4 Awesome Strategies for Successful Alumni Fundraising
The institution of higher education relies on funding from alumni to maintain the level of excellence it’s worked so hard to establish. When students graduate and go out into the working world, they’re putting the skills and knowledge that they built while in school to use. On an average, higher education graduates earn around twice as much in their lifetime than individuals with only a high school diploma or GED.
This means that your alumni are also the best people to reach out to for fundraising at your institution. Not only do they have a special connection with their alma mater, but as they grow in their respective careers and gain financial stability, they can contribute better to your cause — hence, it’s imperative to keep your alumni in the loop. Your alumni leverage the education they received from your institution. By donating to your school, they can give back to help others do the same.
What does this mean for your organization? It’s your job to help alumni see the benefit of contributing to your school and to develop relationships with them over time. We've curated 4 strategies that are evergreen and will help you reap alumni fundraising success. However, keep in mind that some other details, such as trends in higher education fundraising, may change depending on the external circumstances in which you’re operating. Keep the latest trends in mind, but don’t forget the importance of lasting strategies as well. Let’s dive in!
1. Segment your alumni audience
Not all alumni are equal. This doesn’t mean you should completely ignore some of them, because they’re all important. However, you should approach them differently depending on who they are and their role at your organization.
For instance, you wouldn’t go to an average recent graduate and ask for a major donation of $1 million. Similarly, you wouldn’t go to a major supporter and ask for $25. Instead, segment the supporters within your database. If you don’t yet have a database you like or are looking for a new option, Bloomerang’s donor database guide provides the following steps to find the perfect solution for any organization:
When you have tech that empowers the effective organization of alumni data, create segments based on the alumni’s giving recency, frequency, type, amount, reason, and interest. Let’s consider how different types of donors might show these items differently:
- Brand new graduates: These supporters won’t have given as alumni before. They’re likely fresh in their careers and don’t have much of a capacity to give. However, they also likely feel a strong connection to the school having only just left it.
- Mid-tier existing alumni donors: Mid-tier supporters are too often forgotten, generally due to an over-reliance on major supporters. According to Almabase, 95% of gifts made to higher education institutions come from only 5% of alumni. Mid-tier supporters have already shown they want to contribute and they’re the most likely to become major donors in the future.
- Major alumni donors: Major donors typically come from older alumni who are well-established in their careers. You’ve already developed a relationship with them and likely know these supporters by name (some may even have buildings named after them!).
Understanding segments in your database will help you reach out to alumni with messages most meaningful to their engagement with your school. This lays the foundation for an impactful relationship.
2. Leverage prospect research
Higher education institutions generally rely heavily on major giving from alumni. By leveraging prospect research, your institution can identify these valuable alumni and determine who will be most likely to give in substantial quantities to your school.
Prospect research will help you identify both wealth and philanthropic indicators to make this possible. Here’s a breakdown of the difference:
- Wealth indicators provide insight into the capacity that your supporters have to give. This insight comes from their publicly available financial information such as real estate ownership, SEC holdings, and the size of previous gifts to other organizations.
- Philanthropic indicators provide insight into an alumna’s affinity to give to the institution. Information such as an alumna’s previous involvement at the school, their current involvement (such as serving on a board), and past giving, can provide insight into whether they’re likely to give. According to DonorSearch’s affinity to give guide, people who give $10,000 to $25,000 to other organizations are ten times more likely to make a donation to another organization than the average person.
This information is publicly available, so you could take a DIY approach to find it. However, it’s much simpler to use a prospect research database to learn more about prospective supporters. Then, you can search your database of alumni to find the perfect match for your next mid-tier or major donation.
3. Empower alumni to reach out on your behalf.
Average new alumni might not have the capacity to donate back to the school in large sums just yet. However, they may still feel a very strong connection to your school, having just graduated. Therefore, you should get them involved as soon as possible.
Ask new graduates to reach out on your behalf to get their friends, family, and connections involved with your institution. You may ask them to:
- Volunteer as a peer-to-peer fundraiser on your behalf
- Attend alumni chapter events and invite friends and family to join
- Serve as leaders of the local alumni chapter to reach other alums
Even if your alumni don’t have the capacity to give or don’t want to give yet, that doesn’t mean they can’t get involved! Encourage all of your alumni to get involved with your institution and to start giving back by reaching out on your behalf.
4. Focus on building relationships
It’s rare that an alumna will turn around to give $10,000 to your school out of the blue. Typically, large donations that exceed thousands or even millions are those that come from someone your institution has developed a relationship with.
Focusing on relationships will help keep your alumni coming back again and again, increasing your retention rate and helping you raise more. Higher donor retention lowers the cost of acquisition. Plus, alumni will tend to give in greater quantities over time as their capacity increases and their connections to the institution continue to grow.
To build these relationships, your organization should:
- Reach out regularly with updates about the school and its progress
- Call your alumni and engage in real conversations with them
- Show appreciation for all gifts made, no matter how big or small
- Schedule events and opportunities for get-togethers among alumni
Relationships build the foundation for all healthy and sustainable fundraising. By focusing on relationships rather than money, you show your alumni that you care about them, not just their wallets.
Your alumni are thankful for the time they spent learning at your school and developing skills that helped them make it in the world beyond. This connection to your school is special and strong. Therefore, take the steps necessary to build relationships with these important supporters and reach out to them using the strategies in this guide for more successful fundraising.
About the Author
He has served this sector for 33 years and is considered the most well-known senior statesman whose advice is sought constantly.
Prior to Bloomerang, he was the CEO and Co-Founder of eTapestry for 11 years, which at the time was the leading SaaS technology company serving the charity sector. Jay and his team grew the company to more than 10,000 nonprofit clients, charting a decade of record growth.
He is a graduate of Butler University with a B.S. in Business Administration. Over the years, he has given more than 2,500 speeches around the world for the charity sector and is often the voice of new technology for fundraisers.