Digital channels have provided higher education fundraisers with new opportunities to boost alumni giving. But how do you know if your outreach is actually reaching your alumni?
As more institutions turn to digital platforms to solicit donations and increase alumni participation rates, it has become more difficult to cut through the thousands of digital advertisements that alumni see daily. For institutions to remain top-of-mind for alumni, outreach needs to be personalized and urgent.
But now advancement shops run the risk of over-soliciting alumni and alienating loyal supporters with too many fundraising emails. How can development staff strike the right balance?
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Combine generic outreach with strategic follow-up
To increase email open rates while avoiding over-solicitation, it’s necessary to determine who should receive follow-up donation reminders. One large private research university has developed an effective segmentation strategy to specifically target alumni who are interested in their short campaigns, without over-soliciting the rest of the donor pool.
This institution used their email marketing platform to track click-through activity on all email solicitations. A click-through on the initial email would trigger a series of follow-up email solicitations. These follow-up messages feature customized messaging and content, which increases the likelihood that the alumni donate.
Four steps for targeted digital outreach
1. Generic solicitation
A generic solicitation email is sent to the entire alumni donor pool.
2. Targeted follow-up
Follow-up emails are only sent to alumni who clicked in the original solicitation.
3. Customization and added urgency
The follow-up emails are customized and include urgent content. They might say “time is running out” or “I know you have been watching the campaign” to encourage immediate giving. Phrases such as “continue reading about…” and “the deadline is approaching…” encourage alumni to read to the end of the email and make a gift.
4. Expansion to direct mail
There is specific segmentation for direct mail solicitations. If a donor has not given via direct mail in the past six years, they will no longer receive direct mail solicitations.
From generic messaging to customized content
Because the generic emails match the emails that have traditionally gone to a wide range of alumni, no alumni noticed a difference in email content when segmentation began. However, customized emails based on interests and giving history only started once an email recipient clicked into the original email. Alumni relations staff created these customized messages from a limited list of potential interest categories, ensuring that mass-customization was feasible within the time frame of the email campaign.
Immediate success and engaged alumni
Segmenting emails has been incredibly successful. Prior to implementing the segmentation strategy, average open rates for email solicitations hovered around 13%. Since alumni who open the original email are more likely to open the customized follow-up emails, click-through rates spiked to 60% for segmented follow-up messages.
On the other hand, by limiting the number of emails that uninterested alumni receive, the institution avoided being flagged as spam. This targeted approach ensures a balance between reaching all potential donors and avoiding excessive follow-up.
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