” in annual giving, too. Nearly 75 percent of education institutions today have decided to designate a single day – once each year – to celebrate and encourage giving to their institution. More than half of annual giving programs report having a gift society or loyal donor program to recognize the number of years that a donor has given consecutively or cumulatively in the past.

The list of opportunities seems to go on and on, but one thing is for sure: in annual giving, recognizing a “year” can really make a difference.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Increasing Donor Retention.

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The Most Important Lists in Fundraising

Posted on 10/05/2016 - by Dan Allenby

list-imageLists are a crucial tool in fundraising.

While many in the profession may claim to use lists regularly, the true value of list making and list management is often under-appreciated.

Here are the 4 most important lists that every fundraiser should know, understand and utilize to ensure their success:

  1. To do lists: These are at the core of every good fundraising strategy. They outline the specific tasks you want to perform today, this year, or this campaign in order to secure the donors, the dollars and the volunteers you need to advance your institution’s mission and achieve your goals. Plan your work, and work your plan.
  2. Prospect lists: These include the names and other important pieces of information needed to generate appeals, produce event invitations or secure meetings. They help you analyze and prioritize your audience, determine who is most likely to respond, and create personalized messages. The data they contain can be pulled from a variety of sources including your own database, social media or peer referrals. It’s best when they contain information from all three.
  3. Donor lists: These are also known as “honor rolls” or “donor rosters” and include the names of your current supporters. In addition to being a good means of stewardship, they can also be an important cultivation tool. A self-conscious non-donor who notices that their name is missing from the honor roll may be more motivated to donate next time. Nothing makes an impression quite like the sound of one’s own name or seeing one’s own name in writing.
  4. Competition lists: These include the names of other nonprofits that qualify as “philanthropic priorities” to your prospects. Knowing which organizations they support can give you a sense of how philanthropic they can be and what’s important to them. While there are a variety of sources for this information, don’t be afraid to engage your prospects directly in a conversation about it. Start by asking them who is on their philanthropic priority list. Then, ask them what it will take for your institution to get on, stay on or move up on it.

In many ways, fundraising is a business of lists. The better your lists, the better your outcomes.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Research and Prospect Management.

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High Expectations

Posted on 09/21/2016 - by Dan Allenby

free-admission-2A 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.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Engaging Volunteers Online.

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Stanford’s Last Call

Posted on 09/14/2016 - by Dan Allenby

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 for AGN’s Webinar on Rethinking Phonathons.

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Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally

Posted on 09/07/2016 - by Dan Allenby

prioritizeIn 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.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Segmentation Strategy.

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Shiny Objects

Posted on 08/31/2016 - by Dan Allenby

shiny-objects-imageTake 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.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Fundamentals of Annual Giving.

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What Would You Like To Enjoy?

Posted on 08/24/2016 - by Dan Allenby

What would you like to enjoy?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, 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?”

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Face-to-Face Solicitations.

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I Don’t Know

Posted on 08/18/2016 - by Dan Allenby

I Don't KnowPicture this:

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.”

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Analytics for Annual Giving.

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Alumni Declension

Posted on 08/10/2016 - by Dan Allenby

Alumni Declension ImageThe 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.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Writing for Annual Funds.

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Campaign Speak

Posted on 07/13/2016 - by Dan Allenby

Campaign SpeakAnnual Giving programs live and die by the calendar. They have 365 days each year to acquire as many donors and secure as much money as they can. Accordingly, annual giving professionals set goals and coordinate appeals on an annual basis. But as more advancement programs find themselves in or planning major comprehensive fundraising campaigns, it’s important that annual giving programs also think outside of their annual box. They need to learn campaign speak.

One way to exercise campaign speak is to remind others what the annual fund represents as a percentage of the total campaign revenue. For example, if the campaign goal is to raise $100 million dollars over a 7-year period and the annual fund raises about $2 million annually, you can say that annual giving will represent about 14 percent of the total funds raised in the campaign.

You can also establish campaign goals for your annual giving program that transcend individual fiscal years. For example, if one of your campaign goals is to increase alumni participation from 8 percent to 12 percent, then map out a path for achieving (and sustaining) that rate over a period of years. In addition to defining goals for alumni participation rates in each individual year, you should also specify targets for each of the key drivers of alumni participation, such as alumni of record counts, donor counts and retention rates. The following table not only states where you want to end up, but it also describes how you intend to get there.

8.2 copy

Campaign speak will not only help keep your annual giving program top of mind for senior leaders and campaign managers, but it will also help expand your view of your program’s potential growth and impact over a longer period.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Annual Giving in a Campaign Setting.

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Soft Launch

Posted on 07/06/2016 - by Dan Allenby

Launch 4Owning a restaurant can be risky business. In fact, some estimates show that 90 percent of new restaurants fail in the first year. To help increase their chances of success, some new restaurant owners hold a “soft launch” a few weeks before the real opening where only a small group of guests are invited to dine. This gives the staff an opportunity to test the menu, the kitchen equipment, and the overall service before officially opening their doors to the public.

Testing is also an important part of annual giving, where programs are challenged each new year to find fresh ways to appeal to prospective donors. There’s a seemingly unlimited number of things you can test, such as the sizes, shapes, and colors of your appeal envelopes or the “teaser” notes that you print on them. You can test signatories for your letters, ask amounts in your phone scripts, images on your websites, or subject lines in your emails. Want to know if offering premiums will resonate with your constituents? Test it.

One of the most important components of a test is the hypothesis. This is simply a statement (a guess, really) about what you think will happen. For example, “I think the red envelope will generate a higher response rate then the white envelope.” Hypotheses are important because they help you focus on the question you’re ultimately trying to answer rather than sitting back and waiting for some data point to stand up and say, “Hey, look at me!” Data points rarely do that.

There’s no need to make it complicated or overly granular. You can also test concepts or ideas simply by rolling them out on a smaller scale. For example, if you’re interested in knowing whether or not crowdfunding might be a way to enhance your annual giving efforts, then try running one or two small crowdfunding campaigns before you make any big decisions. The exercise itself will not only teach you a lot about what it takes to run a crowdfunding campaign, but the outcome may help you determine if it’s worth making additional investments.

Testing first can help you enhance your efforts incrementally without wasting resources unnecessarily or exposing your entire program to ineffective ideas.

Play it safe and smart. Test, don’t guess.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Testing Direct Appeals.

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Where Did You Go?

Posted on 06/15/2016 - by Dan Allenby

Lost and FoundDon’t assume that digital communication (e.g., email, texting, social media) is the only way to maintain contact with young alumni. Traditional channels like phone calls and print mail can also be useful ways to keep recent graduates connected. But you can’t take advantage of either one if you don’t have a current phone number or mailing address.

Maintaining good contact information on alumni is rarely an easy task. Keeping tabs on young alumni can be an even bigger challenge. For one thing, they’re mobile. More likely to change jobs and less likely to be married, have children or own a home, recent graduates have more freedom to move around than older, more settled alumni. This means that you have to be more proactive and vigilant when it comes to keeping track of them.

Advancement staff at George Washington University were worried that many of their younger alumni were not receiving the alumni magazine, event invitations or print annual fund appeals. Their office was getting back a lot of returned mail, and they also noticed that a large percentage of their recent graduates’ home mailing addresses were the same as their parents’. What’s more, a larger than usual percentage of younger alumni weren’t answering when the phonathon called. The advancement staff did, however, have good email records since most students kept the same address after graduating.

To collect better contact information, the advancement team sent a series of emails to recent graduates asking them to confirm or update their home and employment information. Anyone who completed the survey was entered into a drawing for a chance to win an iPad mini (see below). The first email, to all graduates of the past decade, had a response rate of over 20 percent. A follow-up email, sent to all graduates of the past two years, had a 40 percent response rate. By the end of the campaign, the university was able to update information on nearly 70 percent of all survey respondents.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Young Alumni Giving.

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Asking Too Often…Or Not Enough?

Posted on 06/08/2016 - by Dan Allenby

Boy Who Cried WolfOne of Aesop’s great fables is about a shepherd boy who repeatedly tricks nearby villagers into thinking a wolf is attacking his flock. Time and time again the villagers come to his side only to discover that his cries are just a hoax. In the story’s tragic ending, a real wolf finally does appear. When the boy again asks for help, the villagers ignore him and the sheep are eaten.

Besides the important moral about telling the truth, this story also has a lesson for annual giving professionals: be wary of asking too often. Understanding that donors usually don’t give unless they’re asked, many annual giving programs struggle to figure how frequently they should solicit their prospects.

An aggressive strategy can have an upside. It can keep your institution (and its need for support) top of mind for your constituents. There’s a lot of static and competition out there. The more often you ask, the more likely it is that your appeal will be heard. Being assertive can also produce results. There is, in fact, a correlation between higher appeal frequency and higher participation rates.

However, frequent appeals can also have a downside. The more you ask, the more you risk alienating your prospects. It doesn’t take much for someone to click the unsubscribe link in your email or ask to be taken off your call list. Asking too often also risks desensitizing your constituents to all of your institution’s communications – appeals and otherwise.

The optimal frequency depends on a number of factors including budget, culture, and goals. But good solicitation and segmentation strategies consider more than just frequency. They also require balance in terms of message, method, and timing. What, how, and when you ask are just as – if not more – important as how often you ask. You’ll know when you’ve found the right balance for your audience when you start to notice an uptick in your results.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Segmentation Strategy.

