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Alumni Fundraising: A Guide to the Basics & 5 Strategies

    

Fraternity and sorority alumni/ae 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/ae who supported them as collegiate members.

Savvy chapters know that they can’t wait for their alumni/ae 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/ae, build genuine relationships, and create opportunities for consistent giving.

This guide gives you everything you need to know about how to get alumni/ae to donate and outlines actionable strategies you can leverage to secure support for your fraternity or sorority for years to come. Specifically, we’ll cover:

As you reimagine your organization’s alumni/ae 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. 

Click here to get a consultation with Pennington & Company, the top alumni/ae fundraising consultants for fraternities and sororities.

Why Alumni/ae Fundraising Is Critical for Your Fraternity or Sorority    

Generous gifts from alumni/ae can benefit your fraternity or sorority in two major ways: 

  • Alumni/ae 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/ae donation dollars can go a long way in helping a chapter accomplish its goals. Additionally, this funding ensures collegiate members can experience the fun parts of fraternity or sorority life.
  • Seeking alumni/ae donations re-engages alumni/ae. Asking for donations requires your team to do regular outreach, which translates to consistent communication and relationship-building opportunities with your alumni/ae. This can pay off long-term as alumni/ae continue to give and spread the news about the good work your chapter is doing.   

The Current State of Alumni/ae Gifts 

It’s one thing to know why alumni/ae giving matters. But what are the current realities of alumni/ae 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/ae giving. A recent survey found donations to higher ed institutions rose by 12.5% in the last fiscal year, the largest increase in over 20 years. Additionally, alumni/ae contributions made up 22% of all higher education giving, an increase from prior years.

A graphic showing that alumni fundraising is on the rise, with donations to higher ed institutions up 12.5% in the last year.

Fraternity and sorority alumni/ae 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/ae with no sorority or fraternity affiliation had a giving rate of 5.5%, whereas alumni/ae 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/ae 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/ae donations!

Types of Alumni/ae Gifts

Before diving into specific strategies for securing donations from your fraternity or sorority’s alumni/ae, it’s important to understand the different types of alumni/ae gifts. This can help you sharpen your fundraising strategy and create targeted appeals that will help you meet specific funding goals

 

Major Gifts 

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 your 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

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. 

One-Time Donations

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! One-time giving amounts have also risen year-over-year, with the average gift size in 2022 of $121 being up from 2021’s average of $115. 

You can solicit one-time donations from your alumni/ae in a myriad of ways, from hosting a t-shirt sale and including a link to an online donation page in an alumni/ae email newsletter to hosting an end-of-year gala or mailing out fundraising letters. The possibilities are endless!

For one-time gifts, urge donors who are only going to give once to give big. You can do this by creating up-sell opportunities, such as asking if alumni/ae who purchased tickets to a gala would also like to buy a branded water bottle. Or, create emotional incentives such as emphasizing the impact each gift will have on creating a better experience for future students.

Recurring Donations

Even better than one-time donations are recurring donations or pledges. Recurring donations are gifts that alumni/ae give regularly, such as every month. In fact, an alum who gives just a little each month can end up having a huge impact over the course of a year.

While these donations add up to big earnings for your school, recurring gifts are ultimately easier on donors’ wallets. Let’s say an alumn 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. 

To encourage more recurring gifts, create suggested giving amounts for both recurring and one-time gifts that contrast a large single donation with a comparatively small one. This will subtly push alumni/ae to become recurring donors.

a graphic of an example monthly giving page that suggests amounts for alumni to donate.

But before that, to give your alumni/ae the chance to make recurring donations, you’ll need to set up a recurring giving program. Set up an online donation form where you give donors the chance to self-select into your program and input their payment information. Then, they’ll be automatically billed for their donation each month. This way they won’t have to worry about returning to your donation page each month to give, and your school can feel confident with this reliable donation stream.

Matching Gifts

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/ae 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/ae the chance to find out if they’re eligible for matching gifts and set them up to increase their impact:

  1. Partner with a matching gifts provider to embed a matching gifts database on your online donation page.
  2. Encourage donors to use the database to search for their employer and see if they are eligible for gift matching. 
  3. 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/ae 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/ae giving!

Are you a student chapter leader looking for help with financial matters like fundraising? Click here to book a demo with OmegaFi, the top sorority and fraternity management software solution.

 

How to Get Alumni/ae to Donate: 5 Fundraising Strategies

A graphic listing the five strategies for alumni/ae fundraising that are explained below.

1. Conduct prospect research

Prospect research is the process of identifying the alumni/ae 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:

Wealth:

  • Stock holdings
  • Business affiliations
  • Real estate ownership

Warmth:

  • 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. 

