Have you taken a long, hard look at your Annual Fund lately? For many organizations, that can be a painful process. However, painful as it may be, carefully analyzing what is going on with your Annual Fund is the first step in turning things around. And, I don’t mean just how much is being contributed, but who is contributing? If you do so, you might be surprised to discover how lopsided participation among constituencies—or portions of constituencies—may be.
In Part 1 of this article, we took a look at some current facts and trends regarding young alumni participation and some simple ways to begin tapping into this vital source of additional donors and revenue. The first step is simply making it a priority and committing to doing a few things differently, including not only using youth-oriented platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, but using them effectively with a younger constituency.
In addition, there are other aspects of your giving program that may need revamping, including how you make your case. First, make sure you are educating your students on the value of—and need for–philanthropy at their own institution while you still have them in the palm of your hand. While today’s students may be actively engaged in community service at other organizations, they may not even hear about their Alma Mater’s Annual Fund until after they graduate. By then it may be too late. Take advantage of campus communication channels to inform students of the benefits of support while they are around to experience it. Colleges and universities that instill this message in their students, through activities such as scholarship dinners where recipients meet their benefactors, find that the “pay it forward” mentality becomes ingrained at an earlier, more influential, age.
Another tip: Be sure you are making giving easy for young alumni by recognizing their limited resources. Consider installment plans for small gifts. While it is easy to look at the administrative cost and inconvenience of offering quarterly billing for a $100 gift, focus on the goal of increasing participation first, and revenue second. It might make the difference in whether or not that 20-something alumnus makes– or doesn’t make– a gift.
Finally, while the debate on giving societies continues, many institutions have found that, by offering reduced entry levels for younger alumni, these individuals welcome the opportunity to “join the club” at a reduced rate. Think country clubs and how they structure their fees—many have succeeded in these difficult economic times by offering discounts to younger members. Case in point: The University of North Carolina. They invite young alumni to “join Carolina’s most distinguished and loyal supporters” by becoming members of the 1793 Society. While membership typically starts with a $2000 annual gift, members of the Classes of 1999-2003 can join for $1000, while those graduating in 2004-2008 can qualify with a gift of $500. A discounted membership is better than no membership at all, especially when you consider the lifelong revenue from these individual if you get them while they are young!
Accepting low levels of alumni participation at your institution doesn’t have to be a foregone conclusion. There are numerous effective—and relatively simple—strategies that you can put into place that can increase not only how many younger constituents are giving, but how much they are giving as well. Take a few minutes to evaluate your program and ask yourself if you are doing all you can to attract younger donors. The sooner you realize that the answer may be a resounding “no”, the sooner you can put measures in place to turn the tide on young alumni participation.
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