Alumni Fundraising: A Guide to the Basics & 6 Top Strategies
Your fraternity or sorority works hard during recruitment to find new members because you know your members’ college years are positively impacted by all that your chapter has to offer. Whether it be academic assistance and social events or leadership and volunteer opportunities, each experience your sorority or fraternity provides has a hand in shaping who your members will be after graduation day.
Fraternity and sorority alumni recognize and understand the positive lifelong impact of their chapter membership. As they graduate, they expect that one day they will be asked to support their chapter with donations, just like the alumni who supported them as collegiate members.
Savvy chapters know that they can’t wait for their alumni to remember that they should give back to their organization—even if they did have a big impact on their college experiences. That’s why you need a proactive, thoughtful, strategic approach to keep in contact with alumni, build genuine relationships, and create opportunities for consistent giving.
This guide gives you everything you need to know about alumni fundraising and outlines actionable strategies you can leverage to secure support for your fraternity or sorority for years to come. Specifically, we’ll cover:
- Why Alumni Fundraising Is Critical for Your Fraternity or Sorority
- The Current State of Alumni Gifts
- Types of Alumni Fundraising
- 6 Strategies for Improved Alumni Fundraising
As you reimagine your own organization’s alumni engagement and giving program, remember that you don’t have to develop it alone. Help from a professional fundraising firm like Pennington & Company can be extremely beneficial as you create a long-term, effective outreach strategy.
Why Alumni Fundraising Is Critical for Your Fraternity or Sorority
Generous gifts from alumni can benefit your fraternity or sorority in two major ways:
- Alumni donations help your chapter provide a great experience for current student members. Whether you’re working on a large-scale project, like building a new chapter house or establishing an endowment fund, or simply seeking support for an upcoming formal or end-of-year event, alumni donation dollars can go a long way in helping a chapter accomplish its goals. Additionally, this funding ensures collegiate members experience the fun parts of fraternity or sorority life.
- Seeking alumni donations re-engages alumni. Asking for donations requires chapter members to do regular outreach, which translates to consistent communication and relationship-building opportunities with your alumni. Asking for donations can lead to stronger relationships with your alumni network. This can pay off down the road as alumni continue to give and spread the news about the good work your chapter is doing, and can impact future giving levels and recruitment.
The Current State of Alumni Gifts
It’s one thing to know why alumni giving matters. But what are the current realities of alumni giving? Do people actually give back to their alma maters?
According to Insider Higher Ed, the answer is a firm yes—and the future is only looking brighter for alumni giving. A recent survey found donations to higher ed institutions rose by 12.5% in the last fiscal year, which is the largest increase in over 20 years. Additionally, alumni contributions made up 22% of all higher education giving, which is an increase from prior years.
Fraternity and sorority alumni seem to feel an especially strong connection with their schools, as exhibited by The College of Charleston, a public university in South Carolina. According to research conducted by EAB in 2019, College of Charleston alumni with no sorority or fraternity affiliation had a giving rate of 5.5%, whereas alumni who had been in a sorority or fraternity as students had a giving rate of 10.9%.
What does this mean for your fraternity or sorority? Clearly, alumni are invested in giving back to the schools they attended. There’s something special about being a fraternity or sorority member that deepens that investment and desire to give back. Knowing this, your chapter can move forward with confidence when soliciting alumni donations!
Types of Alumni Gifts
Before diving into specific strategies for securing donations from your fraternity or sorority’s alumni, it’s important to understand the different types of alumni gifts. This can help you sharpen your fundraising strategy and create targeted appeals that will help you meet specific funding goals.
Major gifts are the largest donations that your fraternity or sorority receives, typically from just a handful of donors. It’s difficult to say what constitutes a major gift, as it differs from one organization to another. A major gift for a fraternity might be $5,000, while a major gift for a fraternity on a different college campus could be $15,000.
Major gifts are often critical to reaching larger organizational goals and completing capital campaign projects, like building a new chapter house or establishing an endowment fund.
Securing major gifts takes more effort than just simply asking for them. You’ll need a strategic plan for identifying potential major donors through prospect research, cultivating genuine relationships with those prospective donors, and making your ask when the time is right.
