Hiring The Right Annual Giving Staff

Posted on 03/17/2019

Hiring the right person for a job is one of the most important decisions a manager can make. It’s particularly important in annual giving, where staff turnover is a common problem. According to a recent AGN Salary & Professional Development Report, 38 percent of annual giving professionals are not satisfied in their current job and 41 percent have searched or interviewed for another job in the past year.

Hiring the wrong person can cause big problems down the line. Whether they’re unhappy or simply not cut out to do the job, a mismatch can leave you facing one of two undesirable situations. The employee will either quit – leaving you with the time-consuming task of recruiting their replacement – or they’ll stick around, becoming a drag on the organization.

So next time you find yourself hiring for an open position, try to keep these 12 tips in mind to ensure you select the right person to join your annual giving team:

  1. Recruit internally first. Don’t assume that you need to launch a long and exhaustive search. Sometimes the best candidate is right in front of your eyes.
  2. Look for someone who is running to something rather than running from something. Be suspicious of those who say negative things about their current employer.
  3. Beware of job hoppers. Calculate the average time they’ve spent at previous jobs and assume that’s how long they’ll stick around your organization.
  4. Consider their enthusiasm. Playing “hard to get” can make someone appealing at first, but it can also be a sign that your organization or the opportunity just doesn’t excite them.
  5. Find out who has mentored them. The people they look up to and whom they’ve learned from can be far more important than any talent or skill they possess.
  6. Don’t look for perfection. Those who appear to know what they don’t know are almost always more effective than those who appear to know everything.
  7. Value experience. Those who have been at it longer may not be smarter, but they probably have more experience making – and hopefully learning from – mistakes.
  8. Get input from others. Don’t carry the burden of making this decision on your shoulders alone. Ask a group of colleagues to interview candidates (or at least the finalists) too. If the majority shares a feeling (positive or negative) about someone, it can be indicative of how well they fit into with your office culture.
  9. Test their endurance. Don’t be afraid to invite candidates back for multiple interviews. Try a different setting (conference room, coffee shop, colleague’s office) each time. It’ll give you a chance to see them in different lights.
  10. Do the math. Create a scorecard that lists out the five or six success factors and rate candidates on a scale of 1-5 for each one. When everyone has been interviewed, see who comes out on top.
  11. Be thorough with references. And not just the ones they give you.
  12. Don’t rush into any decisions. A wise person once said, when it comes to building a successful team, you should “fire quick and hire slow.”

Above all else, trust your gut. Regardless of what your colleagues or your scorecard tell you, listen to that voice in your head. The above tips can help guide your decision-making process. But, when it comes to hiring the right person, you’re the one who’s going to have to live with your decision. If you’ve been thorough and thoughtful during the recruitment process and, in the end, someone simply feels like the right person for the job, then chances are, they probably are.

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

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Appealing to Non-Alumni Through Crowdfunding

Posted on 03/10/2019

While crowdfunding has found its place in the fundraising toolkit of some non-profits, many annual giving professionals at colleges, universities, and independent schools are still trying to figure out how and where it fits into their mix. Part of the challenge is that at educational institutions, fundraising efforts are often geared toward existing constituents, namely alumni and parents. This is especially true for annual gifts.

AGN research shows that for a typical educational institution, approximately 3 out of 4 gifts received throughout the year will be from alumni and and parents, with the remainder coming from groups such as corporations, foundations, employees, fans, and other friends. However, in the case of crowdfunding campaigns, data shows that the opposite can be true. It’s not unusual for just 1 out of 4 gifts made to crowdfunding projects to be from alumni and parents while the vast majority come from other groups. Why is this?

Part of the reason may be that alumni and parents are often preconditioned to the needs and priorities of the institution as a whole. In fact, many schools start talking with their constituents about giving as soon as they step foot on campus. And while projects that are very specific in nature might be of interest to some alumni and parents, they likely won’t resonate with the entire community. Crowdfunding campaigns can be very effective for these type of niche fundraising efforts since they depend on the network and advocacy of those who have a special interest in a project’s success.

