University Fundraising: 5 Flawless Tips to Engage Alumni
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When it comes to university fundraising, alumni should be your development team’s number one priority considering their investment in your institution.
The majority of higher education organizations claim their top priority is to increase alumni engagement. Therefore, having a plan in place to improve alumni fundraising is incredibly important in order to accomplish this goal.
What’s more, an even bigger struggle for many universities is how to start and maintain regular communications with alumni as soon as they hang up their cap and gown.
Luckily, there are five alumni engagement tactics your college can bank on time and again:
- Use prospect research to tailor alumni outreach.
- Use wealth screening to determine gift ranges for alumni.
- Host an alumni-only university fundraising event.
- Create (and promote!) an alumni matching gift program.
- Send targeted fundraising appeals with direct mail.
By following through with these techniques, your university will not only form lasting bonds with current alumni, but also harness a reliable plan for growing future graduate relationships.
1. Use Prospect Research to Tailor Alumni Outreach for University Fundraising
Just as each student shapes their own identity at your college, each alumnus also has a personal connection to your university and outreach preference. Therefore, if your university sends the same cookie-cutter solicitation to all alumni, chances are you’ll receive a cricket-chirping rate of response.
Prospect research tools can help your college fundraising team organize individual alumni profiles to tailor your donation and volunteer requests. Let’s dive in!
Identify Giving Factors and Personal College Connections
Many organizations rely on prospect research tools to coordinate donor data within a donor management software — and your university can too! It all starts with knowing which personalized information to look for when building alumni profiles. Prospect research and wealth screening can help your development team pinpoint top financial markers that reveal a greater capacity for an alumnus to give, including:
- Past giving to your university.
- Previous involvement in university fundraising initiatives.
- Political contributions.
- Nonprofit giving and involvement.
- Real estate and stock ownership.
- Business affiliations for matching gift programs (see section 4).
In addition, by digging into an alumnus’ past college involvement, you can determine favorite causes they are more likely to support that relate to your university’s growth.
For example, if you’re constructing an alumni profile for the previous editor of your college newspaper, you may want to contact them for donations that cover printing expenses or college journalism competitions. This information can also help you avoid sending donation asks for university fundraisers this particular alumnus might not be interested in, like sports.
Don’t forget about Greek life: when considering what fundraisers an alumnus might be drawn to, consider the philanthropic causes of the fraternity or sorority they rushed. Greek organizations are the champions of retaining alumni as donors, so take a page out of their financial management book and leverage the alumni’s connections to that organization as a way to build a more robust alumni profile.
You can also shape your requests around types of donations that target likely prospects such as major giving, planned giving, and in-kind gifts.
Modify Your Alumni Communication Methods for University Fundraising
Another important area to consider when sending donation asks is which form of communication an alumnus is most responsive to.
In our digital age, it’s safe to incorporate a healthy mix of online interactions. However, your college should also take into account the alumnus’ outreach preferences based on previous donor data, such as:
- Email or alumni e-newsletters.
- Direct mail (letters, flyers, pamphlets, brochures, etc.).
- Social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc.).
Don’t forget to keep your alumni’s location in mind when crafting your communications. Your outreach tactics should also depend on the current state of your alumnus’ relationship with your university.
For example, your alumni might fall into one of two categories:
- Dedicated prospects — This alumnus has a record of strong engagement with your university whether it be through giving, event attendance, or a family relation who is also a student or alumni.
- Timely prospects — This alumnus has a reason for recent engagement with your college such as they’re a part of the current graduating class or they have an alumni reunion coming up.
As such, it’s important for your college to factor in these types of alumni relationships when sending out communications, especially in terms of timing and consistency.
Takeaway: Prospect research tools can help your university’s development team customize fundraising outreach to every alumnus’ preferences.
2. Use wealth screening to determine gift ranges for alumni
Once you have determined who to ask for donations through prospect research, you can then start the process of how much to ask in order to reach your fundraising goal.
In order to come up with these amounts, your university should further leverage wealth screening tools. Wealth screening works in conjunction with prospect research to analyze your alumni’s wealth data to determine the giving capacity of different prospects. It is a powerful tool used as part of your university’s prospect research strategy.
DonorSearch’s database includes the names of donors on public nonprofit annual reports, which gives schools like yours some hard evidence regarding which prospects have given where, and who has overlapping interests for your cause.
