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.

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!

What Philanthropy Can Learn from Kickstarter

My daughter, actress and singer Lenne Klingaman, is on the home stretch of a $10,000 Kickstarter campaign to fund her debut album.

Lenne's Kickstarter cover image

Small fish in a very big pond: Lenne’s Kickstarter cover image

It occurred to me from the moment we discussed the campaign (full disclosure: I am a co-producer), that it is similar, and radically dissimilar from a philanthropy-based campaign—so much so that I wasn’t even sure what I had to offer Lenne in this endeavor. And that was all to the good, because this was Lenne’s baby and she took full responsibility for its success or failure. The experience, still in progress with seven exciting days to go, serves to reinforce some precepts of development, and to upend others. So what were a few of these takeaways?

People give to people with a dream: So why do people give to fund other people’s passion projects? To be a part of a quest, I think. To identify and live, not vicariously, but in solidarity with people who dare to step out from conveyor-belt jobs and buck seemingly overwhelming economic odds to make something big happen in their professional or artistic lives. The product is the outcome, but the process, the journey, is almost the bigger draw. It’s a dream thing.

Confronting the odds draws support: Kickstarter has an ingenious system of requiring a goal, and if backers do not sign on in sufficient numbers, none of the credit card pledges can be redeemed. And it’s all very public. The potential for humiliation is there. There is even a Kickstarter analytics site that minces no words in its algorithmic judgments. For artists whose networks are composed of other artists, those are daunting terms. It forces people to think long and hard about their goals. It creates a real drama with nuanced developments in the early phase, the mid-campaign “flats”, and the dramatic run-up to the end, where Lenne is right now. That drama draws interest, and interest draws support.

Youth is a huge draw: As I witness the age difference between some of the larger donors and Lenne, I conclude that youth draws support. It’s a way to give something back and identify with earlier dreams and dramas of one’s life. Let’s keep in mind that for people living by their art, or working in certain types of jobs to support their art, this is real money. So backers, donors, investors—a bit of all three really—are making a difference that magnifies the impact of their gifts—and that is no small thing.

Lenne makes her case on on video in Nashville.

Lenne makes her case on video in Nashville.

Tell a personal story, and tell it with video: It amazing what you can do with an iPhone video camera these days. Lenne composed a narrative about going to Nashville to mix the album, and took the viewer on an adventure. The story was immediate, personal, and it was a real adventure. It was palpable. Her words, her inflections, her delight, the way she talked with her hands, were all immediate, compelling “pulls” in the narrative arc. I think we too often forget in philanthropy that the immediacy, the direct authenticity, of real people talking and being is what elicits empathetic action. Not organization-speak. And maybe, in the future, video is the only way to go. Direct mail, email—they pale in comparison. But what we say and how we do it, that is the crux of the issue. We perhaps should never again need to watch a stiff executive director bore us with the benefits of the new [Fill-in-theBlank] center.

Make the benefits personal: People who give a dollar maybe get a single song download, people who give more get an autographed record…vinyl! People who give even more get their name on the CD. People who more than that, for artists who tour, like Willie Porter, who raised $60,000 on a Kickstarter campaign, enter a raffle with very impressive odds to win a house concert by the artist. The Kickstarter artist thanks many, many donors in strikingly imaginative ways.

People know they’re making a difference: Small, discrete projects with identifiable goals make everyone a hero in the end. It’s not like giving to an amorphous Annual Fund goal, or even a graduating class goal. In Kickstarter’s universe the project doesn’t happen if you don’t give. It’s that immediate and direct—it’s cause and effect. I think in development we sometimes pull out last year’s script, rewrite a few paragraphs, and say please give to the scholarship fund. There’s no real there there. There is no tangible cause and effect. Perhaps we need to sponsor particular educations. Thinking more directly about the real end effect of donations is a powerful tool, and bureaucratic exhortations are no substitute for a compelling mission—in this case a personal mission.

