It’s the million-dollar question that every advancement team wants the answer to: What’s the secret sauce to an ultra-successful fundraising campaign? It can be difficult to capture the attention of your alumni, let alone get them to pull out their pocketbooks. They’ve got busy lives, and giving back to the old alma mater probably isn’t the first thing on their to-do list.
There may not be a magic formula for racking in the donations, but we can learn a lot from the schools that have done it right. Throw in a little social media here, a little branding and creativity there, and your campaign just might hit the jackpot too.
Check out how these four universities leveraged social media and online tools to meet—and in some cases even exceed—their fundraising goals.
1. Stanford University Tells A Story With Video
From 2006 to 2012, Stanford made history with The Stanford Challenge campaign, raising a record-breaking $6.2 billion. With over 166,000 donors chipping in, Stanford netted the highest amount in a single campaign of any higher education institution—an impressive feat that has yet to be topped.
So how did they do it?
Sure, it helps to have wealthy alumni. But to drive results, Stanford took to its YouTube channel to relay The Stanford Challenge message. The school posted a series of videos to tell the stories of Stanford students and programs that benefit from alumni funding. It also uploaded a webinar called “Meeting the Stanford Challenge” featuring University President John Hennessy. By using video as a part of its strategy, Stanford put a much-needed face to its mission.
Key takeaway: Direct mail and pamphlets can only go so far in today’s digital age. Use video storytelling to get your campaign across.
2. Columbia University Makes Giving All About Its Alumni
Fundraising giant Columbia has also taken advantage of the web to encourage donations. Its latest campaign raised $6.1 billion, the second largest sum of any single fundraising effort by a university.
Part of the success of the Columbia Campaign stemmed from its excellent online branding. The university launched an interactive, eye-catching website under the slogan “Giving Shapes Our World,” which highlighted individual stories to show the impact of alumni giving with an emotional pull. This provided an exciting online experience that clearly turned more than a few heads.
The university didn’t stop there, though. To honor those who made the campaign a success, it celebrated Columbia Thank You Day on social media with the hashtag #ColumbiaThankYouDay. This was a simple yet effective gesture to let donors know that their generosity had not gone unnoticed.
Key takeaway: Give your potential donors an engaging online experience with a central, branded website. And make sure to thank them using the power of social media!
3. Georgetown University Creates A Fundraising Game
Want to raise $500K in 24 hours? Take a hint from Georgetown. In 2013, the school launched an online fundraising campaign called City Challenge that turned giving into a game. The challenge pitted seven different cities against each other in a competition to see which alumni group could raise the most in one day.
Not only did Georgetown design a vibrant website that monitored the competition in real time but it also produced written and visual content about students who were able to attend the university on scholarship thanks to alumni gifts. The team then enlisted the help of over 60 online ambassadors to spread these stories across social media and generate buzz about the challenge. The campaign is a shining example of how to create and execute a multifaceted online strategy.
Key takeaway: Get creative with your giving campaign. There’s nothing people love more than a little competition.
4. University of Michigan Scores With Twitter
Last year, the University of Michigan kicked off the largest fundraising effort in public higher education: Victors for Michigan. The campaign is already halfway toward its goal of $4 billion, largely due to an epic social media push.
During a 31-day countdown to the campaign, the school shared one “philanthropic impact story” a day to Twitter and Facebook using appealing graphics. To top it off, the #VictorsforMichigan hashtag became wildly successful, reaching 2.5 million people on Twitter and creating 7 million impressions in just one month. Students, faculty, staff, and alumni have continued to join the online conversation as the effort moves forward.
Key takeaway: A strong social strategy is crucial, especially when trying to build anticipation for your campaign. Roll out content on a variety of social channels, and don’t forget to introduce a catchy hashtag.
As the success of these campaigns has proven, social media is hugely important in getting the word out and activating your alumni. Learn how to maximize your Twitter ROI with our post, One Million Reasons Your President or Head of School Should Be on Twitter.