10 Things Colleges Need to Know About Alumni Relations

Think of alumni relations as a close cousin of fundraising. Two-year colleges often have under-resourced, rudimentary programs that lack the focus of their four-year counterparts. And if your fundraising program is under-resourced, it’s hard to invest much in alumni relations. But invest we should. And we should remember that alumni relations is a separate cost center from development, one that should not be reflected in your cost-of-fundraising reports like the IRS form 990 or your audit.

Here are some reasons to invest in alumni relations:

  1.  Alumni are a resource of the educational mission of the college.  Their relation to the institution comprises interactions that transcend the fundraising program.
  1.  The college needs to offer multiple, coordinated entry points for interactions with alumni, coordinated by a specialist reporting to the VP of Advancement.
  1. The college needs to promote interaction with the alumni so that they remain informed about the educational activities of the college and can serve as ambassadors of the college in ways that benefit enrollment management, career placement, and other core activities of the college even before we see their cultivation as a future resource of the fundraising program.
  1. Alumni often want to maintain a relationship with the college directly via their academic department, as with professors, or coaches, and don’t want to be perceived primarily as donor prospects. I believe this is particularly true for alumni in their 20s and 30s.
  1. Young alumni as a group cost the fundraising program money to stay in touch with them during the twenty-year period it takes for them to become significant donors.  A balanced, professional alumni relations program will undertake that challenge based on a rationale that is more encompassing than the Annual Fund dollar value of each class of alumni.
  1. Tracking contact information for alumni often exceeds the data management capacity of a fundraising office, requiring significant integration with the data management capacities of the college. This is the most intractable issue facing community colleges today because the effort is under-resourced and not seen as an institutional priority. Even so, much more can be done by most colleges to keep track of alumni, including mailing to them at least twice a year and using NCOA protocols.
  1. A primary way to remain in touch with alumni is a college magazine, backed up by a strong online program for alumni contact.  The editorial content of these reflects the entire college and therefore must be managed to reflect the interests of the college, while at the same time viewing editorial through the lens of Alumni relations and development.
  1.  With younger alumni, their relationship to the college may benefit the college in ways that pertain more closely to marketing than fundraising.
  1. Alumni benefit the college directly by:
  • Providing expert advice and guidance to the university’s leadership
  • Providing case study material, guest lectures, equipment or similar to enhance teaching
  • Supporting student recruitment
  • Providing careers advice, mentoring, placements, internships to students
  • Acting as positive role models to current students

[Source for #9 (condensed): http://www.case.org/Publications_and_Products/Fundraising_Fundamentals_Intro/Fundraising_Fundamentals_section_1/Fundraising_Fundamentals_section_12.html]

These activities reflect the degree to which the alumni relations program must be managed by the college to provide systemic, comprehensive management of the aggregate and individual relationships with alumni to benefit the college as a whole.

  1.  Colleges often provide services or benefits to alumni, both tangible and intangible, that reflect interactions with the entire college, including athletics, academics, placement, and advancement.  An advisory team that reflects the life and values of the college should assist in oversight of these benefits.

Conclusion:  it’s never too soon to invest in alumni relations.

Not All Actions Are Equal: From High Touch to Low in Donor Cultivation

We don’t just count the number of actions in assessing our cultivation record; we look at the quality of the interactions themselves. More is not always better—highly personal contacts are. As useful as email is, for example, it is a third-tier form of cultivation. Here is how I rank cultivation actions:

High Touch – Most Valued

  • Solicitation in-person
  • Meeting (not including board committee meetings)
  • Visited contact
  • Breakfast/Lunch
  • Campus tour
  • Conversation

Medium Touch – Valued

  • Dropped by
  • Proposal
  • Phone call
  • Personal letter (even a personal acknowledgment letter)
  • Note

Low Touch – Less Valued

  • Email
  • Left message
  • Fax

Therefore, a visit trumps a phone call, which, in turn, trumps an email.