Identifying these overlapping interests makes up a major part of the wealth screening process.
Wealth screening uses two different types of indicators to determine an alumnus’ capacity to give back to your school: philanthropic and wealth indicators.
Philanthropic indicators are those which use the history of donors and prospective donors to determine what their inclination to give may be and the amount they may be willing to give to an organization.
These indicators include data such as:
- Past giving to charities. This not only helps determine whether that donor may be willing to give to an organization, as in prospect research, but also shows how much they are already giving to give an indication of the amounts with which they are comfortable.
- Organization involvement. A donor’s involvement with various organizations gives indication as to what type of organization they feel passionate towards. If your school’s or college’s mission aligns with their passions, they may be willing to give higher donations.
- Political contributions. These donations are another resource to determine the comfort level for a donor’s potential donation size. You can use this data to determine how much is appropriate to ask from a particular donor.
Philanthropic indicators are important because they indicate the giving history of donors. This giving history gives a university more insight to the donor, their giving history, and their passions. It measures their willingness to give, and gives an idea as to how much they may give.
Wealth indicators give universities insight as to the amount of wealth a person actually owns. This shows how capable a person is to give to an organization.
Wealth indicators are what people usually think of when they consider wealth screening. They include things such as:
- Property ownership. Property owned by a donor is a great indication of whether or not that person is willing to give. Someone who owns real estate worth $1-$2 million is 4 times more likely to donate than the average person. Their donation amounts are also more likely to be higher than the average person as well.
- Business affiliations. An executive, major investor, corporate member, and other major members of a business are more likely to have a higher giving capacity than the average person. In addition, business affiliations can indicate potential professional connections for your university.
- Stock ownership. Stocks show the relative affluence of a person and suggests their giving capacity. Stocks can also be donated to charity. Therefore, major owners in stock are more likely to donate them those who own fewer.
By combining philanthropic and wealth indicators, universities and other organizations are given a good well-rounded view of prospective donors and their histories.
From this information organizations are given more context for their prospective research to find donors as well as a good idea of how much a person might be willing to give to the university. This guides donation requests to maximize potential profits.
For example if you ask for too much from a person, they are less likely to give to your cause. If you ask too little, you are not getting the most from your donation request.
Wealth screening indicates a donation amount that is just right for your donor to give. Requesting this amount increases your university’s chance of gifts from prospective donors. It also maximizes the amount you receive from donation requests.
Maximizing the donation requests from alumni creates a more accurate financial plan for your university. When you have a better idea of how much people can donate, you are more suited to plan for that amount while creating a budget.
For example, if you know from prospect research and wealth screening that an alum is likely to donate $100, you can factor that amount into your plan. However, if you had not done this research, and asked this same alum for $1,000, they would be less likely to donate and that amount could not be factored into your budget.
You may also consider offering multiple methods to donate to your university. This ensures that when you are asking the right people and asking for the correct amount, you are also providing multiple options as to how to donate. When you offer donation envelopes for cash or check donations, online giving tools, and other methods of payment, you are ensuring donors easy methods of payment.
In addition to offering multiple avenues for giving, don’t forget to offer different timelines for giving. If someone is originally unwilling to give the gift you asked for, let them know about other options such as recurring gifts or splitting a larger gift up into multiple donations. These types of donations can even be more helpful for your nonprofit when planning your future budget, because you know how large of a gift is coming and when.
More effective planning helps you take better advantage of the resources available to you as a university. Plan the donors, the amounts, the fundraising goals, and the methods of payment ahead of time to get the most from your donations.
Takeaway: Knowing how much to ask for from different alumni will help you create efficient plans to best reach your fundraising goals. Through the prospect research and wealth screening processes, your university will have a better idea of who to ask, how much to ask for, and ultimately have a better chance of reaching your fundraising goal.
3. Host an Alumni-Only University Fundraising Event
One of the more fun-filled university fundraising strategies is to honor your alumni with an alumni-only fundraising event.
This limited-time and exclusive fundraising initiative is bound to generate intrigue and excitement among your recent and established college alumni. Let’s move forward with event preparation.
Planning Your Alumni Fundraising Event
For starters, you’ll need to decide what event theme and venue is going to capture your alumni’s interest best. To get the ball rolling on, take a look at this roundup of spectacular ideas:
- Alumni appreciation luncheon featuring a key guest speaker.
