University Fundraising: How to Engage Alumni and Empower Your Institution
Universities are constantly expanding their departments and campuses to continue shaping the future’s brightest minds. Donations and major gifts are vital in achieving these goals, and your alumni are a valuable resource for collecting those donations.
Grateful alumni can easily turn into loyal donors and supporters of your institution. It’s important that you’re identifying the best alumni to engage in your fundraising and capital campaigns in order to exceed all your goals.
Need help getting started? You can request a demo or schedule a free fundraising assessment with iWave to jumpstart your alumni program and fundraising efforts.
Establish the Right Alumni Profiles
To engage your alumni, you first need to identify the right people to reach out to. Your school already has graduate records on hand, but are they organized in the right way?
Compile all your data in one place for easier access. Also, make sure to file your alumni data based on inclination and propensity to give, so you can easily differentiate between the most viable donors. If you’re unsure about what makes someone more likely to donate, fundraising software can help!
There are three key types of data you should research to better understand if the alumni is likely to give back:
This background information is crucial for getting to know your alumni better. Before reaching out, make sure you have basic information on hand like their name and:
- Current address
- Graduation year
- Current employer
- Social media pages
Keeping track of what teams and activities alumni participated in while they were at school is also important to include in your biographical data. That way, you can tailor your engagement for specific projects based on their passions and interests.
For example, it makes sense to reach out to an athlete when raising funds for a new sports complex. Tailoring every engagement based on the passions and interests of alumni adds a personal touch. Ultimately, alumni are much more likely to respond positively if they feel personally addressed.
Greek Life On Campus and Beyond
Another piece of information worth noting is Greek life involvement. Since sororities and fraternities regularly contribute to charitable causes, there’s a degree of likelihood that members may continue that spirit of giving after they leave school.
On top of that, well-established Greek organizations are known for their continual engagement with alumni. Using these deep-rooted connections can help you create more detailed prospect profile.
Background information like this will help you build a better relationship with your alumni and let them know you want to stay in touch—leading to higher engagement.
You don’t want to waste time and resources reaching out to alumni who may not be in a viable position to support your institution. Therefore, it’s essential that you engage with alumni who exhibit the right indicators.
For example, if one of your alumni has a history of charitable giving, especially to education organizations or has even given to your university in the past, then they are more likely to help support your higher-learning institution and your new goals.
Maintaining a record of your alumni’s current organizational involvement can provide further insight into the causes they care about most. This will help you know where to turn for certain fundraising projects that align with these passions and areas of interests.
Another indicator that someone would be able to contribute to your university fundraising is their capacity to give. If one of your alumni has gone on to work for a profitable tech company, they may be likely to give back to the institution that gave them the tools and education to land that job.
The current position alumni hold at their place of business reveals pertinent information about their capacity to give. However, even if someone is not in an executive or other high leadership position, there may still be a possibility to build a connection with the company on a larger scale.
For example, many employers participate in matching gift donations, which rapidly increase your fundraising capacity without much additional effort on your part!
Property Ownership and Stock Holdings
Do any of the alumni own a vacation home in Aspen? They may also be in a position to contribute to the success of your university.
In addition to this wealth marker, it’s also helpful to track stock holdings and land ownership. In addition to a vacation home, they might own rental properties or acres of land. These data points will help you determine how much to ask for from specific alumni, since owning stocks and/or property generally indicates a larger capacity to donate.
To organize your alumni profiles even more, you can use prospect categories to guide your communication with them. For example, if someone already actively engages with your institution through university events, familial connections, or even regular donations, this classifies them as a devoted prospect.
The other type of prospect to follow up with is an impending graduate who will soon join your alumni ranks, as well as alumni from a graduating year with an engagement event coming up soon.
Incorporating indicators like these in your profiles will help you keep track of the best time to reach out to alumni at different stages. With iWave’s fully customizable software, you set your preferred parameters and it provides you with prospect scores for each individual profile.
This streamlines the work for you, making it quick and easy to see how all your alumni rank in one convenient place.
Putting It All Together
Combining biographical data, philanthropic indicators, wealth markers, and prospect types with timelines creates a well-rounded alumni profile. By letting this data guide your outreach efforts you better ensure continued engagement. In the end, this can translate to reliable contributions.
When following accurate information like this, you won’t deter alumni from donating by asking for too much, nor will you leave any money on the table by asking for too little.
