As any alumnus will tell you, certain times of year are prone to those dreaded calls from the school’s development office to discuss the many ways ‘you can give back to your alma mater’. If your alumni choose to take the call, you or a bright-eyed student you’ve got working part time to chip away at her student loan, will likely offer an array of contribution avenues. What is meant by this is of course a fundraising opportunity. A call for a cash donation.
Thing is, if you’re hitting your alumni up for help after not having engaged with them for months prior, you are likely hitting a wall. You’re tugging at the skirt hems of an unaffected and disinterested crowd. They aren’t engaged. They’ve long lost pride in their alma mater and maybe haven’t been in touch with anybody in their class since graduation. You’re betting on nostalgia at this point. But it takes more than that to make someone open their wallet to you.
Enter alumni engagement and the mad race to meaningfully connect with your alumni on a consistent and on-going basis so that when the time comes to fundraise your chances to get a contribution as well as up the sum of the donation are significantly higher.
“Often we are asked to make a ‘return-on-investment’ argument on why an educational institution should invest in alumni relations” explains Graduway CEO, Daniel Cohen, in his best selling Alumni Therapy. He continues to make the case for alumni engagement through a look at Tulane University’s alumni relations strategy.
A Graduway customer, Tulane University adopted Graduway’s digital alumni relations network back in 2016 and have seen a dramatic correlation between alumni engagement and donation rates. “Over 50% of our alums using the platform are donors. That is a significantly higher number than our overall donor participation rate” explains Christine Hoffman, Senior Associate VP for Individual Giving at Tulane University.
Slow and Steady Wins the Race
One of the more vibrant panels of the LA Graduway Leaders Summit 2019 was focused on leveraging engagement for fundraising efforts. The panel was abuzz on many issues, but the one salient point that kept coming up was that fundraising was a gradual process. It’s a slow cook that requires precision and foresight. Alumni need to warm up to the idea of giving and then they need to feel an emotional connection to their alma mater in order to make the decision to donate to your institution. This is especially true in this day and age when you’re approaching twenty-something year olds who graduated into the recession and are carrying around hefty student loans. You need to give them something of value, like a well-developed, meaningful, relationship to make donating worth their while. The good news, though, is that once you’ve turned them into donors, if you continue engaging them you’ve made a lifelong bond and a gift that keeps on giving.
By precision and foresite what I mean is strategic, metrics-driven alumni engagement. Engagement that is focused on segmenting its alumni by interests, donating capabilities, etc. and targeting each group on a personal level. Engagement, furthermore, that tracks every step of engagement funnel, tracking every action and every interaction, and leveraging the insight to improve communication.
A recent Graduway study focused on the need for measuring alumni engagement, suggests that tracking even the bases key point indicators (KPI) such as
- Event registration
- Volunteer rate
- Social media activity
- Career services recipients
dramatically affects engagement metrics and, if strategy is altered accordingly, can lead to upwards of 30 percent increase in donation rates.
3 Step Program: from Engagement to Fundraising
The process of optimizing your fundraising outcomes begins with measuring and assessing the quality of your current engagement efforts. Then it comes down to reading the data properly and tweaking your alumni relations strategy to scale engagement. When engagement is higher you will inevitably notice an increase in donation rates and will be able to alter your fundraising goals accordingly.
Let’s break it down into actionable steps:
1. Measure and Benchmark
Alumni engagement encompasses a wealth of activities that run the gamut between community nurturing and gift collecting. Ideally Alumni Relations departments provide a menu of options and are able to track every activity they offer. The one common denominator that spans all activities should be that they have a measurable element to them through which you can learn where you are and define the growth you’d like to see.
2. Make it Personal
I’ll say it again, fundraising is an emotional business and while you’re capitalizing on your alumni pride in their alma mater and their past and present connection with the institution, you should also be sensitive to casting too big a net. Are you fundraising for the Faculty of exact sciences or the women’s swim league? Segment your fundraising propositions so that you’re engaging the right audience with the right proposition.
3. Opt for Give-and-Take Fundraising
Healthy relationships need give and take. Your Alumni Relations office should be offering networking, mentoring, and reunion events with specific value to potential donors and they should be doing this year-round. Your goal is to be seen as a partner and resource, not an institution who only calls to ask for cash.
Friend-raise Before You Fundraise
At the end of the day fundraising is about making and keeping meaningful relationships. The reason for this is twofold. Primarily, friends are more likely to donate than non-friends. They have an emotional tie to your institution and a vested interest. Secondly, friends come with a loyalty policy like no other. You would have to do something seriously wrong to get a friend to your school to drop you.
Target them correctly, engage them effectively, thank them properly and they’ll be yours for life.