A Realistic Look at Annual Funds
When the alumni leadership walks away from fundraising it delivers a very important, though very subtle, message to those it leads — “There is something untoward about the fundraising dimension of your relationship with your alma mater.” “Fundraising is not fun; it’s not rewarding; it’s obligatory and painful.”
If the annual fund is about loyalty and engagement; the alumni-relations program loses a great opportunity for success by looking away. A better strategy would be to endorse the annual fund, to make it a real point of pride. Does this mean that the alumni relations professionals must become “fundraisers,” must do some “asking"? Not at all. A simple effort to script every event and every communication with a message of pride about how well the alumni do in supporting the institution is very powerful.
A simple line like, “Many of you who join us here today are annual-fund participants. Thank you. It’s hard to overstate the impact that you are having for the young people who follow you at alma mater. And, even more important, it’s hard to overstate the importance of populating our world with more people who make the same kind of contributions to our society that you are making. Alumni, let’s give ourselves and our institution a real hand,” could be so very, very powerful. No asking. No discomfort on anyone’s part. Some very meaningful reinforcement about the alumni experience and, oh by the way, a positive interpretation of giving.
To take it up a notch, give all donors special name tags and recognize them with a special round of applause. No one needs to ask at this event. No one needs to chastise those who don’t give. No one needs to disparage the lack of participation. No one needs to declare that, “we all ought to be doing this,” or that, “we owe this to our college,” or that anyone should or could think more about the matter of support.