If your fraternity or sorority is aiming for major gifts, your best plan of action is to work with a fundraising expert. For example, the team at Pennington & Company has a wealth of experience managing campaigns ranging from $250,000 to $29 million. They can guide you through the process of cultivating major donors and securing major gifts.
Planned gifts, also referred to as legacy or estate gifts, are major gifts a donor makes after they pass away. Typically, they’re part of the donor’s estate or financial planning. There are three types of planned giving:
- Trusts: A trust provides tax benefits to the founder of the trust in exchange for giving an annual portion of the trust money to a charitable organization.
- Charitable annuities: A charitable annuity is a contract between a person and a charitable organization. The donor contributes a large amount of money and the organization agrees to pay that donor a fixed income for the rest of their life. The complicated process of setting up a charitable annuity is usually only taken on by a very large organization.
- Bequests: A bequest is the most popular form of planned giving because it’s very straightforward. Donors allocate a set dollar amount or percentage of their estate to a chosen organization in their legal will.
Many organizations, including fraternities and sororities, miss out on planned gifts because they neglect to educate their youngest donors about planned giving opportunities. By offering educational resources and publicizing different planned giving opportunities early on, you can create a sustainable planned giving program.
A one-time donation is a gift made by a fraternity or sorority alum without subsequent gifts pledged in the future. And they can be gifts of any size!
You can solicit one-time donations from your alumni in a myriad of ways—from hosting a t-shirt sale to including a link to an online donation page in an alumni newsletter, hosting an end-of-year gala, or mailing out fundraising letters. The possibilities are endless!
Even better than one-time donations are recurring donations or pledges. Recurring donations are gifts that alumni give on a regular basis, such as every month. In fact, an alumnus who gives just a little each month can end up having a huge impact over the course of a year.
For example, say an alumna is planning to give a one-time donation of $50. If they opt to give a monthly gift of $10 instead, they’ll give $120 over the course of a year. That smaller donation amount each month feels easier on the wallet than a larger, one-time donation, too.
To give your alumni the chance to make recurring donations, you’ll need to set up a recurring giving program. The easiest way to do this is to consistently bill donors who opt into the program. Set up an online donation form where you give donors the chance to self-select into your program and input their payment information. This way they won’t have to worry about returning to your donation page each month to give—the task will be completed automatically.
Matching gifts are a type of corporate philanthropy in which employers match the financial gifts their employees give to charitable organizations. Usually, this is done at a 1:1 ratio, but sometimes employers offer a 2:1 or even 3:1 ratio.
Alumni who leverage their employer’s matching gift programs can easily increase their donations without spending more money themselves.
Here’s how you can give your fraternity or sorority alumni the chance to find out if they’re eligible for matching gifts and set them up to increase their impact:
- Partner with a matching gifts database provider to embed a matching gifts database on your online donation page.
- Encourage donors to use the database to search for their employer and see if they are eligible for gift matching.
- Once a donor determines that they are eligible for gift matching, they will be paired with the necessary forms they need to fill out to have their employer match their gift. Some providers even offer auto-submission capabilities to take care of this step for your donors.
Even though matching gifts are easy for donors to take advantage of, many donors are unsure if their employers even offer gift matching. Embedding a matching gifts database is a great first step toward getting your donors’ gifts matched. You should also take the opportunity to spread the word about matching gifts.
Developing a better understanding of the different types of alumni gifts that can be donated to your fraternity or sorority can give you a leg up in crafting your fundraising strategies and donation solicitation plans. Let's explore some top fundraising and solicitation strategies to maximize alumni giving!
6 Strategies for Improved Alumni Fundraising
You know what alumni gifts are and why they’re essential to the health and success of your fraternity or sorority chapter. That’s why you’re looking for ways to easily secure these gifts and communicate with alumni. Let’s check out six strategies your chapter can use to improve your fundraising prowess.
1. Keep your alumni database up to date.
To build relationships with and solicit donations from alumni, you’ll need to keep track of them. That’s where your fraternity or sorority database comes in.