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Suggesting Gift Amounts

Posted on 06/01/2016 - by Dan Allenby

SuggestionsSuggesting gift amounts is a simple but effective way to raise donors’ sights and secure more leadership gifts. One way to do this is by requesting a specific amount in the body of a direct appeal or within a phonathon caller’s script. Although there’s no exact science for determining the right ask amount for each donor, a general rule is that it should be significantly higher than the donor’s most recent gift but also reasonable and realistic based on what you know about the donor’s capacity and inclination. The trick is to do your homework and find an amount that is ambitious but not off-putting.

A similar method is to provide donors with a range of potential gift amounts for them to consider on the reply device. This is known as an ask array or ask ladder. Although it would be a lot of work to create a unique ask ladder for each individual prospect, you can build them for key segments. The idea is that segments containing prospects with higher levels of past giving or known capacity should receive more ambitious ask arrays. In phonathons, ask ladders can be used to guide callers on what gift amounts they should solicit from prospects as a first ask, and in subsequent asks if needed. Again, the trick is to find the right levels: ambitious but not off-putting.

Online giving forms provide an opportunity to combine suggested gift amounts and ask arrays. Harvard Business School’s online giving form includes a range of five specified gift amounts as well as an option to write in the gift amount of the donor’s choice. However, the form has preselected the $250 option, suggesting that $250 is a common (or even minimum) gift from the school’s alumni. This tactic might compel an otherwise $100 donor to think twice about the amount of his or her gift. Almost immediately after updating the form with these higher gift amounts, the Harvard Business School’s advancement team noticed an increase in the average gift size of online donations.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Leadership Gifts for Annual Funds.

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Measuring Alumni Engagement

Posted on 05/25/2016 - 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!

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Predictive Modeling for Annual Giving.

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11 Tips for the 11th Hour

Posted on 05/04/2016 - 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 asks – Go 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 greeting – Include 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? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on End-Of-Year Appeals.

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How To Annoy Annual Giving Professionals

Posted on 04/13/2016 - 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

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Strong Teams and Collaborations.

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How To Ask For Money

Posted on 04/06/2016 - 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 for AGN’s Webinar on Face-to-Face Solicitations.

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March Matchness

Posted on 03/30/2016 - 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.”

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Constructing Donor Challenges.

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The Benefits of “No”

Posted on 03/23/2016 - by Dan Allenby

Despite 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.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Face-to-Face Solicitations.

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Setting SMART Goals

Posted on 03/09/2016 - by Dan Allenby

SMART GoalsThe practice of goal setting is quite common in annual giving. Too often, though, goals are conceived in haste or simply handed down by managers without enough thought or consideration. When this occurs, goals become hollow and ineffective and lose their ability to motivate staff. In fact, it can actually demotivate them.

A common problem is that goals are often confused with tactics. Goals are the things you expect your program to achieve. Tactics, by contrast, are the actions you will take to help achieve your goals. If goals are the anticipated result, then tactics are the means to achieve the result. For example, “increase alumni participation by 1 percent over the prior year” is a goal. A tactic to help achieve that goal might be “increasing the number of fundraising events for recent graduates.”

If you expect your annual giving goals to be effective, then they’ll need to be SMART—an acronym that stands for specific, measurable, ambitious, realistic and time bound.

  • Specific. Broad and generic isn’t going to get you very far. You need to be clear about what you are trying to accomplish. For example, “growing the annual fund” is not a specific goal. Be sure to specify what programs and constituencies are your highest priorities and explain what outcomes you expect for each. You can’t do it all, so don’t be afraid to say that you’re going to focus on some areas more than others.
  • Measurable. You won’t achieve what you don’t measure, which is why it’s so important to have quantifiable goals. For example, “increasing alumni donor counts” lacks a measurable and quantifiable target. With an immeasurable goal like that, what would be the motivation to achieve a large increase as opposed to a small increase? By contrast, “increase alumni donor counts by 5 percent over the prior year” provides the annual giving staff with a clear idea of what constitutes success.
  • Ambitious. The purpose of goals is to motivate growth and to accomplish more than has been accomplished in the past. Just like it’s important to set the bar high when soliciting gifts from individual prospects, it’s important to set the bar high for staff when it comes to goal setting. For example, if your program secured 5,000 alumni donors last year, then setting a goal of 5,001 alumni donors this year is not very ambitious.
  • Realistic. Setting the bar too high can be as unproductive as not having any goals at all. For example, if your program secured 5,000 alumni donors last year and has shown no growth in alumni donor counts over the past few years, then setting a goal of 7,500 alumni donors this year may be unrealistic. Unrealistic goals often result when they are assigned without input from the annual giving team. This is referred to as a “top-down” approach to goal setting. Unrealistic goals can also occur when they are developed in a vacuum without data to support them. Regardless of how they occur, unrealistic goals can result in a “doomed to fail” mentality and they do nothing to inspire creativity or hard work.
  • Time bound. Goals need to have a deadline. Although most annual giving programs identify where they expect to be by the end of the fiscal year, they should also set short-term milestones for achievement throughout the year. Setting monthly or quarterly goals can provide a way to assess progress along the way and identify problems before it’s too late. For example, imagine that your goal is to secure 5,000 alumni donors by the end of the fiscal year with 3,500 of them secured by the third quarter. If by the end of the third quarter you have secured only 3,000 alumni donors, then you may want to consider adding another mailing, hiring additional callers or implementing an extra incentive in the final few months of the year.

When it comes to goal setting, it’s also important to keep the big picture in mind. That’s why long-term goals are important. Long-term annual giving goals can be particularly important in the context of multiyear fundraising campaigns. Consider the following table, which maps out a path for increasing alumni participation rates by 1 percent each year over a five-year period. In addition to defining annual targets for alumni participation rates, it also specifies targets for each of the key drivers of alumni participation, including alumni of record counts, donor counts, and retention rates. The value of a table like this is that it not only states where you want to end up, but it also describes how you intend to get there.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Developing an Annual Fund Plan.

8.2_Five Year Projection Grid

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Collaborating with Major Gift Officers

Posted on 03/02/2016 - by Dan Allenby

Team Work 6There are 8,000 indigenous sports and sporting games in the world today according to the World Sports Encyclopedia. This long list can be subdivided into many different categories and segments such as athletics sports, mind sports, physical sports, electronic sports, individual sports and team sports.

Annual Giving is a team sport.

It’s easy to see the differences between major giving and annual giving. One of the most obvious has to do with a gift’s size. Generally speaking, major gifts are larger by comparison. But this doesn’t mean that annual gifts are less important. For example, a $5,000 annual fund gift can have the same financial impact in a given year as a $100,000 endowed gifts that “pays out” at 5 percent.

Another distinguishing factor is that major gifts can require years (sometimes a lifetime) of cultivation before a solicitation occurs, while annual gifts are solicited each and every year. Likewise, the payment schedule for these types of support can be quite different. It’s not uncommon for major gifts to be committed in the form of a pledge, “booked” for the full pledge value, and then paid-out in installments over a number of years. Annual gifts come in the form of cash (or other hard assets) and are credited only in the year in which they are received.

Major gifts are also more likely to come with more restrictions. Often intended to support specific needs through an institution’s endowment or by supporting capital projects, major gifts don’t usually allow for much flexibility in how they’re spent. Annual gifts, on the other hand, are usually less restricted or sometimes even completely unrestricted. Even when annual gifts are designated to support particular areas such as a school, unit, or team, an institution can often use some discretion in deciding how the money is spent.

But don’t let these differences blind you to the many opportunities that exist for collaboration between the annual giving and major giving teams. Prospect discovery and solicitation are great examples. Annual fund officers should always be on the lookout for new major gift prospects and major gift officers should (almost) always be soliciting their prospects for annual gifts each year. Other opportunities for collaboration include annual fund staff helping to create extra personal appeals for managed prospects, engaging prospects through meaningful volunteer roles (e.g., reunion committees, annual fund advisory boards), or working together to secure gift officer appointments. The annual giving program at The University of North Texas used its phonathon callers to identify prospects who might be interested in “taking a meeting” and then passed those names onto major gift officers for follow-up.

That’s not all. Co-reviewing prospect lists, conducting joint visits, and working together to draft gift proposals are also great examples of collaboration. And don’t forget about gift opportunities within the annual fund. Blended gifts, term scholarships, and “challenges” can be meaningful – even exciting – ways for major donors to provide annual support.

All too often, however, these opportunities don’t even make their way into gift discussions. That’s because many major gift officers are inclined to steer their prospects toward more traditional gift opportunities such as endowment and capital support. Whose job is it to remind major gift officers about these (often overlooked) opportunities? It’s the annual fund officer’s. They are, after all, the experts when it comes to annual giving. Additionally, they’re the ones whose programs stand to benefit and whose goals are more likely to be met when those opportunities are realized.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Annual Fund & Major Gift Partnerships.

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Light on the Horizon

Posted on 02/10/2016 - by Dan Allenby

Light on the HorizonPhonathons have been a staple of college and university annual giving programs since the 1970s when (as legend has it) Yale University first decided to employ students to make fundraising calls to alumni in a last-ditch effort to reach its campaign goal. Among the many benefits of a phonathon is that it’s interactive, allowing callers to engage (and even negotiate) with prospects in individual and conversational ways.

Because they’re more personal, phonathons tend to have higher conversion rates compared to other appeal channels. This makes them particularly useful when it comes to acquiring new donors or upgrading past donors to higher giving levels. Beyond soliciting gifts, phonathons also have the added benefit of allowing callers to update prospect information and even survey prospects to gather their opinions, preferences, and feedback.

