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How to Engage Your Alumni to Improve Fundraising

July 05, 2023 (4 min read)
Establish good communication and engage your audience for increased alumni donations.

Alumni fundraising plays a pivotal role in the growth and development of colleges and universities in the U.S. “Philanthropic gifts to American colleges and universities totaled $59.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2022, according to the newest annual report from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education’s (CASE) Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) survey” (Forbes).

To get their share of this huge gift giving market, higher education institutions adopt an array of strategies to engage alumni and increase donations. By fostering a culture of giving, leveraging the increasing contributions from alumni as they progress in their careers, and overcoming challenges in maintaining contact information, development offices can capture and retain alumni attention to increase their likelihood of giving over time.

In this blog post, we will delve deeper into the strategies, goals, and benefits associated with alumni engagement.

Building a culture of giving

Creating a culture of giving among alumni is a multifaceted endeavor that requires a thoughtful approach. Educational institutions can employ several strategies to foster this culture:

  1. Recognition and gratitude: Acknowledging alumni contributions, regardless of their size, is crucial. Publicly recognizing donors through newsletters, annual reports, and events cultivates a sense of appreciation and encourages others to follow suit.
  2. Alumni involvement in decision-making: Providing opportunities for alumni to contribute their ideas and expertise helps them feel invested in the institution's growth. Alumni can serve on advisory boards, participate in mentorship programs, or provide guest lectures, fostering a sense of ownership and strengthening their bond with the institution.
  3. Showcasing impact: Highlighting the tangible impact of alumni donations is essential. Sharing success stories of how alumni contributions have positively affected students, research initiatives, infrastructure development, or scholarship programs can inspire others to give back.

All of these methods can help your institution develop relationships with alumni that lead to additional contributions and recurring opportunities to engage. Building this culture of giving also creates more opportunity for evangelism, as alumni who benefit from donating may tell other alumni about their experience and convince them to give too. And if those relationships are developed early, institutions can take advantage of another benefit: the opportunity for increasing contributions over time.

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Increasing contributions over time

For the best probability of receiving contributions, alumni engagement needs to start early and extend well beyond graduation day. By strategically nurturing relationships, colleges and universities can tap into the increasing potential of alumni contributions as they grow in their careers and, subsequently, their salaries. Here are some approaches to consider:

  1. Early engagement: Begin cultivating relationships with students even before they graduate. Encourage them to participate in alumni events, connect with alumni mentors, and contribute to fundraising campaigns tailored specifically for student donors. This early engagement lays the groundwork for future philanthropic involvement.
  2. Donor segmentation: Develop targeted fundraising campaigns that cater to different stages of alumni careers and giving capacities. Implement a tiered approach on crowdfunding networks, offering opportunities for smaller, regular donations from recent graduates, while engaging more established alumni in major gift programs or planned giving initiatives.
  3. Alumni chapters and networks: Establishing regional or affinity-based alumni chapters and networks can facilitate engagement and strengthen connections. These chapters can organize events, provide networking opportunities, and contribute to fundraising efforts specific to their region or area of interest.

Segmenting donors allows you to engage alumni with a message and request that matches the stage in their life and career, making each donation tailored to the donor and thus, more likely. But the earlier you can get alumni to give, the better chance an institution stands to receive more as they grow and develop throughout their post-graduate life. That is, however, if you can keep in touch with them.

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Keeping up with changing life events and contact information

Staying connected with alumni can be challenging, especially when life events such as marriage, relocation, or career transitions lead to changing names, locations, or contact information. However, with proactive strategies, colleges and universities can overcome these obstacles:

  1. Multi-channel communication: Embrace various communication channels, including email, social media platforms, alumni networks, and even direct mail, to reach alumni effectively. Offering options for alumni to choose their preferred method of contact can ensure a higher response rate.
  2. Regular updates and information verification: Establish a systematic process to regularly update alumni records. Encourage alumni to provide their updated contact information through online forms, event registrations, or alumni portals. Periodic outreach to verify contact details helps maintain accurate databases.
  3. Digital engagement platforms: Leverage technology to create online platforms where alumni can update their information, engage with fellow alumni, and stay connected with the institution. These platforms can serve as a central hub for alumni activities, fundraising campaigns, and networking opportunities.

MORE: How to crush your higher education fundraising goals

Empower your alumni fundraising strategy with Nexis®

Alumni fundraising serves as a cornerstone for college and university development offices. By nurturing a culture of giving, institutions can tap into the passion and loyalty that alumni feel towards their alma maters.

To successfully nurture a culture of giving, higher education institutions need the most comprehensive data on their alumni not just now, but over time. By combining 45+ years of news archives, 80M+ company records, and 75M+ executive profiles, our Nexis® for Development Professionals solution connects the dots across numerous sources to build and deliver a robust, visualized profile of individual alumni and donors in seconds with wealth indicators, philanthropic giving history, and personal information. Plus, keep your alumni contact information up to date with access to over 80 billion U.S. Public Records from 10,000+ sources, so you never fall behind on your goals.