When dealing in fundraising and alumni relations, one should heed tales of exceptional professionals and Chicago’s CASE District Five Conference proved to be an ideal meeting place of the minds – the friendly experts were not shy about sharing their practical fundraising tips, all of which fed into the broader strategic goal of building strong communities.
Educate your current students, encourage your pool of volunteers, understand the needs of your alumni, bridge the gap with your leadership–and back it all up with data–and you will set up an incredibly strong framework for many years ahead.
I had the pleasure of attending the CASE District Five Conference in Chicago last month. CASE, or the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, brings in people from all over the world, all with substantial experience in education fundraising. The panels were chock-full of such great practical tips for education fundraising, I had to share the wealth of ideas with you.
One central theme prevailed: we have got to build relationships with the wider community of students, alumni, and donors. It’s absolutely crucial in order to develop life-long supporters of the schools and institutions we’re building.
So what are Funderful’s most valued takeaways from CASE District Five, one of the most prestigious educational fundraising summits? Here are fundraising tips that will work to cultivate strong relationships with your entire community, and help you succeed in your short-term and long-term fundraising goals.
1. START EARLY WITH YOUR STUDENTS
Let’s be honest: today’s college students aren’t thinking to the future about how they’d like to give back to their alma maters. Frankly, they don’t care. There really needs to be a concerted effort to cultivate relationships with students for the long-term. Schools need to give students a reason to want to be involved in the years ahead. But what programs do you need to do so, and what is the best way to reach your student cohorts?
So what’s the first step to get your students involved in fundraising, that many schools just aren’t doing? Being transparent about where their tuition money goes. Many students are shocked that their tuition doesn’t cover everything needed to run and innovate a school, says Caroline McClellan, Associate Director of Development at the Miami University Annual Fund.
Start building relationships with your students early – educate students about giving to their passions–showcase how they can make a difference at the departments they’ve come to love.
“Philanthropy is based on relationships. If we don’t invest in them, we don’t get ahead.”
Caroline McClellan, Associate Director of Development, Miami University Annual Fund.
Another way to establish an early connection with your students is to set up a senior class giving program. This has the added benefit of providing fiscal education while young people are still in school–you might be surprised how welcomed these programs are! Setting up a senior class giving program has the benefit of building a habit of giving early on, while students’ relationships are strongest with the institution. And, it offers the the opportunity to identify your best class volunteers–which is absolutely crucial when planning class fundraising, or future reunion giving programs once the class graduates.
Younger students also offer new channels of communication – digital fundraising should be the new norm. There’s even a new position at Northwestern University: “Director of Digital Fundraising.”
2. TAP INTO YOUR STRATEGIC VOLUNTEERS
Are you making the most out of the people who want to help you the most?
There is always that one die-hard campaign advocate out there. You know, the class leader, the one who is willing to do anything from laying out nametags to knocking on every alum’s door in the city. But it can be difficult to harness this energy into the most productive way possible without knowing who your best performing volunteers are, and what they are actually doing that is working so well to raise funds.
As a fundraiser, you should identify which class leaders are performing best, so that you can recognize and further inspire their success. Volunteers should in turn be informed of which class agents are performing better and why, so that they can learn from the best.
At Funderful, we’re building a master tool for volunteer fundraisers – you’ll have an instant view of who is making waves in your campaign–saving the campaign many hours slogging through reporting and communications, and providing endless opportunities to engage your team through the power of friendly competition. Find your class leaders, equip them with everything they need–and work with them to mentor new ones.
3. UNDERSTAND YOUR DONORS’ NEEDS
What do your alumni care about? What are their needs? The best way to activate alumni as motivators is to make them feel that their aspirations and those of their alma mater are one and the same.
What do your alums want their degree to stand for, as they confront the world as representatives of your university?
Understand your audience and build your campaigns around the themes they care about. Then find out where, as in which channels or forums they will resonate best with your messaging. Social media advertising is fantastic for alumni fundraising, mostly because how well social media can target specific audiences–so that just your alumni see your ads.
One of the most popular sessions at the CASE Five Conference was “Social Media Advertising: A Cheap and Easy Way to Promote Your Events and Programs,” from Vince Slomsky of Kent State University’s Alumni Association. As social media gets noisier, it’s difficult to rely solely on organic messaging–modern marketers have to invest in social media marketing. Start with $20 a week and test out Facebook, Twitter, retargeting advertising. You’ll quickly see which works best to reach your alumni, and you can springboard from there. Lean into segmented targeting. Use retargeting advertising to reach the people interested in one program on your website and guide them to personalized calls-to-action.
Universities with the most generous alumni communities are the ones with the tightest communities–dollar for dollar, or euro for euro, the schools with alumni who talk to each other are the ones whose former students feel more inspired to give. Anything that you can do to get alumni talking to each other about their beloved alma mater will increase alumni giving. Social media is also a great venue for this.
How do you best facilitate your campaign to have alums spread the word about giving? The best performing donation forms require as little effort from the donor as possible. There are simple yet powerful fundraising tips taken from e-commerce here. Look to Amazon’s check-out process – we need to be as simple and frictionless as Amazon’s checkout page. (Amazon’s payments team even recommends simplifying the checkout process as the number one way for e-commerce companies to reverse cart abandonment.)
4. BRIDGE THE GAP WITH LEADERSHIP
A a fundraiser, while you might have fantastic ideas to launch a fundraising campaign, you’d still have to get the buy-in from your boss.
It’s no wonder that fundraisers are prone to get frustrated. How many times have you had leadership asking for something that is wildly different from the campaign that the same manager approved, just months before?
One simple way to ensure that you and management are on the same page? Invite your leadership to be the face of your campaign. Any institution that has done this always enjoys top-down support.
Create solid channels of communication with your leadership before, during, and after the campaign. Go over goals, strategy and tactics down to the very first line of copy, so that everyone is on the same page. Develop a means of reporting with fundraising KPIs that are reasonable, backed up with reasoning and your past year’s campaign data.
5. ACT ON YOUR COMMUNITY’S DATA
The more data you track, the stronger your current and future campaign results will be.
Are you setting goals, looking from year one to year two, assessing what drove the most funds, optimizing the methods that worked best?
Or maybe the initial question should be – are you tracking your data in depth and using sufficient tooling? From Hootsuite heat maps to Google Analytics’ UTM tracking to fundraising dashboards, make sure you are set-up to track as much data as you can, so that you can zero in on the data that matters to you when you need to.
Measuring your volunteer work and community effectiveness is also crucial – it will enable you to set realistic financial numbers that correlate with your resources, aka people, at hand.
Elizabeth Sullivan, Executive Director of the Annual Fund at Northwestern University, says, “Make a goal that you are confident you will hit. Donors don’t remember the total from last year.” You don’t necessarily have to set a public goal–once you exceed the number, it’s difficult to rally anyone to continue giving, for one.
Look to your campaign data and make changes based on what works in each part of your community.
I hope you’ve found these fundraising tips to be relevant for the work you do to advance your school. At Funderful, we’re working to accumulate the best resources, industry wisdom, and provide the best all-around donor experience possible.
We are paving the way for endless new opportunities for all the people who come through our school doors, wherever they are in life–and this idea makes me extremely excited about what’s ahead in our world of education fundraising.