But over the past several years, phonathons have experienced a period of darkness. Contact rates have declined year-over-year for nearly a decade due to the massive migration to mobile communication devices, the waning use of landline phones and a general negative stigma surrounding telemarketing. Today there’s only about a one in two chance that a prospect will even answer the phone when their alma mater calls. This makes the already challenging job of running a phonathon program even harder. Imagine what it’s like to be a caller, spending hours dialing prospects only to have the majority of your attempts met with a voicemail greeting or, worse yet, rejection. For many program managers, it can be difficult to keep callers motivated and retain employees for much more than a few months.

Now, before you dismiss the value of phonathons entirely, keep in mind that there may be some light on the horizon. According to Ruffalo Noel Levitz, not only have many college and university phonathon programs seen a stabilization of overall contact rates over the past year or two, but many have experienced an uptick among one very important segment – young alumni! As one young alumnus noted, he would be willing to answer the phone when his alma mater called simply because, in a world driven by text message communication, “people rarely call him.”

Since recent graduates have, as a generation, not yet experienced telemarketing in the same way and to the same degree as older generations, there may be an opportunity for phonathon programs to introduce themselves to new alumni in a positive way. How institutions decide to handle this introduction will be a key factor in the future of phonathons. When new alumni answer that first call, will it be their alma mater calling only to ask for money? Or will it be something more meaningful, more engaging and more valuable?

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Rethinking Phonathons.

Phonathon Contact Rates Young Alumni_20011-16

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Posted on 12/30/2015 - by Dan Allenby

Woody GuthrieIn January 1943, American folk music legend Woody Guthrie famously jotted down a list of 33 resolutions in his diary. He called them rulins – personal promises to help start the year on a good note – like “learn people better” and “dream good.” Each one was ambitious, simple, and sincere.

With a new year underway, it’s a good time to make some personal (and professional!) promises of your own. To help your program get off on the right foot, here are 10 Annual Giving Rulins for 2016:

  1. Increase alumni participation
  2. Engage young alumni better
  3. Launch a donor challenge
  4. Thank your volunteers
  5. Be data-driven
  6. Test more email appeals
  7. Make giving fun for students
  8. Get along with major gift officers
  9. Improve caller retention
  10. Send more handwritten notes

Happy New Year – and good luck!

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Developing an Annual Fund Plan.

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The Donor Funnel

Posted on 12/16/2015 - by Dan Allenby

Donor Pyramid - Rightside UpWhen asked to describe annual giving, many are tempted to talk about its activities: appealing for gifts, processing payments, sending acknowledgements and stewarding the donors. Others describe annual giving through its common metrics. They’ll tell you how much money it generates or how many donors it helps to secure. And then there are those who talk about annual giving mechanisms—the solicitation channels or the constituency-based programs employed by annual giving departments to cultivate and solicit donors.

While all of these things are very important parts of a program’s anatomy, they don’t really get to the heart of annual giving and its role within the larger context of an advancement program. To explain this, a “pyramid” diagram is sometimes used and includes different levels to indicate various types of giving that a donor can engage in during their lifetime. As you can see above, annual giving can be a key initial step in the process of converting occasional donors into special donors, then major donors, and ultimately principle donors over time. For advancement programs, this is a model for effective prospect management and cultivation over a lifetime.

The problem with using a “pyramid” model, however, is that it places annual giving near the bottom of the process, suggesting that it may not be as important. After all, it’s the small set of big donors that “matter” according to the 80/20 rule. But this visual misses the mark. A more appropriate model would be to invert the pyramid so that annual giving is near the top of a “funnel.” Instead of viewing annual giving as a means of moving donors “up” into higher forms of giving, it can help ensure that all of the other aspects of a prospect management strategy fall into place. Remove or hamper the top of the funnel, and fewer gifts will get through to the narrow spout.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Leadership Gifts for Annual Funds.

Donor Pyramid - Upside Down

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Salary & Professional Development Report

Posted on 12/02/2015 - by Dan Allenby


In the fall of 2015, Annual Giving Network (AGN) conducted a survey of 870 annual giving professionals who are actively employed at colleges, universities and independent schools in order to identify their characteristics, pinpoint obstacles to their success, and establish salary benchmarks.

Click here to download a FREE copy of the report, which will address the following questions:

  • Is your institution paying competitive salaries?
  • How much experience do you need to take the next step?
  • Which advanced degrees will give you the biggest advantage?
  • Where can you turn for career advice?
  • And more!

Click here to download a FREE copy of the report today.

Annual Giving Network (AGN) helps fundraisers advance their programs and careers. As the world’s leading resource for annual giving professionals, AGN provides access to training, webinars, workshops, case studies, and the latest research.

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Class Exodus

Posted on 11/25/2015 - by Dan Allenby

The following article was published in an issue of Currents Magazine. To download a PDF version of this article, click here

Class Exodus ImageThe world of advancement is facing a crisis—in numbers. In 1990, 18 percent of college and university alumni gave to their alma mater, according to the Council for Aid to Education. By 2013, that number had been cut in half to less than 9 percent—a record low and a culmination of a trend that has persisted for more than two decades. Some shrug off the decline as a new reality—a problem too far along to fix. Others ask, what’s the big deal? After all, in this era of big campaigns and mega-gifts, colleges and universities have raised more money even though fewer alumni are giving.

But the implications of this trend cannot be ignored.

Alumni participation rates can have a major impact on institutional reputation. U.S. News & World Report considers undergraduate alumni participation rates a barometer of alumni satisfaction and factors them into its rankings. No matter how you feel about rankings, they are a big deal. Rankings create reputation, reputation affects enrollment, and enrollment affects tuition revenue.

But it’s bigger than that. Substantial participation allows us to build a broad base of support and expand the pipeline for major gifts and future campaigns. Mega-gifts may have helped educational institutions raise more money over the past several decades, but relying on them isn’t a stable model. What if the pipeline dries up? And while a large group of supportive alumni can influence the direction of their school and its effect on the world, putting the future of our institutions in the hands of a relative few is not in our best interest.

It’s time to ask some new questions and set better goals for our institutions. It’s time to examine what is and isn’t working in our advancement practices and to look at how we can provide the best service to our alumni base.

Why Participation Rates Are Falling

As colleges and universities increase their student population, they’re also producing more alumni. This means that many institutions need to add more donors each year just to maintain the same levels of alumni participation. This makes it difficult to keep up the pace, but it also distracts us from the real problem: Alumni today (especially young alumni) have different attitudes and needs. The world has changed, and so have the ways and reasons alumni relate to their institutions. Unfortunately, we in advancement haven’t adapted.

Historically, the value offered to alumni has run along two tracks. First, alumni (as students) received an experience that taught them how to think, helped them form lifelong relationships, and prepared them to live and succeed after graduation. For many, this included job training. Back when the cost of this experience was relatively low, alumni felt like they had gotten a deal and were more willing to give back after they graduated. Imagine going to a restaurant and getting a delicious meal, wonderful service, and a great glass of wine—all for less than 20 bucks! You’d probably be inclined to leave a big tip, right? More important—from the restaurant’s point of view—you’d be likely to eat there again.

In the last decade, the price index for U.S. college tuition rates grew by nearly 80 percent—almost twice as fast as growth in medical care and more than twice as fast as the overall consumer price index, according to U.S. Labor Department statistics. Although tuition increases have slowed recently, data from the College Board suggests that federal aid has not kept up with rising costs, resulting in students and families paying more out-of-pocket expenses. A regular patron of a restaurant might not be so inclined to leave a tip if prices go up but the food quality remains the same.

On the second track, colleges and universities have offered value in the form of connectivity. Alumni associations and alumni relations programs were uniquely positioned to connect alumni through class reunions, regional chapters, alumni magazines, and alumni directories. They also connected alumni to personal and professional development opportunities through events, trips, and networking programs.

But in recent years, things have changed a lot. Tuition and fees have risen at an alarming rate. Many graduates are burdened with debt and don’t think they owe anything more. Few alumni understand why higher education has gotten so expensive—and few institutions have adequately explained that phenomenon.

Alumni are like the iconic old lady in the 1984 Wendy’s commercial who asked, “Where’s the beef?” It is a valid question.

Update Messages and Tools for a New Generation

To effectively serve our alumni, we need to examine what is no longer working:

  • We have relied too long on traditional tools. Contact rates for student phonathons, once the lifeblood of many annual giving programs, have plummeted as the world moves further online and mobile phones become more prevalent: Less than 58 percent of annual donors in 2012 came from mail appeals or phonathon programs, according to the Annual Giving Network. The remaining 42 percent arrived through online channels and other sources.
  • We haven’t updated our terminology. Too many annual giving programs still appeal for “unrestricted” gifts and use slogans like “give back.” Well, consider those terms for a second. “Unrestricted” simply doesn’t resonate anymore: The CAE reports that the percentage of total private support to unrestricted current operations has been cut in half at private and public institutions since 1984. And how can we expect alumni to give back when they haven’t finished paying the original bill?
  • Alumni no longer need us to stay connected. Before social media, colleges and universities were the gatekeepers to alumni information and networks. Today, online platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn are far more likely to have current information on our alumni than our own increasingly archaic databases. If I want to find an old classmate, I go to Facebook. If I need to develop my business or career, LinkedIn can open doors through peer connections and networking groups. I have options—lots of them. Good for me, maybe bad for my alma mater.