UCLA used crowdfunding to raise money to help maintain and restore classic Laurel and Hardy titles in its film and television library by targeting fans—many of whom were outside of the university’s traditional alumni and parent community. The campaign included a combination of personal outreach to Laurel and Hardy fan clubs, mass e-solicitations to previous donors, and volunteer-led peer-to-peer outreach to push donors to the crowdfunding site. Expenses were kept at a minimum, with only $200 spent on paid Facebook advertising to spread the news about the campaign.

The campaign also offered unique donor reward levels that appealed directly to the Laurel and Hardy fan base. All donors received first access to view the recently-restored film “That’s That,” while donors who made gifts of $50 and $100 received acknowledgement on social media and tickets to the opening screening of the film. Donors at progressively higher levels were able to secure reserved seating for the screening, a tour of The Archive, and even have their name added to the film’s credits with a gift of $5,000 or more.

According to Taylor Stayton, UCLA’s Director of Crowdfunding, the Laurel and Hardy campaign was a big success. More than 300 donors made a gift, and $50,000 was raised for the restoration efforts, surpassing the original fundraising goal of $45,000. The campaign also drew in a diverse international group of donors, many of whom were not traditional alumni or parents, with more than half being first-time donors to UCLA.

If you’re looking to engage a broad audience, it’s true that crowdfunding may not be the right strategy. But for more unique, specialized campaigns that will appeal to donors outside of your typical base, using this modern approach may be just the way to gather the crowd you need to achieve results.

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


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Sending Annual Fund Appeals to Major Prospects

Posted on 03/03/2019

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 Transitioning Annual Donors to Major Donors.

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Announcing the Winners of AGN’s Best in Annual Giving Challenge

Posted on 02/24/2019

AGN is pleased to announce the winners of its recent Best in Annual Giving Challenge. After reviewing more than 300 entries from institutions around the world, a panel of AGN’s faculty selected the “10 Best” based on the overall quality, uniqueness, and level of innovation.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the Challenge and congratulations to all of the nominees and winners. We’re already looking forward to the next challenge this Fall!

The 10 Best Annual Giving Ideas of 2018

  • William & Mary used nostalgia to appeal to each of its alumni classes by sending segmented emails that highlighted the most popular movie, album, and pop culture item from the summer of the recipient’s freshman year.
  • UNC Charlotte texted recent graduates with a brief survey and used responses to drive solicitation and engagement strategies.
  • Smith College promoted monthly giving through their print magazine and as a first ask in their phonathon scripts.
  • Washington & Jefferson College launched a special challenge via email during what is typically a slow time for giving day activity.
  • Harvard Business School placed pop-up ads with a “countdown meter” on its alumni website during the final month of its fiscal year to encourage year-end support.
  • The University of St. Thomas asked current recurring gift donors to increase their donations by offering a special edition pint glass from a local brewery as a premium.
  • Boise State University quickly organized an emergency crowdfunding campaign to support a remote research center that was damaged by wildfires.
  • Penn State College of Medicine sent an email appeal that was cleverly disguised as a stewardship piece to reactivate lapsed donors.
  • Caltech ran its successful giving day on a budget of less than $500.
  • Williams College offered a matching challenge where each donor’s gift was increased based on the number of hours they put into community service.

Search for over 300 other great ideas in AGN’s Sample Library

All of the challenge entries can now be viewed in the AGN Sample Library – a new resource where AGN Members can search for (and download) examples and templates from hundreds of annual giving programs around the world. It includes donor appeals, caller scripts, gift acknowledgements, volunteer materials, and much more. Many of the samples feature additional information about the initiative such as goals and results.

