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The Key to Successful Fundraising: Give Before You Ask

Offer value upfront by establishing a foundation of goodwill and rapport

December 16, 2019

Imagine pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into a four-year stint at a higher education institution. After you graduate, you spend years mired down in student loans, struggling to pay them off. At the same time, your alma mater incessantly calls you, requesting even more money from your painfully shallow pockets.

Understandably, this unpleasant feeling makes many alumni hesitant to put more finances into their already-costly investment. Many graduates believe that their financial obligations to their university end once their four years of education are up. However, alumni professionals can change that attitude—and we’ll show you how. 

Generosity Breeds Success

Chances are, your university is currently doing more asking than giving. After all, in a sprint to meet tight fundraising goals or secure much-needed funding for facilities or scholarships, reaching out to your constituents for support seems like a logical solution. However, research shows that you should stop concentrating on constantly asking your constituents—and focus on what you can give them in return.

Author and social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk approaches business with a “give, give, give, give, give, ask” philosophy. He states that he always makes sure to give for at least 51% of any customer relationship, thus establishing a foundation of goodwill and rapport. Before asking for something down the line, says Vaynerchuk, it is crucial to offer value upfront.

Though your university gives significant value to your alumni when they are students, that impact fades as the years go by. The truth is, your alumni will not want to give back to your university unless you showcase your value after those 4 years are over. Your alumni’s willingness to give is in large part based on how you treat them after they graduate. If you treat your alumni as nothing more than a convenient cash pool, they will be reluctant to donate. Alternatively, if you treat your alumni as valuable—and worthy of subsequent investment—they will reciprocate with the same generosity you enact towards them.

So, before you ask your alumni to donate, consider what value you offer them. Is it a strong alumni network? Career opportunities? Engaging events? If you are not giving your alumni value on par with the donations you ask of them, it may be time to rethink your alumni relations strategy.

Adopt a Personalized Approach

The first step to effective investment in your alumni entails understanding their individual needs. Your alumni range from 23-year-old recent grads to 70+-year-olds already retired from their careers. They come from a variety of different places, backgrounds, and passions—and that should be celebrated. Using a “one-size-fits-all” approach would never capture the immense diversity of your university’s alumni pool.    

Therefore, in order to accommodate for your alumni’s differing priorities, your university needs to adopt a personalized approach in offering them value. Your older alumni won’t need internships, career advice, and mentorship opportunities—but your younger grads will. Conversely, your older alumni prioritize intrinsic values such as nostalgia and a feeling of recognition in their community, while younger alumni focus on social acceptance. Instead of casting a broad net in hopes of appealing to as many alumni as possible, uncover the individual interests of your alumni and tailor your engagement strategy to them.

In fact, according to 2019’s edition of Trends in Personalization, 85% of donors expect a personalized experience when interacting with their chosen cause, while 71% of donors state that personalization makes them feel more engaged. Furthermore, 87% of marketers state that personalized content boosts their success in appealing to their target audience. In your alumni network, engagement is currency, and its cultivation can offer great value to your university.

Your digital alumni network is an ideal vessel to achieve such personalization. Adjusting the types of content that each alumni receives, from displaying photos of their college days to showing posts related to their individual affinities, ensures that alumni receive relevant, emotionally engaging content throughout all of their interactions with your university. Not only does this save alumni from having to scroll through pages and pages of irrelevant content, but it displays your recognition of each alumni’s individual experience at your university. 

Make Alumni Feel Valued

Furthermore, when your alumni give, it is crucial to show them that they are making a significant impact. For many alumni, giving is an extension of identity. Affirming this identity by showcasing every donation’s positive impact motivates alumni to give again in the future, as it validates their self-perception as generous, charitable people. Moreover, giving is strongly associated with private, internal benefits, such as recognition, reputation, and the “warm glow” of giving back to others in need.

In fact, organizational psychologists have introduced a theory that summarizes the conditions necessary for the successful motivation of a target group. The widely-used Vroom’s expectancy theory was originally created to show the 3 psychological conditions that create motivated workers: valence, instrumentality, and expectancy. In essence, the theory states that people will be motivated if they believe in the value of their work (valence), in their work’s ability to help them achieve a desirable outcome (instrumentality), and their capability to achieve such an outcome (expectancy).

This theory can then be translated to alumni relations. When soliciting donations or other contributions from alumni, it is important to 1) show alumni the value of their work 2) show them that their contribution will help make a positive difference and 3) show them their capability to achieve such a difference.

For example, if soliciting donations for scholarships for students from underprivileged backgrounds, demonstrate the value of such scholarships by sharing personal, touching stories from those students. Then, show alumni where their money will go, perhaps by sending them a photo and a detailed profile of the student they are sponsoring. Finally, demonstrate to alumni the impact that a specific donation amount can have on the student they are supporting. Maybe, a $50 donation purchases that student a textbook that helps them succeed in their Biology class, while a $5000 donation pays their tuition for a semester. Combined, these techniques show alumni that their individual efforts enact positive change, and encourage them to donate again in the future.

These techniques are well-known to nonprofit professionals, but applying them to the Advancement department can make a huge difference in fundraising dollars. By clearly displaying the impact of each donation, you give alumni a feeling of instrumentality and value to the university. While donating to a faceless, unlabeled fund makes alumni feel like a number, seeing the direct impact of their donation on an important goal makes them feel like a superstar. 

Appreciate Your Alumni

Alumni are your university’s greatest resource—so treat them as such. After all, everyone wants to feel appreciated, and acknowledging the individual impact of your alumni’s donations will give them a priceless feeling of internal validation. Instead of constantly asking alumni for their hard-earned funds, first, give them something they value. Then, when they do donate, prove how much your university values every single donation.

These simple techniques will skyrocket your advancement success—and at CueBack, we can help you implement them. See how you can offer value to every single one of your alumni, and join us in giving before you ask!

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