2. Audit your alumni/ae database

To build relationships with and solicit donations from alumni/ae, 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/ae 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: 

  • Gauge and improve your data hygiene. Scan your alumni/ae 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/ae and check in with them. 
  • Segment your alumni/ae. 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. 
  • Invest in a robust CRM. If your organization’s been using the same database for years, it’s possible that there’s a more scalable, robust, and efficient system for you. Research the options best suited for fraternities and sororities, such as Fonteva and Protech.

3. Improve your alumni/ae stewardship practices

Effective stewardship leads to long-lasting relationships with alumni/ae, which then leads to fundraising success. To improve your alumni/ae stewardship practices, re-evaluate the tools and practices that you’re leveraging. Start with these three tips for strengthening your approach to stewardship: 

  • Evaluate and standardize your current stewardship practices. Ensure you have the basics down by gauging your current approaches to alumni/ae communication cadences and data management. Taking a uniform approach to stewardship ensures that every alumnus gets a quality stewardship experience, no matter if they’re chatting with your headquarters director, alumni/ae chapter leadership, or house corporations.
  • Adhere to alumni/ae communication preferences. Even in a primarily digital world, there are still people who respond best to paper. Take the time to understand your alumni/ae’s preferences and cater to those preferences during stewardship. You can accomplish this by segmenting your alumni/ae 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/ae needs. 
  • Iterate and scale your efforts over time. Just as your fraternity or sorority changes over time, your alumni/ae community grows and changes as more members graduate. Consistently assess and pivot your stewardship strategy based on demographic data, key performance indicators, and current trends so you always take the most informed approach. 

As you’re revamping your stewardship strategy, remember to think bigger than just securing a donation. Forging and maintaining genuine relationships with your alumni/ae can open the doors to multiple engagement opportunities, so keep these objectives in mind as you create your strategy. 

4. Upgrade your digital infrastructure

Once you’re to the point where you’re actually asking alumni/ae 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: 

  • Center your online presence on a well-designed website. Designing a functional and aesthetically pleasing website can give alumni/ae a place to go for information on your fraternity or sorority’s current activities, upcoming events, and donation opportunities. 
  • 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/ae 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/ae 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 outside of 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/ae can then share. 
  • Matching gift database: As mentioned above, a matching gift database allows alumni/ae donors to check their matching gift eligibility and get started with the necessary forms for securing that gift from their employer. 
  • CRM: As previously mentioned, a donor-specific CRM allows you to track detailed information about alumni/ae donors, allowing you to further customize your outreach practices.

The list above focuses on online donations, but you should also be prepared to offer offline avenues for donations. Some alumni/ae 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 who have questions.

Like your communication strategy, the tools you choose to offer depend on you getting to know your alumni/ae and their references. 

5. Make follow-up cadences memorable

One of the most important aspects of fundraising and stewardship is how you follow up with your alumni/ae donors. Leave a lasting impression by trying these tactics:

  • Keep alumni/ae informed on their donation’s impact. When your alumni/ae make a gift to your fraternity or sorority, they’re investing in your success. Inform them about their donation’s impact on your fraternity or sorority. For instance, if an alumnus gives $500 to a scholarship fund, inform them of who won the scholarship, their life ambitions, and how the scholarship will help them achieve their goals.
  • Use unique communication channels. Your alumni/ae are used to receiving an email or printed letter, but what if you tried something more attention-grabbing? For example, you might send a personalized video message checking in on your donors or mail a handwritten letter. Putting a little extra effort into your follow-up helps alumni/ae remember your chapter and feel more connected to the organization.
  • Celebrate personal milestones. Your donors might expect you to touch base when you have an upcoming fundraising initiative, but you can pleasantly surprise them by reaching out on personal milestones. For instance, you could send your alumni/ae messages to commemorate their birthdays, anniversaries, and career events. This shows your alumni/ae that you value them as people, not just as supporters or members of your alumni/ae association.

Bonus: Alumni/ae Fundraising Letter Template

Consider structuring your donor thank-you message like this:

A graphic showing the alumni/ae letter format, also explained below.

[Fraternity/Sorority Letterhead or Logo]

[Date]

[Donor’s Full Name] 

[Donor’s Address]

Dear [Donor’s First Name],

A warm hello from your [Fraternity/Sorority Name] family! It is with great gratitude and a sense of honor that we acknowledge your generous donation to [Fraternity/Sorority Name]. Your contribution not only signifies your enduring commitment to our values and traditions but also strengthens the bond that has united us as members across generations.

Your gift plays a crucial part in propelling our chapter initiatives forward, securing the [Fraternity/Sorority] legacy in the short- and long-term. Whether it's enhancing our community philanthropy programs, funding academic scholarships, or preserving our beloved chapter house, every contribution, like yours, leaves a permanent mark on our community.

As an alumnus, you understand the significant role our chapter has played in transforming young lives, fostering lifelong friendships, and even infusing our community work with our values. By contributing to the chapter, you are taking a stand for our mission and directly nourishing future changemakers of the community.