The Actions Meeting

Development consultant Mark Davy recommends that development officers coordinate team efforts through the means of a brief, weekly “Actions Meeting.”   At Dunwoody College of Technology, the development staff began each week with a half-hour meeting first thing Monday morning.

At the Actions Meeting, each development officer presents his or her actions of the previous week for review by the group. Development officers document their own actions, without fail, by Friday afternoon, in the donor database. The development officers then run their own action reports before the meeting. In Raiser’s Edge, this is a simple, automated report. The Raiser’s Edge entry includes a brief statement communicating the gist of the interaction, such as, “asked Ron to make a personal call to Tom about his Annual Fund gift.”

Sometimes the group reviews the report in silence, pausing only for questions or clarifications. Sometimes the development officer walks his or her colleagues through the highlights. You only need to spend a few moments on each entry. Each development officer is expected to have a minimum number of contacts for the week; for example, 10, but lists of 20 contacts or more should be commonplace. Each contact should be a meaningful interaction. Do not list routine attendance of board members at regular meetings.

At Dunwoody, the president usually attended the meetings to present his actions along with the development officers. If he could not attend, his assistant would submit his weekly list of contacts in advance of the meeting. The fact that the president attended was a powerful testament to the value of direct donor contact and the importance of accountability.

In a one-person shop, the chief development officer should attempt to institute a 10-minute weekly meeting with the president to share contacts.

Another feature of the Actions Meeting is a quick review of the main donor-related events of the coming week. If Monday is a holiday, convene the meeting on Tuesday. Actions meetings are never cancelled. The Actions Meeting is a powerful tool in building a culture of accountability on the part of the development officers. It illustrates the point: what gets noticed gets done.

 

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10 Things You Can Do to Increase Year-End Giving

imagesThe end of the calendar year is a wonderful time for donor engagement. The tax deduction available to itemizers, while never the primary philanthropic driver, is always a good reminder that it’s time to give. December is the biggest month for annual giving and many donors are keenly attuned to their year-end giving cycles. Here are a few things we can do to promote their end-of-year generosity.

  1. Keep the office open between Christmas and December 31.

At Dunwoody College of Technology the development staff took turns staffing the office between Christmas and December 31. What’s more, we kept open the line of communication with board members and close friends of the college, suggesting that we were open for business and that we cared about donors’ year-end gifts. If your college or organization is closed, at minimum offer a cell phone number to those who call the development line between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

  1. Check the mail for postmarks.

Any gift delivered by mail with a postmark of December 31 or earlier was intended by your donor as gift to be credited to the previous calendar year—and the IRS allows it. So respect that intention by acknowledging the postmark date and crediting the gift on your database as a December 31 gift. You may need to change a sentence or two in your standard acknowledgment letter. Keep the postmarked envelope on file to document the gift date. You could even add a page to your web site containing year-end giving details. Here how UC Berkeley does it: http://haas.berkeley.edu/groups/alumni/giving/haasfund/endofyear.html

  1. Encourage gifts of appreciated securities.

The overall market is slightly off its mid-year peaks, but many segments of the stock market are quite healthy. Gifts of appreciated securities are the most cost-effective means to make meaningful gifts or fulfill pledges. But you have to be around the office to close these deals. Check in with your bank, broker or local branch of a mutual fund company to be sure you have phone numbers, account numbers, routing numbers and especially electronic funds transfer protocols on file before your donor calls you. If you need leadership authorization or participation to conduct these transactions, make sure you can find board members or organization officers during the busy holiday season. If this becomes a problem, amend your account authorization records so the chief development officer can make deposits without board participation.

  1. Email board members who have yet to give.

Get the word out to board members that you are open for gift processing while highlighting opportunities for gifts of appreciated securities. It is one of the most cost-effective ways for board members to make bigger gifts to your institution. Highlight the tax deduction available and let them know you are striving to meet mid-year revenue forecasts. The truth is, if they don’t make a gift now you may be chasing them around for the balance of the fiscal year. It never hurts to have a message go out from the board chair to all the board members of have yet to make their gifts or fulfill their pledges.

