Attracting Donors Through Digital Ads

Posted on 09/16/2018 - by Dan Allenby

One of the biggest challenges in annual giving is getting a donor’s attention. In an era of social media influencers, YouTube celebrities, and ever-present tweets, relying exclusively on traditional engagement channels may not actually get your message through to the intended audience. And while most institutions know who their prospective donors are, they may not have access to all of the contact data necessary to deliver a traditional appeal – so regardless of how strong the message is, it’s simply not received.

So how do you get through? One way to capture attention and attract donors is through digital advertising. Social media offers a wealth of advertising opportunities that will put your message directly in front of your constituents based on their specific contact information or select audience characteristics like age, location, or gender. Digital ad retargeting takes this concept a step further by marketing to people who have actually interacted with your content or advertising. If a prospective donor clicks on a Facebook ad or visits one of your web pages, you can capture their data and use it to serve them specific online ads to push them back to your website for further engagement.  

One institution that is seeing success with digital ad retargeting is Indiana University. The IU Foundation, which fundraises on behalf of the university, wanted to increase engagement with their parent community. The Foundation team built a Facebook ad campaign to attract potential parents. The ads targeted users who lived in Indiana, had shown interest in IU, and who had children between the ages of 18 and 26. By having remarketing code on the parent engagement webpage, anyone who clicked on those ads was added to a marketing list. This enabled the Foundation to then show them digital ads for IU’s parent program while surfing Facebook and other sites.

According to Brandon Derck, part of the digital marketing team at the IU Foundation that built the ads, the campaign has been part of their emphasis on a multi-channel marketing strategy. The ads show how parents can get involved with IU and don’t automatically assume that the user seeing the ad is a parent. Once a user clicks on the ad, they have essentially affirmed their status as an IU parent and  “opted in” to communication about parent engagement. The goal first and foremost is to drive traffic to IU’s parent program page, where visitors can see the many ways they can get involved. The IU team then uses the data collected through the web traffic to show ads that engage those parents for gifts.

The biggest indicator of success for this approach so far has been the increase in traffic to IU’s parent program page. Prior to the ad campaign, it was not uncommon for the page to have around 50 visits per month. During ad campaign months, the parent page has over 600 unique visitors. The ads are significantly less expensive to run than direct mail or telemarketing efforts – averaging less than $500 per campaign – and are serving as a critical component of the Foundation’s focus on increasing parent giving. As the team points out, getting their message in front of these constituents is the first step.

With new technology comes new opportunities. For the less tech-savvy, it may feel daunting to tackle something that appears as complicated as ad retargeting, but – with a little work – the results can pay dividends for your program. After all, your message can only be successful if your audience actually receives it.

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

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Redefining What Counts in Your Annual Fund

Posted on 09/09/2018 - by Dan Allenby

With anything in life, you can’t achieve what you don’t measure. If you’re trying to lose a few pounds, it helps to track your weight. Or, if you want to be a better piano player, then you should stick to your practice schedule. The same can be said for your annual fund: if you want to grow, you need to make sure that you are tracking the right things. To do this, it’s critical for your organization to have a clear definition of what constitutes your annual fund – one that everyone within and outside of your annual giving team understands.

When Boston University was preparing to launch its seven-year, $1 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign, the advancement leadership team made it very clear that, regardless of how much money was raised, the campaign would not be considered a success unless it elevated alumni engagement and increased alumni participation through the annual fund. With this in mind, one of the first things the annual giving team did was ask: What constitutes an annual fund gift?

While this might appear to be a straightforward question, it didn’t always yield the same answer. When asked, some of BU’s advancement staff thought annual gifts were determined by their size (e.g., gifts under $25,000) or by the method through which they were solicited (e.g., phonathon, direct mail). Others assumed that the annual fund included only gifts to a single, central unrestricted fund at the university.

While different stakeholders may have had their own interpretations, the true definition of the BU annual fund was actually based on gift designation. Each year, the annual fund revenue total was a reflection of gifts to more than three dozen unit-based discretionary funds and to the central university priority funds, which include scholarships, libraries, student services, and the areas of greatest need. While gifts to these funds may have been restricted to certain areas or programs, they were also considered unrestricted in that the money could be spent at the discretion of the respective administrators. Gifts to funds outside of this criteria, regardless of their size, were not considered annual fund gifts.

