6 Alumni Fundraising Best Practices and Top 15 Ideas for Your Next Campaign

Reduced funding, lack of grants, or other financial constraints can make fundraising quite challenging for universities. In such circumstances, alumni fundraising comes as a beacon of hope.

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Private funding sources for colleges. Source: Inside Higher Ed.

These former students have a close bond with their college or university and, once they get on their feet, are happy to help their alma mater. However, soliciting donations is a work in progress and involves maintaining the student-college relationship even after they have graduated.

Let’s have a look at some best practices and ideas you can implement in your next alumni fundraising campaign.

Alumni fundraising best practices

Sometimes you write a letter to alumni asking for donations but get no response from them– not even a “Sorry, maybe next time.” Why is that? It could be one of many things:

  • They are unable to give at the moment.
  • They don’t feel as connected with you.
  • They don’t feel valued.

There could be several other reasons too, but these are the major ones. 

While resolving the first issue is out of your hands, tackling the following issues is how to get alumni to donate. The following alumni fundraising best practices show you how to keep graduates connected to the institution after they pass out and build towards asking for alumni donations.

Maintain contact after students graduate

Without a proper alumni engagement strategy in place, alumni fundraising will face two blockades.

  1. Firstly, you won’t have a good contact list to solicit from. 
  2. Secondly, the alumni will feel the solicitation came out of the blue and won’t be motivated to donate.

To avoid this, design an intelligent communications plan to nurture recent grads into engaged alumni. For this, you will need to determine:

  • Communication channels that your alumni prefer: Ask graduates to opt-in to your email or SMS broadcasts. When they do, ask what their preferred mode of communication with the university is. You are likely to get multiple preferences, and so it is essential to have a multi-channel outreach plan in place. 
  • Frequency and nature of messages that they appreciate: You can take a survey to understand the frequency and nature of messages alumni are happy to receive. However, preferences change with time. It helps to analyze data on the open rates, response rates, and conversion rates regularly. Learning from these numbers, you can experiment with new formats of messages. 
  • Subscription and unsubscribe rates: Just like you study how well your email or texts perform on existing contacts, study what helped your lists grow and what forced folks to opt-out. Duplicate the content, time, and nature of messaging that brought satisfactory results. Avoid those that made folks unsubscribe.
  • Use standard channels for alumni whose preferences you don’t know: Here are some useful channels for the same:
  • Social media posts with online donation links to your website.
  • Emails and texts for fundraising outreach.
  • P2P texts and phone calls for personal solicitation to small donors.
  • Fundraising letters and phone calls for repeat and major donors.

Create nurturing flows to increase engagement levels

The communications you initiate with graduates should not just be scattered pings but well-informed nurturing flows that maintain and increase engagement levels. Here’s how you ensure the communication goes from outbound to two-way and formal to engaged.

  • Mix up forms of content; throw in a low-barrier ask every once in a while: Segment alumni who respond to these messages. (e.g., positive responses are highly engaged, negative are medium engaged, and no answers are low engaged levels). Have different nurturing flows for each segment.
  • Provide incentives for responses: Offering worthwhile incentives can boost response rates by as much as 50%. Go for coupons, prize draws, or inexpensive incentives that are high on emotions or exposure. (e.g., share photos of your favorite campus areas and stand a chance to get featured on our Instagram!)
  • Follow up with non-respondents: Maybe they missed your email or just need another nudge to respond. Don’t miss out on such prospects and follow up with them. Sending follow-up messages too has proven to be effective in improving response rates. 
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Your conversations have to show steady growth in initiating engagement levels. For instance, if your first email asks for the alum’s employment status and location, the next ones should build on that rather than asking the same question again. 

This is like building any relationship– you don’t ask their name and location every time you meet. You do check up on their well-being, sometimes ask for favors, and return them. Building relationships for alumni fundraising follows the same path.

Personalize your conversations

During student recruitment stages, you may have noticed that prospects respond well to personalized content and tend to not engage with impersonal, generic initiatives. The same stands true for alumni engagement. 

At every touchpoint in your conversations with alumni, you collect some information about them and store it (in your CRM) for future reference. 

Use this data to inform your outreach for alumni fundraising.

For instance, use data points like:

  • Engagement levels of each alumni– individual response rate, donation history, event attendance, etc.
  • Employment status and income levels– this will indicate if they can donate to university fundraisers.
  • Causes they support– to personalize appeals.
  • Demographics– including their location to understand if they can attend events. 

To undertake such an inflow of data smoothly, it is important to employ tools that your audience is familiar with and that they integrate with your CRMs. CallHub is a text marketing and calling tool that does both. Millennials, Gen-Z, and even older generations are getting increasingly comfortable with their phones. Our software helps you take surveys, send automated responses to the answers, and sync all your data to your database. Try it here for free!

Leverage good content to drive donations

Ask any marketer, and they will confirm that content is king. So your email, peer-to-peer text, or alumni donation letter will be unsuccessful if you don’t provide good, worthy content before, during, and after solicitation.

Take this letter to alumni asking for donations, for example:

alumi-fundraising-katz-vs-cats-solicitation-email
Source: Evertrue.

The appeal leveraged a competition between a trustee and the university to raise funds. The Trustee had signed their name, and the email content was crisp, direct, and personal. Thanks to such appealing content, the university raised over $115,000 from 130 donors in 24 hours!

