By John Grant
As fundraisers you’re looking to find the right fit for a donor to become involved, much like we in Alumni Relations do the same for alumni who wish to volunteer and/or share their experience in some capacity. But for this to happen we need to learn more about their interests, passions, and abilities to become involved and engaged.
I recently completed my Master of Education in Post-Secondary Leadership; my focus was on how to get our recent alumni motivated to become more involved with their alma mater. I began by asking alumni how they even defined “involvement.”
The most commonly mentioned examples involved graduates actively connecting with us: attending events; providing feedback on initiatives; and mentoring students. The passive forms of involvement focused upon our institution pushing information or opportunities upon alumni, including: staying informed about initiatives and activities; and contributing financially.
Other involvement activities were in-between; they require initiative from the graduate to take charge, although do not necessarily require engaging with the university. These included: connecting with alumni; serving as an ambassador; and referring future students.
In fact, my research participants helped me develop this involvement scale; surprisingly making a philanthropic contribution was deemed to be one of the most passive forms of involvement.
What I have witnessed, though, is that those who become involved in more active capacities (moving further to the right of the scale) are also more likely to later make a financial contribution to the organization.
So one of the most common questions I come across is ‘how do we get people to become more engaged?’ Here are a few suggestions I can offer:
- Identify opportunities for involvement: If you haven’t done-so already, chat with your colleagues to figure out how your stakeholders can get involved in different capacities. Being a donor is one obvious option, but try to find at least another four options for those who may not yet be willing to give financially; these could also serve as good ways to get your existing donors engaged in ways that will help bolster an increase in their gift in the near future! I’d recommend looking at developing a scale of opportunities, much like the one presented above, so that you can also quickly identify which options are the best given your constituent’s commitment level.
- Invite them, personally, to become involved: Most of my research participants said they were keen to get involved but chose not to because they were never personally approached. Even though they received our mass emails promoting our opportunities those appeals were far too generic and didn’t make them feel valued (keep in mind, my subjects were millennials). However, if someone had sent them a personalized email (going beyond the “Dear Jane”) and identified why they specifically were a good candidate for an initiative then they would feel more inclined to participate.
- Connect them with others in your community: Your organization provides a common bond for individuals to connect when provided the appropriate mechanisms such as social activities, professional networking events, or mentorship programs. You serve as a catalyst for fostering these connections. Better yet, if your organization has sub-units that your stakeholders can best relate to then try to bring them specifically into those folds. For example, within SFU we’ve discovered that alumni wish to connect the most with their program of study rather than institution-wide. The stronger the bonds they can form amongst each other through your organization, the greater their affinity to your organization will also be.
I used to say that our office was responsible for the “friendraising” and that our colleagues were in charge of the “fundraising.” However, what I’ve come to learn is that we’re all working towards the same goal in the end; we want to have stakeholders who are engaged with our institutions in capacities that matter to them. Ultimately they will all pay us back in spades.
John Grant has been working with Simon Fraser University for the past decade, nearly half of which has been devoted to Alumni Relations. His primary responsibilities include building strong relationships with campus partners to explore, encourage, and promote opportunities to expand alumni engagement. A large component to this role is to serve as a type of consultant to internal groups to make recommendations that improve overall alumni engagement including communications strategies, program options, and performance tracking systems. He and his wife won the SFU Humanitarian Staff Achievement Award for establishing a financial award for undergraduate students. John holds a BA in Communication and Psychology, a Graduate Diploma in Business Administration, and a Master of Education in Post-Secondary Leadership.