pipelineThird in a 5-Part Series: Great Opportunities at Universities

In study after study of alumni over the past several years, we’ve seen participation and engagement with their universities continuing to decline. (See reports from CASE Campaign, Counsel for Aid to Education Voluntary Support of Education, etc.) But despite declining participation rates, average alumni giving to higher education generally rose.
That’s interesting. So – fewer alumni are engaging, but those that do are giving more.
Here’s some other interesting information:

  1. If students are engaged with philanthropy while an individual is enrolled, and the engagement continues after graduation, it’s been proven to increase those alumni’s charitable support in the long-term.
  2. Over half of colleges report that the alumni office is separated administratively from the development/fundraising office.

The problem is that student affairs, student services, alumni functions and development don’t talk to one another. They don’t plan together, and they barely work together.
Universities are so entrenched in their departments, siloed without coordination, and stuck in internal politics that they’ve taken their eye off the purpose of their institution: students and alumni.
Think about it. From a fundraising perspective, if Higher Ed were truly focused on students and alumni, from day one on campus the student would be asked to engage in and understand the need for philanthropy. The development office would be doing their strategic planning with student affairs, student services and the alumni department, all trying to coordinate activities.
Today, there’s a total disconnect between student services, alumni and development at our universities. Fact is, many times the only connection a student makes to fundraising for the university is when they’re recruited to be part of “call banks” to ask alumni for gifts!
And in surveys of alumni, they’re continually frustrated with their university’s lack of communication and engagement, yet they “don’t seem shy about asking me for money.”
So, what needs to change?
There needs to be a whole re-orientation toward being donor/alumni centered, rather than institutionally focused. Richard and I realize this may feel like an ant trying to move a boulder, but ants are actually pretty strong – and if you get enough of them, they can move mountains.
We’ve had more than a few universities ask us to help them solve this disconnect. These are the keys we’ve found to work:

  1. Start building a culture of philanthropy from the day a freshman arrives on campus, and keep that consistent through the years to come, after graduation.
  2. Get departments talking and planning together – this means bringing together student services, student affairs, alumni and development.
  3. Orient your communication around awareness of what the university actually does, and build desire in the student/alumni/donor to want to take action. Additionally, modify the focus of alumni communications to include community involvement and engagement opportunities.
  4. Immediately start to understand the student/alumni/donor’s passions and interests, and match those with the right engagement opportunities. Then create donor offers with different price points to serve those interests and passions.
  5. Always treat students, alumni and donors as key stakeholders of the university’s mission.

Now, within each of those points is a ton of work and strategy and tactics; but if they’re implemented, real change can happen for your university.
Richard has done some really good work with universities on leading them through this re-orientation of changing how the university moves toward a long-term view of the relationship with students and alumni. He’s helped them create new strategies to engage with students and alumni immediately, consistently and with relevance, all based on THEIR passions and interests.
Has it been easy? No, but for the first time the development teams are actually starting to work together with student services and the alumni department to create a culture of philanthropy that is ultimately helping to increase student and alumni engagement and increased revenue.
What can you do to move the boulder?
Read the whole series “Great Opportunities at Universities”

  1. The Donors That Aren’t Good Enough for University Fundraising
  2. Focus on Building Relationships, Not Reaching Metrics
  3. Build the University Fundraising Pipeline Immediately (This Post)
  4. Use the Power of University Research and Data Departments Wisely
  5. Think and Act Long-Term in University Fundraising