Alumni fundraising that beat Stanford in alumni engagement
“We will eat sweet, sweet honey,” reads a poster that depicts Hardy Rock confronting Oski the Bear, the mascot of the University of California, Berkeley. “We chop Stanford’s trees for our fireplace,” declares another.
Hardy Rock is the unofficial mascot of the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. In 2012, the alumni association at the school, known as SSE Riga, introduced an interactive donation platform that combined social gaming and spirited competition. The program helped triple alumni engagement in just six weeks. And now, universities in the Baltics and beyond are looking to replicate the campaign’s success.
“Their goal was not just giving, it was to foster a community, on the community’s terms, and they made it easy, engaging and sort of whimsical,” said Amy Ambrose, director of external relations at the Saïd Business School at Oxford University. “They understood the zeitgeist of studentship.”
Raimonds Kulbergs, the organization’s president at the time, realized that traditional approaches had their limits. Before he could dream of soliciting sizable donations, he needed to refocus his mission.
“You, as a fundraiser, you have bought in to the merits of the cause. But, whatever we were doing, we were doing it in a selfish way. We were thinking just of the needs of the institution,” Mr. Kulbergs said by phone from Riga. “But you have to get into the community member’s mind and make them realise what’s special about it.”
And during the summer of 2012, Mr. Kulbergs, with voluntary help from a local marketing agency, set out to do just that.
After drumming up nostalgia, the organization made giving into a game, by challenging former students to compete against one another as individuals, by graduation classes or by nationality. Upon donating online, contributions were shown in real-time infographics, allowing everyone to instantly size up the competition.
“We were thinking – are we worse than any of the big guys?” Mr. Kulbergs said. “We could not possibly beat Stanford with a billion-dollar donation. But we could try to beat it with alumni activity.”
After two three-month campaigns, “Let’s Beat Stanford” did, in fact, beat Stanford — at least in terms of alumni engagement, which Mr. Kulbergs defines as the portion of the community that made a monetary contribution. Approximately 35 percent of former students participated, donating 183 euros, or $232, on average and bringing in a total of €220,000.
Mr. Kulbergs then quit his full-time accounting job to start a company called Funderful (www.itsfunderful.com), which develops personalized campaigns for both educational and private institutions. His team is now working with several schools, such as the University College of London and the Nyenrode Business School in the Netherlands, as well as organizations like the European Scout Association.
Besides the new business, Funderful has recently received much attention from both education and advertising experts. In August, Mr. Kulbergs spoke at the annual European summit meeting of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (www.case.org), which is attended by over 1,000 professionals. And in September, Mr. Kulbergs and DDB Latvia, the agency that contributed to the campaign, won an Effie, one of Europe’s most prestigious advertising awards. Competing against much larger corporate entities, such as Audi and Procter & Gamble, the project stood out for its simplicity and ingenuity.
“It’s too early to say if this will always work. Some people are going to become fatigued being asked for certain types of interaction or being asked to participate in certain types of online activities. But, it certainly is promising” said Andrew Shaindlin, associate vice president for alumni relations and annual giving at Carnegie Melon University, who has more than 25 years of experience in the field.
Read the full story: New York Times