Building a Student Foundation

Posted on 06/01/2017

Everybody has at least one thing they’re good at—everyone has a talent. Some people are creative. Others are analytical. Some people are detail-oriented. Others are good at getting things done. For annual giving programs, recruiting volunteers who have an array of talents and who are willing to lead by example can be one of the best ways to spread the word about the importance of giving. It can also be an effective way to teach students about philanthropy and give them a chance to put their talents to good use.

The student foundation is nothing new at Oklahoma State University—it’s been around for decades—but it had a few shortcomings. First, it wasn’t getting the support it needed from staff. Second, it wasn’t always clear to members what was expected of them. Third, the foundation didn’t accurately reflect the diversity of the university’s student population. When the annual giving team realized that the foundation wasn’t living up to its full potential, they didn’t waste a moment looking for ways to improve it.

One of the first things they did was dedicate a staff position to supporting student philanthropy programs. This position focused on recruiting and supporting volunteers, coordinating events and marketing efforts, and developing programs to teach students about philanthropy. The position was also responsible for developing a stronger partnership with the office of student affairs and identifying ways for the foundation to be more involved in student life in general, as well as in important events like matriculation and commencement.

Next, they created a volunteer job description that outlined their specific expectations of members. It stated that each foundation member was required to be present at meetings, help spread the word about giving, and join one of the subcommittees through which they could assist with development-related projects like crowdfunding or event planning. Having a job description gave volunteers a clearer sense of what they were signing up for in advance and helped ensure that they knew how they could put their talents to good use.

Finally, they revised the recruitment process for foundation members in an effort to encourage more diverse student membership. In the past, it had been limited largely to word of mouth. The new process included proactive recruiting through various campus offices, faculty, and student groups. They specifically sought out students with diverse characteristics, backgrounds, and talents.

Taking time to rethink the support, expectations, and diversity of volunteers not only gave new life to the student foundation but also created a more effective vehicle for teaching students about giving. The volunteers themselves ended up having a more meaningful experience and their talents were used more productively, which in turn helped spread the word to other students around campus about the impact of philanthropy.


This article has been adapted from the book Ideas for Annual Giving by Dan Allenby. Copyright (c) 2016 Council for Advancement and Support of Education. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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