Good content for alumni fundraising includes the use of emotions and motivations such as nostalgia, communitarianism, altruism, etc., to compel alumni to donate money for events, projects, or other causes.

Some useful guides for communicating with alumni and writing compelling donation appeals:
Contacting Alumni Email Sample and Tips To Enhance Your Interactions
The Trick to Crafting a Compelling Fundraising Letter (With Real Examples!)

Provide different avenues to give

How often an alum gives depends on various factors, including their current income levels and inspiration to give. When you are confident that they are engaged enough to donate, make sure your ask is not rigid. Providing different avenues to donate involves two factors:

  • Providing options for contributing: The aim of your event or campaign may be to raise funds. However, your communications must aim to make the reader feel valued and involved. Providing various options of contributing ensures this. For instance, you can ask them to share your message on their social media if they cannot donate.
  • Giving options for donation channels: Your preferred donation method might be checks, but your contacts may be more comfortable donating online, via texts, etc. Having multiple options of donation channels can increase trust levels and also the likelihood of receiving a gift.  

An important point to remember with alumni fundraising is to do thorough research on each alum and make appropriate asks. For instance, if an alum is yet to secure employment, it would be futile (and even rude!) to ask them for major donations. Instead, your communications can focus more on career prospects or volunteer opportunities, or such relevant campaigns.

Offer regular incentives

Providing incentives on specific campaigns drives response and conversion rates for that particular campaign. However, it does not guarantee continual conversations to ensure alumni stay connected.

To leverage incentives for repeated contributions to alumni fundraisers, you can do this:

  • Send out donation appeals to prospects, giving various amount options and incentivizing each with proportionate gifts. (e.g., Donate $50 to get an Instagram shout out, $100 for exclusive merchandise, etc.).
  • Segment small and medium donors for a bigger donation appeal the next time. Mention the name or number of members who upgraded the amount to leverage communitarianism.
  • Create separate “specials clubs” dedicated to regular small donors, major donors, regular major donors, etc. which gets them free access to university amenities, annual free goodies, and more
  • Undertake concrete measures to retain first-time donors. It is more expensive to acquire new donors than to retain existing ones, even if they contribute small amounts. This is even more true for a university because you already have a much smaller pool of prospects than, say, a nonprofit.

Related Reading: Alumni Engagement Metrics: Why Responses Are a Better Success Measure Than Participation

What are the most profitable fundraisers?

Raising funds for the university involves organizing events and campaigns that alumni would be interested in participating in and donating to. Here are some alumni fundraising ideas to choose from for your next fundraiser:

Alumni fundraising ideasHow it works
Sporting eventsRaise funds with tickets and ask winners to donate part of the or the entire reward amount.
Reunions or virtual reunionsEvent tickets and request additional donations during the event.
AuctionsAsk alumni to donate items and/or participate in the fundraiser to raise dollars effectively.
Peer-to-peer fundraisersHighly engaged alumni can leverage their influence to raise funds among peers. Know more about peer-to-peer fundraising here.
Sales campaignsHold online sales for items that can raise large sums individually (e.g., antiques) or have high saleability (e.g., t-shirts). This fundraising campaign will target alumni living in the same district, or state. Since the niche is very narrow, you could combine this with another campaign.   
Matching giftsOrganize a matching gifts campaign with trustees and begin a university fundraiser leveraging that.
Merchandise salesIf T-shirts, mugs, and lapel pins are too common, introduce exclusive merchandise for alumni and sell them to raise funds. Customized merch can be charged extra.
Indoor gamesDon’t have sporty alumni? Or is organization difficult? Change instead to fun indoor games that participants play remotely. Charge for player tickets for the audience and also request donations mid-game.
Luncheons or gala dinnersGala dinners are traditional university fundraising events. Organizing them doesn’t take much creativity and also gives you the scope to mix up other fundraisers (games, auctions, etc.) during this gala.
Buy a brickIf your college is constructing a new building or renovating one, ask students to “purchase bricks.” They donate funds according to brick prices. Significant donations are incentivized with recognition on the building.
Online rafflesAn old trick of raising large funds, a charity raffle involves alumni in a fun lottery game. Arrange for donated winning prizes that lure more people into buying the tickets and raising big!
Traditional events Scholarship dinners, golf tournaments, meet-and-greet events are traditional forms of alumni fundraising. These events connect alumni to resourceful and respected individuals (experts in a field, recruiting heads, etc.) and collect funds by ticketing the event.
Direct fundraisingThe most straightforward way to raise funds, this method is best effective when you know the cause is super impactful. It entails explaining your cause to alumni in detail and soliciting donations.
Online fundraisers (on Facebook and other social media platforms)Online fundraising, using the feature on social media sites like Facebook and YouTube, can reach alumni across geographies and raise funds with small investments. Read all about how to organize them here.
Interdepartmental competitions (league of legends)Was your college football team a legend in your state back in the day? And do current students swear by these legendary players years after they graduated? Organizing interdepartmental league of legend matches can be a phenomenal university fundraiser. Go a step further and partner with another university or college to amp up the competition.

Generally speaking, alumni fundraising can be quite a daunting task. In fact, in 2018-19, the alumni giving rate was just 8%. But this number shouldn’t discourage you, for the rates can differ for you (ask Williams College or Princeton University, who both scored more than 50% giving rate that same year!)

With these alumni fundraising best practices and ideas, we hope that your annual giving rates and amounts pass the expectations you have set. 

Feature Image Source: Melissa Walker Horn/Unsplash.