One of the inherent challenges found in this definition had to do with stewardship. For example, BU’s annual fund leadership giving society recognized all donors who made a gift of $1,000 or more to the annual fund. If a donor made a leadership-level gift to a current-use restricted fund that was not one of the BU annual fund designations (e.g., history department fund, a club sport fund, a student activity fund), then the donor would not qualify as a member of the annual fund leadership society and would not be eligible for its benefits.

Recognizing the shortcoming in the existing definition as it related to the campaign goals, BU’s annual giving staff worked closely with advancement leadership to lobby for a broader definition of the annual fund that would better align with a donor’s notion of annual giving. This process took over a year and included discussions with deans, the provost, the president, the alumni association board and the board of trustees. Staff compiled data on the past trends and shared future projections under the current and proposed definitions. They also provided benchmarking data to show how annual fund revenue was tracked at a peer institution.

These conversations and accompanying research concluded with a proposal to broaden the definition of BU’s annual fund to include all gifts made to any of the thousands of current-use restricted funds at the university. The team also proposed that for gifts exceeding $100,000, only the first $100,000 would be counted in the annual fund revenue totals. While these donors would still be recognized for their full gift amount, setting a “cap” for reporting purposes would allow for better projections and make sure that outliers would not skew results from one year to the next.

The proposal was unanimously accepted by university leadership, allowing the staff to move forward with the broader definition of annual giving during the remainder of the campaign. This change supported appeal efforts targeted to donor interests, something that was particularly important among younger alumni, who are more inclined to support specific programs than the general needs of the institution. The expanded definition also helped drive a significant increase in annual fund revenue and donors, allowing the advancement team achieve one of the key priorities of the campaign.

Setting goals is critical, but when there’s not consensus about what defines your annual fund – or if your current definition is not well-suited for growth – it’s likely time to reevaluate. Take the lead, do the research, engage with stakeholders, and craft a proposal designed to position your annual fund for success. Once you’ve established the definition, make sure that you align your messaging and reporting to support your strategy going forward. You’ll likely find that after redefining what counts, you can better work toward achieving those goals.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Designing a Winning Annual Fund Plan.

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The Secret to Motivating Annual Fund Staff

Posted on 09/02/2018 - by Dan Allenby

Leading an annual giving effort is no small undertaking. Doing it well requires setting clear goals, developing and implementing a strong plan, and evaluating performance along the way. Given all of the moving parts, it’s no surprise that those who gravitate towards a career in annual giving like it when things run smoothly and according to plan. It’s a good day for the annual fund when the big mailing drops on time, when donor pledges are fulfilled, and when appeal codes are properly printed on all of the reply cards.

But in reality, things don’t always go according to plan. Sometimes there are little bumps in the road that can lead to frustrations. And if they’re not overcome, those frustrations can quickly affect the morale of the entire staff. With this in mind, the industry’s strongest leaders know that motivating their team is a critical component of their job.

There’s no shortage of things you can do to incentivize your annual fund staff. Rewarding success with bonuses and raises, offering professional development opportunities, or simply giving someone a pat on the back after a successful initiative can go a long way. But there’s also a less traditional tactic that can be far more motivating.

Years ago, a study was conducted in a fundraising call center. Callers were split into two equal groups. The first group was offered cash bonuses as a reward for securing pledges. The second group was not offered any cash bonuses, but instead received regular updates about the impact of the gifts. They were told how the very donations that they were responsible for securing were helping real people; they saw pictures and were given the names of beneficiaries. When the study was complete, which group had better fundraising results? If you guessed the second group, you are correct. And the results were not just a little better – they were a LOT better.

The annual giving program at Denison College understands how important communicating impact can be as a staff motivator. Billie Handa, the Director of the Annual Fund at Dennison, explains how she recently had the opportunity to participate in first-year student orientation activities, where she met one particularly passionate upperclassman. As she listened to the student’s story, it became clear to her that this was someone who wanted to make a difference in the world and that their student experience was going to empower them to make that difference.

When Handa returned to the office, she shared the story with her staff. Together, they talked about the impact that their work with the annual fund was having on students and faculty every day, and how they – as individuals and as a team – were doing their part to change the world: one student, one donor, one experience at a time. How many students might not have the financial resources to attend college, to study abroad, or to do their research if the annual fund staff wasn’t working to encourage alumni, parents, and friends to invest in the future? These discussions had an immediate and positive impact on the entire team’s morale and, in a way, motivated them to do their jobs better.

