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. 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.
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.
It’s no secret that the cost of higher education is rising at an alarming rate. Many parents lie awake at night worrying about how they will be able to afford to send their children to college. But few institutions have done a good job explaining why costs have risen so steeply.
While there are several contributing factors, many student and parents don’t realize that their own expectations are a major reason why tuition has increased so steeply. There was a time when college students may have been satisfied with a bunk and a book. Today, schools feel pressure to offer rock-climbing walls, wifi, and single apartments if they want to attract the best students.
In some industries, competition drives costs down. For example, imagine that you own a shoe store that sells one brand of shoes for $50. Then, someone comes along and opens a store next door selling that same pair of shoes for $40. All things equal, you’ll have to lower your price by $10 in order to remain competitive. The opposite is true for many educational institutions. Imagine two universities that are competing for the same students. All things equal, if one university builds a brand new student exercise facility, the other one may feel compelled to do the same in order to remain competitive.
Money doesn’t grow on trees and there aren’t many ways for educational institutions to generate revenue to cover rising costs. Many colleges and universities rely on tuition to cover a majority of their operating budgets. This means that when costs go up for whatever reason, tuition may be the only way to cover the additional expenses. Philanthropy can be a great alternative.
At Kalamazoo College in Michigan, tuition covers approximately 67% of the cost to run the college. Donations cover a large portion of the remaining expenses. To highlight this point, the annual fund team sponsors Tuition Freedom Day, marking the approximate point in the academic year when tuition revenue theoretically “runs out” and philanthropic support takes over. Student volunteers spend the day writing thank you notes. Because there are many different ways to support the college, they make a point of sending notes to all types of donors, not just those who make big endowment or capital gifts.
Finding ways to teach students and families about the impact of philanthropy is important. But it’s also important to explain how philanthropy fits into the bigger picture. Explaining the financial aspects of running an educational institution is an important part of that picture.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Student Philanthropy Programs.
One of the things that many professionals enjoy about working in annual giving is that it’s cyclical. A new campaign begins every 365 days, offering an opportunity for programs to start over with new goals and a fresh strategy. At the same time, this can be challenging for many programs. Constantly coming up with different approaches isn’t easy.
The Westminster Schools in Atlanta, GA had relied on a competition-based challenge with a rival school every fall to create extra interest around giving. Although this approach had helped to increase participation rates in its first couple of years, results eventually leveled out. That’s when they decided to try something new, launching the EveryCat Challenge.
Named after their mascot (the wildcat), the goal of the challenge was to secure 2,200 commitments—one for every student and faculty member—to the annual fund by the end of October. In addition to generating much-needed support, the new approach also helped to:
- Focus attention on the beneficiaries of annual fund support and allow for more “storytelling.” Marketing materials featured student and faculty profiles that described how annual fund support had affected them personally.
- Encourage participation by every member of the community. All gifts from alumni, parents, and friends were counted.
- Raise sites. The goal of 2,200 gifts represented an increase of 200 over what had been achieved by the end of October in previous years.
- Engage the institution’s leadership in annual giving. The board agreed to serve as the challenge’s sponsors, offering up $100,000 in bonus funds when the goal was reached.
Marketing for the challenge, which included a website, a series of emails and targeted Facebook ads, took place only during the month of October. Parent and alumni volunteers were also instrumental in spreading the word. They were asked to make calls, send emails and share on their social networks.
In the two years that Westminster has held the EveryCat Challenge, the results have been very positive. Each year, the goal has been achieved by the October deadline, helping to pave the way to end the year up in annual fund revenue and participation. What’s more, the student and faculty stories generated a lot of positive feedback – something that helped create a positive experience for staff and volunteers.
Consistency and repetition can be great assets in annual giving where creating giving “habits” is an important goal. But it’s also important to recognize when old ideas aren’t working as well as they once did. When that’s the case, it’s probably time to start mixing it up.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Integrated Multi-Channel Marketing.
If you’ve worked in annual giving for long, chances are that you’ve received a request from a major gift officer to have a prospect excluded from receiving annual fund appeals.
There are many circumstances for which this is a very valid request – like when someone has specifically asked not to receive appeals or when a prospect is going to be solicited for a major gift in the next few months. There are other times, however, when it’s not valid – like when the gift officer claims that they’re developing a relationship with a prospect and fear that an annual appeal will derail that effort.
One of the fundamental differences between annual and major giving is time. Annual giving campaigns are relatively short with the primary goal of maximizing participation. When they’re complete, you get to learn from your missteps and (if there weren’t too many) try things again for the next 12 months.
Major giving, on the other hand, is a much slower process with the goal of producing a few significant donations that will have a major and lasting impact. It can take years to cultivate a major gift and, when missteps are made, you don’t often get a second chance.
If you look up the word exclude, you find synonyms like alienate, omit, segregate, reject, disenfranchise, and marginalize. Whether we work in annual or major giving, it’s likely we don’t want any of these things for our prospects.
So, the next time a major gift officer asks to have a prospect excluded from annual appeals because they are working on developing a relationship, politely remind them that giving makes a relationship stronger. Then, offer to work with them to produce a personal appeal – something that makes the prospect feel noticed and special, something that makes them feel part of something important, something that makes them feel included.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Annual Fund & Major Gift Partnerships.
One of the oldest taglines in annual giving goes like this: Make a gift now and we won’t ask again for another year. But there are a growing number of programs today that can’t make that claim. Why? Because they’re implementing “second asks” – going back to donors who have already made a gift and asking them for additional support. Some programs are reluctant to take this approach for fear of offending donors or hurting future retention rates. Rutgers University isn’t one of them.
Rutgers typically runs two second ask campaigns per year – one in January and one in May. In January, they reach out to donors whose previous gift was made between June and November. Then, in May, they target donors whose previous gift was made between December and March. Sometimes the second asks are for a general fund (e.g., scholarships) but the best response rates often come when donors are asked to support a specific area that’s important or personal to them. For Rutgers, it’s not unusual to see as many as 3,500 second gifts in a year, which can add up to more than $350,000.
Second asks can be a great way to upgrade donors and strengthen the pipeline. For example, if someone has been consistently contributing $750, a second ask for $250 can serve as a way to increase their total giving to $1,000 and welcome them as a member of a leadership gift society. For programs that encourage unrestricted support the first time around, a second ask can be a way for them to support a special interest, such as a department or an athletic team.
The big question for many annual giving professionals is what happens after someone makes a second gift? Does their likelihood of giving in the following year decrease? Surprisingly, no. In fact, the more gifts a donor contributes in a single year, the more likely they are to renew their support the following year. At Rutgers, a donor is 13% more likely to renew if they make a second gift, and 23% more likely to renew if they make 3 or more gifts in a year.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. And even when you do succeed, it may be worth trying again.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Leadership Gifts for Annual Funds.
For the 5th consecutive year, AGN has produced a special report to share trends and best practices in the field of annual giving. AGN research is based on data collected from annual giving programs at over a thousand educational institutions around the world.
This year’s report highlights more than 25 live interactive webinars offered by AGN in 2016. Each page summarizes data from event poll results and other research and offers a useful example from a specific webinar. Want to learn more? Every page also includes a link to view that webinar in its entirety via AGN’s on-demand training library.
AGN Plus Member institutions enjoy unlimited free access to all live and on-demand AGN webinars. They also receive special access to experts, opportunities to network and benchmark with other members, and exclusive research, publications and case studies. Click here to learn more about becoming an AGN Plus Member.
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