  1. Send a blast email containing a year-end tax advantage message.

Let them know that the dollars they give now will reduce their tax bills when they itemize. Those dollars will then be available for spring disbursements from the foundation to the college. Your donors may have a few days off and a few spare minutes to think about their charitable intentions for the year during the holidays and be moved to act. Emphasize the ease of online giving in the holiday season. (See the link in #2 above.)

  1. Run a report on all year-end LYBUNTS from last year and email them.

If you don’t have gifts in hand for this calendar year, email those donors to offer a gentle reminder that this is the month they gave last year. State their last gift amount to make the pitch more concrete. One of the biggest questions we hear in phonathons is, “When and how much did I give last year?” Get out in front of those good intentions by getting to LYBUNTS before they go stale. Few people are motivated to make gifts in January when all those credit card bills arrive.

  1. Remind staff and faculty that they can make a seasonal gift in honor of someone.

Holiday gifts can be hard for busy colleagues to keep up with. If it’s the thought that counts, a gift in honor of a friend, family member or colleague can be a meaningful way to give. Offer to send out a “Season’s Greetings from Prof. X” card, which lets the honoree know that a gift has been made in their honor. (Of course no amounts are mentioned!) And of course you must have someone in the office to send out those cards.

  1. Ask your president to call his or her top ten prospects over the holidays.

Your president has a list of top ten prospects right? A personal call wishing happy holidays to someone important to the college is one of the easiest, most natural, most appreciated cultivation calls a president can make. And even though this is just a cultivation call, it can inspire donors and prospects to make that gift they have been thinking about. If your president is a little light on prospects, compose that list now. No one possesses the golden opportunity to make a positive impression on friends of the college than does your president.

  1. Send a personal holiday card to your top 25 donors.

Nothing says thank you like “thank you.” And no time is better to say it than now, in the holiday season, when cards are the norm. So even if your college sends out boilerplate cards to friends of the college, say something personal as a steward of philanthropy at your college. After all, the season of giving is your season, right?

  1. Call and thank your volunteers.

Where would we be without those special volunteers that put us over the top on our fund drives? In this era of texts, emails, tweets and so many of the lesser communicative arts, phone calls are often regarded as a more personal medium. Sometimes a thank you is all about inflection—as in, conveying emotion and meaning it! So how about five calls a day, every day through the year-end? Your volunteers will know you care about them. That, as they say, is priceless.

Good luck, and good works to you all!

“Five Ideas for Fifty Thousand”—for the Community College with the Tiniest Shop—or One That Doesn’t Even Have a Shop

Rudimentary as this is, it outperforms the net on many special events

Employee Leadership Giving:  Even without a complete employee annual giving program, you can launch a giving initiative that focuses on the top leadership team of the college. Because these gifts can be in the $200 – $1,000 range, this simple effort can yield $5,000 to $10,00o.

Board Giving:  Every board should give at a rate of 100%. The board Ask should start at $1,000 and go up or down from there. Yield: $15,000

Grants:  Most community colleges have grant programs in place, upon which we can leverage new proposals to private funders using a standard template for operating or scholarship support. Yield: $10,000

President’s Personal Asks:  Every president knows 5 to 10 community leaders who can be approached directly for gifts. When the president asks, the importance of the initiative is reinforced. Yield:  $7,500

Board Asking Peers: Every board member knows one or two people who can be approached for a gift in the $100 to $1000 range. I call this an “Each One Ask One” campaign.   In my book, I discuss a more robust version of this approach in context of a board-initiated giving program. A single prospect, a single Ask, and a single follow-up on the part of the board member is all it takes. It is a way to build a volunteer culture and reinforce the importance of the mission to the board. Yield:  $7,500

Total Yield: $50,000

These techniques will work for a college that has little in the way of a fundraising program in place. If you need help, a consultant can help tailor the initiative to the needs of a particular college via a phone conversation with the chief development officer or president of the college.

