10 Ideas for Radical Personalization

You and your team are working every day to engage, solicit and steward thousands of donors. For the 98% of alumni who aren’t in gift officer portfolio, it’s really hard to make mass communication feel personal. And let’s be honest — merge fields just don’t cut it.

Let’s all agree to ditch the reliance on <<First_Name>> and introduce more surprise, delight, and razzle-dazzle to our alumni outreach.

Here are 10 super-simple, quick-hitting ways that you can radically personalize communication to your alums. Read on to get the lowdown or just watch the video below.

This was a really interactive webinar. You can download the chat hereOr, scroll down to the bottom of this post to see a running list of advancement folks who are sharing ideas for radical personalization and communication.

10 Radical Personalization Ideas. Here we go!

1. Send cool swag

People love stuff. 

And at EverTrue, we love sending stuff. 

We send onesies to customers who have babies.

We bring socks everywhere we go.

And we even send lobsters to VIPs.

Our friend Kyle Vaughn created limited edition Ashland University socks to give to donors who met with him.

Put a smile on your donors’ faces – send them these alumni swag ideas! Sock | club is our ET-preferred sock vendor.

Radical tip: Use EverTrue to filter by folks you, your Dean, or your President have spoken to in the past three months. Send them something special to let them know you’re thinking of them.

2. Send videos from campus celebrities

Have you heard about Cameo

It’s a company worth $1 billion dollars that lets normal people request personalized videos from celebrities. 

There are celebrities on your campus: your deans, favorite professors, athletes, and famous alumni. A personalization inspiration idea is to ask your local celebs to create short clips to send to donors and alumni for a little surprise-and-delight moment.

Gonzaga University recruited the President’s Chief of Staff, Dr. Charlita Shelton, to send a video to promote an upcoming “meet and greet” with alumni in Kalamazoo, MI. They tracked all of the video analytics in EverTrue through our ThankView-EverTrue integration, such as who opened the email, who watched Dr. Shelton’s video, who clicked through to the registration page, and who showed up to her celeb appearance in Kalamazoo. 

Radical tip: Do some A/B testing of different email subject lines and video content to hone in on which “congrats!” videos get the most traction with your alums. 

3. Segment and target

In your Spotify app, you can listen to a curated playlist of suggested songs based on your listening history. With Drizly, you get suggestions for new beverages that you might fancy. Your Amazon Prime portal might as well be a personal shopping list. 

These companies pay attention to our buying patterns, and they show us that they know us so that we build brand loyalty. 

We need to do the same with our alums. How? By getting smarter about who we target for events, appeals, and outreach. 

One EverTrue partner recently planned an event about “Flying Private.” For their invite list, they wanted to target their wealthiest alumni. They used EverTrue’s Windfall integration to build a list of plane owners for a highly targeted invitation.

At the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, a main pillar of their capital campaign was to raise support for their star faculty members. An enterprising gift officer used the EverTrue contact report keyword search to look back through historic contact reports to find folks who had mentioned beloved professors. 

EverTrue-contact report search

4. Send "congrats!" videos to job changers

Here’s a sad fact: Colleges and Universities miss 98% of their alums’ job changes.

But you can change that! Every time an alum changes a job or gets promoted, they should get a ThankView “congrats!” video  from your institution. 

Places like Louisiana Tech, St. Edward’s University, Bowdoin College, and others are doing this. And their alumni love it.

Radical tip: Get alumni job changes delivered automatically every month via EverTrue Career Moves, so you can stay in touch with graduates as they grow their careers. 

5. Put a person behind everything

People want to talk to people. And nowadays, that can sound like a radical idea.

You MUST put a real person behind every email, text, or phone call. 

No more appeals from annualgiving@institution.com. Send communications from a person and give your alums an opportunity to respond and connect with another human, just like they’re doing at Cornell.

People talking to people. What could be more radical than that?!

Radical tip: Use ThankView to segment, target and personalize your text campaigns, and then search and sort texts by keyword to follow up on text message data.

6. Use video

In the for-profit world, adding video to cold sales emails increases replies by 26%.

At EverTrue, we coach with Donor Experience Officers (DXOs) across the country to manage portfolios of 1,000 donors. In a typical month, they hold 40-50 donor meetings. 