Incentivizing a team to perform at their best is critical, but don’t overlook the opportunity to also inspire them. Fundraising is ultimately about more than hitting goals or setting participation records – it is about providing institutions with the necessary resources to educate tomorrow’s leaders, by giving people the opportunity to invest in that mission. At the end of the day, that meaningful motivation can truly make a difference.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Recruiting & Retaining All-Star Staff.

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Creating a New Donor Welcome Package

Posted on 08/26/2018 - by Dan Allenby

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. This is especially true for college and university annual giving programs, which are constantly competing with other nonprofits for the attention and support of donors. Often times, the first gift is a test. Donors will see how the institution responds before they decide to give again. While retention rates for prior-year donors tend to hover around 60 percent nationally, retention rates for first-time donors can be below 20 percent. That’s why it’s so important to take a personal and proactive approach to recognizing new donors when they offer their support.

The LSU Foundation’s annual giving team understands the value of new donor retention. After a year of significant donor growth and increased participation, their annual fund team faced the task of motivating those donors to make their second gift. They decided that the key was finding a way to celebrate those new donors and make them feel valued for their support. It was also important to highlight their collective impact. Since 82 percent of LSU’s annual contributions come from donors who make gifts of $250 or less, it was critical to show how even small gifts add up each year to make a difference for the school community.

LSU’s central annual fund team worked collaboratively with colleagues across the university – including donor relations, communications, and marketing, as well as the individual school units – to develop a new donor welcome package for their first-time donors. During the design process, the team looked at samples from other institutions for inspiration and, using those resources as a guide, came up with a piece that accomplished their goals and was unique to the personality of LSU.

The team produced a piece that celebrated a donor’s first gift with the tagline “You gave, we noticed.” They shared facts about the collective impact of philanthropic support and the number of first-generation students enrolled at LSU to align with the piece’s “firsts” theme. Each package included a special gift in the form of “tech tag” stickers with the beloved LSU tiger mascot. The team also utilized phonathon callers and student workers in the advancement office to add handwritten notes for a more personalized touch. Above all, the piece showed that LSU had taken note of the donor’s first gift and that it had an impact.

According to Julie LeFebvre, LSU Foundation Senior Director of Annual Giving, the team made the welcome piece one component of a year-long effort to target first-time donors with special messaging. They sent versions of the new donor piece via email and also included customized first-time donor language in their appeals. They worked hard to ensure that the outreach would make these donors feel special, but not overwhelmed. The team worked closely with development officers to suggest that their deans and other academic leaders follow up with handwritten thank you notes to new donors once the packages were received, but they pulled back on additional stewardship from the units so that the new donors didn’t feel inundated.

While it’s still early to know the long-term impact of their new donor strategy, LSU saw its first-time donor retention rate climb from 28 percent to almost 33 percent. Alumni have also been sharing positive feedback and pictures with their LSU “tech tag” stickers, so the team knows that the strategy has been well-received. They are hoping that over time this approach will grow their first-time donor retention rate to between 40-45 percent.

When someone decides to donate to an institution for the first time, it makes a powerful statement. Recognizing, celebrating, and engaging first-time donors is critical to maintaining their support and building a strong retention rate, while helping to cultivate a community of loyal and consistent supporters for many years to come. Because nothing is more important than a donor’s first gift – except their second gift.

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

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Taking a Chance on a Second Ask

Posted on 08/19/2018 - by Dan Allenby

One of the mantras of annual giving goes like this: make a gift now and we won’t ask you to make a gift again this year. But due to the rise of Giving Days and crowdfunding campaigns, through which donors may be inclined to participate in smaller ways to help institutions meet their goals, an increasing number of programs can’t make that “one gift per year” promise today. Why? Because they’re implementing “second asks” – revisiting donors who have already made a gift in a given fiscal year and asking them for additional support. Some programs are understandably 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. During the past fiscal year, Rutgers found that 24% of their donors made more than one gift.

