During this week’s live Q&A with Brent and Lynne Wester, attendees shared some of the innovative stewardship ideas and strategies that their institutions are using to keep in touch with donors, alumni, and students alike.
No surprise, you all are an innovative bunch. Here are some of our favorite stewardship ideas to stay sensitive and continue making connections during the COVID-19 crisis.ideas
Brent and Lynne answer your questions on how to connect with your donors, alumni, and prospects during the coronavirus pandemic.
Theme #1 – Utilize faculty
Universities have a secret weapon when trying to connect with students and alumni remotely: faculty. From personal relationships with their students to deep subject matter expertise, faculty and professors can be a great way to connect with constituents. And chances are, with the switch to online learning, they’d also enjoy connecting with students and alumni.
Here are some of our favorite ways to utilize faculty:
- Creative alternatives to in-person events: Carrie Daniel’s team at UVA had scheduled a stewardship reception featuring a faculty member that was postponed due to the crisis. They are hosting a virtual lecture with that faculty member as an alternative!
- Good old fashioned fun: Oxford College at Emory University hosted a virtual dance party for students, faculty, and staff. Everyone played the same song at the same time and danced away.
- Continuing education: If you have professors willing to teach online classes for alumni, embrace it! For example, a psychology professor at Clarkson University is hosting a webinar for alumni on coping with mental health and how to stay sane during social distancing.
Theme #2 – Focus on helping students
On the live broadcast, Lynne and Brent talked about how the middle of a global pandemic might not be the best time to try to solicit gifts. But in the right circumstances, asks can be well received.
For example, Ohio University changed course on its Giving Day that was scheduled for April 7. The team pivoted to a campaign called #BobcatsTakeCare to raise money for students in need during this crisis. They’ve had 161 donors raise $23,781 in several days!
If you know it’s not the right time to make an ask, other stewardship communications can still help build your relationship with constituents. The admissions group at The University of Oklahoma College of Arts and Sciences is working with their donor relationships team to recruit alumni to write notes to admitted students. This is a great way to benefit future students, involve alumni, and build relationships with constituents without making a solicitation.
Theme #3 – Pay tribute to your graduating seniors
The class of 2020 will likely miss out on many milestones and rite-of-passage events in their senior spring due to the COVID-19 epidemic. Parents and alumni are especially sympathetic to these struggles.
Here are some ideas to honor your seniors during this time:
- The College of Idaho is working with their alumni association to plan a virtual “Senior Toast” for seniors graduating this semester and welcome them into the ranks of their fellow alumni.
- Penn State released a video featuring alumni addressing seniors and welcoming them into their ranks.
- Dean Elliot of the College of Arts and Sciences at Emory University sent this video to seniors to address the current situation. He acknowledges their unfortunate and upsetting situation and reinforces the idea that the university stands with students and is sorry that they will miss these milestones.
Alumni, parents, and donors empathize with seniors and want to know what you’re doing to support them during this time. They might even want to pitch in and help!
Theme #4 – Focus on alumni interests
Almost everyone is looking to get some face-to-face human interaction these days. Maybe people are missing seeing their friends, lunch with coworkers, or just normal outside-the-house interactions. Or maybe they’re having an overload of family time. Whatever the reason, creating online engagement experiences for alumni based on their interests is a great way to engage constituents during this time.
Institutions like Wheaton College, Thayer Academy, and the University of Memphis Alumni Association have begun virtual book clubs for alumni. Cornell University hosted a virtual ‘Cornell History Happy Hour’. Siena College hosted a Mass for their alumni population on a Sunday morning and had over 15,000 attendees! In response to a postponed 50-year reunion. The College of Idaho created an online “Biography Project” where 50-year alumni could write about their lives and post photos of their live experiences. They’re also hosting a virtual 5K!
Whatever events or programs your institution does, they will resonate better if they align with alumni interests. As Lynne says, events should be for “alumni AND”.
Theme #5 – Check-in on your constituents
While this might not be the best time to solicit gifts, it is a great time to check in on your constituents. The reality is that the COVID-19 crisis is scary. Elderly and immunocompromised people are scared. And everyone, I mean everyone, has cabin fever.
Major gift officers at the University of North Texas are calling constituents to check-in, ask how they’re feeling, or if they have any questions. The office of Planned Giving is calling and doing wellness checks for their constituents that are 75 and older.
The folks at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation are making daily check-in calls to donors and sharing their strategies for protecting caregivers and patients at their Children’s Hospital. In response, several donors have increased their monthly gift or program pledge without even being asked!
Theme #6 – Help campus workers and staff
Donors and potential donors alike want to know what you’re doing to support students and staff during campus shutdowns.
If you’re like the University of the Incarnate Word and paying student workers and hourly campus workers regular wages even though they are out of work, your constituents want to know. If you’re like North Carolina State University and allowing all hourly workers to work from home and paying those that can’t work remotely administrative leave, your constituents want to know. If you’re like Ohio University and creating initiatives to keep students in their jobs remotely, your constituents want to know.
People want to know when their alma mater is doing the right thing by its staff. It might even inspire them to support these initiatives.
Here’s EverTrue’s take on the novel coronavirus pandemic and its impact on advancement: We don’t have all the answers, but we’re going to learn from each other and share best practices for remote fundraising, working from home, and handling uncertainty. Bookmark this page and subscribe for ongoing updates.