To me, reunions and annual giving go together like “peas and carrots,” to quote the inimitable Forrest Gump.
Of course, I’ve spent the better part of my career on small liberal arts campuses, where reunions are ingrained in the institutional culture. But all institutions—large or small, public or private—can grow engagement and donations by harnessing the sentimental magic of class and affinity reunions.
Why reunions are essential to annual giving
Occasionally I hear, “reunions are out of date.” Others lament that reunions are too taxing on staffing and budget resources with limited ROI—due to low interest or attendance from alumni who lack a strong sense of connection to their college, university, class, or program.
But reunions can still be a relevant and effective tool for engagement and fundraising. When executed with forethought and precision, reunions provide advancement teams a meaningful way to engage their alumni by giving them a memorable, relationship-building experience. Reunions emotionally bond your donors, volunteers, and university—a bond that can be long-lasting.
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Similarly, reunions play well with up-and-coming millennials—young alumni who value their networks and friendships. Reunion giving blends perfectly with their preferred giving channels of digital and social media.
How reunions can keep your donor data pertinent
Reunions boost alumni giving and participation, broaden your base of support, and increase visibility for prospective donors, ultimately growing your organization’s fundraising coffers.
But reunions also provide an occasion to invest in data updates and review research profiles and class lists. For each reunion year or program, we re-acquaint ourselves with leading influencers in our alumni circles and identify new potential donors to solicit. This regular “pulse check” of our alumni and prospect data is vital to our fundraising operations because it helps us reconnect our institutions with disengaged alumni.
Four tactical elements to maximize ROI for your next reunion
While reunions are not one-size-fits-all, EAB | Royall & Company has identified four tactics to boost ROI:
- A digital peer engagement platform. Peer volunteers help build and maintain relationships between your institution and alumni. Improved digital channels and platforms for recruiting, training, and motivating reunion gift volunteers can simplify your team’s to-do list. Peer-to-peer contact—layered with staff-driven direct marketing and solicitations—is essential to reaching attendance, dollar, and participation goals.
- Class gifts. Reunion class gifts foster and maintain class unity through a spirit of celebration that engenders broad participation, while concurrently inspiring others to make their “gift of a lifetime.” Alumni often feel a greater incentive to give and increase their gift significantly when the request is tied back to a class gift. Think of reunions as mini-campaigns that engage across all levels of giving and have a sense of urgency, a goal, and a deadline.
- Class goals. Inter-class competition can motivate many contributions. After considering class giving history, perceived capacity, and input from peers who serve on the reunion committee, integrate reunion-giving awards into your reunion program. Encourage each class to strive to break the current reunion records for that milestone year, as well as compete with the other classes in reunion that year for awards like “the largest amount of dollars raised” and “the highest class participation rate.” These awards serve as a “carrot” to prompt contributions to meet goals within your annual fund and beyond. Awards such as these are often included in a special reunion awards ceremony and highlighted in class and university communications and newsletters.
- Multi-year pledges and planned gifts. Reunion campaigns are designed for alumni to celebrate with a shared goal of supporting the institution to the fullest extent possible. Prior donors should be asked to make increased or stretch gifts. Gifts that are initiated in or leading up to the reunion time period can have the aggregate amount counted in the class gift total and include contributions to any area of the campus—not just the annual fund.
It’s clear that reunions are still a great opportunity to combine engagement and fundraising. And, post-reunion, many donors will renew their gifts and retain at a higher level than prior to the reunion—providing your annual fund with much-needed sustainable growth. So go ahead—invite them to think back, come back, and give back to their alma mater.
More strategies to engage today's alumni
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