We are honored to include your name on our [Alumni/ae Donor Wall or other permanent recognition fixture], an inspirational monument of your belief in our cause and how much we’ve flourished as a chapter with your help. 

In the coming months, we look forward to sharing how your gift of [Amount] to the [Fund or project supported] has made a difference in our community.

(If applicable, include the following) Our chapter has already [achieved benchmark in the past], and this year we hope to [achieve a larger goal]. We also invite you to join us at our upcoming [Annual Alumni/ae Meet/Event Name], where we'll celebrate our fraternity's/sorority's growth, achievements, and the steadfast support of alumni/ae like you.

Once again, thank you for your generous gift and for embodying the selfless spirit of [Fraternity/Sorority Name]. We are beyond fortunate to count you not just as a brother/sister, but as a beacon of encouragement and inspiration for all of us.

With utmost gratitude,

[Your Name] [Your Title/Position] [Fraternity/Sorority Name]

[Handwritten signature]

Popular Alumni/ae Fundraising Ideas

Now that you know everything about organizing an alumni/ae fundraising campaign, it’s time to start brainstorming how you’d like to begin. Use these fundraising ideas to inspire your alumni/ae community to give back.

Popular alumni/ae fundraising ideas (as explained below)


  • Matching gift drive. As previously mentioned, many of your alumni/ae likely work at companies that offer a matching gift program, but just don’t know it yet. Promote matching gift fundraising by hosting a matching gift drive. You could even make it a challenge by asking a corporate sponsor to increase their match ratio if a certain threshold is reached; for instance, if over $10,000 is raised, the donor will begin matching at a 3:1 ratio instead of 1:1.
  • Chapter fundraising challenge. There’s nothing that motivates alumni/ae quite like friendly competition, and with over 9 million fraternity or sorority alumni/ae in the United States alone, you have ample opportunities to harness that energy. Ask alumni/ae chapters from different universities to compete in a fundraising competition and award the winning chapter with free merchandise or an alumni/ae reunion on campus. 
  • Recurring giving society. Alumni/ae who give regularly want to ensure you have sustainable support for your mission and programs. Encourage other alumni/ae to contribute by starting a recurring giving society. You could offer perks for those who join, such as exclusive social events, merchandise, and networking opportunities.
  • Benefit gala. This classic fundraising event allows your alumni/ae to get dressed up and enjoy great food and entertainment, all for a great cause. Monetize the event either by charging admission per head or per table. Keep in mind that galas are usually elegant events, so don’t be afraid to charge more than you would for a more casual fundraising event. 
  • Yearly giving day. You may have heard of #GivingTuesday, a yearly worldwide day of giving to nonprofits. With $3.1 billion raised in 2023 alone, it’s clear that the giving day format works — and your sorority or fraternity can leverage it. Whether you choose to throw your giving day on Giving Tuesday or another significant date for your organization, use your marketing materials to stress the urgency of donating before the day ends. 
  • Peer-to-peer campaigns. Your alumni/ae network is one of its biggest strengths. Put it to work by turning your alumni/ae themselves into volunteer fundraisers with peer-to-peer fundraising. This setup empowers your alumni/ae to host their own fundraising campaign for your sorority or fraternity. Plus, Pennington & Company can set up your campaign for you so you can launch it with expert guidance. 
  • Legacy dedication. This idea works especially well for large-scale gifts that directly contribute to your organization’s legacy, such as planned gifts and capital campaign contributions. Depending on the gift’s size, offer to immortalize the donor’s generosity by including their name on a brick, donor wall, or even a building.
Whichever fundraising ideas you end up choosing, ensure they align with your sorority or fraternity’s mission statement and enhance your members’ experience with your organization.

The Value of Working with an Alumni/ae Fundraising Consultant

When it comes to alumni/ae fundraising, there’s no magic wand that you can wave to get results. However, working with an expert fundraising consulting team can help you understand how to get alumni/ae to donate and boost ROI. Look for a team that:

  • Has a proven track record
  • Specializes in fraternity and sorority fundraising 
  • Offers a variety of services

That said, the best provider on the market is Pennington & Company. Their expert team has helped fraternities and sororities raise over $1 billion across the board. Plus, they can help you manage annual campaigns, capital campaigns, fundraising feasibility studies, prospect research, alumni/ae communications, and peer-to-peer campaigns. 

Additional Resources

When it comes to alumni/ae fundraising, there’s no magic wand that you can wave to get results. Instead, securing gifts from your fraternity or sorority’s alumni/ae 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/ae and securing donations!

Want to learn more about strengthening relationships with alumni/ae or other aspects of running a successful fraternity or sorority? Check out these additional resources: 

Click here to reach more alumni/ae donors with the help of the fundraising experts at Pennington & Company.

 

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