A few weeks ago, we shared the story of how one donor (ALUMinate co-founder, Bob Fealy) helped change the game for his alma mater in Chicago. In fact, Bob helped his university raise at least seven times more than they ever had in that region!
We shared Bob’s story because we know our readers crave current, relevant examples of what institutions are doing.
We bring you real schools and real data so you can create real change.
Therefore, this month we’ve rounded up three innovative ways to supercharge your capital campaign and reach regional alumni across the country. Plus, we’ve added tips for how YOU can implement or replicate those ideas with your own school’s culture in mind.
1) Lead with Transparency
What is it?
The University of Washington is currently engaged in their most ambitious capital campaign: “Be Boundless — For Washington, For the World.”
UW’s campaign FAQs page is substantive and direct, and addresses tough questions like:
-“If the UW can raise billions from its donors, why does the University need state funding at all?”
-“Can the donations from the campaign be used to boost faculty salaries?”
-“Why should the state fund UW capital projects if the UW can find corporate partners to foot some or most of the bill?”
This is about more than just sticking a FAQ page onto your campaign website. UW is demonstrating to alumni and supporters that they understand their need for transparency, especially when such large sums of money are involved. Remember, there may even be major donor prospects who aren’t as familiar with the lingo and ins and outs of capital campaigns as your team has become, so the nuts and bolts information should be readily available.
Capital campaigns are a way for a school to clearly communicate to alumni, supporters, and friends (especially those in regions!) what is going on at the institution, where the school is headed, and the areas of greatest need.
Alumni and donors won’t take part in the campaign unless they feel authentic buy-in. Their level of buy-in depends on how you design the campaign. To make sure regional alumni really understand what your capital campaign is for, it is best to set transparency as a core value in the foundational and planning stages of the campaign and return to it as a touchstone.
How can I replicate it?
1 – Get the pressing questions from the source. First, ensure that you have the best, up-to-date data on your alumni in regions. Then engage them by asking what concerns and questions they have about the capital campaign. Ways to do this:
a) Send a quick survey embedded in your monthly email newsletter (we really like Google Forms for this purpose).
b) Conduct informal chats and check-ins at regional events and gatherings.
c) Launch a quick Facebook poll.
2 – Address the previous campaign. A question on the minds of many alumni may be, “What did you do with the money you raised in the last campaign?” It may be useful to address what the previous campaign did to advance the university, and how this current campaign will build off that previous success. The accomplishments of the previous campaign could be demonstrated in a short video.
3 – Be transparent about what can and will actually be done with the money. During a capital campaign, a huge challenge for your team is how to manage donor expectations and respond to their priorities, especially when those priorities may be different from those of the institution. Work to ensure that your whole team is clear on what the institution’s needs are, why they’re important, and how to convey that importance to new potential donors. Let those priorities shape how the campaign is marketed and communicated in regions.
4 – Keep the conversation going. Another section we discovered on UW’s campaign website was a call to action form for the campaign newsletter. This is a great way to channel campaign-specific information and updates to regional alumni without cluttering the main alumni newsletter.
2) Let the Visual Story Do the Work
What is it?
Wellesley College just wrapped up their successful capital campaign, raising $514 million to meet their goal. To help highlight the impact and importance of the capital campaign, Wellesley created a series of videos focused on the stories and achievements of current and past students, including Hillary Clinton. These concise and well-crafted videos help viewers, especially those who may live far from the central campus, see the direct connections between programs and priorities funded by the campaign and the lives of students. Here is an example:
How can I replicate it?
1 – Often the more concise, visually engaging, and bite-sized these videos are, the better. A 1-2 minute video is ideal.
2 – Go in-depth. Alumni want to see more than just the typical “I couldn’t have done this without the support” type video. Instead, try to demonstrate, in specifics, how the funding or program helped bridge the gap for that student.
3 – Build microsites. Wellesley, for instance, built an easy-to-navigate microsite to house and display these videos. Microsites are a great way to publish content, strengthen your brand, and amplify your message without taking up space on your main website.
4 – Involve students. Video production and branding firms can be pricey, so a great alternative is to involve students in creating a video series for the campaign! Students can not only serve as the focus of the videos, but they can help in the storyboarding, filming, and production phases for internships or course credit as part of a mentorship program with faculty, or as a volunteer experience. This is a great opportunity to reach out to your institution’s Cinematography and Film/Video Production departments and promote new collaborations through the campaign while keeping costs down.
5 – Don’t stop there! Once you create those awesome videos be sure you have a dissemination strategy. Be sure to think about the following questions: How do you plan on boosting your videos’ shareability on social media? What can you do to help them go viral? How can you ensure that they’re mobile-friendly?
6 – Tell stories. Did you know that alumni engagement through storytelling is one of our areas of expertise? ALUMinate co-founder Esther Choy is a renowned storytelling coach and best-selling author of Let the Story Do the Work: The Art of Storytelling for Business Success. Learn more about how we use story to help you engage regional alumni.
“We need to tap into people’s emotions in order to move them into action.”
–Esther Choy in an interview with the American Management Association.
3) Customize the Giving Experience
What is it?
The University of Florida is currently conducting their “Go Greater” capital campaign. While navigating their campaign landing page, I discovered an exciting tool!
This section allows visitors to find a way to give through a “choose your own adventure” navigation. I clicked on “Your Environment” and was led to another page where I could select from a variety of specific campaign projects and funds that fit under the environmental umbrella.
When I selected the “Butterfly Conservation Initiative,” I was taken to a giving page where I could customize my amount:
We’re in the age of customization. Donors, especially younger donors, want to be able to select the causes and organizations that most resonate with them. They want to have a say in how their money is used. This “choose your own adventure” giving tool is a compelling and interactive way to virtually engage your regional alumni and supporters, and allow them to customize their gift.
How can I replicate it?
1 – Start by storyboarding it out and brainstorming! Make a list with your team of all the programs and initiatives impacted by the campaign. Then, group those programs and initiatives into passion clusters.
2 – UF’s interactive tool is great, but what about a short, interactive quiz to help match potential donors with specific intra-campaign initiatives?
3 – As you plan how to build the tool, look for ways to collaborate across campus and involve other departments and groups with the relevant skills.
Bonus tip: While exploring the UF campaign webpages, I found their detailed marketing and branding toolkit for the campaign. As the site explains, “Comprehensive and coordinated communications will connect the vision of our dynamic university with the passions of our many and diverse donors.” Branding resources include:
-A detailed pdf style guide (with an FAQs section!)
This kind of branding detail and intentionality is impressive. If shared and used effectively and universally, a branding and communications strategy can grab the attention of regional alumni and supporters. In addition, it can promote clarity and unify the campus.
* We hope you found these examples helpful and inspiring! Want more help with your capital campaign in regions? Email me to learn how you can get a comprehensive, regional engagement strategy tailored to your institution’s culture and needs.