Give Options, Receive More
Though identifying the right person to ask and the correct amount to ask for is crucial, you can improve your likelihood of raising the funds you need by providing options, such as:
- Method: Let alumni choose to donate online through various platforms or by mailing in cash or a check.
- Time Frames: Invite alumni to choose whether to schedule recurring donations or break up a larger contribution into smaller installments.
University Fundraising Pro Tip:
Utilizing the proper fundraising platform and tools can help you save time when it comes to finding the best potential donors from your alumni pool.
Instead of having team members browse through biographical data and wealth indicators to find the best potential donors, fundraising technology can do the hard work for you, so you can spend more time engaging your alumni. Make sure you’re getting started with the best technology for your university.
Regularly Maintain Profiles
Once you’ve identified the right alumni, you need to maintain these potential donor profiles. Students will be graduating from your university regularly, and you need to make sure all of the information in their profiles is up to date. As job statuses and incomes change, so will their profiles and potentially their ability to give.
Many universities have various datasets across different departments so it’s important you have all the information you need in a place that’s easy to locate and read. Some of the ways you can make sure your information is updated include:
Utilize your admission department or student workers to reach out to alumni on a routine basis to make sure all the information is current and accurate. Whether there has been a job change or a personal address change, it’s important your dataset has all the most up to date information. You need to feel confident you’re contacting the right prospective donors.
Delete Duplicate Information
If your university organizes the same information across different platforms or departments, you may find repetitive information or profiles. For example, someone who double majored in mathematics and physics may have alumni information in both the science and math departments.
By using one uniform database, you eliminate the replicated information and will stay more organized. This also creates less work for your team and eliminates the concern for one department having outdated information from another.
University Fundraising Pro Tip:
A great way to easily keep personal information updated and organized is through a fundraising platform that does the hard work for you. Fundraising software can store alumni profiles on your account and your team can all access those same files when searching for alumni support. Make sure you have the right tools to stay organized.
Another great way to make sure all your information is accurate is by performing routine engagement surveys.
Create an Engagement Survey
A quick and easy way to get the accurate and updated information you need is from an engagement survey. This handy resource not only helps you keep personal information current, but it helps you learn how to involve alumni and ask the right questions to engage them.
Some of the ways you can reach your alumni with your engagement survey includes:
- Social media
- Direct mail
- Over the phone
Once again, make sure you have the right information on file, so you can ensure you’re contacting alumni through their preferred channels.
No matter how you distribute the survey, you’ll want to ask these questions:
- How do you like to give?
- Which campus organizations would you want to support?
- Would you participate in peer-to-peer fundraising, crowdfunding, or a capital campaign?
- Are you involved in alumni engagement events?
- What kind of interests did you have while in school? Were you part of any clubs/campus organizations?
The most important thing you’ll learn from engagement surveys is what inspires alumni to give back to their alma mater. If an individual isn’t compelled to give to you at the moment, what can you change about your strategy to reach them in the future? Engagement surveys are all about setting up your university for greater success in the future.
Not only does this information better help you understand how to engage alumni, but based off who responds to the survey, you’ll get a better idea of which alumni are more likely to become involved, too. If someone consistently responds to the survey, they clearly have a strong loyalty to your university. Even if they are not in the position to make a large donation, they may be willing to help organize an event or engage with their fellow alumni.
University Fundraising Pro Tip:
Combine your engagement survey results with a wealth screening to gain a better picture of who is more likely to engage with your university as well as what their potential to give may be. You’ll then be able to reach out to this identified pool of supporters when it comes time to launch a capital campaign or hold a fundraising event.
Plan Impactful Fundraising Events
With the right information by your side, you’re now ready to start planning more successful fundraising events and campaigns. One way to intrigue and excite alumni is by setting up alumni-only events, in addition to more public ones.
Although collaborating with a local business to host your event may work well in certain cases, consider hosting events on campus or centering it around your institution. Even if in-person events aren’t possible, virtual events can be effective at bringing people together.
Returning to school buildings or displaying pictures of the grounds online spurs feelings of nostalgia, which can in turn lead to more generous donations. Be careful to tailor each event in ways that embody the unique aspects of your institution and its community culture.
Some events that will engage your alumni while also bringing in funding for your programs include:
Capital campaigns are a great way to fundraise on a strict timeline for a one-time goal such as building a new library or tech department. Capital campaigns are broken down into two stages of fundraising: Private (quiet phase) and public.
