Friendraising vs. Fundraising

Christina Balotescu

March 27, 2014

Many hands together with a heart painted on them, implying generosity

If you follow higher education, you may have seen a flurry of activity on the web regarding Friendraising vs. Fundraising. The drama centers on how best to cultivate alumni relationships and ask for donations. An article on Higher Ed Live that stresses the link between alumni engagement and giving back, and Ryan Catherwood couldn’t be more on target. He believes that cultivating a relationship with alumni before outwardly asking for donations yields greater engagement, and better long term response.

As a recent alumna myself, this resonates with me. My university taught me many things and helped me to secure a great career. For that, I am thankful. But I’ve paid for it through tuition, and continue to do so through student loans. If they want me to give more, I’d like the school to provide additional value. As Catherwood says, “We must earn gifts by providing services as if the relationship between the school and alumnus started new again on graduation day.”

Many universities bombard their alumni with donation requests the moment they graduate. These alumni have yet to take full advantage of their degree, or understand the doors it will open for them. They also may not have the means to give large gifts at the moment, as they are still paying student loans. All this can leave a poor taste in alumni mouths. Communications to alumni should not be centered on the university and its needs, the focus should be on alumni, current students, and how the two groups can help each other and one another. The ask for money should come later.

How often do you tune out approaches that are blatant money-grabbing? We unlist our phone numbers and ban solicitors. We throw away promotions as ‘junk mail’. Do you want your university messages classified the same way? I recently spoke with a graduate who had received a holiday email from her alma mater. The subject read Happy Holidays, and the body contained nothing more than an appeal for gifts. This struck the alumna as incredibly insincere, and she naturally voiced this opinion to many others. It’s time for a different approach. Provide added value beyond graduation, and your alumni will have more respect for your university, which will pay off beautifully in the long run.

Catherwood states, “A university’s alumni network is the easiest network for an individual to meet new people and grow relationships…after all, aren’t we more likely to give money to our friends?” The alumni network is the easiest way to provide the added value your alumni want and deserve, but is your alumni relationship platform user friendly? Does it allow alumni to easily form lasting connections, apply to jobs, attend university sponsored events, and participate in group discussion?  Check out our post, “What Alumni Really Want” for additional insight into what alumni expect from their alma mater. If these objectives aren’t achieved, you’re missing out on providing alumni the added value that will get you continued support.

Lastly, Catherwood says “We must support our alumni as they travel forward in life, instead of always asking them to travel back.” How is your university empowering the next generation of those that will change the world, beyond graduation day? How are you staying relevant in alumni minds, and earning the gifts of time and money that they are capable of giving? A private, branded online alumni community can help you achieve these goals, while simultaneously building brand recognition, and exceeding fundraising milestones. To learn how your university can implement a private online community, visit our website, or schedule a demo today.

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