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3 Ways to Prepare for Cold Calls

Posted on 02/17/2019

Making a cold call to a donor or prospective donor can be a difficult thing to do, but it’s an important skill to master if you’re going to be successful in fundraising. It doesn’t matter if you’re a gift officer, a volunteer, or a student caller—a botched call will not only be uncomfortable for you (and the person you’re calling!), it can also reflect poorly on your institution. To avoid this, it’s critical to be informed before picking up the phone.

So, the next time you’re getting ready to call someone out of the blue, consider these three ways to prepare:

  1. Know who you are calling. Do some research in advance. Look for information in your institution’s database, review their LinkedIn profile, or search their name on the web. Do they have any giving history? If so, what have they supported? What did they study? Have they attended any events or volunteered for your institution in the past? Has anyone from your institution met with them before? Are there any past contact reports that you can read? Arming yourself with information about them will give you ideas about what topics to discuss—and which ones to avoid.
  2. Understand why you’re reaching out. Are you calling to gather information, request a meeting, solicit a donation, recruit them a volunteer, extend an event invitation, or simply to say thanks? More importantly, be able to describe how that objective fits into the bigger picture of your institution’s mission. For example, if you’re calling for a donation, how will that benefit students and faculty? If you’re asking them to volunteer, how does that role help advance the organization?
  3. Identify how to help them take action. It’s not only important to clarify what it is that you’re asking someone to do; you should also be able to offer ways to make that easier for them. If you’re trying to collect information, keep it simple and ask yes/no questions whenever possible. If you want them to attend an event, offer to email them a calendar invitation after the call. And if you want them to make a donation, ask for a specific amount that takes their past giving into account—and be prepared to take their payment information over the phone or follow the call up with a link to an online giving form or pledge card.

Cold calls can be challenging in the best of circumstances, for even the most seasoned professional. The more you prepare and understand who, why, and how before making the call, the more smoothly the experience will go, increasing your likelihood of success.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Making Cold Calls.

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Keeping Giving Days Fresh and Interesting

Posted on 02/10/2019

These days, it’s hard to find an annual fund calendar that doesn’t include a giving day. According to AGN research, eight out of ten educational institutions have either held one in the past or are planning to launch one in the year ahead. No doubt these events have become important engagement tools for annual giving programs to get alumni and other constituents excited about giving back. In addition to generating significant donors and dollars, giving days encourage collaboration among schools, units, and departments, and help strengthen the culture of philanthropy for an institution.

For many colleges, universities, and independent schools that have integrated giving days as a recurring feature of their annual giving programs, the biggest challenge is no longer the basic elements of planning and executing a successful event. With many alumni, parents, and employees already aware of—and even expecting—an institutional day of giving, the focus has now shifted to making the event fresh and interesting for donors.

Columbia University was an early adopter of the giving day trend when it started nearly a decade ago. Now, with seven successful giving days under their belt, it has become increasingly important for the team to find ways to keep their constituents engaged and excited about the event. They’ve found that one of the best opportunities to do this is when sending out the first “save the date” communications, well before the big day.

This past year, Columbia designed a mailer with an interactive element to help create buzz and bring alumni “into the fold” for their most recent giving day. Recipients were invited to participate in a pre-giving day “Origami Challenge” on the front of the envelope. Inside, they found a template and instructions for creating an origami version of the school’s symbol, the Columbia Crown. The mailer asked for people to post their attempts at the origami crown on social media, and visit the giving day website to learn more about the different areas they could support.

When designing the piece, Columbia’s annual giving team felt that the origami crown met a number of crucial criteria. The crown only required one sheet of standard paper, which made it cost-effective to produce and distribute. It was also an activity that could be considered fun for all recipients, regardless of their age or demographic. Recipients who posted their successful (and unsuccessful!) attempts at the origami project on social media were then entered into a participation challenge, which helped promote the upcoming giving day throughout the Columbia community.  

