School spirit is a powerful thing. Just look around you. You see it everywhere. Whether it’s through apparel, office chatter, media coverage, license plates, flags, or office/home décor, it’s apparent that we humans are pretty darn proud of our colleges and universities. Putting the popularity of collegiate athletics aside, I personally believe that school spirit generally stems from the positive activities, friendships made and personal growth that individuals experience while attending a particular institution of higher education.
School spirit is also expressed through giving. Colleges and universities raise billions of dollars each year from donors, and they generally account for a large percentage of the Philanthropy 400 list. The Philanthropy 400 is The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s annual ranking of charities that receive the most private support. In 2011 alone, 114 colleges and universities were in the top 400 list and 34 were among the survey’s top 100. Simply put, colleges and universities are very good at fundraising.
Having said this, the state of the economy has had a negative effect on fundraising for colleges and universities just like it has for other fundraising entities. State institutions are receiving less funding from states and major gifts, well, aren’t quite as major. When resources are tight and major gifts become that much more important, the cultivation of young donors many times gets placed to the side. In the long-term, a gap of unengaged alumni can appear, making it more difficult to raise larger gifts from these same individuals later in life.
So the question becomes, how does a college or university continue to cultivate its young people during these times?
Personal Development Meets Fundraising Development
Follow my logic – Students invest in colleges to get a great education that can lead to a successful career. Colleges invest in their students while in school to help them develop and find this path. Upon graduation, colleges then ask these young alumni to reinvest in their school without many times continuing to develop these young individuals. Many of these young alumni are cash-strapped and are not able to give at a level that colleges many times want. Regardless, they still remain prideful of their collegiate institution but many say to themselves, “I’ll give when I can.”
A grassroots fundraising approach coupled with a personal challenge proves to these young alumni that their school is continuing to develop them while allowing them to give back by raising funds through their personal networks. Such program must give these young alumni the opportunity to achieve a goal that is important to them while raising dollars for things within the institution’s structure that mean something to them.
While all alumni generally feel pride towards the general institution, each individual can pinpoint activities or areas of campus that made a lasting impact on them. For example, an engineering student may want to raise funds for the engineering college that gave him/her a great education. On the other hand, a collegiate athlete may want to raise funds to enhance the college’s athletic department. In fundraising-speak, the donor-centric approach is crucial to successfully raising funds from young alumni.
Having said this, if structured correctly, a grassroots fundraising program can bring in both unrestricted funds and funds that can be applied to a donor’s desired area.
A Look at a Grassroots Fundraising Program Focused on Young Alumni
(Click on the image to enlarge it)
As the program develops, an online portal could fuel participation and fundraising. Upon registration for the program, participants could be asked to make an initial gift, dollars that could be applied to the annual fund. They would then be asked two questions:
- What personal goal are you trying to achieve? (run a marathon, lose weight, continue their schooling at the graduate level, etc.)
- What area of campus would you like 50% of your funds to be applied to (the business college, athletics department, student activities, etc.)
The other 50% of funds raised could be unrestricted to the institution’s annual fund giving the fundraising staff the flexibility to use these funds on prioritized initiatives. Both incentives and education could be built into fundraising milestones, motivating participants while educating them on the importance of giving back to advance the institution.
Benefits of Such Program:
- Cultivates young donors
- Extends the college/university’s fundraising staff
- Creates a new pool of donors – the support networks of participants
- Drives engagement, development, and goodwill by providing young alumni with an opportunity to do something positive for themselves and their school
- Increases the participation percentage for the annual fund
- Encourages collaboration with the alumni association or alumni engagement activities
Young alumni are a passionate group of individuals that should be an integral part of a college or university’s fundraising strategy. If done right, these same individuals will be more likely to give larger gifts in the future.
Could it work? I’d love to help.