A few months ago I attended my five year high school reunion and a few weeks after that I got my first solicitation to the alumni fund call.
I was shocked to think back and realize this was the first time my high school was soliciting me for a gift of any kind. And to be honest, I was a little thrown off when initially getting the call because I had never given it much thought.
The call seemed somewhat out of the blue at the time and they were asking for my credit card information immediately. I was flustered and ended up giving a small amount since I hadn’t budgeted for the gift.
My college alma mater’s approach was completely different than my high school. I remember getting a call from my college three days before graduation asking me to make a gift. I recall somewhat laughing at the poor girl who called me because I didn’t think she was honestly asking me for money.
At that time I wasn’t employed and going off into the big bad world. I had nothing to give and I was in a better boat than most of my peers who had debt from college. I told the girl that when I was employed the University was more than welcome to call back but now was not the time.
Which approach is better – waiting until young alumni have resources or asking right away and getting rejected?
I realize a college and an independent school are very different in their solicitation process. My high school’s policy is to wait five years from graduation to solicit alumni, assuming by that time they are employed and have something to give.
But I can honestly say that when I got a job (and a pay check) I immediately thought to give to my college simply because they asked first. They planted the seed of giving before I even graduated and it was the first place I thought of when I had money to give. I also gave because I felt bad for laughing at the girl who called me before graduation.
What does this all boil down to?
The number one reason why people give is because they are asked.
So how do you engage young alumni and create a culture of giving when they have nothing to give?
One great way is to emphasize participation. My high school is doing a competition between the different graduating classes. Another school ranked all the major schools in the area’s alumni giving to spur some interest, or a competition with one rival high school for a higher participation percentage.
In the end, the dollars are great but, more importantly, you are creating a culture of giving for the young alumni who typically can’t give as much as the older folks.
As a young alumna I like to have the opportunity to participate and feel like I am doing something with my peers. Being asked to give is special and I am always happy to give back to both my alma maters.