In a fast-moving world of likes and hashtags, the old benefits alone are no longer working. We need to find new services and develop new strategies. We need to rethink our role so that it involves a little more investment and a little less control.

Avoid the Crisis

Despite the overall decline nationally, some institutions have successfully increased their alumni giving rates in recent years. How did they do it? By following these steps:

  • Make alumni participation a priority. Increasing the number of gifts doesn’t happen on its own; it takes an effort. Virginia’s Christopher Newport University, which has doubled its participation rate in the past five years, has put this goal front and center in its campaign case statement and directed resources to support student and young alumni engagement. Successful universities also focus on student giving—Mount St. Mary’s University, a small Catholic institution in Maryland, nearly tripled its senior class gift participation rate over a four-year period. This played a huge role in helping the university increase its overall alumni participation rate from 17 percent to 24 percent in just a few years.
  • Take a fresh and data-driven approach to annual giving. Don’t include stale clichés like “give back” in your appeals. Tell stories about gift impact (and not just the impact of big gifts) and translate those into tangible ideas. On its website, Stanford University in California tells young alumni what their gifts added up to, allowing them to quantify their contributions: “Put another way, that’s about eight scholarships, nine research grants, and three student groups.” These institutions recognize the importance of restricted giving as a way of fulfilling special interests and providing transparency to donors. The University of California, San Diego, credits much of its success to ditching an organization-centric model in favor of a donor-centric model. The institution uses data to focus on donors’ specific interests, rather than trying to force-feed what the university may want alumni to support.
  • Celebrate consistent support. Encourage, recognize, and reward donor loyalty, and tell alumni (especially younger alumni) that consistent giving is just as important as major giving. The Oak Leaf Society has helped Vanderbilt University in Tennessee increase alumni participation by recognizing donors who make gifts of any amount, to any area of the university, for two or more consecutive fiscal years. At Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, you can only be a member of the Harold C. Ripley ’29 Society if you make a gift, of any amount, every year after graduation.
  • Support professional development. Colleges and universities today need to provide lifelong career development for alumni—online and offline. Virginia’s James Madison University, which has increased its alumni participation rate every year for the past five years, credits some of its success to the goodwill created by career programs and services. The University of Chicago has done substantial work to develop affinity groups that benefit alumni professionally and personally.
  • Embrace social media. Successful institutions are thinking outside of their own databases, and becoming more interested in determining how to add value to existing networks than being gatekeepers to information. Several years ago, my team at Boston University started a LinkedIn group to help alumni network and seek career advice. One problem: A self-starting alumnus had already created an alumni group a few years earlier. Our BU-based group struggled to grow because alumni assumed that his group—which was significantly larger—was the official one. His group, however, soon became overrun with spam, irrelevant content, and members who had no affiliation with the university because (despite all good intentions) he lacked the resources to maintain the group. What resulted were two competing groups, neither of which was effective. Picture two gardens side by side, one overrun with weeds and preventing the other from getting sunlight and nutrients. The situation was confusing to our alumni and made it difficult for either group to serve the needs of the network. After some negotiation, we reached an agreement with the alumnus and are now combining both groups. Did this require us to rethink our role? Absolutely. But we’re creating a better space where our alumni will find unique value from their affiliation with the university.

Value in Numbers

Prior to graduation, Boston University’s president has been known to ask seniors to think of their diploma as if it were a stock certificate. As the quality of the institution grows, so does the value of their degree. If we expect alumni to invest in our institutions, we need to offer that value long after they graduate.

Higher education in the United States is a treasure. If we continue down the current path, the future won’t be as bright. Our institutions and alumni will lose something if we rely on mega-gifts to support advancement efforts. Beholden to a relative few, our schools will give up flexibility and autonomy. Our alumni will give up something just as important: their voice.

If alumni support continues its decline, those voices run the risk of going unheard.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Increasing Alumni Participation.

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The “Ations” of Student Philanthropy

Posted on 10/28/2015 - by Dan Allenby

Involve MeFor educational institutions, building a culture of philanthropy begins by teaching students about the importance of donor support and showing them how it can make a difference in the life of their institution. The reason students go to school is to learn. It’s hard to imagine a more opportune time to teach them about philanthropy than while they’re right there on campus.

Borrowing the idea from another institution, The University of Central Florida Foundation found a way to teach students about philanthropy that is both clever and engaging. As part of their celebration of Student Philanthropy Week, they created a daily theme that encouraged students to think about and take part in a unique aspect of philanthropy. Since each theme shared a common suffix, each theme is playfully referred to an “ation.”

  • Education Day – Students were given token gifts (e.g., mugs, apparel) with printed facts or statistics related to philanthropy and its impact on the university.
  • Appreciation Day – Students were asked to produce handwritten thank you notes to donors. The Foundation provided stationary, lists, bullet points and a place to write.
  • Participation Day – Students were asked to make their own gift of $19.63 in honor of the founding year of the university.
  • Celebration Day – Students celebrated the week’s end by signing a banner and displaying it in the Student Union. They were also invited to attend a Philanthropy Symposium of donors that was moderated by the Student Philanthropy Council Chair.

Offering structure to the week’s events not only gave students a variety of different ways to get involved and learn, but it allowed the foundation staff to do a more thorough job of teaching about important topics, and not simply glossing over them in a generic way.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Student Philanthropy Programs.

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5 Tips for #GivingTuesday

Posted on 10/07/2015 - by Dan Allenby

GivingTuesday image#GivingTuesday is an online event that takes place on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Its purpose is to celebrate and support philanthropy and to kick-off the charitable giving season. Now in its fourth year, #GivingTuesday was initially conceived as an alternative to the commercially-driven Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This year, #GivingTuesday will take place on December 1st.

According to an AGN poll, 32% of educational institutions (i.e. colleges, universities, and independent schools) participated in #GivingTuesday last year. Many of those who elected not to participate reported “too much competition from other charities on that day” as their reason. Alternatively, a lot of schools launched their own “Giving Day” – many of which occurred in the spring. In fact, 77% of educational institutions reported that they are either planning or have already held a Giving Day of their own.

If your institution is planning to join in #GivingTuesday this year, consider setting a participation goal. Not sure what that goal should be? Figure out how many people gave on December 1st last year and increase it by 10%. Then, try these five tips to encourage your alumni, parents, and friends to give back:

  1. Send an email announcing that it’s #GivingTuesday and asking for support.
  2. Ask volunteers to change their Facebook profile pictures to your organization’s logo and spread the word through their social networks using your institution’s #hashtag and the #GivingTuesday hashtag.
  3. Populate your institution’s social feeds with stories and pictures about gift impact.
  4. Edit your phonathon scripts to mention #GivingTuesday early in the call.
  5. Tweet thanks to @everyone who makes a gift using the hashtag #GivingTuesday.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Planning a Giving Day.


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Calendar vs. Fiscal Year

Posted on 09/09/2015 - by Dan Allenby

The following chart shows the percent of total annual fund gifts and revenue by month for one educational institution. For both metrics, you can see that the highest volume is in December and June. This should come as no surprise considering that these mark the end of the calendar and fiscal years – two periods when many organizations concentrate their fundraising appeals.

Look closer and you’ll see something else. While the single biggest month for gifts is December, the single biggest month for revenue is June. Why is this?

Donors and Dollars by Month

While many donors are motivated (in part) by the tax credits they’ll receive for making charitable contributions before the end of the calendar year, only a few are aware of your organization’s budgetary timelines. Fiscal years are internal constructs that are irrelevant to the average constituent. However, it’s more likely that your leadership donors and key volunteers are in tune with your fiscal years. They’re the ones who tend to make the larger gifts that cause the spike in revenue at the end of the fiscal year.

For everyone else, it helps to give little reminders. The University of New Mexico sends a “Happy New Year” postcard to all of its past donors, letting them know that one fiscal year has ended and another has begun. It not only serves as a way to thank them for their past support, but it also prepares them for the new appeals they’re about to receive.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on End-Of-Year Appeals.

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Overcoming Objections

Posted on 08/05/2015 - by Dan Allenby

DisguiseThe worst thing you can hear after asking someone for a gift is “yes.” Why? Because it means you could have asked for more. But what do you do when you hear “no?”

Whether you’re on the front lines or working in a call center, the ability to overcome objections is a skill that every fundraiser needs. To keep the conversation alive after someone declines your initial request, you should:

  • Keep it positive – Remember that little yeses lead to bigger yeses.
  • Be specific, confident, and concise – Avoid sluggish talk like “well then” or “how about.”
  • Acknowledge their concerns – Lead with phrases like “I understand” and “I’m sorry to hear that.”
  • Insert a reason before each subsequent ask.

While it’s easy to let “no” get you down, it can actually be a chance to engage a prospect in a meaningful conversation and (possibly) change the way they think about your institution. Here are some common objections, with suggestions for how you can respond. If they say:

  • “This is not a good time,” then you say, “Of course. Is there a better time when we could call you back?”
  • “That’s more than I can afford,” then you say, “I understand. Is there a specific amount that would be more comfortable for you?”
  • “I had a bad experience with the institution,” then you say, “I’m sorry to hear that. Have you considered that your gift could ensure that others have a better experience?”
  • “I don’t like the direction the organization is headed,” then you say, “I’ll make a note of your concern. Please know that the institution listens carefully to its supportive alumni.”
  • “My gift won’t make a difference,” then you say, “Every gift counts. Participation rates can have a positive impact on institutional rankings and often influence major donors and foundations.”

Sometimes no simply means no. Other times it’s just an opportunity in disguise.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Overcoming Obstacles in Fundraising.

