What’s more important: friend-raising or fundraising? While many administrators are quick to focus on the importance of monetary goals for annual funds and capital campaigns, the truth is fundraising shouldn’t be your number one priority.
Which would you prefer?
Think about it. If you have to ask a donor for money, would you rather sit down with:
- OPTION A: someone who is actively engaged with the school, positive about her experience, and who you know wants to be involved
- OPTION B: someone who isn’t involved or engaged, you don’t know much about her other than she graduated from your school and has a lot of money
Chances are, you’d choose Option A. Now flip the tables. You’re the alum who is being asked for a donation from your school. Would you be more apt to give to:
- OPTION A: the school that spends the most time communicating with you, connecting with you on a personal level, thanking you for your service and reminding you of why you love the school
- OPTION B: the school that you never hear from unless they want money
Chances are, you’d also choose Option A. Having engaged alumni with strong connections to the school makes a world of difference.
Alumni are not ATMs
If only it were as simple as saying hello and giving a password that spits out a sizable donation. But, alumni are not ATMs. They are human beings with emotional ties to your school, and they want to feel like they matter. Like any relationship in life, regular communication and a mutually beneficial agreement is important, otherwise, why are you in that relationship?
If a friend only ever asked for money and provided no other positive contribution to your life, would you stay friends? Most likely not, and the same holds true for your alums; they aren’t likely to remain friends with you if all you do is ask for money.
Friend-raising & Fundraising are not mutually exclusive
What many people seem to forget is that the two functions are not mutually exclusive. In fact, you need both to work at once, but the order of which they come about is crucial. You can’t successfully fundraise only with people who aren’t engaged. Sure, there’s always some low-hanging fruit you can grab, but you need more substance to get the hardest-to-reach fruit. That substance comes in the form of relationships, so ultimately you friend-raise to fundraise.
But, you can’t stop once the check is signed. Too many schools stop communicating with alumni after they give to the annual fund, and then put them back into the mix the following year. So, if a gift is made in July, August or September, that means the donor isn’t going to hear from you again until the next Annual Fund cycle, nearly a year later. Amazingly enough, at some schools, that’s exactly what it means.
Friend-raising until someone gives and then focusing only on fundraising will negate all the hard work you’ve done to make a strong connection. Let’s not forget that the goal of these connections is to walk away with donations, but once the check has been signed, you need to transition back to friend-raising mode.
How to communicate with donors after they’ve made a gift.
While yes, some alums will be upset if you solicit them more than once, that doesn’t mean you can’t communicate with them. You should have regular communication designed specifically for them that lets you continue to foster the alumni relationship after the gift is received. Here are some of my favorite methods:
- ANNUAL FUND UPDATES: Just because an alum has given, doesn’t mean you can’t ever speak of the annual fund again. It just means you need to take a different approach. In fact, interacting with your donors to thank them for giving and share the update of how well the program is going is considered a best practice when it comes to fundraising and customer relationships in general. A great way to start simple is to touch base at the 25%, 50%, and 75% mark to keep them updated with your progress. Who knows, that extra outreach might even inspire donors to make a second gift to help you reach that next milestone.
- SPECIAL EVENT INVITES: Make sure your valued donors are invited to engage with the school in non-fundraising events. You’ll get bonus points for going beyond Homecoming and Reunion, too.
- HOLIDAY, BIRTHDAY OR ANNIVERSARY NOTES: A quick note to let your alumni know you value them enough to send season’s greetings and remember these personal milestones can go a long way in maintaining a strong connection.
- A NEWSLETTER: A monthly email newsletter that includes links to some of your latest news stories, a letter from development, and a list of upcoming events is a great way to reach out to alumni. You can even sneak an ask in here, as you have plenty of other material that counters the solicitation. That means your #GivingTuesday, Reunion Fundraising, and Founder’s Day Matching Gift Challenge can all get some extra attention and may even result in another gift.
- FOLLOW UP ON CLASS NOTES: A quick note of congratulations when an alum submits a class note is a great way to reach out and show you care.
- MENTORING: Developing a mentoring program can benefit both young and seasoned alumni. Engage your established alumni in serving as mentors for younger graduates while they are in college (provide advice as they pick a career path perhaps) and as seniors and new college graduates looking for jobs. From interview prep to networking for jobs, the impact you can have is immense.
- JUST SAY HELLO: Don’t ever fear sending a simple note just to say hello. You’d be surprised to see how excited your alumni will be when you make a habit of regularly reaching out for a quick check-in.
Have other alumni networking, friendraising or fundraising tips? Share them in the comments below.