Rutgers has found that second asks can also 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 donors 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. According to Rebecca Cole Trump, Associate Vice President for Annual Giving at Rutgers, second ask programs not only have an obvious benefit in terms of revenue; they can also boost donor counts and alumni participation by increasing donor retention over time. 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 specifically, 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. Even limited second asks, like including your current donors on a Giving Day, can be a step in the right direction. Just be sure to recognize that you are asking for something special and make them feel appreciated and acknowledged when asking them to contribute again.

As the old saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. For a growing number of programs, even when you do succeed, it may be worth asking again.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Annual Fund Leadership Gift Strategy.

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Incorporating Texting into Volunteer Outreach

Posted on 08/12/2018 - by Dan Allenby

Texting is an integral part of daily life these days. Studies show that 8 out of 10 Americans text regularly. And while some non-profits have found ways to successfully incorporate texting into their fundraising efforts, particularly around natural disasters or events, many educational institutions are still figuring out how to integrate texting into their overall annual fund strategies.

As the Sidwell Friends School was thinking about how to tackle the problem of unanswered calls during volunteer phonathons, they decided that empowering their volunteers to use text as a new method of personal outreach might lead to more connections – and a better response.

The team engaged volunteers in Sidwell’s first textathon in conjunction with their Giving Day. Parent volunteers were assigned a list of potential donors and used an online program to send personalized solicitation texts throughout the day. The messages were concise – fewer than 160 characters each – and to the point, identifying the volunteer texter, the reason for the text, and the ask for support:

(Initial text): Hi [NAME], this is [Vol. name] a parent volunteer at SFS. It’s Annual Fund Giving Day and we are aiming for 50% participation today. Will you help?
(If no response text): We are XXX families away from goal – you can still help by making a gift at _______ or texting me your pledge. Thank you.

Full 10-digit phone numbers with a local area code contributed to the personalized feel. The texts included both a link to the online giving form and the option to opt-out of the texts, and recipients were encouraged to go online to make a gift directly through the link or reply with a pledge that could be fulfilled later.

According to Dia Karakantas Ruocco, Sidwell’s Director of Development for Annual Giving and Leadership Giving, the new texting approach received a strong response from both donors and volunteers. 25 percent of recipients replied to the text messages – some with pledges and some with follow-up messages confirming that the volunteer was truly associated with the school. Overall, they received 120 gifts and pledges during their first texting campaign, along with positive feedback from the community. Volunteers felt that texting was quick and easy to do and were motivated by the response rate. Parents shared that the text messages were less intrusive than phone calls, and the number of recipients who opted-out of the messages was nominal.

Thanks in part to the textathon program, parent participation and revenue is up at Sidwell Friends. Texting has outperformed the volunteer phonathon by such a large margin (400 percent) that less than two years after launching this initiative, the school has essentially eliminated volunteer calls in favor of texting. Last fall, textathon volunteers were so motivated by their past success that they organized a matching challenge to encourage more donors to give during the texting campaign.

As a communication tool, texting is quick, direct, and personal. While a phone call from an unfamiliar number may go unanswered, a text will more than likely be received. Sidwell’s experiment shows that new habits can inspire alternative approaches that are more in sync with the rhythms of modern life. If donors aren’t answering your calls, it might be time to send them a text.  

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

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Making Donor Stewardship Personal with Video

Posted on 08/05/2018 - by Dan Allenby

There’s an important, but under-appreciated concept in fundraising known as the “spectrum of personalization.” It suggests that the more personal your efforts to engage and solicit prospects, the more likely those prospects will be to say yes and provide ongoing support. Here’s a simple way to demonstrate how it works:

Take out a piece of paper and draw a horizontal line. On it, plot the various methods through which you can engage or solicit a prospective donor. To the left, put the mass communication channels like running an advertisement in the alumni magazine or sending a generic email blast. Then, as you move to the right, plot methods in order of increasing personalization. Examples of these might include handwritten notes, phone calls and meetings. Finally, underneath each method, jot down the response rate you might expect from that channel. What you’ll see is that, as you move from left to right, response rates will increase along with the degree of personalization.

While this may seem like an obvious concept, the challenge that many annual giving programs face is applying it when resources are scarce. Successful programs figure out how to leverage economies of scale – often through new techniques and technologies – to create the most personalized appeals possible for the greatest number of prospects.