According to Garrett Shatzer, Associate Director of Annual Fund Programs, the origami piece was a big hit. Not only did the team see an increase in social media activity this year in comparison to last year, a PDF version of the origami crown was downloaded more than 1,000 times from the giving day website. The crown was also featured at Columbia Giving Day tables on campus and at their homecoming game. Students, parents, and children all stopped by to fold their own Columbia Crowns, significantly contributing to the spirit of the event, as well as raising general awareness about the giving day. The excitement generated through the Origami Challenge helped Columbia record their most successful giving day ever, increasing their dollars raised by 29 percent and total donors by 13 percent, compared to the previous year’s results.

Hosting a giving day may no longer be cutting edge, but it is an undoubtedly effective strategy for raising funds and driving participation. To ensure that these events continue to be successful for your institution, it’s important to make them memorable. By utilizing unique engagement tactics, you can keep your giving days interesting and fresh in the minds of your donors.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Marketing a Giving Day.

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Managing Your Annual Fund During a Crisis

Posted on 02/03/2019

There are many things that annual giving programs can control. The timing and segmentation of appeals, the words used in scripts and letters, and the volunteers and staff recruited to lead fundraising efforts are all important components that can have a significant impact on outcomes. Putting these things together into a comprehensive strategy is often what separates an average annual giving program from an exceptional one.

But there will likely be things that occur from time to time that annual giving programs can’t control. Turbulent stock markets, natural disasters, and institutional scandals can all be significant events for an annual fund. How you respond and the decisions you make during these times can have a big impact on your efforts.  

Should you hold off sending solicitations? If so, for how long? When you resume sending appeals, what should you say? Should you reference the issue? Who are the right messengers? How should you communicate with your most important donors and volunteers? While there may not always be simple and straightforward answers to these questions, it is essential to be coordinated and thoughtful in your response. To that end, here are 5 tips to help manage your annual fund during a crisis:

  1. Contact your institution’s advancement communications or public relations team. They’re the experts and they are likely to have experience or training when it comes to handling challenging situations. Ask for their help and guidance in developing talking points and crafting your communications. Proactive and coordinated communication can ensure consistent messaging across the organization.
  2. Talk with advancement leadership. Don’t let your annual fund operate in a vacuum. Make sure you understand how your chief advancement officer (and their team) is addressing the issue, and ensure you factor this into the annual fund response. Draft a plan for how you’d like to proceed with your communications and solicitations, and get leadership buy-in and feedback before implementing.
  3. Equip staff to reply to questions and concerns. Annual fund directors aren’t the only team members who should be ready to handle concerned alumni, parents, and friends. Employees on the front lines—such as phonathon callers, development officers, and the administrative support staff members who field phone calls and email inquiries—should all be prepared to speak with members of the public. Developing email response templates, sharing talking points, and troubleshooting as a team can empower each staff member to respond in alignment with your institution’s message.
  4. Isolate affected audiences. The impacted group will vary significantly based on the type of crisis. For instance, a hurricane may have devastated a specific group of counties; an athletics scandal might affect a broad audience. Consider which groups might merit an altered solicitation schedule or strategy as a result. As is the case with natural disasters, you may need to continuously revisit the parameters of the affected group in the coming weeks and months.
  5. Test the waters before fully resuming any solicitations. Consider low-risk (and low-cost) ways to see if your audience is ready to be asked again. Send a stewardship email and monitor replies, check comments on social media posts, or produce a low-cost piece (e.g., email) before deploying a major project if you’re not sure if it’s time to resume solicitations.

A decline in donors and revenue may be inevitable if you are unable to solicit your audience for an extended period of time due to a crisis. Recognize this, develop a clear and coordinated response, and be thoughtful about your donors’ needs as you bring your program back up to speed. While the wounds from natural disasters or scandals will take time to heal, your annual giving program—and your entire institution—can and will recover.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Overcoming Obstacles in Fundraising.

