Stay Connected: 4 Effective Ways to Turn Alumni Into Donors - Converge Consulting

Stay Connected: 4 Effective Ways to Turn Alumni Into Donors

It’s no secret that alumni donors are some of the most valuable assets to a school’s fundraising strategy, especially in a world of reduced public funding and increasing debt. Many schools have recognized the importance of graduates in fundraising.

However, soliciting donations from a demographic that’s becoming increasingly debt-ridden is no easy feat. Luckily, there are a few best practices that should help in the process. Here are 4 ways to effectively turn alumni into donors:

  1. Spread the word about matching gifts
  2. Offer alumni volunteer opportunities
  3. Keep your alumni in the loop
  4. Invite alumni to fundraise for the school

Read on for a detailed breakdown of these best practices. 

1. Spread the Word About Matching Gifts

You’re proud to have curated a successful alumni class, they’re thankful to be entering the workforce and interested in giving back to the school… Enter matching gift programs

Did you know that when an alumnus makes a donation to your school, they can potentially donate double, sometimes even triple, the amount without paying any extra out of their own pocket? It’s true, and for alumni working for businesses that offer corporate giving programs, this opportunity may be just waiting for them to capitalize on it.

What are matching gift programs?

Matching gift programs are a way for corporations to exercise their philanthropic arm, vowing to match the donations made by their employees to certain nonprofit organizations. The process is simple. An employee donates to a nonprofit (in this case, a school), submits a request and, if approved, the employer makes a donation to the same nonprofit. The employee gets to make double the contribution, the employer gets to benefit the community, and the nonprofit reaps the financial benefits! 

How do they work?

While not a complicated process, there are a few steps that must be followed to secure a successful matched gift.

  • The alumnus makes a gift to your institution

Whether your school is soliciting the donation or the alumnus is reaching out due to their own interest, the process begins with a financial contribution.

  • The alumnus determines if their donation is eligible to be matched

Each corporation with a matching gift program has guidelines for what constitutes a matched donation. Parameters such as minimum and maximum donation amounts, employment status, and even nonprofit type can determine eligibility.

  • The donor submits documentation to their employer providing evidence of the donation and requesting the matched gift

Matching gift programs often have both submission deadlines and a specific method through which they prefer to be notified. For example, we know that most companies (more than 80%) require all match requests to be made through an online form system. It’s important to familiarize yourself with these requirements!

  • After confirming the donation and verifying its eligibility, the company financially matches the donation to your school

If all goes well, your school will receive two donations for the price of one. 

Why is this a good opportunity for alumni?

Matching gift programs are a way for alumni to donate to benefit current and future students  while also celebrating where that education brought them– successfully into the workforce! 

These programs also benefit younger alumni that aren’t in a financial situation allowing a larger donation, as they can double their contribution without having to actually pay such a large amount.

However, the obstacle often becomes alerting alumni to these matching gift programs in order to capitalize on them. Even if you use the opportunity to brag on successful alumni giving back to the university— something you absolutely should do– these programs will likely still be woefully under reported!

 Check out DonorSearch’s guide to university fundraising for ideas on tackling this challenge.

2. Offer Alumni Volunteer Opportunities

While every alumnus may not be in a position to make financial donations to their alma mater, there’s still an opportunity to engage them as volunteers for the institution. Building strong relationships with volunteer alumni now could lay the foundation for years of giving in the future. 

How can an alumnus volunteer for your school?

There are many ways to engage both new and longtime alumni as volunteers at your school. Volunteer positions within admissions, new student programs, career services, and even at fundraisers all present opportunities for engagement. 

 First, it’s important to collect data on your alumni class in order to paint a full picture of their demographics and how you can best engage them. Can you call on alumni of certain majors to guide students through a mentor-ship program? Or maybe you have an alumnus filled with school spirit, interested in helping bolster admissions?

Once you identify how best to engage your alumni in volunteer efforts, you can examine if any of these efforts qualify for financial donation matching through volunteer grant programs.

How can volunteer grants amplify the impact of your volunteers?

Volunteer grant programs are similar to the matching gift programs described previously. Both are a way for corporations to make philanthropic donations matching those of their employees and both have a similar process for execution.

However, in volunteer grant programs, the employer’s financial donation is made corresponding to volunteer hours worked by the employee. This turns the hours worked by the volunteer into tangible financial support for the nonprofit receiving the donation. 

Volunteer grants are often overlooked due to lack of widespread information on the programs. For more information, check out Double the Donation’s guide to volunteer grant programs.

3. Keep Your Alumni in the Loop

Soliciting donations and pulling together an alumni volunteer force is nearly impossible when you fail to keep your alumni in the loop. If done correctly, building a community and fostering these relationships can have benefits for years to come.

How can you keep alumni in the loop?

Examining past research and methods of communication can provide valuable insights into how your alumni prefer to be engaged. For example, we know that recent grads likely grew up in the age of the internet, and therefore will be interested in methods relying on social media or employing a well-made video.

However, while recent graduates might be interested in information that’s up-to-date by the minute, older alumni may respond better to other formats. It’s important to research the demographic you’re aiming to reach and plan accordingly.

Bonus! If you need some inspiration, check out the top school digital marketing campaigns from last year here.

What are key considerations to remember when engaging with alumni?

It’s vital to remember that your communications need to focus on building a good relationship with your alumni rather than just securing a quick donation.

If you’re too hasty and don’t focus on fostering strong relationships, you may alienate that donor for years to come. What may have been a 40-50 years of volunteer and financial donations could be squandered by initial efforts. 

Therefore, you should employ methods to maintain conversation throughout the year and not just when you’re soliciting donations. Further, when an alumnus donates, it’s important to thank them in a timely and personal manner, highlighting the positive impact of their donation and securing a positive relationship for years to come. 

4. Invite Alumni to Fundraise for the School

Once you’ve built a strong relationship with an alumnus, whether done through consistent social media contact, regularly scheduled mailings or another method, you can invite them to fundraise for the school. 

How can you call on alumni to be fundraisers for the school?

Prior research identifying who is most likely to fundraise, and how, is crucial in crafting the perfect fundraising event to engage your alumni.

Some examples of successful fundraising events are:

You can get creative depending on what your alumni class might be interested in! However, if organizing an on-site event is too involved, online peer-to-peer fundraising may be the way to go.

When an alumnus asks friends and family to donate to a cause in their name, it personalizes the transaction. Now, instead of donating to a school to which they may have no affiliation, the friends/family/colleagues can donate in support of their friend, the alumnus. 

What makes alumni fundraisers so valuable?

Through in-person events, peer-to-peer fundraising, or a combination of the two, alumni present an opportunity to connect with a large network of donors.

Alumni present the unique opportunity of facilitating conversations between the school and the corporations they started working with post-graduation. A well-connected alumnus–to both your institution and the outside workforce– could lead to a large corporate donor in the future, all thanks to introductions made through fundraising efforts. 

After completing your research you can contact alumni in the corporate workforce (maybe even encountering matching gift programs as mentioned earlier in this piece) and help build the school’s network!

While alumni donations are vital for the successful funding of a school, soliciting from this donor class can be a daunting task.

Try out these effective methods for turning alumni into donors and watch the donations come in as your alumni network grows!

About the Author

Adam Weinger is the President of Double the Donation, the leading provider of tools to nonprofits to help them raise more money from corporate matching gift and volunteer grant programs. Connect with Adam via email or on LinkedIn.

Adam Weinger
Adam Weinger
September 6, 2019