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How Is Annual Giving Significant To Your Donors?

March 14th, 2012

One of the greatest challenges in Annual Giving is relating the giving levels to your mission. When a major donor gives a building or a fellowship, it’s obvious that they’ve made a visible difference. But what does $100 do?

Designing a campaign for constituents who are likely to give smaller gifts compels us to demonstrate – as vividly as possible – why it’s important for those donors to give, as well as what their gifts will accomplish.  Otherwise, you can come across sounding like a child begging:  “Pleeeeeeeez?

Darryl* recalls when he arrived at his community college that their fiscal year-end appeals had all pretty much said, “The fiscal year is about to end – help us make our goal of $X by [date]!

“I figured that nobody really cared about an arbitrary deadline set for an arbitrary goal that related more to staff evaluations, and never talked about our students much at all,” Darryl explained.

“For the next appeal,” he told me, “I talked to our financial aid office and asked them how many applications were pending.  Then, the appeal went something more like this:”

X students are hoping to attend classes here next semester on scholarship.  You can help them become future alumni by donating today to the scholarship fund.

“I never once mentioned ‘the fiscal year,’ although I did add a deadline for ‘helping financial aid students,’” Darryl says, “And this more than doubled what we had earned in the past for this appeal!”

Other schools go a step further and conduct a full blown campaign, designed to demonstrate the importance of Annual Giving, such as Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP).  Emily Smeltz and Mary Jo Ludwig recently highlighted their successful campaign at the CASE ASAP District 2 Conference.

There’s a particular motivation to get students to donate while still in school, since this is the best indicator that they’ll continue to give as alumni.  Because most of them have little funds, though, the emphasis has to be on educating them about the importance of giving – regardless of amount – and what their gift will help do.  (Later, when they are earning more, their established habit of giving will pay off.)

The IUP campaign made a point to use a variety of media throughout the school year to reach students, including direct mail, QR codes, lawn signs, etc. – to drive home the point that there is a gap between tuition and the cost of an IUP education, which is where private gifts enter.  This culminated with an event in late January:  Free Tuition Day

Free Tuition Day was a campus-wide event with a great deal of fanfare:  media articles, photos, video interviews of students, free t-shirts, and so forth.

Students were educated – as they were interviewed – about which day in the semester their tuition “ran out” and private donations began covering the remainder of their expenses.

Email solicitations to students and alumni after the event have helped this campaign to become quite successful, as well as thank you notes hand-written by student volunteers to the donors.

This Free Tuition Day campaign model can also be applied to organizations other than educational institutions.  What’s important is that you consider how to make your statement and demonstrate your mission.

For example, the National Committee on Pay Equity has a campaign every April called Equal Pay Day.  In 2012, Equal Pay Day is on April 17th, to symbolize how far into 2012 women must work to earn what men earned in 2011 alone.  Participants are called upon to wear red that day to symbolize how far women and minorities are “in the red” with their pay.  Another action that participants are asked to take is contacting congressional representatives regarding fair pay legislation.

How could you use these strategies to help your constituents better relate to your mission and donate more?

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