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Case Study Donor Participation Project

W&M’s Successful Donor Participation Strategy

Video only available to Donor Participation Project members, send me an email at louis@marktlab.com to join.


Matthew Lambert, CEO, William & Mary Foundation, and Dan Frezza,  Associate Vice President for Strategic Operations & Annual Giving guided a Donor Participation Project session on the details of their successful alumni giving participation strategy during their last campaign.

Some interesting takeaways were:

  • Every donor interaction mentioned the three campaign goals of increasing alumni engagement, increasing alumni giving participation, and reaching the campaign’s dollar goal.
  • They exploded their alumni engagement from about 10,000 touchpoints with alumni per year at the start of the campaign to over 30,000 by the last year of the campaign.
  • They grew their Class Ambassadors program from 200 to over 800 volunteers.
  • Their Giving Day also grew exponentially, and they viewed it as both an engagement and giving participation opportunity.
  • Leadership (President, Board, VP Advancement) must make participation a priority.
  • It is not a matter of either raising given dollar amounts OR achieving a participation goal, it has to be seen as giving AND participation.
  • Success requires a broad-based focus, across campus.
  • Diversification of the donor base is key (i.e. women in philanthropy, underrepresented populations).
  • The main indicators of giving habits are: giving history, consistency, frequency, and gift amount.
  • You must choose one among these three high-level goals: Retention, Reactivation, Acquisition. It will most likely be Retention.
  • With Reactivation, time is not on your side. After 5 years, donors are as likely to come back as a non-donor.
  • In the Acquisition bucket, newly graduated students were an important source of growth.
  • Key drivers of their success were: increased retention (year over year giving), increased gift frequency (within a year), stewardship of good behavior (i.e. consecutive giving society).

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Donor Participation Project Resources

Donor Participation Project Kickoff: How We Gather Report

Angie Thurston of Sacred Design joined a group of fundraisers as part of the Donor Participation Project to discuss the implications of the How We Gather report for nonprofit engagement and donor participation.

The document below summarizes the main points discussed:

  • The sector also needs a reliable way to know what is working well in the areas of donor engagement. In the current pandemic environment, especially in the area of digital engagement.
  • Angie shared a great thought:

People come for [the workout/artistic self-expression/having dinner with like-minded individuals/something else] but they stay for the community.

  • Donor participation as it is sometimes defined can become a superficial numbers game. A deeper definition of authentic donor engagement is seen as necessary.
  • It is important that there is wide representation among donor constituencies. The current trend toward fewer donors making larger gifts feels undemocratic.

Q: What are the common threads among the organizations in your report that have been able to grow large communities?

“Community” is a word that is frequently used in an empty way, but we its true that we found a hunger for authentic community. This is different from something like “networking,” which can be valuable in its own right.

Q: Larger, more established nonprofits include a broad variety of interests under their umbrella. How can we connect with and leverage those communities?

In larger nonprofits, like universities, communities develop organically around different issues. Sometimes these communities have a separate identity from the main organization. How do we have those communities embrace the values of the “mothership”?

Angie: This reminds me of meetup.com. There are thousands of communities made possible by this platform but its members identify with each other not with meetup.com. Some suggestions:

Q: How do we message the values of the organization, especially to sub-communities that have their own values?

Angie: Messaging about values depends on the extent to which the “real thing” is happening. Naming “values” is more effective if they match what is already going on. Otherwise, they come across as empty.

People should testify to the values of their community, based on their experience.

This connection between what is really happening and the official “values” can break down as organizations scale and grow. Some organizations are so reliant on the founder for these values that they fall apart when he or she is not there. We’ve all been guilty of this: “Developing Leaders for the 21st Century” sounds empty.

The statement of values is less important than the lived experience.

Among Millenials, there is a noticeable search for community, accountability, and an authentic voice. Communities must engage their constituents to be active, be purposeful, and demonstrate value to their members.

Angie: What we found striking is that lot of people (especially Millenials) are looking for deep community. But they are hesitant to talk about it in those terms (there is still a stigma for “loneliness”). People are wary of hyperbole. What they find appealing is “come play live music for one hour.” In other words, they want to hear the unexagerated reality of what the offering is.

Messaging should come from this lense. What are you actually doing? In real-life terms? Why have you made the decision to do that? Corporate messaging has exploited the word community and other concepts so much that people are hungry for a sense of reality.

Participants:

Khadija Hill
James Barnard
Hawken Brackett
Franklin Guerrero
Cathy Dodge-Miller
Patrick Powell
Ivan Alekhin
Angel Terol
Joanna Schofield
Sierra Rosen
Tilghman Moyer
Patrick Powell
Michael Spicer
Rebekkah Brown
Louis Diez

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Donor Participation Project 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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Conferences Donor Participation Project

Donor Participation Project

The Donor Participation Project (DPP) convenes fundraising professionals who:

  • 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.

To that end, we meet monthly for a Lunch Analysis session:

  • 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.

Upcoming sessions:

Past sessions:

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