Alumni Passion Matters

Brian Gawor

Vice President of Research

May 1, 2015

ggeeksmallThe stats are rough.

When I tell my friends that only about 8% of alumni nationally contribute to their college or university each year, they think that us fundraisers are really fighting an uphill battle.

Then we hit a bar.

IU Purdue Howl at the Moon

Yep, that’s the scene at Howl at the Moon in Indianapolis a few weeks ago when I walked in. You just can’t escape the persistent pride of alumni for their alma mater.

If alumni love the institution, why is the alumni giving participation rate declining so much?

First, I don’t think we are telling the story about the impact of giving as well as we could. Business is doing it better, and higher education is also getting beaten by other charitable options right now in the storytelling game. The second big factor is channeling the passion of alumni into action. We could be doing a lot better at bridging the action gap.

Two steps to turn “like” into give.

The first step is to get in the game and be a bigger part of the social conversation. We have some great tools to tell stories these days. Here’s an example that many of us watched this week.

Kansas alumnus and 89 year old veteran Bryan Sperry played for the team before and after World War II. He just had a chance to relive the memory of being on the field at the annual alumni flag football game, running in for a touchdown to complete the game.

To view this video in your browser, click here.

The video was viewed nearly 400,000 times this week.

Great alumni engagement programs use the compelling and diverse stories of engaged alumni to get others excited about the institution.

Alumni passion is infectious.

The second thing we need to do is to harness this excitement and turn it into donations by making the gift opportunity social, immediate and frictionless.

A great example of this is the crowdfunding campaign of Ole Miss following their  unexpected expenses following the big win this fall. They harnessed the passion of alumni and drove them to an optimized, frictionless crowdfunding portal to make a gift. The story, passion, ease of giving along with the socially-connected giving platform combined for an incredible result—over $1,000 an hour. They’ve also worked hard to thank their donors, and the pieces of the goal post they mailed out don’t hurt.purdue_give_day

We’ve also seem some great response to college and university give days, which answer the key question: “Why give now?” The extraordinary success at institutions like Columbia and just last week at Purdue involve a comprehensive, campaign-level strategy executed over months with all hands on deck to harness alumni passion. These programs draw on support for many areas of campus and engage social networks and a “let’s do it now” mentality to completely blow away our expectations.

When I’m in a call center, reading a direct mail appeal or looking at an email solicitation, I ask two questions: what is the story being told, and are is there an obstacle to giving?

Telling the story requires your whole team and building a bank of stories that communicate the diversity and impact of your cause.

Removing obstacles includes everything from going social with your giving, accepting every payment form and getting on the phone and out in the living rooms to make giving possible. Without that second step, you’re just banking a whole lot of clicks and views.

Alumni passion, channeled to frictionless giving opportunities, amplified by social sharing and followed by sincere stewardship is our best plan to stem the alumni participation decline.

Two steps: tell the story, and then optimize the giving opportunity.

Our alumni have great passion for their alma maters, and It’s time to work smarter to turn this “like” into give. It’s time to get in the game, tell the story, and leverage the already existing networks of our alumni to bridge the action gap.

More touchdowns are on the way.

About the Author

Brian Gawor

Brian Gawor’s focus is research and strategy to help propel both alumni engagement and fundraising results of RNL clients. Brian has 20 years of higher education experience in student affairs, enrollment management, alumni engagement and...

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