Kickstarter cuts out the middleman—you: Many of these projects—and they are not crowdfunded, they are funded by individuals—are exactly the type that arts, technology, or innovation grants could fund—but don’t. Those grants require a brand name and mind-numbing applications for largesse that pales in comparison with what Willie Porter raises on his own and with no red tape. These dreams people come up with are mission-based in every sense of the word. And in Kickstarter’s logic, donor fatigue doesn’t exist. People give to projects—and yes, clearly, people—in which they believe. So it’s different than philanthropy—for the love of humankind—it’s personal, giving to an actual person, or band maybe. That’s different, yes. But the fundamental pitch is: if you want to see this promising project become a reality, you have to give. And it’s true, it’s not hype. And that’s not so far from the roots of philanthropy. The fact is, it’s a quiet revolution in the quest for inspiring donors to give of themselves for initiatives that matter; and I wonder, are we paying attention, not to new principles exactly, though that is to some extent true, but to direct applications of universal principles, aided by new technology, and grounded in our deepest, direct, person-to-person social impulses?

* * *

www.kickstarter.com/projects/lenneklingaman/lenne-klingaman-the-heart-is-the-hunter

The Perils of a Staff-Driven Advancement Program

The classic public higher ed advancement model is built on the triad of the college president, the foundation board, and the professional development staff. If the triad is in place and functioning well, do everything you can to maintain its effectiveness. If it is not in place, do everything to can to support the formation of the triad.

Without the president and board onboard you have a staff-driven program, and with a staff-driven program you limit your revenue to 50% of potential. You can do a lot of things right, and effectively, and still have a staff-driven program. You may have a strong Annual Fund and grants program, but you will have a weak major gifts program.

When you limit your revenue to 50% of potential you become irrelevant. That is, you cease to matter in the power dynamic of the college. You won’t receive an adequate budget or sufficient attention to get the job done. If advancement isn’t an engine, it’s a caboose. If advancement is the caboose, it will fail.

When I refer to the engine, I mean the resource engine, that term Jim Collins talks about. The major gifts program is more potent resource engine of the development program, as compared to the Annual Fund, and, it goes without saying, special events. Yet the Annual Fund must be well established for the major gifts program to launch. So there is hope for anyone running a staff-driven program raising most of the annual revenue from the Annual Fund. You just have to shift the dynamics of the advancement triad to put the president front and center and the foundation board firmly—and actively—behind you.

I wrote about engaging the president in my last blog entry. As to engaging the foundation board, you might refer to Tip #19 in my book: “Members of effective boards actively support the fundraising activities of the Annual Fund and make it a priority for personal involvement.”

After that, major gifts!

The Problem with Special Events

Opportunity Cost, Transactional Displacement, & the ROI on Staff Time

A word on the origins of our dependence on events: in terms of fundraising tradition, this dependence arises  from a grassroots board and a lack of staff. I advocate that we talk about mission instead. When I hear of a strong dependence on special events, the warning flags go up. We have to look at the opportunity cost of events–of what I call transactional displacement.

Transactional displacement is the displacement of mission-based, purposeful cultivation by event-related fundraising transactions. This includes “selling tables,” “selling sponsorships,” and rounding up auction items. It can become similar to a retail transaction, unrelated to the mission-based story of changing and transforming lives.  And when event participants are done with the event, they are sometimes done with you until next year. They think they’ve done their part.

And we have to look at the ROI on staff time. It usually is lower with events than with other forms of direct cultivation. The higher your gross, the greater your dependence, the more difficult it will be to shift your paradigm. At a certain revenue point, change becomes nearly impossible; you are locked in.

So unless you are raising a lot of money on events, you might want to rethink your reliance on them, and instead think about raising money using the collegiate development model.

The CASE Interview: Advice for Building a Strong Advancement Program

Rereading this March 2012 interview recently reminded me that the more things change, the more we talk about the same confounding paradigm shift. I wrote awhile back in a grant analysis for a consortium of national corporate foundations that community college advancement programs tended to fall into two groups: those that “get it,” and those that sort of “get it” but don’t act. In that study, I found that 50% of colleges “got it,” with performance that correlated to that comprehension. Today, as I consider the sector as a whole, I think everyone could go farther faster, but I particularly worry about the colleges that fall into the lower 50%. It turns out that the dynamics I touched on in an interview that coincided with the publication of my book remain at the center of discussion in the current moment.

 

CASE: Given the uniqueness of community colleges and the diversity of individuals they serve, why do you think they should adopt techniques used by four-year institutions?

