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.
Several years ago, many in the world of annual giving were asking themselves whether or not their institution should try out a “Giving Day.” Fast forward to the present time and we see that 3 out of 4 colleges, universities and independent schools have held (or are planning to hold) one. So, the new question that many organizations are now asking themselves isn’t if, but when, they should hold the big day.
Back in 2012 when Columbia University celebrated the industry’s first major day of giving, one of their motives was to encourage donors who might typically give in the spring to make their gifts earlier in the fiscal year. For this reason, they decided to hold their giving day in October, and they have continued that tradition every year since.
By any standard, Rice University has made the most of the giving days that they’ve conducted each year since 2013. However, unlike Columbia and many other institutions that hold their event on or around the same date each year, Rice has experimented with different times in order to piggyback on various campus activities and keep donors on their toes. Here’s the approach Rice has taken over the past five years, with results for each year listed in the chart below:
- First year (2013) — May 10th: Coincided with the celebration of the conclusion of their comprehensive Centennial Campaign, as well as with commencement.
- Second year (2014) — May 1st: Coincided with “decision day” — when prospective students decide if they will attend Rice.
- Third year (2015) — June 16th: A little later in the fiscal year, to motivate donors to give during the fiscal year-end push.
- Fourth year (2016) — February 29th (Leap Day): To have some fun with marketing around the unique date.
- Fifth year (2017) — June 1st: Based on their success two years before, once again hoping it would give a boost to their fiscal year-end fundraising efforts.
Emily Hilber, Executive Director of the Rice Annual Fund, says that they didn’t want to train their supporters to contribute at the same time each year or wait until the spring to make gifts. They still wanted donors to respond to their fall appeals and hoped that the spring giving day effort — known as the “24-Hour Challenge” — would help to inspire second gifts or encourage those who had not yet given.
When choosing a date for a giving day, Hilber acknowledges that there is no universal “best time,” and encourages people to think carefully about the unique history and culture of needs of their individual institution. She recommends that programs test different dates until they know which time period works best for them. She also reminds program managers that the success of a giving day effort needs to be judged by more than just a fundraising bump on one day. The ultimate goal is to see the momentum from the campaign continue long after the single day ends.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Planning a Successful Giving Day.
The modern annual giving program faces many challenges. A twenty-year decline in alumni participation rates has been fueled by rising tuition and student debt, changing attitudes by a new generation of alumni, and increased competition from a growing number of nonprofits. Limited resources and high rates of staff turnover make the job of running a productive annual giving program even more difficult.
At the same time, new opportunities are presenting themselves every day – through technology, digital media, and data analytics – that can help staff and volunteers achieve their goals. Today, annual giving is more complex, more sophisticated, and more important than ever.
AGN’s Spring 2018 Special Report has been developed as part of our ongoing best practices research. It contains a summary of key findings from our recent survey of more than 300 educational institutions and reveals 10 Drivers of Success as observed from the nation’s highest performing annual giving programs. Use it as a roadmap to improve the quality and productivity of your fundraising efforts and better understand what’s happening in the industry.
As the world’s leading resource and consulting firm for annual giving programs, AGN is dedicated to helping educational and nonprofit organizations improve their annual giving efforts. Through our membership program and specialized annual giving consulting services, we help advancement professionals stay on top of industry best practices, discover new ideas, and implement winning strategies for their annual funds.
According to the Council for Aid to Education, the number of alumni of record from U.S. colleges and universities has increased dramatically over the past several decades. In fact, the average number of alumni per institution has nearly quadrupled, from around 15,000 in 1972 to 60,000 today. At the same time, the average number of alumni donors has remained relatively flat. Although one may think that this suggests a certain level of stability, it actually has a negative effect on alumni participation rates.
As the number of alumni grows, an institution needs to increase the number of alumni donors just to maintain its current alumni-to-donor ratio. Imagine that last year a college had 50,000 living alumni and that 5,000 of them made a contribution; its alumni participation rate would be 10 percent. Then imagine that the number of living alumni increased by 2 percent this year, to 51,000, perhaps due to an increase in enrollment or because fewer alumni died (not implausible as life expectancies are going up). If the college maintained its current alumni donor count of 5,000, its alumni participation rate would decline to 9.8 percent.