- Alumni night out sponsored by a college town bar or local business.
- A silent auction for university memorabilia or art.
- A private dinner party for college alumni athletes or other organizations.
Don’t be afraid to be creative when planning your event. Remember: no one knows your alumni like you do, so tailor your fundraising ideas to the culture of your school and the unique personalities of your students.
While partnering with an in-town business to host your event is a solid idea, keep in mind that alumni are probably itching to get back on campus to relive nostalgic times and places. You could even build time into your event to take a walk through campus so your alumni can see what has changed and what has stayed the same! This idea has the added bonus of demonstrating to your alumni what you might do with their donation.
Therefore, consider hosting your alumni fundraising event in a campus courtyard, stadium, or other event space to stir up warm memories in a cost-effective fashion. Remember to segment alumni event invites by location and charge admission at the door.
Once you’ve got your theme and venue checked off, it’s time to coordinate everything else that goes into a fabulous alumni fundraising event. However, from managing your guest list and promotions to setup and payment processing, it’s easy to become overloaded with event planning tasks.
Ensure every detail or your alumni fundraising event is individually catered to by investing a top-of-the-line fundraising event software.
This digital aid gives a much-needed helping hand to your university by allowing your development team to integrate all event details from a single device with efficiency and ease.
If your university uses Salesforce to manage alumni data, you can take advantage of easy-to-use Salesforce event management apps.
Apply Unforgettable Alumni Engagement Strategies
Nevertheless, the fun doesn’t stop after getting your alumni fundraising event up and running! Instead, your university should take this opportunity to feature awesome alumni engagement strategies that will be remembered for years.
Here are a few alumni fundraising event best practices no college can go wrong with:
- Sell university merchandise — Station a booth with feel-good university merchandise available for purchase or provide complimentary merchandise gift bags.
- Promote text-to-give fundraising — Make donating fast and easy by showcasing your university’s text-to-give keyword and instructions on signs around your venue.
- Send genuine thank-you letters — Follow up with your alumni event attendees with branded and personalized thank-you notes. Include visual media like photos and videos from your event with digital thank-you notes.
College alumni only come together every so often; take advantage of all your alumni in one place by going the extra mile with these extra fundraising touches.
Takeaway: Celebrate your alumni in person with a mind-blowing and exclusive university fundraising event.
4. Create (and Promote!) an Alumni Matching Gift Program
Like any college reunion, the best part about reconnecting with university alumni is seeing how their personal and professional lives have progressed since graduation.
For university fundraising in particular, it’s extremely important to note where your alumni are employed to encourage matching gift donations for your college. Read on to learn more about this underrated alumni engagement tactic.
Defining University Fundraising Matching Gifts
For those of you who we may have lost back at “matching gifts” let’s take a moment to clarify what this phenomenal fundraising strategy is all about.
A matching gift is a donation that an alumnus makes to your university and is then doubled by their employer’s matching gift program. These programs have risen in popularity over the years at a number of companies and provide an effortless solution for elevating your institution’s educational funding.
Basically, the alumni matching gift process can be broken down into these steps:
- Alumnus makes an online donation to their alma mater.
- Alumnus submits a matching gift request to their employer.
- The employer determines if the matching gift request is eligible.
- If eligible, the employer will match the alumni’s gift.
What’s more, universities can promote matching gifts for each of their programs of study to best appeal to alumni.
Keep in mind that eligible universities and matching gift ratios will differ for each employer’s matching gift program. Corporate matching gift programs can also be limited to annual fund vs. capital campaign donations. Because companies have such varied eligibility standards for matching gift programs, an alumnus may use a matching gifts database to learn about their particular company’s eligibility factors.
For example, an alumnus working for The Home Depot could use a database, such as the one by Double the Donation featured here, in order to find out The Home Depot’s parameters for matching gifts.
An alumnus would simply type in the name of their employer and the database displays that company’s matching gifts guidelines.
This example alumnus would then select “The Home Depot” to see all of The Home Depot’s eligibility standards.
They would see things such as the minimum dollar amount donated, the maximum matched, and the matching ratio.
Near the bottom is a link to the matching gift submission process for The Home Depot as well as confirmation that educational institutions are eligible.