Klingaman: My nine-year experience as campaign director at a two-year technical college proved to me that the paradigm works.  That said, two-year colleges need to adapt techniques used by four-year institutions before they adopt them. My book covers these adaptations in detail.  But when you look at academic fundraising as a whole, the techniques of the private primary and secondary education sectors share much in common with collegiate fundraising.  The core is the academic fundraising model.  One big difference between two-year and four-year experiences is the degree to which people remain loyal to their alma maters.  I advise two-year colleges to help their alumni celebrate academic beginnings as well as graduations.

CASE: You note that you’re often shocked to hear about the state of many community college fundraising programs, which you say go through the motions without achieving defensible outcomes. Why do you think community colleges should pay more attention to metrics like return on investment? And, with this shift, what else about their fundraising culture should change?

Klingaman: Metrics begin with mission and stewardship. If we are going to devote precious resources to two-year college advancement, we should adhere to standards that exist throughout the nonprofit sector.  Fundraising costs should not exceed 25 percent to 30 percent of gross fundraising revenues, and it doesn’t matter if the college is paying the foundation program expenses. It’s not what shows up on the Form 990; it’s what we know to be the real ROI on development dollars spent. That’s stewardship. What gets measured gets done, and what gets done, gets noticed. Colleges that can show significant ROI on their advancement programs will thrive for the reasons that all well-resourced philanthropic missions do.

The degree of culture change required depends on baseline advancement performance. But if you want to create a high-performing advancement program raising a million or two million dollars a year, it will have to become a top five, or better, top three priority of the leadership culture.

CASE: You suggest that a community college designing a development program should avoid holding gala events and instead focus on establishing an annual fund. Why do you think this is a better investment? Also, when are events appropriate as a fundraising tool?

Klingaman: An annual fund is a better investment from an ROI standard. You have to take personnel costs into account when you evaluate development performance. If you are tying up three or four months around an event, the real net plummets. When you look at the performance of a major gifts program, you calculate the investment of staff time against the revenues. In addition, the opportunity cost of events is exceedingly high. You displace a range of other giving opportunities when you focus on events, including employee annual giving, giving clubs and major gifts.  It’s more productive to lead with the mission, cultivate personally and close gifts where you can put 100 percent of the gift toward the mission.  Then thank people at a recognition event.

Events are appropriate as a fundraising tool when they augment mature programs, serve niche needs and can be proven not to cannibalize other, more potentially productive programs. But if you are relying on events, the more successful they are, the more dependent on them you become.

CASE: You write that, ideally, a community college should make development “a top-three institutional priority” and that its president and foundation board should lend active support to the development initiative. Why is this kind of institutional and personal commitment important for development success?

Klingaman: Development must be a top priority of the institution to overcome the inertia that surrounds nascent, or stagnant, programs.  Fundraising—development—is hard work.  I always say you don’t do it unless you have to.  Without a significant leadership commitment on the part of the president, the leadership team and the foundation board, you end up, even under the best of circumstances, with a staff-driven program that raises perhaps 50 percent of your potential. Or you revert to special events. But the involvement and active interest of the president is key, absolutely key.  Any college that wants to raise a million dollars a year—and up—must have an escalating commitment from the president. Think 15 to 20 percent of the president’s time—and that’s for starters.

For many colleges, meaningful advancement is a challenging new world. But the proven effectiveness of leading with mission, creating personalized cultivation, building a diversified program, and closing gifts to support essential programs remains viable regardless of the intrinsic challenges experienced by the sector.  It’s a new frontier, but public secondary education is joining the fray, and it will be a more competitive universe in the future. The two-year sector needs to claim its rightful place in the philanthropic world because its mission as the gateway to the middle class is so essential.

Why Reinvent the Wheel?

One scenario I encounter in my interactions with community colleges is a tendency to want to invent advancement program activities from scratch. Why do so many community college development professionals figure that need to reinvent the wheel? I think it has something to do with the fact the many community college development professionals are relatively new to their roles. They may have a history in development, but they don’t have a history in the collegiate model of development, or in community college development shops.

The second reason they seem to lean toward going it alone is that they don’t consider how similar their institutions are to other community colleges. The gap between the highest performing community college advancement programs and those that have barely begun is astonishing. And those who are new to the game could save years of start-up time by systematically benchmarking with institutions that are relatively advanced in comparison.

