Best Practices

3 Ways to Connect with First-Time Donors

3 Ways to Connect with First-Time Donors




August 4, 2022

Last modified: 

Donors are the foundation of your university, and getting new alumni and supporters to start their donor journeys can be a challenge. Small donations from first-time donors today can eventually by grown into recurring, planned, or even major gifts down the road. Cultivate donors at each step of the giving process to captivate their interest, garner their support, and steward recurring donations. 

While your university has an obvious connection to new alumni donors, you can also connect with other new donors through a variety of channels, such as your networks of current supporters, volunteer opportunities, and community events. To reach potential donors, educate your current base about their donation’s impacts on your university and provide them with shareable content like social media graphics and forwardable email newsletters to help them reach out to their own networks. 

Alumni engagement fundraising

To help your university connect with alumni and other first time donors, this article will explore three ways you can energize your current supporters and attract new ones. Let’s get started.

Awareness Campaigns 

Awareness campaigns are a great way to reach new audiences. Try creating content that can easily be optimized for multiple platforms to spread awareness about your newest institutional projects. 

Awareness campaigns should share information about what projects your institution is working on, who it helps, what you’re doing to make a difference, and if there are other opportunities for supporters to get involved in addition to donating. Keeping donors in the loop about your ongoing initiatives will make your university more transparent. Plus, many alumni donors will likely be interested in what their former departments, professors, and friends are doing now. 

Spread the word about your ongoing projects on several communication channels. Choose your channels based on your new target audiences. For example, your university’s most recent graduates are Gen Z, who are more likely to be interested in social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram, rather than Facebook. 

Take note of how your audience responds to your messages. While each platform you leverage in a multi-channel marketing strategy can help by creating a new touch point, some may have notably higher engagement and conversion rates than others. To start, try sharing your awareness campaigns through these channels: 

  • Email newsletters
  • Social media 
  • Ambassadors 
  • Local events 
  • Virtual information panels 
  • Text
  • Direct mail

To leverage your current supporters’ networks, have your school’s ambassadors share your campaign on their social media accounts and within their personal networks. You can also reach out to high profile alumni or nonprofit influencers with large social media followings and ask if they would be willing to share your current initiatives. 

When reaching out to supporters, offer them multiple engagement opportunities. In addition to requesting donations, let them know when you have upcoming events, how they can learn more, and other activities open to supporters.

Recruit Volunteers for Your Organization 

Many of your alumni will be excited at the opportunity to give back to their university. Your alumni volunteers dedicate their time because they believe in your school and want to invest in their alma mater. Inviting new alumni volunteers to your organization can be the first step in stewarding them to eventually become donors. 

Your school should access your volunteer databases and alumni databases to see who has previously helped your organization. Take note of these volunteers and conduct prospect research to see who has the potential to give or even become a major donor. 

As alumni join your volunteer programs, continue stewarding them by regularly messaging them about other opportunities, sharing your university’s latest news, and showing your appreciation. Here are just a few ways you can show your gratitude to your alumni volunteers: 

  • Mail a thank-you letter
  • Conduct a phone call, especially with prospective major donors
  • Create social media spotlights

Your volunteers can become some of your most reliable donors, and vice versa. Use your CRM to create profiles for each supporter and note if they’ve volunteered or donated. Then, send them messages that align with how they’re currently engaging with your university, as well as a few encouraging them to try getting involved in new ways


To get new donors involved with your university, host events that are open to the public, alumni, and major donors alike. You can charge an entrance fee, but be sure the main event is not donation based when trying to secure new donors. Here are some of the best ways to make your events more inviting and appealing to new donors: 

  • Donation kiosks: This can make donating at events less overwhelming for individuals who prefer to donate discreetly. 
  • Information tables: Have volunteers talk about their experiences with potential donors to humanize your volunteer and donation process.
  • Emphasize scalable impact: Explain how every little donation counts, and highlight tangible ways that different amounts can impact your university. 

If interested individuals are unsure about donating, encourage them to sign up for your newsletter or volunteer opportunities to stay engaged with your organization. This way you can collect their data and connect with them later to begin the stewarding process. 

Your university needs new donors to continue funding your programs. To connect with alumni and community members who might be interested in giving, host a variety of opportunities to give them as many chances as possible to make that first step on their donor journeys. From there, you can begin stewarding monthly gifts and even uncover prospective major donors. 

About the Author:

Philip Schmitz

Philip Schmitz is the CEO and founder of cloud-services leader BIS Global, creators of the CharityEngine fundraising & communications technology platform. Founded in 1999, Phil has managed the vision and strategy for BIS's suite of integrated business applications & hosting tools used by more than 400 businesses & non-profits.

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