One thing they all DXOs have in common is that they start their outreach to previously disengaged donors with a personalized introduction email. We included a sample one in our DX Starter Kit.

7. Send welcome packages to first-time donors

Across our EverTrue partners, it’s common for institutions to see annual donor retention rates below 70%. But in the for-profit world, customer retention rates below 90% would sink a company.

Donor retention matters, and a great way to get above that 70% mark is to focus on celebrating and delighting your first-time donors. 

At Tufts, all first-time donors get a 5-step celebration. The Tufts team sends handwritten notes. They make quick “thank you!” phone calls. They send personalized texts and emails. And they add gift-aversary celebrations to their regular stewardship communications. 

Tufts first-time donor welcome kits
EverTrue new customer welcome kits

Radical tip: Use EverTrue to identify first-time donors and send them a quarterly touchpoint to let them know that they’re now part of the fam. 

8. Send “hand”written notes

Handwritten notes are a nice touch. They can get responses when other media don’t.

But it’s hard to handwrite notes at scale and keep them timely.

The good news is that we have solved the direct mail woes and acquired Pledgemine, an on-demand direct mail service that lets you send one-off, totally personalized letters to donors. 

Radical tip: Submit a sample of your Dean’s handwriting to Pledgemine and send “hand”written acknowledgement letters or year-end notes to targeted lists of top prospects

9. Put a chat bot on your alumni homepage

It’s no secret that chatbots are IN!

Places like Duke University have embraced adding a chatbot to their alumni homepage. This offers alumni a first-stop customer experience that they’re accustomed to having with other companies they love, AND it frees up alumni relations front-line staff to have more substantive conversations with alums.


You can even program chatbots to welcome alumni and donors by name, put them in touch with their assigned gift officer, or send more information about a beloved professor or a campaign priority. It’s a way to answer simple questions and get a person talking to a person faster than ever. 

And best of all, companies like Drift let you start using their chat feature for free. We use Drift on our EverTrue homepage!

Radical tip: Embed a (free) Drift bot on your alumni homepage. Test out different greeting lines and try pushing some information about fundraising priorities. You might just get some new “leads”!

10. Follow up on Facebook engagement

Facebook saw a 10 percent increase in daily users last year. 2.8 billion (with-a-B!) users log in every month. 

And at EverTrue, we have tracked more than 170 million Facebook interactions from your alums.

Tracking is nice, but responding to that engagement is way, way better. 

Oklahoma State recently put 700+ new prospects in front of its gift officers. How? They used EverTrue to analyze over two-million engagements on 50,000 OSU Facebook posts. They sent targeted follow-up appeals for fundraising priorities like their marching band. 

Florida State University used a similar technique to target ROTC donors.

And the University of Miami used Facebook to surface 7,000 leads for frontline fundraisers, helping close 120+ gifts worth $600,000 and creating millions more in pipeline — all in less than 10 months.

George Washington University also used Facebook engagement to identify donors for hard-to-fund projects like new dormitories. 

Radical tip: Use Facebook to identify interests and connect them to opportunities to give. 

Bonus radical tip: Search contact reports by keyword to uncover forgotten prospects.

Triple-jeopardy radical tip: Use TrueView interests to power stewardship or ongoing communication.

Ok, you’ve got ten radical tips.

Now, it’s up to you. 

Go out there and make it personal!

P.S. If you try out one of these ideas, let us know and we’ll send you an EverTrue “sweet prospects” t-shirt!

P.P.S. A few shoutouts to some star advancement folks who were super active during our webinar (you can download the chat here for some great ideas):

Amanda Coffman, Florida State University – sent Cimmaron stuffed animals
Sarah Dudley, NYU Law – sent local sticky buns 
Aimee Furrie, University of Wisconsin Foundation – sent pink flamingos for Fill the Hill giving day
Brent Parkin, Webster State – sends homemade cinnamon rolls
Cheri Sullivan, St. Edward’s – sent face masks with iconic Austin mural
Kyle Vaughn, Ashland University – uses THNKS.com to send donors coffee; adds scannable QR codes to his notepaper so that when he sends handwritten notes, folks can book meetings
Emily Wilhelm, Bloomsberg University Foundation – sends branded socks


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