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Alumni Relations Best Practices: How To Ask Alumni For Money

Alumni Relations Best Practices: How To Ask Alumni For Money

Many schools outside of the United States, and in particular in Europe, could be described as being ‘skeptical’ when it comes to alumni fundraising. They do not know how to get alumni to donate.


On the one hand, they know the funding model of education is changing with the balance moving away from public funding towards alumni giving.

On the other hand, while many American schools feel comfortable fundraising for the worthy cause of education and understand how to ask alumni for money, most European schools appear awkward in soliciting funds from their alumni.

If I had asked a European school a year or two ago if they solicit alumni – the typical response would be a shrug that things are a little different on this side of the Atlantic!

It seems most European schools, until recently, felt they had neither the will nor the ability to create a culture of giving similar to that which exists in the United States.

Times are now changing.

Melissa Korn from the Wall Street Journal wrote an intriguing piece on the changing culture in European business schools towards fundraising. I see that change in my day-to-day interactions with schools as well.

Schools in virtually every country around the world are realizing that they need to take a more serious interest in alumni fundraising. Maybe not to solicit large funds today, but to begin to lay the foundations for tomorrow and to build the culture for future giving.  So what are alumni relations best practices in this crucial area?

Elise Betz, Executive Director of Alumni Relations from the University of Pennsylvania, recently gave an inspiring keynote speech at the Graduway Global Leaders Summit. Her talk entitled Cultivating Roots: Building a Culture of Student Philanthropy and Engagement” was a bold example of how a school, albeit a top one, can strategically invest in their culture of giving with an eye on the very long term.

It may take some time, but I am convinced that someone will turn around 20 years from now and bless Elise for the work she and the leadership at Penn did in investing in their philanthropic culture.

It is well worth watching in full Elise’s keynote to see how she instilled a tradition and culture of giving. This is undoubtedly a great example of alumni fundraising best practices.

I took away three critical ingredients that were needed to make this ‘new’ culture stick.

Firstly, to get students involved in this culture of philanthropy while still on campus – approaching them once they graduate is clearly too late!

Secondly, to have not just the support but the active participation from the leadership of the University in the campaign to build that culture.

Finally, the determination, innovation and perseverance to get the new traditions and customs to stick. As Elise memorably articulated, schools need to stick to the line that ‘this is what we do here’ when helping to bed down the new culture – ‘a new tradition only takes two years to create!’

I am a believer. I am convinced that if any school, and I mean any school, is determined enough, they could also build a culture of philanthropy and alumni engagement.

Do you have experience of building such a culture in your institution? What are alumni fundraising best practices in this area?

What remains the biggest obstacle in making a new culture of giving stick in your institution and to ask alumni for money?

Do you agree that every school has the potential to create a philanthropic culture?

Click here to read an excellent article on The Case for Mentoring.

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