Image of university alumni

How to Increase Alumni Donations for Your School

By Ivan Boychuk on November 11, 2020
    
	For many years, Alumni have taken it upon themselves to give back to the institutions that have given them so much.

However, now, there’s more competition for their hard-earned dollars than ever before. In this post, we’ll take a look at a few strategies you can use to help increase alumni donations to your school.

Why do alumni donate to universities?

Alumni might decide to give back to their former schools for a number of different reasons:
  • To show appreciation for the educational opportunities provided by the school
  • To help provide current students with the resources they need to succeed
  • To fund improvements or upgrades to the school.
Regardless of their reasons for donating, alumni donations often bring in some much-needed funding to schools across the country.

What percentage of alumni should donate to your school?

When embarking on a fundraising campaign, it’s important to establish a baseline. This allows you to compare your success to historical data. Based on your results, you can then determine whether or not your efforts have been fruitful or if you need to make changes to your approach. If you’re looking to increase alumni donations for your school, here 12 schools in the US with the highest two-year percentage of alumni who have donated: Princeton University - 59% Thomas Aquinas College - 58% Williams College - 51% Bowdoin College - 48% Amherst College - 47% Wellesley College - 47% Alice Lloyd College - 46% Carleton College - 46% College of The Holy Cross - 45% Centre College - 43% Dartmouth College - 43% Washington and Lee University - 43% It’s important to remember that these are the top-performing schools in the country. These rates are simply to show you what’s possible, assuming you have a solid strategy in place for engaging alumni and attracting donations. Anywhere in the 25-60 percent range is a very good alumni donation percentage.

How To Increase Alumni Donations to Your School

1. Multichannel Marketing 

Imagine if you could be in more than one place at one time. Think about the possibilities. How much more could you get done during the day? That’s the idea with multichannel marketing. This approach allows you to get your message out in front of more people at the same time, increasing the chances that it will be heard. Here are some of the main benefits that can be seen by using multichannel marketing to push alumni donations:

Improved Customer Perception

Most people tend to associate consistent messaging across platforms with credibility and trust. For example, if you see an ad on Facebook and then get a direct mail postcard from that same company in the mail, you’re much more likely to take this brand seriously. Credibility and trust are particularly important when asking for donations. Unfortunately, there are a lot of scams out there. If your messaging is consistent across all platforms, potential donors will feel at ease and will be more likely to contribute to your cause.

More Engagement Points

In a lot of ways, marketing can be compared to money management. For example, you’ve probably heard that having multiple streams of income is a key ingredient for building long-term wealth. Each successive revenue source is like a garden hose filling up an outdoor pool. The more hoses you have, the faster the pool will fill. If you’re using more marketing channels to raise awareness for your cause, the faster your message will resonate with your audience, and the more donations you’ll bring in. Another way marketing is like money management is because of diversification. Let’s go back to the example of garden hoses filling up a backyard pool. If there’s only one hose filling up the pool, what happens if it starts to leak? The flow of water slows down and eventually stops. However, if you have multiple hoses feeding into the pool, if one stops, it’s not that big of a deal - the others will pick up the slack. If you put all your faith in one marketing strategy, you risk having your efforts decimated as soon as a new strategy emerges and the one you’re currently using becomes outdated or irrelevant. That’s why it’s so important to stay up to date with the latest marketing trends.

Cost-Effective

As long as you take steps to ensure the proper management of your multichannel marketing campaign, overtime you’ll be able to improve the efficiency of your efforts and decrease your cost-per-donation. The first campaign is usually used to establish a baseline. During this time, you’ll be able to test new things and see what works and what doesn’t. In the next campaign, you’ll weed out the things that didn’t work and double down on those that did. This process is repeated until you have an automated marketing strategy that runs like a machine operating at peak efficiency!

Data Collection

Any multichannel marketing campaign emphasizes the collection and use of data. After you launch your campaign, you’ll be able to see who is interacting with your messaging the most. For example, which age group of alumni have made the most donations to your school? What is their current profession? Once you start answering questions such as these, you can begin to create messaging targeted directly at those most likely to engage with your cause. Which brings us to the next point...