Maintaining an updated database empowers you to more effectively and efficiently reach out to your alumni and engage them. An effective way to do so is to work with a fundraising expert who can assist you in keeping your database current and user-friendly, like the professionals at Pennington & Company. Here are some additional tips for keeping your database tidy and ensuring you keep track of useful information:
- Regularly audit your database. Scan your alumni information for inconsistencies, duplicates, and gaps. Remove what you don’t need, and have your data appended to ensure everything is up to date. Standardize how you write out the information. For example, will you abbreviate north, south, east, and west in mailing addresses?
- Verify the information. You’ll want to double-check that addresses, emails and phone numbers are correct. Doing so gives you a great opportunity to reach out to your alumni and check in with them.
- Segment your alumni. Every individual alum is different, with unique likes and dislikes, experiences, and preferences. In order to connect with them in a way that resonates with their individual needs, you should use the information in your database to segment your donors into different groups—by demographic, giving habits, communication preferences, or some other category.
2. Strengthen your communication strategy.
Effective communication leads to long-lasting relationships with alumni, which then lead to fundraising success. To improve how you communicate with your alumni, re-evaluate the tools you’re using. Here are three tips for strengthening your alumni communication:
- Leverage print and digital media. Even in a primarily digital world, there are still people who respond best to paper. Take the time to understand your alumni’s preferences and cater to those preferences. You can accomplish this by segmenting your alumni and then choosing the right media. This will pay off as you’re able to better connect with individuals and engage them in your fundraising work. For example, Pennington & Company offers both print and digital newsletters to help fraternities and sororities meet different alumni needs.
- Center your online presence on a well-designed website. Designing a functional and aesthetically-pleasing website can give alumni a place to go for information on your fraternity or sorority’s current activities, upcoming events, and donation opportunities.
- Keep it personal. Beyond segmenting your alumni by communication preference, demographic, or some other characteristic, you can still do quite a bit to add a personal touch to your alumni communications. For example, instead of settling for email salutation lines like “Hello, Valued Alum,” you could use first names. Even small moves like this can go a long way in making your alumni feel more fully connected to your organization.
As you’re revamping your communication strategy, remember to think bigger than just securing a donation. More than securing a one-time donation is to forge and maintain genuine relationships with your alumni that will open the doors to multiple engagement opportunities.
3. Conduct prospect research.
Prospect research is the process of identifying the alumni who have the capacity (wealth) and affinity (warmth) that indicate they may be willing to give to your fraternity or sorority. Most often, prospect research is conducted in the early stages of a capital campaign (as part of a pre-campaign feasibility study) and used to identify potential major donors.
When conducting prospect research, you’ll be looking for the following wealth and warmth indicators:
- Stock holdings
- Business affiliations
- Real estate ownership
- Engagement history with your organization
- Nonprofit volunteering or donation history
- Personal information like interests and values
Prospects who exhibit both types of markers are those that you want to pursue.
It’s best to rely on a fundraising expert to conduct prospect research on your behalf. Most fraternities and sororities don’t have the time, tools, or experience to conduct effective prospect research themselves. An expert will not only know what to look for but also help you rank your top prospects so you’re set up to solicit major gifts deliberately and efficiently.
4. Provide easy-to-use donation tools.
Once you’re to the point where you’re actually asking alumni for donations, you’ll only get real results if you have user-friendly donation tools. Here are some of the essential tools you’ll need to meet your funding goals:
- Online donation page: You can host an online donation page on your website. When building out your donation page, ensure that you keep the donation form questions to a minimum to reduce the chance that potential donors will abandon their plan to donate. Keep the process simple and convenient.
- Text-to-give software: With text-to-give, alumni can give to your organization on the go. All they have to do is text a dedicated keyword to your organization’s designated text-to-give number, and they’ll gain access to an online donation page. Choose keywords that are short and easy to remember and type.
- Peer-to-peer platform: Peer-to-peer campaigns are unique in that they empower alumni to fundraise on your behalf using their own dedicated donation page. A peer-to-peer platform can help you kickstart the process of setting those pages up for campaign participants.
