If you own a home (and you’re not the Home Depot type), you may at times 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 become 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 an organization 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 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 minimum donation of $5 or more for an online gift. And it seems that having a minimum gift requirement won’t necessarily hurt your participation rates. Columbia University secured 14,269 gifts as part of a recent 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 Annual Fund Leadership Gift Strategy.
People make charitable donations for many different reasons. Some give out of a sense of loyalty and appreciation for an experience they had, because they want to make a difference in the life of another, or because they believe that the institution has a positive impact through its teaching, research or other programs. Others give because they receive something of value in exchange for their support—special access, tax breaks, parking or other privileges. But the number one reason people give is quite simple: because they are asked.
There are several things that need to be aligned to ensure that everyone is “prepared” for a gift solicitation to take place. First, you need to find the right prospect. This is someone who has a relationship with or an interest in your institution as well as the inclination and 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 the prospect’s class, or maybe your institution is marking a special occasion like the anniversary of its founding. And then, you need to figure out the right amount to ask for. If you’ve done your homework, you should have a good sense of this number. As a general rule, it’s important to aim high while considering the individual prospect’s past giving and capacity.
Whether you’re a professional gift officer, a phonathon caller or a volunteer, keep in mind the following five guidelines the next time you solicit a prospect for money:
- Little yeses can lead to big yeses. Warm up your prospective donors by asking them simple questions about themselves framed in a positive way.
- 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. But once they say yes, you can’t ask for more.
- Be ready to overcome objections. Familiarize yourself with common refusal reasons. Prepare (and practice) a response to each one.
- Don’t let an awkward silence get the better of you. After you ask, sit quietly and wait for the prospect to respond. The one who speaks first loses.
Remember that it’s a conversation, not an auction. Being solicited should never come as a surprise to your prospect, but ultimately they make their own decisions about giving. You’re just there to lend a hand. If you prepare and practice before every gift solicitation, more often than not it will be a rewarding experience for everyone involved.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Face-to-Face Solicitations.
Whether you work in annual giving or alumni relations, it’s important to know that you’re both on the same team. Unfortunately, there is a lot that can get in the way when these two groups try to work together. Sometimes the obstacles are organizational – like when the departments have different bosses or are located in different locations around campus. Other times, the obstacles are strategic – like when they have different goals and priorities.
When it comes to setting goals and priorities, annual giving professionals tend to concentrate on getting alumni and others to donate money, while alumni relations professionals generally focus on involving alumni through events, educational programs, and social networks. Having distinct goals is understandable and helps each unit assess its own productivity in the short-term. However, both groups should have the same common goal over the long-term: increasing alumni engagement.
One of the biggest challenges of tracking engagement is that there isn’t a universally-accepted way to measure it. With so many factors to consider and different ways to calculate engagement, a lot of advancement programs end up talking about it but never actually doing it. The trick is to keep it simple. Rather than accounting for every single action that could be considered a form of engagement, try focusing on a few of the most important ways alumni can engage. Use those ways to create a score for your entire alumni population and then measure the change over a period of time. Here’s an example:
- Take a random sample of 200 alumni records from your database.
- Assign 1 point to each record when you see evidence of any of the following actions: attending an event, serving as a volunteer, or making a gift.
- Produce an “engagement score” for each record between 0 and 3 based on the sum of the individual points assigned to each action.
- Sort the scores for each of the 200 records from lowest to highest and identify the median (i.e., mid-point) for the entire sample population.
- Wait a year and repeat this process to see if/how the score has changed.
One of the reasons why it’s so important to monitor alumni engagement is that simply doing so improves your chances of increasing it. That’s because people are more inclined to achieve what they measure. What’s more is that the individual types of engagement can have a positive impact on one another. For example, alumni who serve as volunteers are more likely to make a gift later on – and vice versa. Engagement builds upon itself, helping to create a stronger alumni community and support the institution’s overall advancement efforts today and well into the future.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Alumni Relations & Annual Giving Collaboration.
It’s usually pretty clear when an annual fund is running at peak performance. Unfortunately, it’s not always obvious when one is underperforming. Sometimes a program can appear to be okay when, in fact, it’s not living up to its full potential. This can result in thousands (sometimes millions) of dollars being left on the table.
One of the best ways to evaluate the performance of your annual fund is through an external audit – also known as a “program assessment.” This is a structured review of your operation that can help you to identify strengths and weaknesses and determine where there is the greatest opportunity for improvement. It’s best conducted by a third party or a consultant who, in addition to providing expertise, can remain objective.
In the same way that you don’t need to be a mechanic to recognize that your car is making a “funny noise” or that it’s due for some regularly-scheduled maintenance, you don’t need to be an expert to know that your annual fund is due for a checkup. If you can answer “yes” to one (or more) of the following 6 questions, it’s a sign that it may be a good time for an Annual Fund Assessment:
- Have your annual giving results been in decline?
- Does your annual fund lack clear priorities or goals?
- Does it seem like your annual giving strategy hasn’t changed much in recent years?
- Are you in (or preparing for) a campaign?
- Has there been a lot of turnover among your annual giving staff?
- Are you planning to hire (or have you recently hired) a new annual fund director?
Be aware that your program doesn’t need to be on the brink of breaking down to benefit from a program assessment. Just as regular oil changes and tune-ups can help avoid car troubles in the future, preventative maintenance is the surest way to keep your annual fund in the best possible shape.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE to request more information and find out how an AGN Program Assessment could improve your annual giving efforts.
In the late 1950s, Oakland businessman Wilfred Winkenbach organized a contest for his friends and colleagues in which 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 won. 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 to 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: Fantasy Reunion. Led by captains, alumni organized themselves into affinity-based teams of eleven and then earned points for participating in various activities including:
- 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 watches, event tickets, swag). There was also a prize for the individual with the highest score. While most participants were motivated by the competitive nature of the activity, these extra incentives did a lot to keep people engaged and excited.
Fantasy Reunion proved to be a great way to engage volunteers, boost registrations, and encourage support for the university. And while nothing beats the personal interaction that former classmates experienced during reunion weekend itself, the fun and competition that was built online in the weeks and months beforehand definitely helped make the celebration even more successful.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Engaging Volunteers Online.
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 it – Gettysburg 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.
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.
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:
- Go to your Facebook advertising account and follow prompts for setting up the pixel.
- Copy the pixel code and provide it to your IT person for implementation on your website.
- 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.
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.
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:
- Alumni participation creates a broad and diverse base of support as well as a pipeline of future support.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
An 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:
- Write in their reason for supporting the college
- Take a selfie picture
- 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.