Turning alumni prospects into donors

Turning alumni prospects into donors

By Jenny Jones on Friday, April 7, 2017


The best advancement officers make sure they do.

Your donors live in a noisy world. Amidst the cacophony of communications, media, and information coming at them each and every day, it's hard to break through.

The key? Make things personal.

Whether communicating in writing, at an event, or over lunch, make sure you speak directly to each prospect’s interests. Otherwise, your message will get thrown out, filtered out, deleted, or plain forgotten.

In a recent paper on moves management–which is the process of engaging prospects in a formal, strategic fashion–I provide a number of tips for making your advancement program more donor-centric at each stage of the relationship. You can download the paper here.

And following are three things you can do right away to make a personal connection with donors:

  1. Always use names

    Research shows that people respond more often and more positively to content that
    • comes from an actual person, with an actual name; and
    • (contains a personal greeting and a relevant message. In fact, donors report feeling five times more engaged when they receive a personalized note from an organization.[1]

    Fortunately, technology has made personalization increasingly simple. So much so that “Dear Graduate” now seems not just impersonal, but offputting. Take time to personalize greetings, make sure content is relevant, and resist the temptation to send everything to everyone.

    Mass communications have simply become old school.

  2. Focus on their interests not yours

    In a 2015 donor loyalty survey [2], nearly three quarters said communications content impacts whether or not they donate—particularly if it’s about programs they are uninterested in, is too vague, or contains incorrect information about them.

    That’s why, when it comes to engaging donors, listening is as important as talking. Pay attention to what each donor cares about and tailor cultivation and solicitation accordingly.

    For example, if an alumnus was active in sports while attending your institution, invite her to a sporting event and discuss opportunities to support the program. If a major donor expresses interest in medical research while talking to your CEO at an event, make sure that gets recorded and made available to the advancement officer determining the ask.

    At every stage of the donor lifecycle, engage prospects on an emotional and personal level. In other words, focus on the giver and not simply the gift.

  3. Communicate on their terms, not yours

    Just like donors have different interests, they also have prefer different methods of communication.

    Millennials hold conversations on social media, while many older donors prefer email or snail mail. And within these age groups, preferences still vary by individual.

    Pay attention to where, how, and how often certain donors or groups of donors like to be engaged. You’ll be more likely to capture and hold their attention.

The trend toward moves management

Within higher education, I see the most successful institutions implementing a systematic, highly personalized approach to major donor cultivation (I discuss this approach in detail in this white paper on moves management).

Doing so is critical to remaining competitive, and, even more importantly, to building enduring relationships with students from the moment they enroll to the rest of their lives as loyal alumni.

Please leave a Comment about any successes or challenges you’ve faced in personalizing donor engagement.

Learn more about Ellucian’s constituent relationship management solutions

[1] Abila, 2015 Donor Loyalty Study, (US donors)
[2] Ibid.

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About the Author

Jenny Jones

Jenny Jones

Management Consultant, Principal, Ellucian

Jenny Jones joined Ellucian from the University of North Carolina Charlotte, where she served as the executive director for Alumni Affairs.