- Crowdfunding platform: Crowdfunding takes place off your website and involves people coming together to give on a dedicated giving page where you post consistent encouragement and updates. A crowdfunding platform enables you to create this page, which your student members and alumni can then share.
- Matching gift database: As mentioned above, a matching gift database allows alumni donors to check their matching gift eligibility and get started with the necessary forms for securing that gift from their employer.
The list above focuses on online donations, but you should also be prepared to offer offline avenues for donations. Some alumni may prefer to mail in a check after receiving a fundraising letter. You should also provide a phone number for those who wish to arrange a gift over the phone or have questions.
Like your communication strategy, the tools you choose to offer depend on you getting to know your alumni and their references.
5. Plan exciting alumni events.
Whether or not they’re dedicated specifically to fundraising, events allow your fraternity or sorority’s students, alumni, and leaders to interact. Through fun activities and entertainment, everyone in your organization can come together to make memories, share their experiences, and grow lifelong friendships.
Events can be incredibly rewarding to see come together, but they do require quite a bit of planning beforehand. Here’s a checklist of steps you can follow to plan your next alumni event:
- Establish your goals and budget.
- Determine what format your event will take—virtual, hybrid, or in-person.
- Choose the type of event you want to host.
- Set the date and time for the event and send a save-the-date six months in advance.
- Book your venue, entertainment, and catering early.
- Market your event to all attendees.
- Send out event reminders as the event gets closer.
- Enjoy a successful event with your student members, alumni, and leaders.
It may be helpful to designate a special event planning committee made up of some of your fraternity or sorority’s student members. Planning an alumni event can be an excellent learning experience, deepen students’ investment and engagement in your organization, and get them excited about their own future alumni experiences.
6. Always thank your donors—and do it quickly!
Once you’ve secured an alumni donation, that’s it, right? Mission accomplished?
Not quite! If you want to retain your alumni donors, you need to recognize and thank them for their contributions. Too many fraternities and sororities overlook this crucial step in fundraising.
How should you thank your donors? Employ these tips:
- Give an initial thank-you, and plan to do more. Sending an automated thank-you when you first receive a donation is a great first step and helps you quickly show gratitude, and you’ll need to do more to truly retain donors. Plan to send a genuine and heartfelt thank you after your campaign ends.
- Personalize your thank-you strategy for each donor. Every donor likes to be thanked in a unique way. According to fundraising expert Penelope Burk, personalization is key to writing a superior thank-you message. To cater your thank-you messages to individual donors, strive to adhere to their preferred way of being thanked. Those preferences could include video thank-you messages, inclusion on a donor wall, and more. Personalize your thank-you as much as possible, too, by using your donors’ names and including information about their specific donations. If personalization isn’t possible, at least segment your donors by top communication preference.
- Have your thank-you come from a real person. The signature at the bottom of a thank-you note can make all the difference in how your alumni feel about your fraternity or sorority chapter. Even if you’re sending out the same thank-you note to your alumni, taking the time to have student members or leaders sign them by hand sends extra-special appreciation to the recipient and gives them a “face” to put to their contribution. Having individuals personalize thank-you notes is an excellent way to exceed expectations in this category, too.
The thank-you process is one that fraternities and sororities can’t afford to overlook. Make sure you plan plenty of time for thanking after your fundraising ends.
When it comes to alumni fundraising, there’s no magic wand that you can wave to get results. Instead, securing gifts from your fraternity or sorority’s alumni will take thoughtful strategies and genuine effort to build lasting relationships. By using the tips in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to engaging your alumni and securing donations!
Want to learn more about strengthening relationships with alumni or other aspects of running a successful fraternity or sorority? Check out these additional resources:
- 7 Creative Fraternity and Sorority Fundraising Ideas & FAQs. The key to successful fundraising is standing out from the crowd. Use the tips and tricks from this guide to make your mark and raise more for your chapter.
- Fraternity & Sorority Management Software 101: A Guide. Your sorority or fraternity can soar with the right software by your side. Choose your best option using the tips in this guide.
- Fraternity & Sorority Management: The Essential Guide. Managing a sorority or fraternity chapter involves a lot of moving parts. Learn the basics in this guide!