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6 Ways To Segment Donor Populations

Posted on 01/27/2019

No two donors are the same. Each one has had a different experience with giving that influences the way you should communicate with them. They do, however, all share one thing in common: none of them has either a 0% or a 100% chance of giving in the future.

Organizing past donors into segments allows you to create customized messages that increase the likelihood that they will respond to your appeals. While there is an unlimited number of ways you can subdivide your donor populations (e.g., interests, behaviors or demographics), a good place to start is to consider their giving record.

Here are six ways to segment your donors based on their giving history:

  • Current Donors are those individuals who have given in the present fiscal year. Since they’ve already been “counted” toward your participation goal, your messaging should focus on acknowledging their giving and its impact. While a traditional annual giving approach is to hold off on further solicitations for this group, it’s not uncommon for programs today to pursue additional gifts from current donors. If you do, however, it’s particularly important to let them know that you’re aware and appreciative of their recent support.
  • Prior-Year Donors are those individuals who gave during the last full fiscal year but who have not yet given in the current fiscal year. A term that’s often used to describe this segment is LYBUNT, an acronym which stands for “Last Year But Unfortunately Not This.” Generally speaking, prior-year donors are the most likely segment to renew their giving. Among competitive colleges and universities, approximately 60% of prior-year donors can be expected to give again in the current fiscal year.
  • Multi-Year Donors are a sub-segment of prior-year donors and are those individuals who have donated in more than one past year. This is important because the likelihood that a donor will renew their giving increases with each successive year that they donate. For example, someone who has donated in each of the past four years is more likely to donate than someone who has donated in each of the past two years. Among competitive colleges and universities, approximately 66% of multi-year donors can be expected to renew their giving. Moreover, the likelihood that a multi-year donor will renew their gift is over 80% once a donor gives for five years in a row. Therefore, a useful goal for any donor is to get them to the five-year mark as the “tipping point” in ensuring they become a consistent lifelong donor.
  • New Donors are another sub-segment of prior-year donors and are those individuals who made their first gift last year. New donor retention rates are usually much lower than the overall prior-year donor segment. Among competitive colleges and universities, approximately 26% of new donors can be expected to renew their giving. In the case of first-year-out graduates who made their first gift as part of their senior class gift campaign, it’s not unusual for fewer than 10% to renew their giving. For this reason, new donors represent a huge opportunity when it comes to increasing the rate of renewal as well as overall participation.
  • Lapsed Donors are those individuals who have given at some point in the past but who did not give in the prior fiscal year. A term that’s often used to describe this segment is SYBUNT, an acronym that stands for “Some Year But Unfortunately Not This.” Lapsing is the term often used to describe when a past donor misses or skips a year of giving. Among competitive colleges and universities, approximately 15% of donors who are fewer than five years lapsed can be expected to renew their giving. Within the lapsed donor populations are several sub-segments that deserve your extra attention: those who made a leadership gift before lapsing, those who made multiple gifts in a single year before lapsing, and those who had a streak of consecutive giving before lapsing. Each of these sub-segments is more likely to donate and more likely to upgrade than the lapsed donor population in general.
  • Long-Lapsed Donors are individuals who have given at some point in the past but have not done so in a significant number of years. In the same way that multi-year donors become more likely to give again with each subsequent gift, the likelihood that someone will donate declines with each additional year that they lapse. Once a donor lapses more than five years, the chance of them giving again the following year is often less than the chance of getting someone to give for the first time. This tipping point is commonly referred to as “the cliff,” and you should do your best to avoid letting your lapsed donors fall over it.

Segmenting your donor populations based on giving history will allow you to give each group the attention it needs, create more personalized messages, and allocate your resources based on your goals and priorities. While giving history certainly isn’t the only way to segment your target audience, it’s often the best place to start.

Want to learn more? CLICK HERE for AGN’s Webinar on Segmenting Direct Mail Appeals.

