Sunday, September 22, 2013

Pride cometh in the fall (or winter, or spring)

Every NCAA athletics season starts with a clean slate.  Many schools have one or two sports that really matter - for the lucky few this underpins the entire fundraising effort, ask the folks at Penn State how much that pride means even in the face of enormous controversy.  Having worked at small liberal arts colleges where even the biggest of wins; a national championship, is a passing mention on SportsCenter, through mid majors where the entire goal is to make the big dance each March, through institutions who have annual expectations of being in the hunt for a championship, I have a pretty good perspective on sports and higher education.  

Every school year starts with anything but a clean slate for fundraising.  History of support, loyalty, scandal, controversy and publicity all muddy the waters in each and every constituents view of you.  What is clearly key is to identify those points that constituents care most about and engage them on those topics.  Provide insider knowledge to your donors - this can be as simple as offering them the opportunity to sign up for a mirror email to all press releases on that subject - or maybe create a monthly email that summarizes all of the highlights with some insider news from a coach, AD or even an analyst who happens to be an alum (great opportunity to engage that individual as well.)  

No matter what you do, don't lose sight of the fact that to many of our constituents, Athletics provides a sense of connection, memory of times gone by and current information, no matter how skewed from your primary mission.  There is nothing like being on SportsCenter or the National news to ensure that your constituents are aware of you and your successes.  

Many offices find that they are in a constant battle with the Athletic's folks for donors.  You need not be - take advantage of their reach and messaging and solicit with them.  Often times, you have a larger reach with fewer limitations that Athletics does, offer to work with them to present that sense of pride and succeed together.  After all, a rising tide raises all ships.  

Friday, September 6, 2013

The opening of fundraising season

It seems like every fall I have a conversation with someone, either a prospective consulting client, a colleague or someone that I met along the way in which they tell me that they are not going to push an ask in the fall.  My response is always the same - how do you plan to fill in the hole that will leave in your participation counts come January.  Amazingly to me, the majority of folks working in fundraising are surprised at my question and doubt that this will cause an issue.  In many cases, I have been able to persuade them not to skip a fall ask.  In those cases where I have not, the result is simple and predictable; they need help in January to figure out how to catch up to last year.

I take two key lessons out of this; that as much as we would like to think that donors will give because of the organization/cause that we work for, they need to be asked or other competing interests get in the way and that giving for education needs to match the educational calendar.  

It is this second point that I find most relevant as the air cools off, and the leaves begin to turn and drop here in the northeast.  Fundraising has a season - from September through the end of December is not only about calendar year end but a general societal push to give.  In higher education much of this is driven by the start of the academic year, not only for our institutions but for children of all ages, from preschool through high school.  Missing the opportunity to ride that wave not only puts you behind now but gives up that leverage for the entire year.  

Even if you have nothing planned or ready to go, it is never too late - create a simple letter ask talking about the new energy on campus as the new year starts and asking folks to give will be effective for it is fundraising season and your donors are waiting and looking to support someone, it is your job to make sure that it is your organization that those dollars go to.