Lost Opportunity | npENGAGE

Lost Opportunity

By on Jul 26, 2011 | NONPROFIT-FUNDRAISING

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Are you missing out on opportunities because you aren’t looking at the bigger picture?

My alma mater has a lot of information about me in their database.  They have my current address, my age, my interests (like that class I took in underwater basket weaving).  They also have quite a bit of unusual information about me, if they would connect the dots.

If they connected the dots, they would see that I am a legacy alumnae.  In fact, a member of my family from each generation has attended the university since 1794.  A relative in fact founded the school.  I am the second woman in my family to carry on this legacy.

In my quarterly phone call from their annual fund phone bank, I keep waiting for them to connect these dots.  Tell me what is new in the School of the Arts (I majored in art history).  Ask me to give a gift in honor of my cousin who is currently enrolled as an undergraduate.  Show me you are using the data you have.  Treat me like an individual rather than part of the direct mail herd.

My grandfather – the pater familias of this university legacy – passed away a few months ago.  Multiple generations (and therefore multiple alumni of this university) were gathered as my grandmother received a very touching and elegantly timed sympathy letter from the university.  My grandparents have been generous donors over the years.  But I couldn’t help but feel like the university had missed the mark again.

I admit I’m savvier about fundraising and charitable giving than most of my relatives since it is my chosen profession.  But wouldn’t a targeted appeal to each of us, to contribute to an endowment in his name, be the perfect end note to their quick stewardship of my grandmother (who is not an alum)?  I shouldn’t be surprised.  If they can’t see the big picture in appealing to me for a few dollars on the phone, how can I expect them to connect the dots for a much larger gift from the family?  Maybe in the end, they really don’t know us at all.

Kate Breck is a consultant for Target Analytics. You may reach her at kate.breck@blackbaud.com.

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Comments (3)

  • Liz Rejman says:

    I agree with you that a wonderful opportunity exists when an alumni office knows who is related to whom in the context of their alumni. 

    However, having worked in an community-focused Canadian university alumni office, I know from first hand experience that unless a current student/alum explicitly informed us that they were related to fellow alumni, it was difficult to gather that information. Specifically privacy issues make this task difficult but different last names, marriages and divorce also complicate thoroughly recording these family relationships. 

    Do you know for certain that your alma mater knows and is aware of all of your family relationships to the university? 

    In any case, an opportunity exists and hopefully, they and other universities will look a little closer at which alumni are related to each other. 

  • Andy Petersen says:

    I agree with Liz.  It is possible to have so much information, too, that it is not easily brought to the front.  Additionally Kate, I would be interested to know how you expect an annual fund phone drive individual should bring up the topic of your family history with the university.  Does the person who calls you know you?  

    Connecting the dots isn’t as easy as one may think.  
    Building relationships take time.

  • Kate Lindsay Breck says:

    I completely agree with both of you – having worked in the foundation office of a university, I remember that most departments in these institutions do not share data.  The development office may not have access to the full range of information that the admissions office database holds, and vice versa. 

    I also acknowledge that I’m speaking to two separate departments in an institutional advancement office and their record keeping.  The major giving database should have personal information from my grandfather gleaned from years of giving and personal visits, homecoming games, fundraising dinners and class reunions.  Unless what he told them about our family is in a database rather than a gift officer’s memory, I can’t expect them to develop that data into a “giving tree” of connections.

    Second, if the calling center and annual giving office are not given information they can use to develop their relationship with alumni, their hands are indeed tied. I’m not expecting them necessarily to spend so much time building the case for my $250 annual gift.

    However, I will continue to be disappointed when the student caller asks me to contribute “so that every student on campus has a laptop computer”.  My recent reply – I had to wait in line at the library to use a computer.  It was a part of the college experience.  They can wait at the library for a computer.

    A more compelling ask?  And I know we’re talking about unrestricted giving here – but pull my heart string.  I have a BA from their School of the Arts.  Scholarships for inner city kids to study art, information on how the department has grown since I was there – would make it more personal and compelling. 

    Thank you both for weighing in and keeping me honest!
    Kate Lindsay Breck

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