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Building Connections Between Students and Donors

Posted on 01/20/2019

One of the most common challenges for educational institutions is helping donors understand the impact of their support. Unlike some other nonprofit organizations where “need” may appear more urgent or severe, many schools struggle to convey to donors how modest gifts will make a difference as high tuition rates and big endowments overshadow their fundraising appeals. Even proud alumni and parents—full of positive feelings and a strong affinity toward their school—can often end up feeling like the institution is worthy of their support, but just not needy enough.

One of the best ways to overcome this sentiment is to build meaningful connections between donors and those who benefit from their support. In the case of educational institutions, it’s often students who are most directly impacted by giving. Yet with geographic and generational barriers making it difficult to bring these two groups together, it’s crucial for advancement shops to find new and innovative ways to create connections.

The Charles River School in Massachusetts recently engaged students in a fun activity designed to show a special group of alumni and donors some love and appreciation around Valentine’s Day. The advancement team partnered with faculty members to have students make handmade alumni valentine cards as class projects. Every student at the K-8 school created a valentine with an element tied to their classroom curriculum. Younger students decorated their valentines with cut-out hearts, glitter, and poems, while the middle school students wrote letters to the alumni in their cards. The valentines were then sent to a targeted group of older alumni who enjoy receiving mail, as well as to recent campaign donors.

According to Rachael Singmaster, Assistant Director of Development at Charles River, the handmade cards were a big success. A number of the donors who received the cards responded by writing letters back to the students and—even though the initiative was designed to steward—one even made a gift. With a small alumni community, the team believes that personal touches like these are vital for the school’s continued success.

Nearly all institutions struggle to find unique ways to connect with donors, to ensure they understand that their gifts are very much needed. By involving students in these stewardship efforts, you can demonstrate this impact in a meaningful, interactive wayand, in turn, cultivate loyal donors who see firsthand that they are appreciated.

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

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Increasing Giving by Faculty and Staff

Posted on 01/13/2019

Faculty and staff participation in the annual fund can be an important element of the success of an institution’s short and long-term fundraising efforts. Employees can not only be a significant source of gift revenue each year, they can also help enhance a culture of philanthropy on campus and set a good example for students (future alumni!) through their support. Additionally, it’s not unusual for employees who are properly cultivated to become major donors through planned gifts later in life.

Unfortunately, many educational institutions don’t do enough to encourage giving by faculty and staff. Some don’t solicit them at all, and those that do can end up with participation rates that average 10 percent or less. According to AGN research:

  • 32% of institutions don’t run a faculty/staff giving campaign at all
  • 47% don’t have any faculty or staff volunteers
  • 76% don’t have a formal committee/board to engage faculty and staff leaders

Understanding the importance of engaging employees in fundraising, The University of Delaware recently crafted an appeal that truly caught the attention of their faculty and staff, and made giving easy and memorable. The “Opening Doors” campaign was designed to increase participation by highlighting how employee financial support has a direct impact on UD students. The comprehensive, multi-channel effort included a letter signed by the student body president, who also happens to be a UD scholarship recipient. Campaign postcards were created so that students could write thank you notes to faculty and staff donors.

In keeping with the campaign theme, the team also designed special “door hangers” to help spread the word. The door hangers directed employees to “Display their Blue Hen pride” by posting them on their doors or in their cubicles. Sharing fundraising collateral in their spaces enabled faculty and staff members to show their support for giving back to the community while promoting the effort among their peers.

Launched as part of their spring fundraising push, the campaign was a big success. It raised nearly $1 million from more than 900 donors. Just as significantly, it helped to raise awareness among employees and students about the importance and impact of annual giving.

By distributing a creative visual as part of their recent faculty and staff campaign, UD motivated their employees not only to give, but also to help publicize the effort, in turn strengthening the culture of philanthropy on campus. Develop a memorable and prideful campaign specifically for the employee constituency at your institution, and you may find you open doors for greater support as well.

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

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