This scenario has become an all too familiar reality for many educational institutions and their annual giving programs—so much so that many programs have adopted the slogan “flat is the new up” when it comes to alumni participation rates. Does this mean that declining alumni participation rates should be accepted as a harsh but unavoidable reality, since the increasing size of alumni populations is beyond the direct control of annual giving programs?
Before you answer, ask yourself if you would accept population growth as a good excuse for declining employment rates. Probably not. Instead, you’d think something was broken within the economy. The way you think about alumni participation rates should be no different. The fact that rates have been declining steadily for so long is an indication that something is fundamentally wrong.
Several factors are at play when it comes to the increase in alumni populations. One of them is—good news!—gender equity. More women are going to college today than ever before. In the years following World War II, fewer than 30 percent of those enrolled in degree-granting postsecondary educational institutions were women.1 By 2011, that number had nearly doubled. Women now represent approximately 57 percent of enrollments in colleges and universities in the United States.
Another reason there are more alumni today is that there is a growing pressure for individuals to have a college degree to be competitive in the workplace. If you want to earn a decent income, your chances increase dramatically with a college degree. According to the Pew Research Center, the median annual earnings for full-time workers aged 25 to 32 with college degrees is $17,500 greater than for those with high school diplomas only. That gap widened steadily for each successive generation in the latter half of the 20th century.
International interest in U.S. higher education has also played a role in the rising number of alumni. Students from other countries are flooding into the U.S. higher education system, reaching record levels last year. They now make up over 4 percent of total enrollments for U.S. colleges and universities, with nearly half of them from China, India, and Korea.2 In 2014–2015, the number of international students in the United States increased by 10 percent, to a record high of 974,926 students. Part of what makes international students so appealing is that few of them receive financial aid; therefore, they provide institutions with a good source of revenue.
It should be no surprise that, as demand for college degrees has increased, not only has the U.S. higher education system produced many more alumni, but it’s had to establish more institutions. There are now over 4,500 postsecondary Title IV degree-granting institutions in the United States—a number that has increased by 45 percent since 1980.1
A larger alumni population may be a significant part of the oft-referenced “declining participation rates” story. While it’s important to recognize this, in order to get to the bottom of the real issue, you need to look at your body of alumni and question why a smaller portion of them are giving back to their alma mater each year.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Boosting Alumni Participation Rates.
1National Center for Education Statistics
2Institute of International Education
Don’t be limited by the data that your institution is actively maintaining on constituents. These days you need to think outside of your donor database.
Social media is full of information and clues about your alumni and donors—and chances are, it’s more accurate and current than what is in your own database. Take LinkedIn, for example, where an individual’s public profile can provide three data points that can help you determine their potential capacity to make a gift: geographic location, employer and job title. Your alumni are far more likely to update their LinkedIn profile when they change jobs than they are to reach out to your alumni relations department with the news.
Engagement is no longer limited to physical presence, and watching how your alumni behave on social media can also tell you a lot about them. The posts they like and share can point to their interests and affinities. The people they’re connected to can tell you who influences them. Their comments can reveal opinions and tell you how they might feel about the things going on around your campus. Hamline University asked alumni on its Facebook page to comment with the name of a faculty member who made a difference in their lives. Alumni responded in droves. It not only turned out to be one of their most engaging posts ever, but it also revealed which professors were most popular with alumni—data that they could use later to determine future news stories in the alumni magazine or newsletters, or even to determine which influential faculty should be asked to sign annual fund appeals.
Online engagement can also help to identify new donors. For example, if you’re able to identify a group of alumni who like or share a particular post about the school’s pep band, then it stands to reason that those individuals would have a higher likelihood of responding to an appeal to support the pep band than would a randomly selected group of non-donors. And while mining social media data can require manual effort, there are tools on the market to make it easier and scalable.
Data has long empowered annual giving professionals to monitor, understand, and influence the outcomes of their programs. But now, by looking to social media to gather information about and engage your alumni, donors, and prospects, you can get outside the traditional data “box,” expand the depth and precision of your efforts, and increase your overall likelihood of success.
Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Mining Social Media Data.
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.