It doesn’t do much good to benchmark with another institution that is new to the game. If you want to learn about alumni relations, find an institution that has a robust alumni relations program. How to find one or two? Check out their foundation websites. Talk to colleagues at conferences. Check in with the community college in your state system that is raising the most money. Sign up for CASE webinars.

The easiest way to get ahead is to imitate those who are ahead. The biggest obstacle to doing that is usually that the start-up institution has yet to commit the resources to achieving desired programmatic goals. There are no magic outcomes. Getting ahead in advancement requires investment in trained personnel and systems.

Many emerging advancement shops make piecemeal investments in desired outcomes and then wonder why achieving their goals comes so slowly.

If you want to see how the pros do it, benchmark against smaller or rural state college or university advancement programs. The assumption that holds community colleges back is that they think they have nothing in common with four-year college advancement. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is not so much a difference in kind as it is a difference of degree and type.

Alumni are alumni everywhere. The same fundamental dynamics are in play. Yes, the specific applications and solutions you choose will vary from the four-college program, but only incrementally. And the manner in which you tailor your alumni engagement effort allows for a significant level of creativity to flow into the mix. And that can be fun—and easier than reinventing the wheel.

If nothing else, benchmark with a four-year college on how they track their alumni. I have seen scores of community colleges struggle with this aspect of development readiness. Four-year colleges had to wrestle with the same questions. And once upon a time they had to invest in tracking their alumni or suffer depressed outcomes for years at a time.

So when it comes to keeping the wheels rolling smoothly, consider the value of not trying to invent them from scratch!

 

It’s Time to Focus on Individual Giving

More than 80 cents of every dollar given to charity comes from individuals. In good times and bad, that figure remains remarkably constant. Historically, the precise number has hovered around 83 cents per dollar raised.

Community college fundraising, however, has tended to rely on institutional giving, primarily from business and foundations, for as much as two-thirds of philanthropic revenue.

This means that opportunity abounds when it comes to donor cultivation of individuals. The sector would do well to refocus much of its attention and investment in advancement to target individual major gift prospects. This means that the major gift officer position needs to become the norm in two-year college advancement shops.

Many shops are too small to succeed in this regard. And these two- or three-professional shops often have several thorny issues that tend to be endemic. They are:

  • The chief development officer (CDO) is too wrapped up in administrative duties and meetings to meet with prospects.
  • The program has a special events focus that occupies most of the staff for most of the year.
  • Foundation staff is preoccupied with a portfolio of activities that are relatively ineffective from an ROI perspective.

Classic donor pyramid logic informs us that we need to expand the base and move ‘em up. That means we need to focus primarily on individuals. We need to test the commitment level of loyal Annual Fund donors by cultivating them to make special gifts—that giving category one step up from their baseline Annual Fund gift amounts. This often means gifts of $1,000 to $5,000. They are not quite major gifts. Nor are they gifts for which you just send out a personalized letter if indeed they are a stretch commitment for the donor.

We need to remember that stretch capacity and stretch commitment are two different things. It is hardly rocket science to observe that donors who have the capacity to give at a higher level but don’t simply don’t have the commitment, the donative intent. We foster the commitment by cultivating special gifts as if they were major gifts. And, with time, and attention, and properly qualified prospects, they will.

So if I was setting up a major gifts program in a college that is still testing its individual giving prospects, I would have my major gifts officer take a portfolio of some special gift prospects in addition to his or her bona fide major gifts prospects.

The takeaway? People step up to the plate when they are asked to do so, in the context of mutually informed conversations, (not necessarily pitches) where the donor’s wide world of philanthropic opportunities is acknowledged and respected. Very often, the key to a donor’s interest is not what you say, but in how you listen and respond in such a manner that shows that you really did listen.

It’s an advancement perspective that is refined by constant practice. If the advancement staff is only making, in the aggregate, two or three face-to-face donor contacts a week, it will be mighty hard to build the necessary momentum for an institutional major gifts emphasis.

But the time for such a focus has arrived throughout the sector, and you can’t argue with the reality that the real money is in the hands of individual donors.

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