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Donor Participation Summit Resources

How to Grow Giving Participation

I recently shared a list of US higher ed institutions with a high growth rate. Specifically, alumni giving participation growth between 2009 and 2019.

My team and I have been interviewing the top 10 in the nation. This varied list includes Ellon University, Villanova University, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Princeton University. Here is what we’re learning:

Donor growth is (one of) the VPs personal priorities

Growing organizations have the unit in charge of growing this metric (typically “Annual Giving” or “Annual Giving and Alumni Engagement”) reporting directly to them.

They act like “community incubators”

A “community incubator” is a term I created to describe organizations that are constantly generating different engagement opportunities for their donor base. “It’s a volume business,” one of the growing org VPs shared with us.

None of the schools told us that they had just grown and grown their existing engagement opportunities (i.e. reunion program, alumni board) to reach their ambitious growth goals.

Instead, they told us that they were constantly innovating and finding new segments and designing engagement opportunities for these constituencies: primary care physicians, alumni business owner marketplace, athletics-focused groups, the list goes on and on.

They do not shy away from transactional exchanges

All the growing schools embraced the fact that, at times, people will just “give to get.”

What they get can vary from access (“dinner with the president”) to simple incentives and promo items in the public radio-style, or simply satisfaction (“the 100th gift will unlock $10,000 to a specific program!”). Often, this is done to promote first, second, and third gifts.

Intensive use of incentives, challenges, and matches are an integral part of all of these programs.

They make recurring gifts easy and emphasize this way of giving wherever possible

They all have robust offerings and streamlined systems for monthly giving and multi-year pledges that you can make online, on the phone, or by mail.

They experiment and change their org chart based on priorities and team strengths

If they’re convinced that annual giving and engagement are two parts of the same coin, they will put them together in the same department. If they believe that a certain area needs more attention, they will have it report directly to the VP. If they believe that this is no longer the case, they will change the org chart again.

Stagnation and rigidity are not part of the vocabulary at any of these organizations.

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Donor Participation Summit Resources

8/19/20 (noon EST) Lunch Analysis

ANNOUNCEMENT: Research co-author Angie Thurston will be joining the discussion portion of the meeting!

Religious participation and giving is seeing the same decline as overall civic life participation.

The authors of this report study the “emerging landscape of Millennial communities that are fulfilling the functions that religious congregations used to fill.”

Angie Thurston and Casper ter Kuile discover and analyze successful communities with thousands of members (religious and non-religious, they include CrossFit for example) that bring meaning and purpose to its members, many of whom are Millenials.

As we struggle with how to involve people in general and Millenials in particular with our organizations, this is a surprising treasure-trove of ideas.

Brainstorm and Discuss this Report With Peers During our August 19 Lunch Analysis

Lunch Analysis is a 45-minute meeting that is a part book club, part scholarly discussion, part brainstorming session, and part support group. Participation is open to all who fundraise or have fundraised at a nonprofit.

Each Lunch Analysis covers a specific topic in donor participation and has required reading and discussion. This one will be on August 19, 2020 at noon EST.

To Take Part

  • Download and read the file above.
  • Choose one of the profiled communities and try it out: visit their website, sign up to their platform, join a newsletter.
  • Pick one element that you could apply to your own fundraising program right away. Prepare to share your thoughts!

Sign up here to get the Zoom details (I check that all participants are from legitimate fundraising organizations):

Join Us

James Barnard, Executive Director of Annual Giving and Integrated Marketing at University of Cincinnati Foundation

Tilghman Moyer, Vice President at Development at University of Arizona Foundation

Hawken Brackett, Executive Director of Strategic Engagement at The University of Alabama

Grant Kelly, Senior Director of Development at The Johns Hopkins University

Noah Maier, National Principal Gifts at OneforDemocracy.org

Michael Spicer, Director of Alumni and Parent Engagement at Pomona College

Colt Chambers, Director of Development at Georgia Ballet

Ivan Alekhin, Development Coordinator at National Parks Foundation

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Donor Participation Summit Resources

Heroes of Alumni Giving Participation

You could easily call the last 10 years “the lost decade” in alumni engagement. Based on VSE data I analyzed, US higher ed lost 285,293 alumni donors on an annual basis.

The heroes of this lost decade are schools that increased both the number of alumni donors AND their participation percentage (number of alumni giving / alumni of record). How did they achieve this feat? Here are the top 10.

Top 10 Higher Ed Institutions by Alumni Giving Participation Growth 2009-2019. Source: VSE and own analysis.
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Conferences Donor Participation Summit

Donor Participation Summit

The first Lunch Analysis is scheduled for August 19, 2020. Sign up below for your invite.

The Donor Participation Summit (DPS) convenes fundraising professionals who:

  • Work or have worked at a nonprofit in a fundraising capacity.
  • Are concerned about the nationwide decline in donor participation (20 million US households lost between 2000-2016).
  • Believe this can be solved by changing our fundraising practices and want to learn from peers who are moving the participation needle. No sales pitches; only verifiable, measurable results.

To that end, we’ll…

  • Meet monthly for Lunch Analysis: a 45-minute meeting that is a part book club, part scholarly discussion, part brainstorming session, and part support group. Each Lunch Analysis covers a specific topic in donor participation and has required reading and discussion. The next one will be on August 19, 2020 at noon EST and will cover this text about the “emerging landscape of Millennial communities that are fulfilling the functions that religious congregations used to fill.”
  • Hold the first Donor Participation Summit in the Spring of 2021.

Join the Movement

Enter your email now to join the next Lunch Analysis:

We will only use your email for information about the Donor Participation Summit community and will never share your information with anyone else.