Monday, February 22, 2010


For many of us the single largest annual party that we are responsible for is the university reunion event. I am right there with you in that and have seen dramatic changes over the past decade in how we communicate about these programs. Let me start by saying that it is and will always be my firm opinion that folks attend reunions and make reunion gifts because of their relationships with classmates and the memory of what once was. Thus, it is our job to help rekindle those memories and reconnect those classmates such that the opportunities to create access to substantial resources for the organization exist.

I have seen any number of approaches and will say that there is no "right" approach but certain elements dramatically increase the potential for positive results. Those are: imagery - faces of "when", Names - who do you recall and the opportunity to connect. Social networking tools provide us with the opportunities to do all of these things. In fact, for those of us in the "facebook" generation, we do these on a daily basis.

I advocate starting with a 10th reunion program and building out how you plan to utilize the tools - blogging, photoblogs, facebook, and twitter can be connected into a structure that provides the connections and the opportunities that we need. Once you have that basic structure in place, start to expand it to the older classes - don't assume that because folks are older that they can't or won't learn to use these tools. Much like email in the 90s, we found that many retirees were highly fluent - it was how they stayed connected to grandchildren. As those grandchildren have moved into social media, we can and should expect the grandparents to follow.

I would advocate a mailing strategy that encourages the creation of a committee that you host and teach how to use these tools. Then using a postcard driven reunion mailing effort, once a month for 6 months or so the year prior to the reunion, start to push the existence of the tools by highlighting conversations and communications that are going on (you may need to jump start this with committee members talking to each other) and then offer a monthly "setup" conference call where you talk alumni through how to create a facebook account and connect it to your reunion page.

While time consumptive at the front, this approach provides alumni access to the information that you want to share through one another - exactly what and why we are using the reunion opportunity to gather them. That additional effort and connection, will pay off down the line with larger and more participatory reunion gifts.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Education can be cause based

In many of the recent posts on here we have touched on cause based opportunities to demonstrate successes in online fundraising. In reading through several other boards recently, it was clear from some of the conversations, that folks were not entirely clear on what that "cause based" meant. In my references to cause based efforts, I am referring to campaigns that surround a specific, typically urgent and finite effort - Katrina was one of the first really successful cause based online fundraising campaigns in the modern era (defined by me as since the rise of the social media tools.)

As the vast majority of the audience of this blog is in higher education, cause based efforts are often competition to what we are working to raise dollars for. I am sure that many of you can relate to reading or listening to comments from your phone program over the last month and hearing the repeated objection of: "I just gave to Haitian relief so this is not a good time."

Between the media coverage and the sense of urgency to provide aid, this can be a difficult if not insurmountable objection to overcome. The strength of cause based fundraising is rooted in the combination of urgency, publicity and accountability. There is usually a very immediate need, and results can usually be seen and documented in real and quick time, especially online. Nothing like a youtube video of aid workers wearing the logo of the charity doing what you promised the donation was going to be used for to ensure that donors feel that their gift was important and meaningful.

So how to compete? In the higher education world, most of us work with and within systems that provide ongoing cause based efforts - most of us have a strong, impactful and impressive community service effort, often not only providing services but adding in a powerful integration of education as well. We can clearly and directly state that not only are we contributing to helping with the disaster of today but helping to educate the leaders who will help to prevent recurrence of the tragedy tomorrow. Use those students, get them to share the youtube videos that they are creating and posting for friends and family, share their stories and proudly talk about the impact that your institution has. Cause based fundraising should be a strength not a weakness but it is up to us to make it so.

Thoughts from a direct mail presentation

I just completed presenting a webinar on direct mail and had a really interesting question asked at the end: "If the PS is such an important and effect part of the direct mail appeal, how do you carry that over into email fundraising."

My immediate and, I still think correct, answer is it is not the use of a PS. That got me to thinking about why the PS works so well in mail but clearly does not have the same impact on email and my first thought was that a PS on an email would be absurd - by it's very nature, the entire email IS a PS - simple direct and to the point. The PS works because it calls attention to a message within the message. By grabbing the readers eye it ensures that the call to action (please make a gift, please attend an event, etc...) is acted upon even if they don't read the balance of the piece.

Electronic communications are by their very nature different. Whether text based email or html, messages are short and direct with opportunities for action to be taken based upon links that provide additional content, forms or images. That said, many of us use templates that have links along the side or bottom and a simple direct statement or message contained in the text. It is my experience that those are wasted links - they rarely generate clicks. Keep in mind that an email is and is within a much busier environment than a letter - distractions are all over the screen and we are rarely getting the readers complete attention.

So how do we grab readers eyeballs and focus them on the action items in email? Maybe we need to look at taking a page from the Red Cross and Haiti - their solicitations didn't seek to inform, just ask. They let other streams provide the information and the email serve the sole purpose of asking them for the gift. In higher education we have the same opportunities using our electronic magazine/newsletters, university magazines and even local papers. Segment, target and mail based upon other interactions and established interests.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dare to try something new

Mobile giving to Haiti through the Red Cross alone hit $29 million according to the Chronicle for Philanthropy. Nearly $30 million collected in $10 gifts via text message to just one non-profit! I think this speaks volumes to the philanthropic nature of the American public but also is indicative of our collective willingness to make a small donation via cell phone. Certainly there is an opportunity here for higher education to add to its bank of fundraising tools. I don't think we've yet maximized the potential for online giving but, yes, I am recommending that we consider yet another tool - text message giving. This doesn't necessarily mean we implement it tomorrow, but we prepare today so that we can be in a better position to execute on a mobile giving campaign down the road - and that timeframe will likely be a little different for every institution.

The steps to preparing are fairly obvious:
- Collecting mobile phone numbers
- Collecting permission to text constituents
- Evaluating a provider (I'd love to hear from readers who have positive feedback on any of the providers.)

There's no reason not to start preparing now.

As seniors graduate, they will move from location to location and will not likely have a landline - but they will keep their mobile number. Same goes for young alumni who are likely changing jobs along their career path. So while we're collecting that number for the phone program, let's start collecting text message permission also.

As you plan an "update contact information" campaign with giveaways, make the prize dependent on the ability to text the winner so that you can ensure the entries will have correct mobile numbers.

I was in Atlanta last week visiting with a few institutions and discussed text message fundraising quite a bit. There are some valid concerns - 1) the provider costs, 2) that we'll move a $100 donor to a $10 gift level, 3) it'll be difficult to tie text donations into participation totals if the donors don't self-identify. These are valid concerns, but I believe that we can work through them - if we don't try and risk failing, we're never going to hit one out of the park, as Scott said in his last post. And doesn't every institution have a group of non-donors who aren't responding to what is currently being done? Mobile giving could be the way to get them on board. Through creative mini-campaigns and integration of mobile giving into your other fundraising efforts, you could chip away at that chunk of non-donors in $5 or $10 increments.

As fundraisers competiting in a growing pool of non-profits, we need to be more aggressive and consider how to use tools in a different way and how to incorporate new tools into our plans.