One of the biggest challenges for alumni relations units across the country is determining how to support giving days without a direct ask. Many schools will host chapter or regional events during their day of giving—but with that strategy, you’re almost at the peril of donation technology working at a particular venue, and you’re reliant on regional volunteers to not only staff the event, but to also convey a convincing message that aligns with messaging from your advancement department.
Is there a better way for alumni relations departments to help? Absolutely, and it starts with building awareness and excitement around the day. Giving days are inherently viral, and from a participation standpoint, they won’t work if alumni don’t know about the day. At Longwood University, this task falls on alumni relations since the development team has limited marketing tools.
This past winter, we partnered with our development department to take on a unique challenge: raising $100,000 from 1,839 donors (1839 was the year Longwood was founded) for “Love Your Longwood Day.” This was an aggressive bar to hit; the previous year’s giving day (our first ever) brought in 533 donors and $65,000.
As an alumni relations unit, we decided that the best way to help was to raise awareness for “Love Your Longwood Day” before the actual day of giving—and to get our highest affinity alumni involved in our marketing efforts. We employed two main strategies to make this happen:
1. The week before our giving day, we held a large-scale event in an area with the highest concentration of Longwood alumni.
The giving day was passively promoted everywhere in the venue—we put it on the name tags, guests took pictures with a promotional social media frame, and we asked everyone to spread the word instead of directly asking them to give.
Not only did this event end with donations on “Love Your Longwood Day,” but it also provided us with digital capital and imagery that we could use to promote the giving day in the week leading up to the challenge. It also had a viral effect, as event attendees shared pictures of themselves at the event with “Love Your Longwood Day” prominently displayed for all to see.
2. We engaged our “alumni army” (aka the people who participate in our “1 Hour a Month” volunteer program).
We asked our 500 or so volunteers to focus their efforts during the month of February on the giving day, whether by spreading the word on social media or by telling a friend. This effort was tremendous, and those alumni quickly became network catalysts for the day of giving.
It’s impossible to fully quantify our impact on “Love Your Longwood Day,” but we did learn that almost 25 percent of donors were members of our 1 Hour a Month program. We wound up sailing past last year’s numbers—and our bold goals—with over 2,200 donors and $126,000 raised.
As alumni relations professionals, we owe it to our development partners to support giving days. We hold all (or most) of the marketing arrows in our quiver with social media, email, and more, and giving days provide us with an excellent opportunity to get creative with those tactics and to be a fruitful campus partner.
For more tips on identifying social media ambassadors for giving days, check out our case study with Oklahoma State University.
Parks Smith is the director of alumni relations and a 2008 graduate of Longwood University. You can follow Parks on LinkedIn or on his Twitter @RVAparks.