So, how’s your Annual Fund doing? These days, that might be an uncomfortable question to answer since, as Target Analytics’ own study has found, fewer individuals contributed to colleges in 2009. And, among those who did give, amounts were lower than given previously. While annual fund participation has been dropping for a few years now, last year was the first time that actual dollars raised also declined.
Most educational institutions have a pretty good idea of who their best donors are. Colleges and universities may see the lion share of their annual fund support coming from middle-aged alumni, while independent schools are frequently more dependent on support from current parents. While it only makes sense to tap into these groups first and expand giving from your “best” prospects, it may also be beneficial to explore the opportunities presented by reaching out to traditional “underperformers” as well.
Indeed, as the Chronicle of Higher Education noted in its June 24, 2010 article on declining Annual Fund revenue, “The colleges that managed to defy the downward trends were those that ‘infused more effort’ into their giving program. Case in point was Rice University, who, according to Darrow G. Zeidenstein, vice president for resource development, “experienced a 10% increase in revenue, including a 1% rise in participation by reaching out to young alumni—traditionally the group with the lowest participation.”
How is this accomplished? The first step is easy: Simply make it a priority and commit to changing a few things about your existing program. As with anything in fund raising, you can’t do things the same way and expect different results. If you want to attract more young alumni participants, you will need to appeal to them differently. What works for your Class of 1975 alumni will most likely not work for members of the Class of 2000.
While most colleges have recognized the necessity of youth-oriented platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, not everyone has mastered effective use of today’s technology. Simply channeling your previous direct mail message into an email format may not do the trick: as Brenna Young noted in Four Reasons You May be Losing Alumni Participation – From a Young Alumni Perspective. “My generation likes things that are quick and to the point. This is why social media works so well, because there is limited space to provide information without looking overloaded, i.e.- on a Facebook page. Colleges and universities need to recognize these channels as opportunities to effectively reach out to young alumni and make their appeal.”
Take a few minutes to consider how your Annual Fund appeals to younger constituents. It may not be difficult to tailor the message to make it more suitable to a different constituency. You may discover that modest changes can reap big rewards when it comes to annual revenue.
COMING UP: More ways to encourage Young Alumni Annual Fund participation…check back at www.ProspectResearch.com on Thursday, September 30th for Part Two!