I work in fundraising. I’m not a sales person. I don’t work on commission. My pay isn’t based on how much I raise in a year. And no, I’m not going to ask you for money (unless you went to the school for which I work, then I will, but I won’t be pushy). But having worked in Development for nearly 19* years, and being an active member of the social media world where I see rants about fundraising efforts, I just want to to dispel some myths.
Here’s the deal. I’ve worked in education for 13 years, in higher ed for 8 of those. I’ve worked for public and private schools. In my work, I see the financials of the organization. I talk to the students (and their families) who benefit from scholarships. I work with the offices who have to make the budget decisions. I know what goes on “behind the curtain”. No matter where I am, I get the same questions from my constituents. And I want to answer those questions honestly…I’m not marketing to you, I don’t really care if you give to your college or not. But so many people get irked and their alma mater and think they are lying or being annoying when they are not. So… Here is my attempt to educate the world…
5 things your College Annual Giving Office Wants You To Know
1. “I didn’t get any scholarships! I paid for my my own education!” is never true. Yes, you or your parents may have paid your tuition and fees (or may still be paying off those student loans). I know I did. And I worked 15-20 hours a week all through college and busted my butt with 18 hour class loads in order to graduate in 4 years despite changing my major several times. I’m the poster child for “no one helped me, why should I give back?”
But the truth is every single student is supported by philanthropy. Yes, I KNOW that it sounds like a marketing pitch, but it’s not. Nearly every university in the nation uses donor money to support the operating budget. It may pay for student programing, classroom equipment or faculty development. It may even just pay to keep the lights on and the grass mowed. But, the truth is that without a doubt, donor funds help discount the total cost of your degree. At my current institution donor funds + endowment income pays for 27% of our operating cost. Can you imagine paying 27% more for your tuition? Would have have been able to attend? The minute you enrolled at your college, alumni donor dollars were paying part of your way. So while you may have paid your tuition bill, you didn’t pay for the full cost of your education.
2. Giving $10 DOES make a difference. You’ve probably seen announcements of million dollar gifts come from your university. Maybe even gifts of hundreds of millions of dollars. So if the gift you can afford to give is $10 or $20 or even $250 it can feel like your gift is just a fraction of a drop in a very large bucket so why even bother? But the hand-to-god-truth is that as an alum, your gift of even $5 has an impact. No, the cash amount won’t change anyone’s life, don’t let anyone try to tell you $5 will change the life of a college student, because NOPE. But the fact that you gave even $5 means you now count towards the alumni participation level which affects the university’s rankings and that’s valuable.
I’m sure you’re saying “So what, Kate? Who gives a flip about my alma mater’s rankings?” Well, you should. The fact is that if you are interviewing for jobs the perceived strength of your school TODAY is what the interviewer will consider when looking at your degree. Rankings affect that perception. It doesn’t matter that when you graduated 30 years ago if your college was #1 in the state, if it’s in the lower tier now the value of your degree had eroded. It’s in your best interest that the school you went to has a good reputation now, and giving is really your only way to have any effect on that reputation.
What rankings are affected? U.S. News & World Report and Moody’s Financial Services are two biggies. The US News rankings use alumni giving as a measure of alumni satisfaction when determining their rankings. They don’t look at how much each alum gave, just how many. And those rankings help attract new attention (no, really it does), which attracts more applications which means the school can be more selective and accept stronger students which then affects the quality of the educational outcomes which affects the school’s overall reputation and BOOM! Your degree is more valuable because of your annual $10 gift. Seriously.
3. You don’t need my gift because you get millions from your rich alumni. This is a variation on the point above. Yes, gifts with lots of zeros make us dance in the halls. (Just like I’m guessing a gift of a car would make you wiggle your booty more than a gift of a pack of gum, even thought you are thankful for both). And it’s true that those large gifts often make a transformative impact on a university in the form of a new building, program or professorship. But, never forget the power of numbers, your $10/$25/$50/$100 gift, when combined with others, adds up to a lot of money.
Did you know that most universities have alumni giving rates in the low teens? A select few schools have managed to get their participation rates up near 50%. But most schools work their tails off and end up with participation rates of 15-20%.
Now think about that… a large state school with over 500,000 alumni, if half of them gave $15 the school would have nearly $4 million dollars which could cover tuition for nearly 400 students who may not otherwise be able to attend. If a quarter of them gave $10 per month it could mean $15 MILLION DOLLARS. That’s a LOT of money that could help a lot of students. Your gift matters because it’s joined with thousands of other gifts and together they make a giant impact on hundreds, or even thousands, of students.
The truth is, the great majority of gifts to universities are under $100. The power of numbers works on your side here – alumni dollars of all amounts create a pool of funds from which the University can do great things. Don’t think about the amount of your gift – just give something.
4. “I will never pick up the phone when I see University X is calling me. They’re so annoying!” is annoying to us, too. You know what? If you don’t want the call then tell your school to stop calling. Yes, you’ll likely have to pick up the phone to do so. But really, there isn’t a single Annual Giving Director I know who wants to spend time and money calling you if you don’t want to be contacted that way. Same goes for mail. I don’t want to be sending you 3 mailings a year if that item in your mailbox makes you mad/annoyed/exasperated. It’s a waste of money and no one wants to waste money.
However, phone-a-thons and direct mail work. They work really, really well which is why we do them. So until you tell us to stop contacting you in that way, we will continue. A simple “Hey, thanks for the call but I’d really prefer if you take me off your calling list” should do. Any Annual Giving shop should be able to code your record so you don’t get those calls any more. As for mail, just write a quick note to let us know you want to be removed from the mailing list. You don’t get calls or letters, we don’t waste time/money/paper – we both win.
Honestly. Tell me how you want to be contacted and we’ll both be happier. If you get nothing else from this post, please take this to heart.
4b. If you reply to a solicitation email, we can read it. And we usually record comments in your file. So yeah, maybe don’t be crude and rude.
5. We want your feedback! We really do want to know what you think of your school. We want to know why you give or don’t give (unless your reasons for not giving are #1, #2, #3 above, because those arguments aren’t really valid are they?). Do you think the university has gotten too soft? Too hard? Too sports-driven? Don’t like the leadership? Are you just not interested in XYZ University anymore? TELL US!
This feedback is valuable and can help us shape our programs and solicitations. Part of my job is making you want to give back to the university. Your feedback can help me shape how I approach alumni in your era. It can also help us do new things the Annual Giving Office has been wanting to do for years but can’t convince our leadership of the idea…sometimes a couple of well-timed pieces of feedback can help change the course of an entire Annual Giving campaign. So tell us what you’re thinking (just tell us nicely, please!)
Did this help at all? Did I miss anything? What works for you when you’re thinking about giving back? What doesn’t? Any questions you have about higher ed fundraising – just put them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!
*I got into fundraising as a student caller at my alma mater, so I’ve been in the “industry” since I was 18. It was a great job and I eventually became a student supervisor then, when I graduated, managed the call center full-time (including 100 student employees!) which has lead to several great career opportunities. I never dreamed this would be my career but I love it. Also 19 years…holy cow I’m old!