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4 Tips for Annual Fund Success

Posted on 06/17/2015 - by Dan Allenby

SuccessDon’t settle for mediocrity.

You owe it to your institution to run the best annual fund possible. But that’s no easy task in an industry that’s complicated, constantly changing, and filled with competition.

Here’s some advice to help you accomplish your goals and become the best annual giving professional you can be.

1. Study – Get to know everything you can about your institution. Click through its website, read the alumni magazine, take a campus tour, check out a book on its history. Ask a faculty member to lunch or coffee. They’ll have plenty to tell you, not just about the institution, but about the teaching and research they’re doing through the institution.

2. Participate – Become an active member in the life of your institution. Attend lectures, join the fitness center, go to games, audit a class, volunteer to help during an event. Have you liked the alumni Facebook page? Joined its LinkedIn group? Are you following on Twitter? Participating in the life of the institution not only gives perspective, but it equips you with stories and examples that you can share with others.

3. Benchmark – Get to know what’s going on at other institutions. This will not only help you understand what makes your institution unique, but it will show you where your institution has opportunities to grow. Attend conferences, subscribe to newsletters, and read magazines, blogs, and other publications. Network!

4. Give – Support your institution. It’ll not only help you appreciate things like how long it takes for a gift receipt to arrive or how your name appears on a donor roster, but it will give you the moral authority to ask others for their support. There’s nothing more empowering than being able to say “join me.”

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Developing an Annual Fund Plan.

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Text Trivia

Posted on 06/03/2015 - by Dan Allenby

Text PhilExplaining philanthropy to students requires some creative thinking, which is why the annual giving team at The University of North Carolina at Wilmington launched its Phil Campaign. Short for Philanthropy, “Phil” is a fictional character created by the annual giving team as a way to teach students about philanthropy.

One of the most innovative parts of the Phil campaign is the text trivia program. Based on an app developed by two faculty members, students can register to receive a text message every other week. It’s sent on Thursday after lunch and includes a multiple-choice question about philanthropy at the university. Every student who responds with the correct answer is eligible to win a prize, which has been donated by a local business. All prizes are worth $50 or more.

“Text trivia has been a great way to educate students about philanthropy. It not only helps to deliver important information to students, but it lets us know that they’re learning the things we want them to know about,” said Missy Kennedy, Director of Annual Giving at UNC Wilmington. “More than 80% of the students respond with a correct answer each time.”

Another unexpected benefit of the program is that it has given the annual giving team a way to collect mobile phone numbers from students – something that will help the office stay connected long after they graduate and become alumni.

Here’s a sample question: Thousands of alumni give to UNCW every year. Which class do you think had the most donors last year?

  1. Class of 2012
  2. Class of 1988
  3. Class of 1954

The correct answer is #1. Even though recent graduates are new in their careers, many still make UNCW a philanthropic priority.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Student Philanthropy Programs.

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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.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Gift Clubs and Societies.

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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. “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!

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Successful Direct Mail.

Ugly Betty Michigan


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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: 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, and they put together a great thank you video. In addition, they spend the day “tagging” stickers onto items around campus that exist as the result of donor support. This includes material items like buildings, books, and artwork as well as people, 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.”

Go Student Princes!

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Student Philanthropy Programs.

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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 five common mistakes made by annual giving professionals that can get 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 program’s 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 you’re spending your time and resources. If fewer than 60% of last year’s donors don’t give again this year, then you have a problem.
  5. They get distracted by “shiny 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 you’re 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.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Developing an Annual Fund Plan.

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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:

Acknowledgment – 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 acknowledgments arrive quickly.

Recognition – Nothing stands out like the letters in one’s own name. Identifying donors in print or online not only lets 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 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 experiences 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.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Stewardship for Annual Fund Donors.

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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 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 a really small file size (2MB) and easy to email.

“Right now, we send thank you videos to anyone who makes a pledge or gift,” says Meredith Johnston, 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. Johnston 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 Johnston, “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.”

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Donor Recognition.

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Egyptian or Mayan?

Posted on 01/28/2015 - by Dan Allenby

Egyptian or Mayan

Gift pyramids can help us visualize the distribution of our donations and identify where the majority of the money we raise is coming from. They can be useful for assessing all types of fundraising efforts including complex multi-year comprehensive campaigns, recurring annual fund drives, or stand alone direct mail appeals.

An important question to ask when analyzing your gift pyramid is whether it’s Egyptian or Mayan. Egyptian pyramids have pointed tops. They reflect campaigns in which a very large majority of the revenue comes from one or very few gifts. On the other hand, Mayan pyramids have flat tops. They reflect campaigns in which small and midsize gifts make up a more substantial portion of total revenue.

Here’s an example of a gift pyramid from a campaign that raised $50,000:

  • $10,000+ (1 gift totaling $25,000)
  • $5,000-$9,999 (2 gifts totaling $10,000)
  • $2,500-$4,999 (5 gifts totaling $7,000)
  • $1,000-$2,499 (4 gifts totaling $5,000)
  • Less than $1,000 (25 gifts totaling $3,000)

As you can see, 50% of the total money raised came from a single gift. In the short term, this can be an efficient and effective fundraising strategy. You’ll have a much better chance of success raising $1,000 by trying to find one donor who’s capable and willing to give you $1,000 than by trying to find 100 donors to each give you $10. Over time, however, organizations that rely on Egyptian pyramids run the risk of becoming top heavy and weakening their base of support. And you know what ultimately happens to organizations that are too top heavy, don’t you?

They tip over.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Research & Prospect Management.

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Tax Statement Appeal

Posted on 01/06/2015 - by Dan Allenby

DeadlinePeople tend to be more responsive when deadlines are involved. Ask me to call you on the phone sometime and I may do it. But ask me to call you tomorrow and the chances go way up that your phone will ring.

Fiscal years and tax years provide us with two deadlines to motivate donors. The truth is that a fiscal year often means more to the institution than it does for the donor. On the other hand, the tax (or calendar) year is more widely understood. Nearly 90% of the U.S. households deduct charitable contributions on their tax return.

The University of Indianapolis gets in sync with its donors each January when it sends a “tax statement appeal” to everyone who made a gift in the previous calendar year. This simple piece provides the donor with an itemized list of their gifts made from the previous January through December including the amount, date, and fund designation of each transaction. The mailing also includes a reply device for donors to make their gift for the subsequent tax year. See an example below.

“The tax statement appeal is one of our best mailings in terms of ROI,” says Lora Teliha, Director of Communications for Alumni Engagement at UIndy. “Last year, it got a 4.38% response rate and an average gift of $204.”

Go UIndy Greyhounds!

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Successful Direct Mail.

Tax Statement Appeal_UIndy

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Dear Angry Donor

Posted on 12/24/2014 - by Dan Allenby

ComplaintsIt’s that time of the year when people are receiving your year-end appeals. It’s also that time of year when you’re probably receiving more complaint calls and emails than usual. You spelled my name wrong! I already gave! Stop sending me so many emails! You ask for too much!

When a donor complains, it’s important to respond right way. But don’t feel like you have to resolve every problem that comes your way. It’s likely they just want to be heard. Keep your responses simple, like this:

Dear Angry Donor:

Thank you for your message and for your generous support. Your commitment to our mission will have an impact for years to come. We count on you.

I appreciate your feedback and will make a special point of sharing it with my colleagues. In the meantime, please let me know if there’s anything I can do to be helpful.

With gratitude,


Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Stewardship for Annual Fund Donors.

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Two Boats And A Helicopter

Posted on 11/26/2014 - by Dan Allenby

Two Boats and a HelicopterSeveral years ago in a small coastal town, there was a terrible flood. Fortunately, most of the townspeople were able to evacuate safely in advance. However, there was one person – a development officer – who insisted on staying put. As the floodwater rose, the development officer climbed onto the roof. A rescue boat soon arrived and called for him to climb in. He refused, claiming that, as someone who had spent his life doing noble work, he would be watched over. “Go save others,” he said.

The rain continued to fall and the water rose. The development officer climbed higher onto the roof and soon a second boat arrived. Once again he refused to climb in. “I’ve devoted my life to helping others and important causes,” he said. “God will protect me.”

Well, the rain didn’t let up and the water rose higher. The development officer climbed to the very top of the roof. As he clung to a weather vane, a rescue helicopter hovered overhead and let down a rope ladder. Once again, he refused help.

Sadly, the flood got worse and the development officer drowned. When he arrived in heaven he took the first opportunity to speak with God. Trying his best to hide his frustration, the development officer asked, “God, I devoted my entire life to helping others and important causes. Why didn’t you save me?”

God sat quietly for a moment. Then, with a warm smile and a gentle shrug of his shoulders, he said, “I sent you two boats and a helicopter. What more did you want?”

Now here’s the moral of the story: Don’t spend your valuable time looking for something better. Appreciate what you have now.

The same is true in fundraising. Don’t spend all of your time and resources seeking out the next big gift or donor. Instead, try to appreciate the donors you have now. Pay attention to them. Remind them that they’re important. Make them feel special. When you focus on the donors you have now, everything else will take care of itself.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Stewardship for Annual Fund Donors.

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Stakeholder Calls

Posted on 11/18/2014 - by Dan Allenby

VirtualThere was a time when “engagement” was limited to physical presence. This is one reason we put so much time, effort and money into meetings and events for our supporters.

Events bring people together. They remind us that we belong to something bigger than ourselves. Events can also entertain and provide special access – opportunities to network or an insider’s view into an organization.