Sixteen Things to Look For in a College Foundation Form 990

One reason to review a college foundation Form 990 is to verify that the foundation actually does what it says it does—a useful thing to know for grantmakers, development audits, benchmarking, and prospective executives.

Here are 16 issues a Form 990 can help address:

  1. Do the numbers on the Form 990 support the amounts shown elsewhere?
  2. Personnel expenses paid for by the foundation (Usually the college pays for personnel expenses.)
  3. Outside fundraisers or fundraising consultants paid by the foundation
  4. College payments made to the foundation
  5. Endowment information, including decreases in endowment balances that may reveal the foundation is not properly managing endowments
  6. Event revenue and expenses paid by foundation, including grosses & nets (This can be tricky and requires reading the entire return.)
  7. Five-year history of fundraising revenue
  8. Diversification of revenue (you’ll get a partial picture)
  9. Two-year trend in grants amounts paid to college
  10. Program areas of grants to college
  11. Total foundation expenses
  12. Revenue less expenses
  13. Existence of uncommon organizational practices, revenue streams, and operations
  14. Number and names of board members
  15. Unrelated business income
  16. Investment management fees

Repositioning for Fundraising

It was 20 Years Ago Today…

See if this article of mine originally published in 1994 by Nonprofit Management Strategies remains relevant today. I am struck by how many of the principles presented here made it into Fundraising Strategies for Community Colleges eighteen years later. Can you recognize any organizations you know in the advice below?

Repositioning for Fund Raising

Loss of Government Funding Often Sparks Attempts to Enter the Fundraising Market

You are the executive director of a small agency that historically has not raised much in the way of private funds. You have just been notified that long-held government funding will be lost or curtailed. After the initial panic wears off, you take a deep breath and resolve—once again—to approach the board about the need to raise funds.

Just don’t overlook the need to reposition the agency for fundraising.

Organizations that ask themselves, “Why can’t we raise funds?” often overlook one obvious answer: government funding.

Like an I.V. in a patient’s arm, government funding is an artificial-life support compared to fundraising in the private sector. Yet there’s no problem until it’s cut off.

In the book Nonprofits for Hire (Harvard U Press), authors Steven Rathgeb Smith and Michael Lipsky assert that governmental funding now accounts for roughly half of all social service agency income. They estimate the amount of governmental funding to be in the range of $15 billion a year.

Can this amount of money change nonprofit organizational culture? The answer is, “You bet!”

“Is he knocking government funding?” you ask.

Only to the extent that government funding breeds an organizational culture of indifference to fundraising. And that, unfortunately, is a common occurrence.

The reason not to engage in fundraising is, of course, it’s too hard. And organizations that have failed in past attempts to raise funds know better than anyone how hard it can be.

Repositioning 101

Repositioning involves three elements:

  1. Make your own commitment. (You. The executive director.)
  1. Give volunteer leadership a stake. (Here comes the culture change…)
  2. Enlist your board of directors. (They may never forgive you, but they will respect you.)

The Executive Director’s Commitment

A note to the executive director: You are the fundraiser in-chief. It’s your responsibility to:

  • Educate yourself.
  • Get serious about fundraising.
  • Develop a realistic plan to reposition the agency.
  • Cultivate volunteers everywhere you go.

Volunteer Leaders Are Made Not Born

Certainly one of the most fascinating elements of philanthropy is the human drama of volunteer relations, and the leader of any nonprofit organization has got to be good at it.

Many seasoned professionals will tell you the most satisfying part of their job consists of the many and varied relationships they enjoy with their volunteers. So how do you and your organization take advantage of this? You know the old saying about business—“location, location, and location.” With volunteers, it’s “cultivation, cultivation, and cultivation.”

