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The Heart of Alumni Giving

Guest Blog: From time to time, industry leaders, experts and generally inspiring people will share their thoughts on this blog. Dr. Rosemary Thomas, Executive Vice President at Davis & Elkins College, sheds light on key principles of alumni giving reflecting a career in higher-education and membership organizations.

To give, or not to give, that is the ongoing question from everyone’s alma mater.

All the time.

As a graduate of Clemson University, I remember vividly a campaign that appeared on the back cover of the alumni magazine for what seemed to be several years.

It was a picture of a crowd of Tiger fans with paws painted on their faces, clearly cheering on the team but holding up a number of fingers… 4, maybe 6, even 7. The message was Clemson was not #1 in the ACC when it came to alumni giving.

Everyone knows when you’re at a sporting event you want to hold up one finger indicating We’re #1; but that was not the case.

I would anxiously flip the magazine over when it arrived in the mail to see how many fingers were up with the arrival of each new issue. We improved, but there is always room for more improvement when it comes to alumni giving.

I ask you to think for a moment about why people give…then in a split-second think about why they do not give.

I bet you just landed on two sides of the same coin. They give because they were asked. And you guessed it, they don’t give because they were not asked. We can all say, “but they got the mailing,” or “we sent them tons of emails,” “we inserted the envelope in the magazine.”

But did we ask them to give to something about which they truly care? Did we invite them to honor the retirement of their favorite professor or place a brick alongside ours on the alumni walk? Did we convey the need for scholarships similar to the one they received? Did we tell them we could be #1 in alumni giving if they participated?

As much as we would like to suggest fundraising has changed, I suggest the basic premise has not changed all that much: People still give because they were asked, and they give because they are passionate about the mission, people or place that will benefit from their gift.

It seems what we have to do is find a way to keep it real in a virtual world. Find a way to touch their hearts before we simply try to get their attention through a mass message delivery system. Dare I say, make it personal.

And remember, the size of the gift sometimes matters less than the consistency of giving.

Cape Fletcher Associates

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