As alumni receive an ever-increasing number of solicitations from a wide variety of nonprofit organizations, colleges and universities can no longer use a one-size-fits-all solicitation approach for annual giving. Alumni want to receive information about giving opportunities customized to their interests, or they will make gifts to organizations that focus on these areas.
Unfortunately, past data collection approaches have left advancement shops with a lack of actionable intel to link donor interests and affinities to giving opportunities on campus. Tried and true practices, like senior giving campaigns, still focus on generating revenue instead of building a reliable affinity database for future major gifts. While growing a culture of philanthropy remains more important than ever, advancement staff need to think outside of the revenue box to ensure that senior campaigns and other giving events generate the data needed for future solicitations.
While senior giving can jumpstart young alumni affinity data efforts, data about ethnicity, race, and sexual orientation for older alumni segments remains elusive for many institutions. To capture demographic and affinity data across your alumni base, consider these low-cost, high-impact data collection strategies.
Leveraging Multiple Channels for Intel
1. Refocus senior class giving campaigns
The class gift is often a staple of senior year. Advancement leaders lament that the efforts are monumental and the returns limited. We need to reconsider why these campaigns are most useful: growing a culture of philanthropy, even if they never become a large source of revenue. We need to not only allow seniors to direct their philanthropic support to a specific cause on campus, but also store and capture that information for post-graduation use. For example, if a senior directs his or her class gift to the African-American Studies program on campus, we should recognize that he or she has an affinity towards African-American research and history. We should shift our focus from sourcing major gifts to updating our affinity data for graduating seniors.
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2. Establish online alumni affinity communities
Younger alumni are fluent in social media, and establishing affinity-focused alumni groups on social media platforms enables alumni to share their affinities with us before they make a gift. Groups on platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter should promote relevant topics for affinity constituencies, such as recent celebrations of Latino scholarship recipients or accomplishments of alumni in the legal profession. Staff in social media, marketing, and/or prospect research functions should track the membership lists of these groups, and they should ensure that relevant alumni records are updated with the appropriate affinity information.
3. Audit the campus newspaper
Leveraging campus historical records provides another avenue for sourcing reliable information about an alum’s affinity, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Advancement student workers can skim old student newspaper articles, searching for key words that may relate to specific affinity groups. For example, a student worker might conduct a campus newspaper audit looking for words related to “LGBT,” “HIV/AIDS advocacy,” or “campus pride festivities” to identify and document alumni with presumed LGBT affinity. Be sure to send these names to prospect research, who may have additional information, before coding them in the alumni database.
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4. Cross search relevant local boards
Looking at other boards within the local community can help source affinity information about older alumni. First, institutions should create a list of local area boards that have a specific focus area (e.g. LGBT homelessness, Latino/a empowerment, African-American business growth). Then, advancement staff should cross reference the organizations’ boards of directors with alumni from the college or university. While some alumni may serve on a nonprofit board without identifying with the corresponding affinity, most alumni who sit on affinity-related boards will have a greater likelihood of supporting related causes.