The private phase is when the majority of donations are raised, so it’s a great time to reach out to your identified alumni for support. A more successful private phase ensures you’ll reach your targets on time, so this is a crucial part of the capital campaign process.
Auctions are a great way for donors to support a cause while also gaining something in return. Reach out to alumni who have connections to great auction items and ask for a donation.
For example, someone who works for a sports team may be able to contribute tickets to a game. You can then invite other alumni to the auction to maximize your fundraising. The best part is auctions can be done in person or online. Through email or your school’s social media page, you can send a link for an online auction where alumni can place their bids.
Host an Online Event
Online events are a great way to not only involve your alumni but the public as well. It helps to get the word out about your university and what you are trying to fundraise for. Even if you have alumni all around the world, they’ll be able to attend events when online, furthering the success of your fundraising campaign.
Whether online or on campus, inviting a guest speaker of interest to one of your events is another way to draw people in!
Event Hosting Best Practices
Regardless of which type of event you decide to host next, there are a few best practices to incorporate. Consider the following:
- It’s a good idea to set up a booth with university apparel and merchandise at your in-person events. For online events, this could look like sharing links to your school store. Another option is to hand out special gift bags as a thank you.
- It also helps to make donating as simple and straightforward as possible. The best way to do this is often by setting up a text-to-give account. This allows attendees to make a contribution by just sending a text.
- Finally, remember to follow up with a personalized thank you card. Doing so will show your gratitude and further evoke feelings of connection that will lead to further engagement in the future.
University Fundraising Pro Tip:
Inviting the right people to these events is crucial. A well-selected guest list from your alumni program will help set up your event for greater success. Having the right fundraising platform by your side can make uncovering the right donors seamless and simple so you have added assurance that your donor events will be effective.
How to Host a Successful Event
To help make the event easier to plan you may want to segment your alumni. In addition to inviting alumni with a greater ability and desire to give, you can also break down your event based on graduating class, former residence halls, majors/minors within your university, or career track.
Ask Follow-Up Questions
After your event make sure to send out a follow up engagement survey. Some of the questions you can ask attendees include:
- Did you donate at this event? If so, did you plan to give prior to attending or did you make this decision while at the event? What factors influenced this decision?
- Did you hold off on making a gift? If so, what were the factors that dissuade you from contributing?
- Was this event relevant to your life?
- Was this event a positive, neutral, or negative experience? Why?
- Would you consider attending additional alumni events in the future? What types of events would you be interested in?
Following up with your attendees ensures the continued success of future events. It will also help your team tailor events to what the public wants. Some alumni may prefer more formal events while others want an online auction to fit in better with their action-packed schedules. Engagement surveys will help give you a clear picture of what fundraisers to plan next.
The Gift of Alumni Matching Gift Donations
An excellent way to easily double a donation’s impact is by encouraging your alumni to make matching gift requests at their participating business or organization. The process usually starts with an online donation. Next, the prospect submits a request to their employer, who then determines its eligibility. If the employer accepts the request, they will make a donation to your institution.
It’s important to note that employers offer different matching gift ratios and that some matching gift donations change depending on the type of fundraising event.
Tips for Promoting Matching Gifts
One of the best ways to increase your matching donations is by including a matching gift search tool on your institution’s website. Incorporating an easy-to-use tool like this on your online donation form lets alumni search quickly without navigating to another page. This tool can provide key details about their employer, such as:
- Matching donation ratio
- Maximum donation match
- Minimum donation amount
Alongside this strategy, be sure to spread the word and educate your alumni about matching gift donations. You can do this by sharing short social media posts, sending emails, and providing access to a gift matching search tool.
How Can Our Intelligent Fundraising Solution Help your University Fundraising?
There are many ways to engage alumni in your university’s fundraising efforts, and a major key to success is having the right fundraising platform by your side.
At iWave, our next-generation platform is built on billions of datapoints all structured to help you uncover the right potential donors from your alumni pool. Our fundraising software for education will help you save time and more accurately uncover which of your alumni has the greatest capacity to become an impactful donor.
You can also take our technology with you on the go by accessing our software online. Touch up background information before heading into a meeting or update your files while on your commute home—the possibilities are endless.
Request a demo today to learn more or schedule a free fundraising assessment to see how iWave’s software can be tailored to your university’s specific needs. We’re ready to help you achieve your fundraising goals. Are you ready to join us?
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