|Bob Burdenski's Latest Annual Giving Departures|
As I write this, I'm sitting on the campus of the University of Durham in England. It's Harry Potter country, and our tour of the marvelous Durham Cathedral last night include a walk through the cloisters where several scenes were filmed for the movies.
I'm here on the faculty of the CASE Spring Institute in Educational Fundraising, the premiere training program for development professionals in Europe. The idea of annual giving - once considered a peculiar American behavior over here - has been embraced, and some of the best new strategies and fundraising ideas I see are now coming from "across the pond."
Next week, I'm at the University of Pennsylvania, continuing my spring schedule of one-day annual giving workshops. Come and learn some new annual giving strategies for good results in a bad economy. You can check the latest schedule here.
We've augmented our traditional annual giving program review, to include a special examination of recession-minded issues, goals and strategies. How do you strategically trim budget and do more with less expense? How can data mining, predictive modeling, Internet social networking and other tools help to tune your annual giving program for a new economy? We'll help you consider enhancements for all corners of your program.
Best wishes for ongoing fundraising success. If you'd like a little extra hands-on help thinking about your annual giving program during challenging economic times, or adding some Obama-esque strategy to your appeals, contact us for a chat about how we can help.
Rich Mintz thinks college fund raising needs serious help. Bureaucracies are byzantine, messages leave alumni cold, and methods of delivering them are ineffective.
"Frankly," says Mr. Mintz, a bushy-haired fund-raising consultant who once aspired to be a medieval scholar, "I think that a lot of institutions have probably simply given up on getting anything valuable out of their alumni under 40."
His attitude could come across as off-putting, but Mr. Mintz boasts a unique calling card: The company he works for built the new-media arsenal that helped catapult Barack Obama into the White House.
Now the strategic-consulting and technology firm, Blue State Digital, is courting colleges. Some are welcoming the political rainmaker inside their wrought-iron gates. The University of Florida has signed on, swayed by Blue State's promise of sharper outreach and new-media tools to motivate a broader group of donors. The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law has also used Blue State. The Washington-based company is in talks with several universities out West, including the California Institute of Technology.
The world of college fund raising has grappled for years with declining alumni-participation rates. As technology shifts beneath fund raisers' feet, and young alumni evade their reach, institutions are looking at new strategies beyond the old tactics of direct-mail appeals and student phone banks.
Sometimes alumni drive the conversation, says Robert A. Burdenski, an annual-giving consultant in Chicago who speaks to colleges on what the 2008 presidential e-campaign means for their yearly appeals. Many colleges have alumni who joined Mr. Obama's online community as campaign volunteers. Those alumni, Mr. Burdenski says, are asking, "If the Obama people can figure this out, why can't we figure this out in the university fund-raising office?"
"You never got a newsletter from the Obama campaign," Mr. Mintz says. "You might have gotten 200 e-mails over the course of a year, but each one of those was narrowly targeted, action-oriented, and situated in the context of an ongoing communications relationship. And that is what most universities, whether from the alumni-association side or the foundation side, are not doing well."
Colleges are "all over the map" in how they've embraced the tool, says Mr. Burdenski, the annual-giving consultant. Some are terrified of sending any e-mail, for fear of annoying donors. Others, he says, are doing "some really sexy things."
Creighton University is one of the latter. Last month the Nebraska college sent out an e-mail message asking people to cheer on the Blue Jays during March Madness. Creighton kept track of all the alumni who opened the message. Everybody who did so then got funneled into the Creighton phone-athon - and got an extra call.
Mr. Burdenski compares the strategy with how Mr. Obama revealed his vice-presidential choice: by text message to supporters, stockpiling the cellphone numbers of core activists in the process. For college fund raisers, the consultant sees it as a key lesson. They can use the Internet to sort alumni who don't want to be bothered from those who really care, and then single out the true believers.
Two factors can add urgency to the alumni chase. First is the economy. Finance offices, looking for a sharper focus, are questioning the money that colleges spend on phone calls and paper mailings, Mr. Burdenski says. Second is the falling alumni-giving participation rate, a statistic that is used as a proxy for institutional quality. The rate has declined from 13.8 percent in 2001 to 11 percent in 2008, according to the Council for Aid to Education.
Experts cite different causes. Some say the availability of good alumni addresses is outpacing colleges' ability to cultivate new donors. Mr. Burdenski says colleges themselves have depended for too long on outdated fund-raising methods.
Bob annually manages an annual giving samples exchange for those schools and organizations interested in seeing samples from their peers. Signup is now underway for the 2009 exchange.
If you're not familiar with the exchange, it's like one big sample gift box for you and your annual giving program. You send samples of your appeals from this past year, wait by your mailbox, and you'll receive a box with samples and a CD-Rom from every other institution that participates in the exchange in return. There's no cost, except for your shipping costs.
Last year, a record 150 schools participated, and more than 120 are already signed up for this year. For many, it's a crucial component of their program planning for the coming year, as they review the messages and materials created by their peers over the previous year.
You can watch online powerpoint slideshows of five sample favorites from 2006 and 2007 here. Hope you'll make plans to join in the fun this year. The registration deadline is Tuesday, May 26th.
Faced with one of the most challenging fund-raising environments anyone can remember, colleges and universities are appealing to donors to help meet the swelling demand for financial aid.
Using such demand "as a fund-raising tool totally makes sense in this environment," said Richard J. Krasney, a wealth manager and philanthropy adviser. "More than ever, people want to know that their money is being used to address current needs."
Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., has increased its financial aid budget for the coming school year by 7.5 percent, to $21.5 million, a point its fund-raisers are making to donors.
"The incoming student body for the fall of 2009 will have higher financial needs than in the past," said Clay Ballantine, Hampshire's chief advancement officer. "I tell donors these are excellent students and we want to take financialconcerns out of their decision-making process, and we're looking to you to provide a gift that will help us do that."
Chapman University in Orange, Calif., has seen demand for financial aid increase 88 percent - and that does not include requests for support from students accepted for next fall. "We're very open and honest about that in all our communications, and it resonates," said Sheryl Bourgeois, executive vice presidentof university advancement.
Ms. Bourgeois has shared letters from students with potential donors. Typical of the letters is one from a young woman whose mother holds down two jobs to keep her daughter in school but just lost her house.
Telling potential donors about the surge in need helped Chapman exceed the $175,000 goal it had set for its phone-a-thon this year. Its gala, slated to raise $2 million, raised $2.1 million. More recently, though, things have slowed.
"It is getting tougher," Ms. Bourgeois said. "I think maybe people have had even more requests coming to them from other nonprofit groups." Just a year ago, universities were emphasizing new buildings, research and sports centers and faculty recruitment in their fund-raising pitches, but those things turn people off now, experts in fund-raising said.
Mitchell Moore, vice president for advancement at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., said the university was making a case to donors that money raised through its annual fund campaign would be spent on immediate needs.
Suppose you're a senior at OWU. Your advisor calls you in and says, "Sorry you'll miss your graduation, but you have to leave school now. Your tuition covers only 60 percent of the cost of your education here, and this is the day it runs out."
Of course, that scenario is fiction and will never happen, but the underlying facts are accurate. Tuition doesn't cover the full cost of an Ohio Wesleyan education, and it's the generous support of donors to the Annual Fund that makes up the difference.
The day tuition stops covering costs is called Tuition Free Forward-that is, from that day forward until the end of the academic year, the cost of tuition is borne not by students and families, but by donors. This year at Ohio Wesleyan, Tuition Free Forward Day is March 27, so donors are picking up nearly two months of tuition per student.
In honor of the donors who contribute so generously to students' educations, Tuition Free Forward Day will be marked by an event in Hamilton-Williams Campus Center. "One of the things students do there is sign thank you cards and write notes to donors, " says Becky Leach, assistant director of the Annual Fund. "That's by far the biggest reason students attend. They're grateful, and they want to demonstrate that."
A secondary reason for the event is to educate students about the power of philanthropy. "Once they understand that philanthropy by alumni, staff, administration, faculty, and friends supports so much of our students' educations, they become very passionate about it, and they realize that it's important for them to donate when they become alumni," Leach says. "If they learn about philanthropy while they're still students, they don't have to be re-educated as alumni. Giving back simply becomes part of their lives."
Most solicitations don't begin with the words "don't give," but that's the approach being used this year by the private Oakwood School in a clever, celebrity-packed appeal timed to its annual fundraising drive.
In the 3 1/2-minute video, Danny DeVito, Jason Alexander, Steve Carell and other Hollywood stars voice such sentiments as "The economy is in the toilet, so don't give" and "You'd be stupid to give" before getting to the real point: "Unless you care about your children and their future," and "Unless you care about families who had a hard year and need some help with tuition."
Created by parent volunteers, the video is an example of the inventive methods private schools are using this spring to generate giving at a time when traditional benefactors may be hard-pressed themselves. Watch the Oakwood School video here.
Oakwood's "Don't Give" campaign was a precursor to its major fundraiser, a star-studded event Saturday at The Lot in West Hollywood, featuring comedy, music and an auction. The video was meant to be an internal communication but was distributed on YouTube, said James Astman, Oakwood's head of school.
"The purpose was to communicate to our constituents a vital but easily misunderstood message: that in these challenging times, giving is more important than ever," Astman said. "In the short run to support financial aid and in the long run to build our endowment."
Many independent schools are sending the same message as they deal with a faltering economy that is forcing middle- and even upper-income families to think twice about whether they can afford to pay annual tuitions that top $25,000 at some campuses.
Bob's brand-new CASE book - More Innovations in Annual Giving: Ten Global Departures That Worked - features creative annual giving strategies from institutions around the world, including Australia, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, France, the U.K. and beyond.
"This second book by Bob Burdenski for CASE will further extend the reach of inspiration and courage. Bob's case studies, filtered through his expertise and enthusiasm, raise the competence of institutions around the world as they contemplate where to go next with their philanthropic fundraising," says Joanna Motion, Vice President for International Operations for CASE in London.
The book is a follow-up to Bob's previous CASE best-seller, Innovations in Annual Giving: Ten Departures That Worked, which featured ten case histories of U.S. schools, colleges and universities that tried new annual giving strategies with success.
Bob's featured examples from around the world include:
You can download a sample chapter on Leadership Annual Giving Personal Solicitation direct from the CASE Web site here.
All of Bob's previous (although now, not-so "Latest") Latest Annual Giving Departures email newsletters are available for reading free at BobBurdenski.com.
Browse more than 5 years of newsletters - you can track the beginnings of data mining, recurring giving, and YouTube as annual giving strategies during that time. Thumbnail summaries of each newsletter tell you what's included in each one.