When alumni are given all this information for their employer, they are more likely to take advantage of the matching gifts program, increasing the total amount given to your institution. They are also more likely to give at least the minimum donation amount which is matched by the company.
For example, if the alumnus working for The Home Depot was planning to give $20, they would be more likely to increase that donation to $25 in order to receive the matching gifts minimum required by the employer. Because the matching ratio is 1:1, that alum is doubling their total donation to the university!
Imagine making more money for your university without having to ask for any extra funds from your donors. Matching gifts allow universities to do this!
All you have to do is provide the database, and the alumni can find their employer and ultimately maximize their giving potential for their donation to the university.
Sharing Alumni Matching Gift Resources to Boost University Fundraising
Oftentimes, the biggest challenge universities will have with matching gift programs is simply getting the word out to alumni.
That’s why it’s important to develop a matching gift promotional strategy anchored in your university’s social media platforms, online donation forms, and other channels.
For example, you can promote matching gifts to your alumni through:
- Social media. Post matching gift reminders and updates frequently across your college’s social media platforms, especially Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Keep social media messages short with key information about matching gifts, a simple but compelling image, and a link to your matching gift webpage.
- Donation forms. Another best practice is to highlight matching gift opportunities on your university’s online donation forms. This can be done by adding a matching gift search tool to your online donation form that will catch a donor’s eye while they’re already filling it out.
- Emails. Sending a short email with the purpose of promoting corporate matching gifts is a great way to raise awareness among your alumni donors. Include a link in the email so your alumni can access the matching gift search tool on your website.
- Your website. Apart from your donation page, there are other places on your website where you can promote matching gifts. Include the matching gift search tool on the donation confirmation screen to encourage your alumni to search for their eligibility. You can also leverage a dedicated matching gifts page on your website to provide more information and further educate your donors.
A matching gift search tool is an accessible way for your alumni to research their employer’s matching gift program without having to navigate off your university’s online donation form or website.
Instead, your alumni will be able to generate matching gift results in a matter of minutes and easily double their donation at no extra cost! It’s a win-win situation for your alumni and university. And don’t forget to note your alumni’s employer and matching gift eligibility in their donor profile for future reference.
Retain even more alumni donors by exploring our top recommendations for higher education fundraising tools.
Takeaway: Skyrocket university fundraising by developing a matching gift program for alumni to effectively double their contributions through their employers. Need some help? Check out Double the Donation’s tools!
5. Send targeted fundraising appeals with direct mail.
Now that you’ve determined which alumni you should be targeting with your appeals and how much they can give, it’s time to actually make your ask. Sure, you could send an email, but digital communication like that is often ignored—especially when it’s a request for money.
The solution? Direct mail.
Understanding the Importance of Direct Mail Fundraising
Direct mail appeals are perfect for university fundraising strategies because it allows you to send targeted messages to large numbers of people at a time. Plus, a piece of physical mail has a more personal touch than a simple email, allowing you to break through the digital clutter and grab your intended reader’s attention.
After all, it doesn’t matter if you came up with the perfect message and determined the exact donation size to request if the recipient of your appeal never even takes a look!
Getting Started with Direct Mail Fundraising
A direct mail campaign can require a lot of time, effort, and resources to pull off—but it doesn’t have to! The most efficient way to get started with sending direct mail appeals is by partnering with a direct mail platform to produce and distribute your mailings.
This way, all you have to do is craft your sample text (you can even use a provided fundraising letter template) and upload your list of donor contact information. Your direct mail partner will handle the rest!
Takeaway: Working with a dedicated direct mail fundraising company is a great way to make the most out of your carefully crafted fundraising appeals while saving time and money for your school.
Alumni are not only the legacy of your university but also your go-to allies for ensuring your college has the appropriate funding and support to continue its success. By applying these strategies, your university will have no trouble growing a multi-generational community of alumni fundraisers.
For more information on university fundraising and prospect research, feel free to browse our top-quality resources:
11 Mind-Blowing Major Donor Fundraising Strategies — Target major gift prospects in your university alumni with these foolproof fundraising tips.
Perfect Your Prospect Profile Templates [Free Examples] — Organize your alumni fundraising data with our free prospect profile templates.
Have you heard about DonorSearch Ai? It’s the revolutionary product that harnesses the processing power of AI/machine learning to deliver interactive data visualizations that show you your strongest fundraising opportunities.
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