Your university undoubtedly works hard to recruit exceptional new students every year, so why should you lose touch once they transition into successful alumni?
When it comes to university fundraising, alumni should be your development team’s number one priority considering their investment in your institution.
In fact, as of summer 2017, 70 percent of higher education organizations claim their top goal is to increase alumni engagement, and yet only 27 percent of those admit to having no strategy to accomplish this.
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 three alumni engagement tactics your college can bank on time and again:
- Use prospect research to tailor alumni outreach.
- Host an alumni-only university fundraising event.
- Create (and promote!) an alumni matching gift program.
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.
- 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 3).
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.
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. 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.
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.
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. For more on how to do this, check out Fonteva’s guide to planning Salesforce events!
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.
3. 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 to 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.
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.
What’s more, universities can tailor their corporate matching gift policy to align with a certain program of study or employer’s matching gift program. For example, Michigan State University has a specific matching gift policy for their college of engineering program in addition to their Ford Matching Gift Program to Advance Education.
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 channels and online donation forms.
To begin with, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- MobileCause’s Alumni Fundraising: 4 Surefire Ways to Engage Recent Grads — Develop lasting relationships with old and new college alumni with fundraising trends from MobileCause.