Categories
Case Study

Top 10 Private University Graduate School

Graduate School Sees Alumni Participation Growth to 34% with Giving Events Strategy

Work: Annual fund assessment; Development of “giving event” toolkit; execution of Giving Days, Giving Weeks, and Reunion Giving Days; email best practices training and implementation; optimization of online giving platform

Summary: Our initial assessment identified a high engagement but fragmented alumni base that was not responding to traditional appeals. We developed a standardized “giving event” toolkit that the client could apply at multiple levels of the organization (from individual departments, campuses, and reunion classes to the entire school). Thanks to these, alumni participation went from as low as 9% to as high as 34% for certain segments. The all-school Giving Week raised $253,000 and generated considerable positive donor energy and social media activity.


This highly-ranked graduate school in Washington, DC had a strong major gifts program but needed to increase broad-based support from alumni to meet its full potential. Alumni and friends were highly engaged with their individual programs and among themselves but this was not translating to increased giving.

The Assistant Dean for Development came to us for an assessment of the annual fund program and recommendations for growth opportunities. Based on the strength of our suggestions, the engagement was extended into the implementation phase.

Our initial research discovered that:

  • Alumni were highly engaged at a micro-level: with their specific professor/s or functional program, but not so much with the school in itself or even the university.
  • Board members were clamoring for increased alumni giving participation.
  • Mail solicitation (managed by a central office) was not moving the needle. Alumni complained that it seemed tone-deaf to their areas of interest.
  • A school-wide Giving Day did not seem like the best course of action due to questions on how many alumni related to the school as an entity.
  • The school had just started a reunion program.

Action Plan

Based on our initial assessment, we communicated to the client the following growth opportunities:

Work with individual programs to educate staff and faculty on stewardship and donor relations best practices, eventually leading to holding several Giving Weeks for individual programs, a Giving Day for each of their milestone reunion years, a Giving Week for their international campus, and a school-wide Giving Week.

Optimize the use of the giving form. While this part of the infrastructure was managed centrally and there wasn’t much flexibility, we discovered ways to use it that were not widely known. This allowed us to implement previously overlooked best practices such as pre-selecting monthly gift options or pre-populating gift amounts in email asks.

Leverage a strong leadership annual giving society to celebrate their first school-wide Giving Week. We provided all the planning elements and assisted the in-house team in running the event: strategy sessions, volunteer engagement ideas, project management, best-practice email templates, copywriting, giving week webpage design and maintenance, and social media/phonathon calendars.

The Results

The Giving Week brought in 250+ new donors and raised over $250,000.

Beyond these results, it thrilled board and major gift donors who got caught up in the excitement. Several leadership society annual donors made stretch gifts and issued challenges during the week.

Alumni participation sky-rocketed in the groups where our strategies were applied going from as low as 9% to as high as 34%.

Faculty and staff were thrilled to understand and implement stewardship and solicitation best practices in their departmental communications which increased their appreciation of working with their Development staff.

What the Client Said

While working with the MarktLab team, at times it felt like we were jumping off a cliff because there were so many things that had simply never been done in our Development operation! Judging by the results, they obviously know what they are doing. Their work transformed our program.

Want results like this for your organization? Let’s talk.