But, when it comes to event planning, geography can be a big obstacle. If I live in New York and your event is in LA, the chances that I’ll attend go way down (even if I want to be there).

So, what about virtual events?

The University of Chicago invites its highest level of Chicago Society donors and volunteers to attend exclusive webinars. These “stakeholder calls” provide supporters with an opportunity to hear from a prominent member of campus without having to take a day off work or buy an expensive plane ticket. They also provide attendees with a chance to ask the special guest questions in real time. The last call took place in April and featured the university’s athletic director. Of the 125 donors and volunteers who were invited, 46 were able to attend.

Of course, there’s no replacement for a live show. But sometimes a little virtual engagement beats no engagement at all.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Stewardship for Annual Fund Donors.

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Posted on 10/22/2014 - by Dan Allenby

smallerWe live in an era of big data.

Today, we collect and store mountains of information on our prospects – the work they do, gifts they make, events they attend, groups they belong to, and opinions they share. All too often, though, our big data sits in our big databases and leaves us at a big loss for to how to use it.

How can we make our databases smaller?

Predictive modeling (the use of statistics to predict an outcome) can help. It’s the same tool used by meteorologists to forecast the weather and by banks to evaluate someone’s likelihood to repay a loan. It can also be used by fundraisers to segment a prospect pool, to decide how to allocate limited resources, and to make our vast databases feel smaller. Modeling can help to:

  • Rate an individual’s likelihood to make a gift
  • Determine the optimal solicitation channel for a prospect
  • Set appropriate ask amounts

According to AGN’s annual survey, 1 out of 3 annual giving program leaders considers predictive modeling to be an important part of their strategy. Moreover, this group also reported higher response rates for their direct appeals when compared with programs that did not consider it to be important. Perhaps predictive modeling isn’t as popular as it is effective, though it should be.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Predictive Modeling for Annual Giving.

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Posted on 09/16/2014 - by Dan Allenby

SnackableCould your alumni think your institution is “worthy but not needy”? This isn’t an uncommon challenge for educational institutions today. Especially those with relatively large endowments and high sticker prices.

Education finance is complex and, for most, not easy to understand. If we don’t make a point of explaining it in terms that our alumni can grasp, it can make the idea of donating money to our annual funds hard for them to swallow.

Make your case for support snackable.

Stanford University, which raises nearly $1 billion annually, lists “Seven Reasons To Support Stanford” on their Annual Fund’s website. Here’s how they explain to their alumni why Stanford needs money:

  1. Tuition covers only about two-thirds of the real cost of undergraduate education.
  2. More than half of all Stanford undergrads depend on need-based scholarships from the university.
  3. Stanford’s endowment covers only about 23% of the university’s budget.
  4. Most gifts are restricted. Annual, expendable gifts provide vital flexibility.
  5. Federal support for university research is significant, but it’s been declining for years in real dollars.
  6. Stanford’s mission is global. Big ideas can be expensive. Making a difference is worth it.
  7. Every gift makes a difference! Most gifts made to Stanford are under $1,000. But together they add up to millions for financial aid, academics, research, and other programs.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting kind of hungry.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Demonstrating ROI in Annual Giving. 

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Fly Your Flag

Posted on 09/09/2014 - by Dan Allenby

Marquette FlagIf you happened to be in or around Chicago last March, you may have noticed a lot of Marquette flags flying about. That’s because Marquette University’s annual giving team, in conjunction with National Marquette Day, was testing something new.

“We wanted to boost donor participation,” says Angela Krainz, a Senior Advancement Officer at Marquette, “so we offered a 3×5 Marquette flag to anyone who donated $60 or more. We focused our effort on Chicago because of the concentrated number of alumni, parents, and prospective students in that area.”

They kicked off the campaign with a postcard (see below) that drove donors to a web page where they could make a gift to the fund of their choice. They also promoted the campaign through Facebook ads and email. The effort generated nearly $30,000 and over 300 donors (a 1.8% response rate). For nearly 20% of the donors, this was their first gift to Marquette.

“We were really surprised by how many parents participated,” said Krainz. Nearly 25% of the donors were current and past parents. In fact, they decided to run the flag promotion later in the year to all current parents, regardless of location, so that they could have a flag to give to their student as a holiday present.

They acknowledge that not every premium-based campaign turns out to be a success. Next time, they may focus more of their efforts online – possibly limiting it to a 24-hour time frame, incorporating a giving challenge, or asking donors to share photos of their flag on display through social media.

“We only received positive feedback,” says Krainz. “Marquette alumni have a strong affinity for the university. They loved the fact they could get something to show their pride and help the university at the same time.”

Marquette’s compliance with the IRS’s regulations was simplified because they required a minimum donation and rewarded donors with a “token item” that contained their logo. The current quid pro quo guidelines are available online from the IRS.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Branding for Annual Giving Success.

Marquette Postcard Back



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Barn Lifting

Posted on 09/03/2014 - by Dan Allenby

Barn Lifting ImageIn 1981, Herman Ostry bought a farm near the small town of Bruno, Nebraska. His purchase included several acres, a creek and a barn.

At the time, he didn’t realize that the barn was built on low ground.  When it rained, the floor would flood, creating a muddy and unusable mess. Unfortunately, the cost of hiring a construction company to move the barn was too expensive. So Herman was forced to tolerate a muddy barn floor until, seven years later, he got an idea.

During the summer of 1988, the town of Bruno was celebrating its 100th anniversary. Herman used the centennial to convince 350 of his neighbors to help him relocate the barn to higher ground. In the afternoon, with thousands of live spectators and television cameras on hand, the volunteers banded together to lift the 20,000 pound barn and walk it over 115 feet to its new foundation.

The moral of the story? Sometimes a lot of little parts, put together in the right way, can achieve really big things.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Storytelling in Annual Giving.

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The Cornerstone Club

Posted on 08/20/2014 - by Dan Allenby

Northeastern HuskiesNortheastern 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 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.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Gift Clubs and Societies.

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Up To Snuff?

Posted on 08/13/2014 - by Dan Allenby

SnuffaluffagusIs 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 a 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 emails, webpages, or social media) were taking 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 to “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.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Annual Fund Websites & Giving Forms.

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Two Kinds of Money

Posted on 08/06/2014 - by Dan Allenby

Two Kinds of MoneyDeveloping 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 and 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.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Fundamentals of Annual Giving.


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Free Food

Posted on 07/30/2014 - by Dan Allenby

Telefund Caller Picture 1Phonathons, 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 also 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.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Maximizing Your Phonathon.

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How To Make Someone Feel Special

Posted on 07/23/2014 - by Dan Allenby

Donor ParkingWe 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
  • Smiling

Simple and thoughtful is rare and it’s beautiful.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Stewardship for Annual Fund Donors.

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Decision Time

Posted on 07/16/2014 - by Dan Allenby

FarmingAccording to the Environmental Protection Agency, there are approximately 2.2 million farms in the United States – that’s about 142 people for every farm.

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 start making decisions. But keep your eye on the clock. The harvest will be here before you know it!

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Developing an Annual Fund Plan.

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The World’s Oldest Teacher

Posted on 07/09/2014 - by Dan Allenby

What's Your StoryEvery institution has stories to tell.

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 to 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 than 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! Nearly 20% of all constituents made a gift, and there was an increase in the amount of money raised, by over 5%.

Indeed, every institution has stories to tell. They are, in essence, the case for support. What’s your story?

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Storytelling in Annual Giving.

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Pay For A Day

Posted on 06/18/2014 - by Dan Allenby

Heritage AcademyGeneric doesn’t have much of a ring to it. It doesn’t sizzle. Yes, it’s practical and efficient. But, at the end of the day, generic can be a little boring.

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 a 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.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on End-of-Year Appeals.

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Poem for the Timid Solicitor

Posted on 06/04/2014 - by Dan Allenby

It’s ok to ask more than once
It’s ok if you repeat
It could be that you under ask
That leads you to defeat

It’s ok to ask more than once
If at first you don’t succeed
Try again a different way
To make the case and state the need

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Overcoming Obstacles in Fundraising.

Try Again

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The Perfect Pipeline

Posted on 05/28/2014 - by Dan Allenby

Keystone PipelineThe Keystone Pipeline runs from Alberta, Canada to as far as the Gulf Coast of Texas. It was constructed in three phases with a fourth phase currently awaiting approval by the government.

It spans over 2,000 miles and transports hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil from Canada to U.S. markets every day. It’s complex, expensive and not without criticism and controversy.

Suffice it to say, it’s far from perfect.

Annual Giving has a pipeline of its own. Starting with prospect identification, it quickly moves on to donor solicitation and stewardship. Ultimately, it ends with a gift upgrade. One of the things that makes the annual giving pipeline unique from major gift strategy is that it doesn’t require as much time in-between each of its phases.

The Pefect PipelineIt’s what makes the annual giving pipeline simple, efficient, and (with a little bit of practice) something that can be perfected.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Leadership Gifts for Annual Funds.

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The Bigger They Are

Posted on 05/21/2014 - by Dan Allenby

Robert_Fitzsimmons_imageRobert “Ruby” Fitzsimmons was a born in Ireland in 1863. The youngest of 12 children, he grew up to be the first three-division world boxing champion, winning the Middle Weight, Heavy Weight, and Light Heavy Weight titles.

He was known for his dislike of training (preferring “real” fights) and intimidating opponents by talking “trash.” In 1900 he told a newspaper, “The bigger they are, the further they have to fall.” While this may have held true for Ruby Robert, the same can’t be said for annual giving.

