Fundraising Options: Finding New Audiences

The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University recently uncovered some startling fundraising news: 79 percent of Millenials give to charitable causes. Sure, the Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation are ahead of them — but only by five to six percentage points. And the older generations do write bigger checks, to the tune of $2,000 compared to Millennials’ $1,000 contributions.

Studies also show that people with a college degree, on average, give about $2,800 more annually than someone with only a high-school diploma. Bottom line: If you go with the myth that young people aren’t in a financial position to give, you’ve sabotaged the university’s fundraising possibilities.

Of course, breaking into new audiences like this isn’t a cakewalk. It is true that recent grads have more financial worries, even if they make the same salary as a Boomer. After all, they have more life ahead to pay for. But the key to overcoming this quandary, said Eva E. Aldrich, M.A., CFRE, associate director of the Fund Raising School at the Center on Philanthropy, lies with Marketing 101. After all, when researchers probe into the top five reasons folks give to charity, the same motivations are present across the generations — it’s the priority order that varies.

For instance, the Silent Generation responds to messages of meeting basic needs and giving the poor a way to help themselves. That plea falls flat on its face with Millenials. To resonate with the younger audience, focus on the idea of making the world better, Aldrich advised. In fact, go ahead and ask for both money and sweat equity.

“Again, research shows there’s a positive correlation between volunteering and giving. The more people get engaged in an organization, the more they give,” she pointed out. And one of the best ways to push this message, as Jim Jorstad at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse (UWLC) has discovered in the past two years, is via social media.

Grabbing Students
“I’d have never guessed when we started that we’d end up here today,” he says. It began with the realization that non-traditional students on campus — folks going back to school part-time while raising a family and reporting to an office, for instance — community members, on-line learners, and international students are changing the dynamic of UWLC’s population.  In fact, nearly 20 percent of the students have an international experience during their education, and coupled with international faculty, connecting with this new mix of people has become part of the communication strategy.

“All educational facilities have to do a better job explaining the reason we want to connect with these people,” says Jorstad in his role as director of educational technologies. “We can’t just send out [the message] 'We need your money.'” So at his chancellor’s request, he began filming emotional stories and interviews with students in this non-traditional category to market the campus for various campaigns, then playing the stories via streaming on the Website.

“I get email from people all over the country saying, ‘I thought my life was tough but so-and-so’s story really gave me an appreciate for your campus and what you’re doing for your students,” he reports. Best of all, he also gets the bucks. Web streaming during the capital campaign to raise $18 million for  a new stadium meant producing a jazzy narrative of UWLC’s sports history coupled with rah-rah stories from previous athletes, then pushing the link to this video via personalized emails geared to appeal to different receivers.

His server statistics can track the click-throughs and link that to the money donated with decent accuracy. That’s how Jorstad knows the tactic worked in reaching the stadium fund-raising goal; they are currently using the same approach to raise $6 million for a new academic building. And all at a cost of Mediasite Web streaming equipment ($20,000) and a Web server.

Reaching Parents
According to the Council for Aid to Education, many elite universities are showing an 11.7 percent jump in fundraising dollars from 2007 to 2008. However, the report concluded, the top five institutions — Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, Yale, and the University of Pennsylvania — weren’t likely to sustain those amounts in 2009’s financial downturn. But that doesn’t discourage Merritt Crowley, director of regional development for the New York metro area at Brown University.

“I’m still surprised at how many schools don’t do anything with non-alumni parents,” she said. “They’re happy with the school as long as their student is doing well.” What better time to make a bid for a fundraising relationship? True, Crowley knows she needs to show sensitivity to the fact these folks already are paying tuition, but she still reaches out to all student parents, regardless of their scholarship status. Many decline to give, naturally, and some send just $10. “But the power of 1,000 $10 [donations] adds up,” she said.

Brown also formed a Parent Leadership Program as an avenue to get parents engaged, and contributions from this group have tripled in its eight-year existence. On the other hand, the University did need to invest in three full-time staff people dedicated to working on fundraising efforts with parents, which cost considerably more than merely dumping the contact numbers into the alumni phone-a-thon database. “It depends on how mature your development policy is,” explained Crowley. “I’ve worked with some institutions where the population was 60 percent first-generation college with high financial aid assistance. Getting this demographic started in a philanthropy direction was too much effort for the payoff.

“You have to be realistic about your parent base,” she added. For instance, Brown University decided to axe specifically pursuing parents of graduate students on this calculation.

Talk within the fundraising industry is that private schools also have an easier time collecting from parents than public schools, where this demographic feels their tax dollars and tuition checks cover their share.

The Hidden Cost to Receive
And the subtle consequence of luring more donors is answering to a wider base of people who now consider themselves shareholders. That’s why Aldrich recommends universities have their mission statements and educational vision firmly in place before they begin knocking on new doors. “Otherwise, you run the risk of the dreaded mission drift,” she warned.

“On the other hand, the opportunity to have new voices at the table with new ideas can be very valuable in helping institutions think through their relevance,” she pointed out. “As with anything, it’s a partnership.”