Sunday, April 26, 2015

Does your senior gift program actually cost you donors?

We all know the pressure to increase participation.  I will address that further in the upcoming weeks but recently spent several days in St. Louis with folks from several other Catholic Universities comparing programs and data through the Target Analytics program and had an interesting related conversation.

Among the more in depth discussions surrounded senior class gift programs and the potential value of those programs.  While most of the schools present had a program, and we all assumed that a senior class gift program would lead to an increase in the number of donors from that class down the line, the reality was that there was no such impact.  It did provide an increase in number of donors but typically they were low level additions from a financial standpoint so the one or two year increase in donor count matters when the program is started but then creates a need to keep running that program to maintain donor counts and is terrifically difficult to grow beyond a certain point.

So does a typical senior class gift program help?  Or does it hurt?  Clearly teaching the students about giving to your organization makes sense.  But are you are teaching them to give in a way that is sustainable?  Many organizations clearly are not.  Focus on specific projects or plans is great for getting them to give but unless you want to move into having a project per year per class that isn't really what you do most of the time.

We also spend a ton of effort on each of them to get them to make that gift.  If you are one of the lucky programs with the resources to create a class based fundraising effort, maybe this makes sense. Otherwise, you are teaching them different behavior from any other activity that you are going to undertake with these alumni.  Are you training them wrong?

What seems to be happening is the higher the investment in the senior gift program, the greater the disappointment with the ensuing years.  Communications, stewardship and attention all drastically decline 1 year after the senior program such that you end up with a declining participation rate year after year.  Conversely, investing those resources in a strong young alumni program that starts with students but is centered around engaging the constituents builds up the number of donors year over year creating lifetime donors rather than single program driven donors.

It takes patience and investment to make this happen but what would you rather have; 400 donors one time who renew at lower than a 3% rate or 190 donors who have given for between 1 and 10 years and grow every year?  Invest in a senior class gift but spend more on long term engagement and connections to young alumni than on the gift program.  The short term return may be a bit lower but several years in you will benefit and a decade from now, you or whomever is in your role will be hugely grateful.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Once upon a Generation

It is spring break in my household this week.  And this year that has meant a trip down to Florida to visit with my mother and father in law.  The are retired and reside in the Villages in central Florida. If you are familiar with the Villages, I need say little more.  If not, the simplest description is a community of over 100,000 active retirees living in a cost effective portion of Florida.  

As a result of my time down here, I have had the chance to speak with a number of residents, and have learned some very interesting things in terms of their views on philanthropy and engagement. Concurrent with this, I have been working on our second microgiving campaign and that is for the GLOBE program which is a class that functions as a student run microloan organization.  As a result, it has been a fascinating week of switching back and forth between the viewpoints of Millenials or "Echo Boomers" and the Boomers (there are a few of the Greatest Generation mixed in but the majority of the retirees down here now are Boomers - feeling old yet? lol.)

The following are some of the take aways from these conversations and how I plan to apply that knowledge:

  1. Boomers feel that somebody else should be taking a turn at the helm as they retire.  This was one of the most consistent themes that I heard.  Many of them still have parents to care for but they want to enjoy their own life and realize that the time they have left is likely to be long so feel that they should be spending their money on "me".  My approach here is to focus on the "me" - what do they believe in that we can provide?  This may be in terms of experiences, further education or connections so engagement and partnership with alumni and donor relations are critical here.  From an ask standpoint, connect with and work with Planned Giving.  Getting these folks to commit to something larger or more elaborate may also be the key to getting them to give annually on a smaller scale with an ask to "help ensure that the program your bequest/deferred support is going to will be in the best possible shape when that time comes."
  2. Millenials and Boomers want accountability but want it in different ways.  Millenials expect stewardship of a sort before they make their first gift!  Telling them what you have done with the money from others and why that mattered matters to them.  Boomers are more patient but want more of that focus on "me" after they give and with the growth of technology they also understand that this can be accomplished for gifts of $10 as easily as for gifts of $10,000.  Not doing so will result in that $10,000 gift going somewhere that does.  My thoughts here are to set up a series of communications that go out before and after each major ask  talking about the prior support and why it mattered with segmentation for donors explaining why their support specifically made a difference.  After the ask, I will provide results with a very simple and direct summary of the results from that appeal including an accounting of why that has mattered to several specific people - put a face on it.
  3. Millenials give when asked by peers.  They are skeptical about any and all messaging from organizations and the peer "signer" needs to be not just a classmate but someone they have a personal relationship with or they lump that person in with the organization rather than as a peer.  This is why crowdfunding approaches work but similar setups can be obtained through the use of a broad set of volunteers who truly believe in what they are raising the money for and who are willing to ask acquaintances for not just money but for their advocacy.  
There were countless other conversations that provided individual insights above and beyond these. The clearest trend overall was that we need to be doing a much better job with communicating to generations differently by listening to what they want to know and how they want it shared.  Not only doesn't the general appeal for the unrestricted fund resonate anymore, the general appeal for the restricted fund is falling flat too.  More and more, it is targeted appeals for clear and defined purposes that resonate and create support.