In EverTrue’s latest whitepaper, Dollars Over Donors: Is Higher Ed’s Reliance on the Wealthy Minority a Sustainable Strategy?, Keith Hannon calls on higher-ed advancement to reassess its approach to amassing donations. Traditionally, offices have followed the path of targeting the deeper pockets—the “top 1%” alumni who can provide large contributions in a single, timely donation. But as Hannon points out, this strategy does not necessarily come with the benefits of longevity. He emphasizes the importance of soliciting younger donors:
“We need to engage them (students/alumni) earlier. How early? I would argue the moment they step foot on campus to begin their freshman year.”
Let’s expand on Hannon’s thoughts…
Imagine: a lost and confused college freshman, with a grandiose plan to find a purpose in this world but without the slightest clue on how to reach this broad, enigmatic goal. She craves a sense of belonging, desperate to get involved with initiatives on campus. (I can confirm this feeling with firsthand experience.)
It is at this stage where it is most important to educate students about the why and how of giving back to their school. Here are three pointers for garnering student involvement in your institution’s annual fund, drawn from my experience on the Brown Annual Fund Student Board:
1. Educate and Recruit Passionate Student Advocates
It is easiest to represent a product or a cause when you are educated—and passionate—about the product. In this case, the product being “advertised” is the annual fund. To ignite potential long-term engagement and build a team of passionate people, you just need to spark students’ curiosity.
Indeed, curiosity is what inspired me to apply to join Brown’s Annual Fund Student Board (BAFSB). At first, I had no idea what the annual fund was for; I thought it was simply a large sum of money for the university to utilize however it wanted to. But upon being educated about the annual fund and its goals, I quickly learned that it is directly connected to the success of programming such as First Year Seminars and Undergraduate Teaching & Research Awards, which benefit the school community at large and even myself as a first year student.
Though it was only a few weeks into the first semester when I joined the board, I had already fallen in love with Brown, my classes, and the culture of the campus I get to call home for the next few years. It’s been easy to blend that passion into my role on the Outreach Committee, which entails spreading awareness for BAFSB and how fellow students can and should be actively involved with the annual fund.
2. Set Feasible Goals for the Student Board
I joined BAFSB in its inaugural year. Thus, like with any new initiative, we had to set goals. The Brown Annual Fund gave us a preliminary goal of gathering $100 in donations from fellow students. While this may seem tiny in the face of a multi-million dollar fund, it made me, along with the rest of my team, realize that inspiring donations is very much possible.
We did the math. As a group of about 60, if each of us got two friends to donate $1, we would already surpass our target $100 donation level. And just like we discovered it was easy to collect donations, our friends found that it was easy to donate. Although each donation is small, simply introducing students to the idea of donating makes it less daunting when later on, they are established alumni who may be able to give in larger denominations.
3. Craft New Ways to Spread Awareness and Connect With Donors
With BAFSB in its fledgling stage, we needed to devise creative ways of making the rest of the community aware of its existence and excited about its initiatives. So, rather than trying to compete with the litany of posters scattered around campus, we sought to utilize the power of social media. We created Instagram and Facebook accounts featuring student-designed logos to establish an online presence. In February, we joined the Annual Fund office in promoting the #HeartsAroundBrown campaign, which challenged both students and alumni to Instagram reasons why they love the campus and the university.
In addition to building the online strength of our group, we aided the annual fund office in writing thank you cards to donors. I found writing these cards to be more meaningful than sending generic, 1-2 line scripted duplicates. Instead, I was able to share personal anecdotes with donors about how the annual fund has truly enhanced my Brown experience through the specific First Year Seminars I’ve taken and enjoyed. As donor demographics change with time, I find that donors—especially students and younger alumni— value hearing about the direct impact their donations have.
As a donor myself to my high school, understanding the targeted ways I’ve improved students’ experiences has inspired me to continue helping in the future—and I was pleased to help BAFSB and the annual fund implement such initiatives. It is through connecting directly with donors—and especially your younger benefactors—that you can set up your annual fund for longevity.
Ultimately, gathering from my time on the Brown Annual Fund Student Board, having student advocates for the annual fund helps to rally participation from students and inculcates a habit of giving so that they will be more likely to donate when they become alumni.
Long-term success starts with early action. Don’t let freshmen fall into the crippling trap of procrastination when it comes to giving. Instead, spark their donor participation at the onset of their college career.
Time is ticking! Meet your annual fund goals with strategic tips from EverTrue’s Courtney Camps in our latest video.
Solina Powell is a rising sophomore at Brown University and an intern on the EverTrue marketing team this summer. In addition to exploring her academic passions regarding economics, history, and policy, she is involved with other on-campus initiatives such as writing for a culture, food & travel magazine and participating as a member of the Brown Annual Fund Student Board, an experience that sparked her interest in joining the EverTrue team!