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.
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” person:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Be thorough with references. And not just the ones they give you.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.