On Colleges with Advancement Issues

When I talk to college presidents at colleges with dormant or underperforming advancement programs, they are quick to express their commitment to advancement and their good intentions for improved performance. Unless this stated interest is matched with institutional commitments to meet quantifiable metrics, however, the prognosis for improved performance is weak.

Fund raising is hard work. Most nonprofits excel at it only when their survival depends in some measure on their success in this arena. For those that don’t perceive fundraising to be an essential, core activity of the college, promoting culture change from the outside is extremely difficult. If a college tells you they are serious about fund raising but leaves the chief development officer position open for a year, the inertia speaks louder than words.

When a dysfunctional advancement program is an issue, what motivates a change in institutional behavior is real need, a commitment to change, the implementation of real metrics, and evaluation of outcomes. That, and the personal involvement of the president, who must invest time, cultivate prospects, and be prepared to make a few asks.

Visionary leadership on the part of the president can—and should—jump-start the whole process.

 

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.

Don’t Overlook Employee Annual Giving

One of the most reliable Annual Fund methods is employee annual giving. Who better to understand the critical importance of support to the college than those who are closest to your students? Employee annual giving can play a role in the fundraising plan of every college.

Consult Fundraising Strategies for Community Colleges for a thorough presentation of a proven employee campaign model. Many colleges have found they can raise $25,000 to $50,000 per year—and more—for the Annual Fund through employee annual giving.

The only caveat is, make sure to seek community support with the same intensity you use to win employee support. Employees are, after all, somewhat a captive market.

The Two Most Important Gift Levels for the Annual Fund

The two most important gift levels in a community college Annual Fund are the $1,000 and $5,000 levels. Why? A combination of fiscal impact and relative availability. For example, aggregated $500 gifts don’t have enough impact and $10,000 gifts are too rare in the two-year college prospect universe. Classify $1,000 and $5,000 gifts as special gifts and cultivate them as an Annual Fund priority.

The most efficient way to reach your Annual Fund goal may be through special gifts. You might think of special gifts simply as larger than average Annual Fund gifts and smaller than major gifts.

Although there are several methods by which to raise special gifts, personal asks usually work best. Who should ask? The president, the chief development officer, development staff, foundation board members, senior leadership, and volunteers.

Variations on this theme include strategies such as Board-Inspired Giving, which relies on personal letters from board members to their peers followed by face-to-face or telephone follow-up by board members.

Certain donors respond well to personal letters followed by a phone call, just as they do in scholarship program solicitations. This technique, a variation on the scholarship ask, or the giving club ask, can be an effective way to raise special gifts.

Time-tested advancement practice holds that organizational and community leaders who “tell the story” and “ask for the order” are the most successful fundraisers and this is most definitely true with special gifts.

Six Best Practices for College Annual Funds

The best way to fund annual operating support in the long term is through the development of sources for repeatable, sustainable gifts—in short, the Annual Fund. The following best practices are key indicators of community college capacity to raise funds to support annual operations.

1. Raise funds as part of a well-defined Annual Fund.

2. Develop a diversified funding base with multiple revenue streams specific to the Annual Fund.

3. Raise funds for restricted funds in addition to scholarships by making the case for support to the college beyond scholarships in the same manner as four-year colleges make restricted appeals.

4. Commit to a specific Annual Fund goal and increase that goal by a realistic percentage every year.

5. Ask perennial donors to make additional matching gifts for targeted initiatives.

6. Emphasize the use of individual solicitations, annual grants, and employee annual giving in your Annual Fund appeal.

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1. Raise funds as part of a well-defined Annual Fund.

By definition, the Annual Fund is the source of repeatable, sustainable gifts. Even if you do not conceive of your annual fund raising efforts as a formal Annual Fund, you do raise repeatable, sustainable gifts every year. My goal is to help you develop long-term, committed stakeholders for the program, year after year by formalizing your approach to the Annual Fund and by clearly defining what types of gifts are for annual operating support and what types of appeals will yield those gifts.

2. Develop a diversified funding base with multiple revenue streams specific to the Annual Fund.

Relying on one fundraising strategy – an event, for example, provides an insufficient funding base for the long-term sustainability of annual funding. Incorporating a variety of fundraising methods that may include grants, individual solicitations, employee annual giving, and targeted written appeals will build a more dependable base of support.

 

3. Raise funds for restricted funds in addition to scholarships by making the case for support to the college beyond scholarships in the same manner as four-year colleges make restricted appeals.

The best way to raise awareness of the value of annual support – and the need for program support – is to make the case for a variety of needs under the umbrella of the Annual Fund. This strategy is advanced in contrast to the strategy of allocating precious unrestricting operating support dollars to fund specific, more or less restricted, priorities. Colleges sometimes seek to allocate unrestricted funds raised through special events and unrestricted mail campaigns to program-focused need. But you can always just sell those needs to charitable stakeholders. The reason you to build a donor base of committed, long-term stakeholders who understand various aspects of you mission.

 

4. Commit to a specific Annual Fund goal and increase that goal by a realistic percentage every year.

Making a public commitment to a specific goal is the best way to align good intentions with a commitment to outcomes. The funding model for annual campaigns is based on goal attainment. Depending on where you are in your developmental curve as an advancement program you may be looking at annual percentage increases as high as 10 to 12 percent if you are just starting out, or as low as 2 to 3 percent if you are raising a million dollars a year via your Annual Fund.

 

5. Ask perennial donors to make additional matching gifts for targeted initiatives.

Once way to raise the bar for long-term donors to increase their giving is to ask them for additional gifts to match the gifts related to a specific initiative or, for example, for first-time gifts. Minnesota Public Radio uses just this strategy with its donors who give via permanent monthly pledges. You could try the same tactic with employee annual giving donors who give via payroll deduction. I do hope you EAG donors are giving via ongoing payroll deductions as opposed to via annual commitments that must be renewed each year.

 

6. Emphasize the use of individual solicitations, annual grants, and employee annual giving in your Annual Fund appeal.

I recommend that you include in your fund raising plan a combination of three proven methods: individual solicitations for higher-dollar gift, annual grants, and employee annual giving.   These methods have been shown to be reliable sources of funding over time. If you wish to raise funds through special events, don’t “cannibalize” these tried-and-true methods to support the event. You don’t need it to close these gifts.