Before we solicit a prospective donor, it’s important to determine an appropriate ask amount. We should start by considering their capacity (i.e., how much they could afford to give if properly motivated) and their inclination (i.e., level of interest in supporting the organization).

Sometimes fundraisers shy away from high ask amounts for fear that it will be off-putting to the prospect. In annual giving, where the goal is to establish a reliable stream of ongoing support, some worry that high asks will decrease the likelihood of future gifts. In fact, the opposite is true.

Larger Gifts Are More SustainableThe above chart (compliments of Target Analytics) shows gift renewal rates across an array of gift bands. It’s clear that, as the size of the gift increases, so does the likelihood that it will be renewed. The inverse is just as important to consider. That is, the smaller the gift size, the less likely it will be renewed.

Just something to keep in mind the next time you step into the ring.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Increasing Donor Retention.

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Flat Ollie

Posted on 05/14/2014 - by Dan Allenby

mascot noun: an animal, person, or thing adopted by a group as its representative symbol and supposed to bring good luck.

Flat OllieFounded in 1948, Brandeis is a private research university that offers the intimacy of a liberal arts college. Among Brandeis’ many unique characteristics is that it does not have a football team or a traditional mascot. What’s not so unique, however, is that it wants to increase its alumni participation rates.

Enter Flat Ollie.

Who is he? He’s the friendly owl that welcomed students to campus at orientation, cheered them on in the gym and soccer field, dragged them out of the library for Midnight Buffet, posed for thousands of pictures, and bid them farewell during senior week.

“Ollie is our unofficial mascot,” says Mark Ableman, Assistant Vice President for Development at Brandeis. “Most of our young alumni relate to him and he reminds them of the positive experiences they had when they were students.”

“He’s flat because he has to squish down to go through the mail,” says Ableman jokingly. “But you’ll also find him in photos on the alumni Facebook page, featured in email appeals, or writing about his latest adventure on the Brandeis Bold blog.”

The idea, which started in 2011, has become a regular part of the University’s BOLD (i.e., Brandeisians of the Last Decade) campaign. Today Ollie continues to stimulate Facebook comments, encourage record updates, and raise general awareness about the impact that results from alumni giving all over the world.

In the first year alone, the Flat Ollie strategy helped increase the young alumni participation rate from 13% to 16% and has helped BOLD alumni get on track towards 20% participation for this fiscal year.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Young Alumni Giving.

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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 Annual Fund staff 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 Image

To 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.

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.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Successful Direct Mail.

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 of 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.

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

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Increasing Donor Retention.

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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 a 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, it’s time for you to stand up and sound the alarm!

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Increasing Alumni Participation.

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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.

Continue reading a printable copy of the full article here.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Strong Teams and Collaborations.

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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 begin gift society membership between $1,000 and $1,499 (according to AGN’s 2013 survey). 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 your goal is to raise money, then your strategy should be clear. Set the bar high.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Leadership Gifts for Annual Funds.

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Posted on 02/05/2014 - by Dan Allenby

Flapitude ImageWhat can you do to inspire a culture of philanthropy on your campus or within your organization? The good people in the annual fund at Saint Joseph’s University have an answer: flapitude.

What is flapitude? It’s the “attitude of gratitude” displayed by 407 students, faculty and staff who gathered to flap their arms for five straight minutes to show their thanks for the university’s scholarship donors – a feat that, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, had never before been accomplished.

“We used the flapitude event to launch a new scholarship initiative on campus,” says Molly Robbins, Executive Director of The Saint Joseph’s Fund. “We thought it would help raise awareness about the impact of giving and allow us to thank our donors in the process. Our mascot (the hawk) never stops flapping just like we hope that our alumni will never stop being part of our community and never stop supporting the university.”

As they hoped, people did show up and word spread quickly afterward. In fact, it was featured on ESPN’s play of the day and an adjudicator from Guinness was in attendance to make sure that it was accurately recorded for the books.

But even though the event was a big success, it left the university with some important questions to consider. If inspiring a culture of philanthropy involves broadening awareness about the impact of giving, what else does it involve? And, while flapitude may be a good start, what else needs to be done to keep alumni engaged and supporting their alma mater year after year?

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Student Philanthropy Programs.


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The Economy, Stupid

Posted on 01/15/2014 - by Dan Allenby

During the 1992 U.S. Presidential Campaign, James Carville coined the phrase “The Economy, Stupid” as one of his party’s core messages.

What the democratic strategist meant was that it’s often the economy, above all other issues, that influences an election. And, in 1992, he may have been right. Bill Clinton went on to defeat George H. W. Bush, whose approval rating declined from 90% to 64% during the recession of the early 1990s.

As fundraisers, we spend a lot of time looking for those things that influence our campaigns. We’re always asking WHY? Did we get the donor’s attention? Did we ask for the right amount? Was our case compelling? These things are, in theory, within our control. But what about those things that are out of our control?

Current Use vs Financial IndicatorsThe above chart (compliments of CAE and Marts & Lundy) shows the trend in annual giving (i.e., current unrestricted gifts) compared to major economic indicators at 50 private research universities over the past decade. One could conclude that there is a correlation between annual giving and the economy.

So what?

There will always be things that are beyond our control – individual moods, institutional scandals, the economy. The truth is that your best chance to influence an outcome has nothing to do with analyzing these things. It does, however, have everything to do with identifying happy prospects, hiring quality callers, recruiting passionate volunteers, articulating a case, demonstrating gift impact, and doing good stewardship.

Focus on the things that are within your control. Focusing on anything else is just, well, stupid.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Fundamentals of Annual Giving.

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Chewing Food

Posted on 12/18/2013 - by Dan Allenby

cow chewingMail and phone are great tools for engaging and soliciting prospects. At most institutions, gifts through these channels constitute the majority of annual fund revenue and donors.

New media (e.g., video, online networks) can also be useful. These tools can help us connect with prospects in ways that are convenient and relevant to them.

But don’t forget about the importance of personal meetings.

Make time to meet with your prospects face-to-face. Sit down, have a cup of coffee, or enjoy a meal together. That’s where the really important work takes place, where the really important listening happens, and where lasting bonds begin to take shape.

Make a point of chewing food with your prospects. Just be sure to do so with your mouth closed.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Face-to-Face Solicitations.

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630 Challenge

Posted on 12/10/2013 - by Dan Allenby

Tick TockThe great Sy Seymour wrote, “what we have plenty of time to do is often the thing that never gets done.”

With this in mind, Marshall University wanted to find a way to end their fundraising year with a bang. “In the past, we’d enjoyed increasing success during the final month of the fiscal year,” said Griffin Talbot, Director of Annual Giving, “so we wanted to see if we could close out the year with our strongest June ever.”

The annual giving team launched the MU Challenge, a 30 day campaign with the goal of acquiring 630 donors by 6/30. Building on a commitment from two alumni to donate $10,000 if the goal was met, the team put in play a targeted direct mail appeal followed by several email communications. Progress was tracked in real time and available for all to see on the campaign’s website.

When the campaign was over, the team had tallied 648 donors during June, hitting their goal and surpassing the previous June donor count by over 50%. What’s more, Marshall decided to eliminate one of the scheduled emails because they hit their goal with days to spare.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Constructing Donor Challenges.


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Two Paths

Posted on 12/04/2013 - by Dan Allenby

Consider two paths for growing donor participation. The first is to focus on donor retention (i.e., renewing donors from the previous year). The second is to focus on new donor acquisition and the reactivation of lapsed donors. The tables below show examples of both strategies.

  • Table A shows how one organization increased its donor participation rate from 10% to 15% over a 5-year period. Its strategy focused on stewardship and resulted in a 1% increase in donor retention each year. By the final year, this organization produced 3,250 more donors than it did in the first year with the majority of this growth coming in the form of retained donors.
  • Table B shows how another organization also increased its donor participation rate from 10% to 15%. Its strategy focused less on stewardship and more on creative marketing efforts and high appeal volume. As a result, its donor retention rate remained flat over the same 5-year period. By the final year, this organization also produced 3,250 more donors with the majority of this growth coming in the form of new donor donor acquisition or lapsed donor reactivation.

Both strategies can help increase your overall donor participation rate. However, the retention strategy is generally simpler and more efficient while the acquisition more expensive and far less likely to be sustainable over a long period of time. Which would you choose?

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Increasing Donor Retention.










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What Should Count?

Posted on 11/06/2013 - by Dan Allenby

Inside every annual giving manager lives an accountant. She is confident and diligent, making sure that annual fund gifts and revenue are properly tracked and recorded so that shortfalls can be addressed and successes can be celebrated.

However, if you could crawl inside her head, you might be surprised to discover a tiny speck of doubt. It may be small, but if you look closely you’ll see it. And, if you listen carefully, you might even hear the echo of a doubtful question. What should count?

What Should Count

The truth is that there is no universal definition for annual giving. In fact, our recent study reveals that a wide array of criteria is used by organizations to define their programs. This chart shows how more than 175 different organizations define annual giving.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t need to be thoughtful and strategic about what you count. If unrestricted gifts are what your organization needs from your program, then that’s what you should count. However, if your organization depends on annual giving for something other than what’s being counted (like expendable gifts or alumni participation), then it’s probably a good time to reevaluate your criteria.

Remember, you’ll achieve what you measure.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Reporting Annual Fund Results.