Personalization

Once you have collected enough data from your prospective donors, it becomes easy to create personalized messages. According to Forbes, 74% of website visitors get frustrated when website content isn’t personalized. And beyond that, 72% of people only engage with personalized content. This means the days of spray and pray marketing are over. You can’t simply send out a mass message and hope it lands in front of the right people. Today it’s far more effective to create fewer, highly relevant personalized campaigns. So these are some of the main benefits of using a multichannel approach to increase alumni donations. But how does this type of strategy actually look when implemented? To give you a real-life example, here’s a look at how Rosemont College, a Liberal Arts College in Philadelphia, used multichannel marketing to increase donations from alumni.

The Goal

  • Improve overall participation of alumni in their fund drive
  • Grow the stewardship program
  • Convert more non-donors into donors
  • Increase online donations

The Multichannel Strategy

To kick off their multichannel campaign, Rosemont College took advantage of the following channels:
  • Direct mail - they created varied direct mail pieces based on giving status, level of previous gift, time of previous gift, relationship to the College (alumni, campaign prospect, etc.) and age.
  • Email - emails were designed to correspond with direct mail pieces.
  • Personalized landing pages - custom URL’s were created to help capture data to be used for future campaigns.
  • Social media - Facebook was used to promote online donations.
  • Video content - versioned campaign-related annual fund videos synchronized to versioned direct mail pieces and emails that pushed online donations.
  • Non-solicitation emails - used to engage non-responders and showcase Rosemont’s campus/goodwill within the community.

The Results

  • Overall alumni participation increased by 9.6%
  • Traditional undergraduate alumni participation increased by 66%
  • Non-traditional alumni participation increased by 30%
  • 31% of Rosemont’s donors increased their gift amount and 56% gave what they had given the previous year.
  • Non-donor participation increased by 59%
  • Lapsed donor participation increased by 275%
  • Last year donor participation increased by 91%
To learn more about how to use multichannel marketing to your school’s advantage, see this blog post: Multichannel Marketing in Higher Education - Why it Works and Three Examples

2. Crowdfunding

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” - Helen Keller One of the most underutilized strategies for increasing alumni donations to your school is crowdfunding. Many alumni go on to do extraordinary things and build extensive personal networks. Crowdfunding can be a great way to tap into these professional networks and attract more donations. But how does it work? As you might have guessed from the name, crowdfunding works by generating small donations from a large number of people. This takes the pressure off each individual alumni to donate a large sum and spreads the responsibility around to their network. This method of fundraising is usually facilitated through a website or an app. Crowdfunding also helps address one of the major problems universities are currently facing - the declining rates of young alumni donating to their institution. Modern college graduates are part of the technological renaissance. They’re less likely to donate to their alma mater through traditional means like dinners and in-person events, and more likely to chip in through tech-centric strategies like a crowdfunding app.

3. Stay in Touch

Many schools lose contact with their alumni after they graduate. Then, a few years down the road they reach out and ask this person for a donation for their school. To put this into perspective, imagine you had a close childhood friend but you fell out of touch for years. One day, you get a phone call. It’s this friend. Rather than taking time to rebuild the relationship, the first thing they do is ask you for money for a new business venture. You haven’t spoken to this friend in ten or even twenty years, yet here they are, asking you for money. The problem is a lot can happen in twenty years. You don’t know if they’re the same person you knew before and you don’t know if any money you give them will be put to good use. By this point in your life, you probably have your own family to worry about, so unless you’re certain your money is going to a good cause, you are hesitant to part with it. Compare this to a childhood friend who you’ve kept in touch with for your entire life. They give you a call once every couple of months to check-in and see how you and your family are doing. Then, on one of these calls, they mention they need help funding their new business venture. Which of these two friends are you more likely to give money to? If you’re like most people, probably the one that has kept in touch.

Conclusion

Increasing alumni donations for your college or university can be difficult but there are ways to make it happen. In this post, we discussed three ways you can increase alumni donations:
  • Multichannel marketing
  • Crowdfunding
  • Staying in touch with former students
Keep these points in mind and you’ll be well on your way to generating more donations from your school’s alumni!