The Board of Directors: They Really Will Forgive You

Here’s a premise you may not like: It is the responsibility of the executive director to manage the culture and performance of the board of directors.

And a premise they may not like: Repositioning for fundraising nearly always requires significant change at the board level.

Significant change at the board level is accomplished via the Alpha and Omega of board building: the nomination process and evaluation process. These processes belong to the board, but are managed in part by the executive director.

You can be successful without a high-powered board in the traditional sense of the term. There are many wonderful organizations out there proving it every day.

But you cannot be successful without the attention—and involvement—of your board. The trick is in finding the right roles for committed, trained board members to play. And of course, everybody gives.

Here are 12 keys to board success:

  1. The board must establish the repositioning effort as the number one or two priority of the organization. The effort must be characterized by measurable goals and accountability for performance.
  2. Find your potential board president and work for his or her advancement to that position. Lobby.
  3. Educate the board as to the principles of fundraising. Use outside counsel.
  4. Define “Give, get, or get off” and enforce it. This means offering nonperformers an “out” such as your new “advisory council.”
  5. Recruit strategically.
  6. Seek commitment, time, talent, connections, influence, and money.
  7. Without commitment, the other resources are wasted.
  8. Define expectations up front. Be firm. Be clear.
  9. Cultivate those who really interest you. Their time should be worth your time.
  10. Make a compelling case for the need and the mission.
  11. Giving begins with the board. Make it your first campaign.
  12. No one is exempt. All trustees must feel some involvement with the fundraising process.

Ira S. Robbins wrote in Fundraising: A Crucial Role for Board Members:

“The first responsibility of a board member, of course, is for himself or herself to make a contribution. It may be a large amount or small, but giving is of great importance.”

Nine Handy Maxims by Which to Survive & Thrive

  1. It is not sufficient to preserve the status quo.
  2. Success on a modest fundraising project is better than failure on a large one.
  3. Avoid committees where possible.
  4. Get out of the office.
  5. Fundraising performed in the context of a cohesive plan wastes no effort.
  6. Grantwriting is not fundraising.
  7. Board giving is the cornerstone of all giving.
  8. Give yourself two years.
  9. The truth about fundraising is that it’s hard—but it’s worth it!

The Scholarship Recognition Event: an Essential Cultivation Tool

One thing I’ve learned in 25 years of raising funds is that a little recognition goes a long way.

Hundreds of two-year colleges have had success bringing scholarship recipients together with the donors who funded the scholarships through a scholarship recognition event.

But make sure that donors are connected with the students they have helped to support, and that students themselves are doing the talking from the podium. Just vet them and coach them in advance, and keep the remarks short. Three minutes will do. The goal, as one foundation board member put it to me: not a dry eye in the house.

Have some donors onstage to speak, too. Unless there is a strong narrative arc in the remarks five minutes can seem like an eternity (particularly true when administrators are doing the talking!).

One nice touch when you don’t have too many students in attendance: have them receive scholarship certificates, convocation style, where each is called in turn to the podium to shake the hand of the president and a donor and receive the certificate.

Don’t forget to pair scholarship recipients and donors at their tables.

And whatever you do, put the mission first.

The Role of Grants in the Annual Fund

While grants are often not renewed on an annual basis, they are an important source of annual operating income and scholarship funds in college Annual Fund programs. When one funder cycles out the mix a new one is found. And some funders do support colleges with annual grants over long periods of time.

Some colleges raise as much as one-quarter of their Annual Fund goal through renewable annual or multi-year grants. Either way, multiple-year grant funding will provide you with a stable funding base from which to cultivate funders for future grant awards. And Annual Fund grants for operating or scholarship support can be based on a boilerplate grant proposal template.

But be sure to call the foundation program officer or corporate giving officer before you write. A few strategic questions can save both parties valuable time.