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The First Giving Day

Posted on 10/23/2013 - by Dan Allenby

Columbia Giving DayOne year ago today, Columbia University celebrated its first ever Giving Day with the goal of increasing awareness about annual giving and testing how a grassroots-style online fundraising campaign would resonate with alumni.

The idea wasn’t something that was cobbled together at the last minute. In fact, planning for the event began more than six months in advance. The first step was to share the idea with the institution’s leadership. Columbia’s trustees enthusiastically responded by giving $500,000 in challenge match dollars to incentivize participation from alumni and friends.

The first public mention of Giving Day didn’t come until one month out, when the event was featured in an alumni magazine advertisement. Two weeks later, a Giving Day postcard was mailed to all alumni, followed by a stream of promotional emails. This is also when a group of well-organized alumni volunteers (referred to as “social ambassadors”) began the big push of spreading the word to their networks through Facebook and Twitter.

During the 14 days leading up to the event, staff and traditional volunteers also ran an early giving opportunity – a process that, in many ways, resembled the “silent phase” of many larger, comprehensive fundraising campaigns. During this time, key volunteers and leadership annual fund donors were asked for their input and invited to participate early with lead gifts.

The day itself was a celebration filled with online events (e.g., chats with Nobel Laureates, Dean’s roundtables) and friendly contests made possible by the challenge money. What made the day even more exciting was that it took place around Homecoming, a time when the campus was filled with alumni, faculty, and students.

When the day was over, and the dust settled, Columbia’s annual giving team declared its first Giving Day a huge success. It raised a total of $6.8 million and secured more than 5,000 donors  – 40% of whom were either new or reactivated.

Would they do it again? Yes, they would. As a matter of fact, today they are launching their second Giving Day, which they expect to just as big and exciting as the first.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Planning a Giving Day.

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X Marks The Spot

Posted on 08/24/2013 - by Dan Allenby

x marks the spotMany real estate experts will tell you that the three most important things to consider when buying a home are location, location, and location. The right house at the right price – but in the wrong area – is probably not a place where you’ll enjoy living and is unlikely to be a good investment in the long run.

This can also be applied in fundraising when deciding where to meet with a prospective volunteer, sponsor, or donor. Meetings are an opportunity to listen, observe, and understand. With that in mind, the next time you arrange one, suggest a meeting spot in the following order:

  1. Their home
  2. Their office
  3. The center of your institution
  4. A neutral location
  5. Your office

Meeting someone in their home or at their office allows you to see them in their own environment, to look for clues, and to better understand what’s important to them.

If their space isn’t an option, then try to meet them in a place where they can see your institution’s mission in full effect like the student center, the hospital cafeteria, or a project work site.

Lastly, a neutral location such as a restaurant or coffee shop isn’t ideal, but it’s better than meeting at your office. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about them.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Face-to-Face Solicitations.

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February Faceoff

Posted on 06/11/2013 - by Dan Allenby

Salisbury Postcard“Our young alumni participation rate was relatively low,” said Susan Auchincloss, Director of Annual Giving at Salisbury School, “and we wanted to find a way to increase it without sacrificing the amount of money we raise.” She knew this would be no easy task in a world where recent graduates are hard to reach, attention spans are limited, and competition for charitable donations is fierce. So they decided to launch a month-long challenge called The February Faceoff. It included three key components:

Competition – During the month of February, gifts from the classes of 2000-2012 to Salisbury’s Annual Fund were recorded and displayed along with the comparable class results from six of Salisbury’s peer schools. Using “Us vs. Them” as a slogan, the challenge tapped into the school’s competitive spirit. Each class also designated a “captain” to ignite some internal competition between classes and build a strong network of volunteers to spearhead the challenge.

Integration – Over the course of one month, every recent graduate received a carefully orchestrated wave of appeals using new (email, social media) and traditional (direct mail, phone) media. The goal was to make it easy for alumni to contribute in a way that was convenient for them.

Personalization – Starting with a postcard (which contained a QR code) and followed by four weekly email appeals, alumni were driven to a personalized online giving page (i.e., a PURL) which contained specific pre-determined ask amounts based on giving history, class year, and estimated giving potential.

The February Faceoff proved to be a huge success as Salisbury’s young alumni participation rate doubled from 8% to 17%. The amount of money donated to the Annual Fund by young alumni doubled too, with nearly 43% of donors contributing $100 or more. And, if that’s not impressive enough, the campaign inspired an anonymous donor to make a $10,000 gift in honor of the challenge.

Go Crimson Knights!

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Constructing Donor Challenges.

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The Decline of Unrestricted

Posted on 04/17/2013 - by Dan Allenby

Has the unrestricted gift lost luster with donors? This chart suggests that may be the case.

Unrestricted Giving Trend 1984-2011If your annual fund isn’t performing at the level you expect (or need), then it may be time to rethink your strategy. Start by asking a few basic questions:

  • Do you only count unrestricted gifts in your fund totals? If so, why?
  • Is your approach institutionally-centric or donor-centric?
  • Does your case for support highlight generic needs or specific priorities?
  • Would your donors be more inclined to provide regular support if they had more control over how their gifts were used?

It may be time to stop stressing the importance of unrestricted gifts and, instead, to encourage donors to support those areas within your organization that matter most to them. It’s really their institution. It’s your job to remind them that their institution can be as great as they want it to be.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Analytics for Annual Giving.

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The Pareto Principle

Posted on 02/28/2013 - by Dan Allenby

ImageIn the early 1900’s, an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto noticed that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained nearly 80% of the total peas in his crop. He later went on to observe a similar trend in real estate, noting that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by only 20% of the population.

The Pareto Principle is significant in fundraising too. In any campaign (large or small, annual or capital) you can expect most of the funds you raise to come from a disproportionately small number of your donors.

But don’t get caught taking a short-term view of your donors and the impact that they can have on your organization. While one donor may not have the capacity or inclination to make a large gift today, it doesn’t mean that they won’t do so at some point in the future. In fact, many institutions’ largest gifts come from donors whose initial gifts were significantly smaller or made many years earlier.

Good annual giving programs prioritize participation and stewardship at every level. They underscore the importance of lifetime value and they understand that while today’s seemingly insignificant gift may not be critical to reaching your goal for this campaign, it may be critical to the success of the next campaign.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Stewardship for Annual Fund Donors.

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What’s A Camel?

Posted on 01/23/2013 - by Dan Allenby

What’s a camel? It’s a horse designed by committee.

Working with volunteers who sit on boards, councils and committees can take a lot of effort and energy. The hope is that you provide them with support and, in return, they give back their time, talents, and treasures. But working with volunteers isn’t always easy and it’s rarely efficient. Next time your feeling frustrated, consider the following:

  • Everyone has at least one good idea. Consider it your job to uncover it. Be a good listener.
  • Information leads to better decisions. Give them data and show them trends. Help them understand what their peers are doing. Benchmarks can be enlightening and motivating.
  • People (whether they show it or not) don’t want to be alone. In fact, they’re driven by a desire to belong to something bigger than themselves. Remind them (often) of the greater mission that you all share.
  • Ideas become real when someone owns them. Help them take ownership of ideas, even if those ideas originated somewhere else.

So, if you feel like you’ve been handed a camel when you were expecting a horse, stop and consider the significance of volunteers. Indeed, working with volunteers is not always easy. Their schedules, styles, and methods (both as individuals and as a collective body) may not always be matched up with yours. Their goals, on the other hand, should be.

And remember, whether they’re simply showing up or they’re writing a check, this is someone who is doing something because they want to, not because they’re required to. That’s powerful stuff and it’s your job to harness it.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Engaging Volunteers Online.

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How To Say Thanks

Posted on 11/22/2012 - by Dan Allenby










Chinese, Cantanese

do jeh


Chinese, Mandarin

xie xie






















ma- hollow




Hindi, Hindustani










kamsa hamnida





Philippines (Tagalog)

salamat po

sah-lah-maht poh













Sri Lanka (Sinhak)










kawp-kun krap/ka’



tesekkür ederim



cam O


* source – Dr. Robyn Silverman

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Donor Recognition.

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Philanthropy is…

Posted on 07/17/2012 - by Dan Allenby

Philanthropy is…

  1. from Ancient Greek, meaning love of mankind
  2. private action for public good
  3. volunteering assets, ideas and/or time
  4. characteristic of civil society
  5. a statement of values
  6. not a purchase or a favor
  7. an alternative to spoiling family, friends, or self
  8. easy to do, but hard to do well
  9. gratifying
  10. contagious

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Fundamentals of Annual Giving.

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Portfolio Participation

Posted on 06/18/2012 - by Dan Allenby

In annual giving, as in any campaign, it’s likely that most of the money raised will come from a relatively small number of donors. It’s also likely that those few lead donors will be managed by major gift officers. But what can you do to ensure that major gift officers are fully supported in their annual giving efforts?

Try monitoring the participation rates of their prospect portfolios. This not only helps the gift officers understand how their portfolios are performing compared to others, but it will help ensure that portfolios remain current and that they contain a manageable number of prospects. Every prospect is a unique case, but sharing portfolio participation rates can be an extremely effective way to increase the visibility of annual giving across your organization.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Research and Prospect Management.

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Welcome! (first post)

Posted on 03/24/2011 - by Dan Allenby

Welcome to the official website of Annual Giving Network (AGN), the world’s leading resource and authority on annual giving. With a network of over 40,000 advancement professionals and a community of nearly 300 member institutions, AGN brings top experts and current best practices to educational and nonprofit institutions through training, recruiting and consulting services. Why? Because annual giving matters!

CLICK HERE to learn more about AGN.

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