Leveraging Events to Encourage Young Alumni Giving
Shoaling is a term used in biology to describe when a group of fish stick close together. In general, fish shoal with others of similar size and appearance, choosing members of their own species whenever possible. There are many reasons why fish shoal. Collectively, it makes them more effective at searching for food and moving through the water. It’s a defense strategy—large groups are less vulnerable to predators than individual fish—and is also thought to increase the likelihood of finding a mate.
Since their beginning, alumni relations programs have expended a considerable amount of time and effort helping alumni shoal. Among their more traditional approaches have been holding campus events like homecoming or class-specific celebrations such as reunions. For many programs, regional chapters and clubs have also provided a way for alumni to gather at happy hours or sporting events. Realizing the value of bringing alumni together, today’s annual giving programs are also beginning to leverage events as a way to achieve their fundraising goals and provide better donor stewardship.
Realizing the value of bringing alumni together, today’s annual giving programs are also beginning to leverage events as a way to achieve their fundraising goals and provide better donor stewardship. A few years ago, the University of Chicago launched “Participate”—a series of festive parties organized to encourage young alumni to give. To get on the invitation list for a Participate event you must have a) graduated in the last ten years and b) made a gift in the current fiscal year of any size to any designation. Events are organized in key regions throughout the country where there are significant populations of alumni. They’re promoted through email, social media, and word of mouth by volunteers.
Attendees are treated to high-end drinks and delicious appetizers while they greet old friends and make new connections. There’s no dress code but—as the university’s website jokes—that doesn’t stop many alumni from looking snazzy when they show up. For those who aren’t sure if they qualify for an invitation, the annual fund’s website includes an Honor Role of Donors so they can look for their name.
Helping alumni shoal may not make annual giving programs less vulnerable to predators or more likely to find a mate, but the University of Chicago has seen that it can increase young alumni giving and engagement, which is arguably more important.
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