Thursday, February 28, 2013

Spring into action

Like so many other things, fundraising follows an annual cycle.  Starting in the summer, as most of our fiscal years do, the calendar starts slowly.  Many donors are on vacation, staff tends to take some of this time off and education is certainly not immediately on the mind of the majority of us.  With the cooling of the air in September, comes a warming of the fund raising that continues through the Holiday Season.  January starts off in much of the country with freezing air and snow and fundraising efforts often reflect that with minimal returns to many appeals.  March weather also reflects the fundraising success coming in cold and blustery and ending with the chirping of birds and warming breezes.

Like your house though, things can be done to help warm those returns even in the coldest seasons.  This is a great time for small targeted efforts that have low overhead and cost and tightly focused expectations.  Often these can center around a faculty member or tribute based (in honor or in memory of) efforts.  Ask alumni to give in honor of a favorite faculty member, especially if that faculty member is doing something of interest - recently published or honored, or conversely has passed away.

These efforts can often be done in house to small lists of prior students and responses regularly exceed 10%.  The cost is low, the response rate is high and while the time investment can be large, the net effect often makes sense.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Micro gift campaigns

Every year we sit down to our planning sessions to identify who, how and when we are going to solicit folks. We try out a number of different ideas and efforts and the run away "winner" of those ideas this year has been our micro gift program.  

In simple fashion, it is a granular level participation campaign, asking folks to make a gift to a program they were closely tied to as a student and to do so in honor of a faculty member from that program who impacted their life.  The ask?  $10.  That mirrors what we can do in text giving and is both an easy and manageable amount for anyone - even under or un - employed folks.  

The work on this is not crafting the message - that is simple and direct - support something that mattered to you and do so in honor of someone who mattered to you.  The effort is in the identification of the lists - working with faculty, deans and chairs to get their lists of alumni and friends they are and have been in contact with.  And that is tough work.  The good news is that it makes for great returns - in excess of 12% participation from constituents who had never previously given.  

This year, our efforts were 1 offs - testing it out and trying wording and lists.  Next year, this is a full year effort.  I anticipate a reduction in the participation rate from the appeals but anticipate that the overall return will be well in excess of 10% - and that is a micro gift we can all get with.  

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Actions matter

Who is engaged with your institution?  We all recognize that this is crucial to identifying whom to solicit but how do you do so?  There are any number of flags within the data you keep in advancement; event attendance, giving, open rates for emails, contacts in the phone program (you do show as you on caller ID, right?) among others.

The combination of all of those can certainly help to provide you with a good idea of who is interested but there are numerous other data points that the institution tracks that should be included.  These may include season tickets, speakers, attendees at student or community events, and purchasers from a bookstore among others.  

The key here is to make a case around the rest of campus that you need access to those data points that may contain alumni and parent pool members.  This is often going to be face to face conversation to start as you build relationships with those offices running programs that include your constituents.  On small campuses this can be simple - only a handful of folks to connect with and often you already know them and they may well understand your need.  On a large campus, this may take time - years even but it is well worth it.  

At this point, I would suggest that you reach out to your database manager, explain what type of data you are seeking from the rest of campus and ask them how they would like to store it for you.  What you want to be able to do is pull a file of all engagement for each constituent and ideally that file contains the activity and date relationship - the when of that activity.  

By pulling the records with those coded activities, you can identify current engagement by individual, area of interest of potential donor and other constituents who have similar interests who give that may be able to be used as effective solicitors.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Let it snow, Let it snow, Let it snow

Those of us in the northeast are sitting in middle of a snow event.  Many of you may be aware that this is the first year the National Weather Service is naming winter storms, and the name for this particular storm is Nemo.  No not the little clown fish.  The winter storm.  Really.

Here is the thing - Disney has done such a good job creating a following and monopolizing on that branding that merely a name brings up a clear picture and recall of something that has nothing to do with the event.  While none of us have that level of connection nor the resources that Disney has put into marketing that product, we can certainly gain from some of the lessons.

  1. What is your institution good at
  2. What are you known for
  3. Whom are you known for
What are you good at?  Reputation matters a great deal, particularly to your alumni.  They have a preconceived notion of who and what you are and that is usually based upon a combination of facts reality.  Be truthful but don't be modest - promote yours - nobody else will.

What are you known for - St. John's greatest reputation point is around the Men's Basketball team.  We recently did an appeal inviting folks to join the University for one of the pregame receptions and asking that they support the Athletics program.  This has raised almost as much in 2 weeks as 2 general Athletics appeals in the fall to the same audience.  The difference? We are centered around what we are known for.

Each of these can have subsets and segments - a famous Psychologist may resonate well with graduates of that department and people working in the field but unless they have crossed over into pop culture like Dr. Phil, odds are that the average Business graduate has no idea who they are.  

Utilizing those points of awareness and success is a crucial step to building a solid case for support. Once you have that case built, use it - take advantage of the ability to see who opens emails and who responds to phone calls by both segmenting and targeting them and using the folks you know to create profiles to identify who else might act the same.