The University of Memphis knows this, which is why they launched a new initiative to engage some of their most loyal donors through custom videos. It began with a one-month test run through their phonathon program in which student callers each shot 25 thank you videos to share with more than 250 past donors who hadn’t renewed their support during the current year. The videos were about 30-seconds long, and they were personalized by referencing the number of consecutive years of giving, the donor’s favorite fund, and even calling the donors out by name. Videos were emailed to donors along with a personal cover note that also highlighted a tangible outcome of past gifts made to the donor’s fund of choice.

According to Rachel Brown, Director of Annual Giving at the University of Memphis, their goal was to create a campaign that really stood out from the rest while letting donors know that they really stood out from the rest. Targeted donors received no other mail or email from the university for a period of six weeks. Then, one week after the videos went out, the staff made follow-up calls to the donors to ask for their renewed support.

The personal touch seemed to really pay off. The video emails had a 41% open rate – well above typical open rates even for loyal donors – and more than 66% of donors renewed their support as part of the campaign. What’s more, many donors commented how much they enjoyed and appreciated the videos. A significant majority of those renewed donors made gifts at or above their previous gift amount. In fact, one donor decided to double support as a result.

It’s not always easy – or cost-effective – to increase the level of personalization in your appeals, but for your most committed donors, the strategy can pay dividends. Making your donors feel known and sharing how their individual support has made an impact on your institution will help lay the foundation for long-term support.

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

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A Bite-Sized Approach to Faculty and Staff Giving

Posted on 07/29/2018 - by Dan Allenby

One of the first rules of annual giving is to make it as easy as possible for your donors to make their gift. For some donors that can mean limiting the number of fields on an online giving form, and for others it might mean taking credit card information by phone. For faculty and staff donors, ease of giving could also mean meeting them where they are—or at least where they go every day.

Looking for a way to build a culture of philanthropy among their faculty and staff, the Punahou School in Honolulu launched the Hearts of Punahou Employees (HOPE) committee, which was made up of key staff members from various campus departments. As committee members were discussing how to boost employee giving, they realized that the ID cards they used daily to purchase lunch in the cafeteria could be a simple tool for facilitating donations.

For a one-month period, faculty and staff members were encouraged to make a donation to the school via their ID cards. When buying a meal, every employee had the opportunity to charge an additional $5 or $10 to their lunch account. Each person who participated received a card on which they could write their name and hang on the wall for colleagues to see. As the wall was gradually covered with cards, more faculty and staff members were encouraged to join the effort by rounding up their lunch purchases.  

According to Jill Higashi, Punahou’s Director of Annual Giving, launching the cafeteria giving program required extensive collaboration with multiple school departments. The Development Office organized the program, the Operations team entered the gifts, and Communications designed the signature cards to publicize each person’s gifts. Because all cafeteria charges run directly through the school’s Business Office, the accounting staff was also involved to allocate gift charges. And finally, the cafeteria staff helped manage the gifts and provided daily summaries of giving.

The program achieved its goal of increasing awareness and participation in giving among faculty and staff, resulting in 90 gifts in one month. Organizers also learned that faculty and staff members really appreciated the ease of giving via their campus ID cards. Punahou development leaders intend to make the cafeteria giving program an annual event to be held each May as a final push for giving before employees leave for the summer break. And next year, they plan to ask HOPE committee members and advancement staff to make their gifts in advance, so the cafeteria walls will already feature “I gave” cards on the first day of the initiative.

Faculty and staff see your mission in action every day and have a vested interest in your success. It’s a no-brainer to ask them for their support, but making it simple, interactive, and even fun can be a game changer. Their investment goes a long way in building a strong culture of philanthropy across your institution.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Faculty & Staff Giving.

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Uncovering the Hidden Benefits of Crowdfunding

Posted on 07/22/2018 - by Dan Allenby

Several years ago, when crowdfunding made its way into college and university annual giving programs, it was met with excitement from some and skepticism from others. Fast forward to the present and questions still remain about its effectiveness in alumni fundraising. Some point out that crowdfunding campaigns tend to have relatively low dollar returns but require significant staff resources to support. And while this may be true, the ultimate value of such efforts shouldn’t always be judged in just dollars and cents.

There are other “hidden” benefits of crowdfunding. For example, it can be a good way to identify alumni giving interests beyond traditional annual fund areas like greatest need, faculty support, or scholarships. It can also serve as a successful means to acquire new donors. Data shows that in a typical annual fund, most gifts are made by past donors to an institution, while the majority of gifts to a crowdfunding campaign come from first-time donors.

