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EMP Fundraising 101

Every college and university need to raise funds from their friends and alumni. Over my career I have been involved in raising over $50 million for program operation, facility renovation/construction and staffing improvement. It is important that you have the following best practices in place when you implement your marketing and philanthropic campaigns and projects.

Start with establishing well defined goals, incorporate those goals into a well-designed plan that compliments the organization’s values and their mission. Make sure you have in place ways to track those gals with key performance indicators. If your department needs to raise an additional $500,000 to operate effectively based on your financial projections and the annual budget provided, you need to look closely at the type of campaign you want to run and the tools you need to run it and reach that target. Doing your homework up front can keep you from making mistakes later.

Determine what strategies you plan to use in your campaign. Strategies at the collegiate level can include anything from solicitation of grants, selling products and merchandise, corporate partnerships, direct solicitation of selected groups, crowdfunding, and capital campaigns. It is important that you have a social media presence for your project. Offer your donors multiple ways to give. Provide a space for a donor to make a credit card gift, a wire transfer, or a cash transaction.

Most organizations will have an annual plan to raise revenue. Having an annual mechanism to plug and play is important. You need to know who your targets are and learn as much as you can about them. It is okay to segment potential donors into groups and target them in that specific area, but any ask must be personalized in a way the donor feels important and not part of a mass cattle call. Communication from you is extremely important. Make your communication focused on the donor and not the university. Make sure your messaging is clear and concise as you make a compelling case to your potential donors.

Showing the importance of your campaign and who the campaign will impact to your potential supporters is important. Donors want to know where their money is going, and who they will impact with their gift. Ensure the donors can make a gift to the area(s) they want to make it to and not the areas you forcibly direct them toward. The fastest way to turn off a donor it to tell them what they care about is not what is important to you. You are building a community of trust. If donors trust those in charge and value the organization they will give on an annual basis.

Creating a brand is very important. The unique strength of identity of an organization makes people want to give and be a part of something they feel is special. I have been a part of five major university-wide marketing campaigns over my career. In my mind, they all failed in someway. Make sure you get your branding right. Your donors know when something does not capture the real organizational ethos. Branding should be about who you are and not who you want to be. Trying to be something you are not will destroy morale on campus and weaken donor trust.

Spend the time and resources to steward your donors regardless of the size of their gift. A donor who is well stewarded will likely give again and again and make increasing larger gifts. Stewardship requires you to determine the appropriate level of stewardship for each level of donor. Major donors will often want a more personable and impactful relationship than the small donor. However, each is very important and should be treated as such.

Encourage and put into practice the ability to create and maintain peer to peer fundraising. It is easy for a potential donor to tell the college or university staff member no. It is much harder to tell a peer that. Mobilize your supporters to ask their peers for donations on your behalf. These supporters should do this over social media and directly via phone calls. One of the most successful campaigns I ever ran was a peer-to-peer campaign to raise high six figure funding to improve athletic staffing and support for one of our individual programs that I was making a coaching change in. We created a small committee of myself and four alums. Conducted at thew worst possible time of the year, Christmas through New Year’s, in just three weeks through peer-to-peer connections we reached our goals and were eventually told by the university to stop as we had far outreached our initial goals. Peer-to-peer connections work.

It takes money to make money. The willingness to invest in your alumni and advancement office will pay you back with the right people in place. If you have a need of $500,000 plan to raise 15-25 percent more to cover costs. Estimates range anywhere from 10-35% as the expense non-profits need to anticipate for major fund-raising projects. Those who invest in their fundraisers reap the benefits.

I have worked for organizations that have funded our overall program at a high level and others who did not provide even half of our annual need. When you are faced with a known deficit even before you play that first contest, hold that first class, or have that first guest lecturer it forces you to be creative in your approach. It is important to note that not all strategies fit every organization. In addition, a successful strategy that works one year might not be easily repeated the next year. Be willing to think outside the box and try something new. Most important showcase the impact gifts have made in your organization’s programs and initiatives. Let your targeted audience know how the money was raised and what it was it was used for.

Contact Executive Management Partners for help with your next project.


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