Another hidden benefit of crowdfunding is how it engages volunteers in the process and, even more importantly, what it can teach important groups about fundraising. When the University of Missouri–St. Louis launched a crowdfunding platform a few years ago, its initial goals were to raise money and respond to the many student and faculty fundraising requests that were coming to the advancement team each year. They came to realize, however, that their efforts paid off in other ways.

Soon after the crowdfunding platform went live, the big question for the team was how to let members of the campus community know about the opportunity 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. They realized that 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.

Jennifer Jezek-Taussig, Associate Vice Chancellor of Alumni Engagement at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, acknowledges that the integration of crowdfunding into their overall annual giving strategy isn’t a one-and-done process. She notes that they are continuing to refine their strategy and, in doing so, are considering the various pros and cons along the way. Overall, they feel good about launching the platform and project continued growth in the year ahead.

Crowdfunding campaigns may not be the perfect fit for every institution, but they can have benefits beyond just the funds raised for student and faculty projects. The University of Missouri–St. Louis’ experience illustrates how some of crowdfunding’s biggest benefits may not be obvious at the start. While it’s worthwhile to develop programs with a goal in mind, it’s also important to recognize that the unexpected results may be just as – if not more – significant to your team’s success.

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

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Launching a Women’s Giving Circle

Posted on 07/15/2018 - by Dan Allenby

Women are earning more than ever – and taking a larger role in charitable giving. Research shows that a $10,000 rise in a woman’s income is associated with a more than 5% increase in total household giving. According to the Women’s Philanthropy Institute at the Indiana University Lilly School of Philanthropy, women with the top 25% of income gave 156% more than men in the same category. Even in households where the husband is the major breadwinner, women have the stronger say as to how charitable funds should be allocated. But cultivating the next generation of female philanthropists requires a strategic approach, one that appeals to their desire for personal connection with both fellow donors and with the causes that they support.

In an effort to engage more female alumni in philanthropy, Oregon State University (OSU) established its Women’s Giving Circle in 2003. Since that time, the Giving Circle has expanded its capacity and focus, raising a total of over $920,000 to fund university grants that are relevant to women. Projects include a STEM academy that recruits undergraduate women and minority students to work with underrepresented youth, and a series of financial literacy sessions for freshmen with minimal money management experience. Their flagship effort has been a multi-year pledge to support the recently-opened Beth Ray Center for Academic Support, which provides programs and services to benefit all students and aligns with the Giving Circle’s emphasis on helping others get a leg up.

Kellie Parker, OSU’s Senior Associate Director of Annual Giving, attributes much of the Giving Circle’s success to careful listening and an open-minded approach to donor ideas and interests. The OSU Foundation initially structured the group based on research studies and focus groups, but feedback from alumni and other stakeholders – including the group’s steering committee – helped refine the Group’s priorities and direction. One major challenge was finding the giving level that would most incentivize donors to participate; $100 annually proved to be too low, while $1,000 was deemed too steep of a contribution for some. Currently, the minimum commitment is a $250 annual pledge for donors under age 40, and $500 for women 40 and over, with 30% of their members making a gift of $1000 or greater to the program. While the Giving Circle has grown from 25 charter members to about 125, the membership remains fluid, with some donors moving onto other OSU fundraising efforts and others coming on board through contact via peers or interest in a particular initiative.

Another big incentive for donors is the Circle’s hands-on approach, which studies show is more important to female donors than to their male counterparts. Members vote on every program to be funded. Each year, the OSU Provost invites campus organizations to submit grant proposals. In addition to site visits with applicants, Giving Circle members prepare reports of their findings, which along with the grants themselves, provide the in-depth information and details needed to make informed decisions.

With twice-yearly meetings including an annual awards event where grant recipients make presentations about their projects, the Giving Circle has a social component as well. These functions are often intimate gatherings held in member’s homes, allowing attendees to engage with other members while also connecting with current students who will benefit from their support. Giving Circle members stay in touch through regular emails and plan to expand their social media presence to further engage younger members.

OSU’s Women’s Giving Circle is harnessing the power of an important – and growing – donor segment in a way that resonates with their interests and connects them with their impact. And in the end, that’s strategic engagement that builds a solid foundation for long-term support.

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

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