3 Alumni Fundraising Tips to Maximize University Donations

Your students receive an excellent education during their time at your college or university—from participating in enriching research programs to taking thought-provoking courses. However, when their graduation year approaches and they head down new paths, their connection to your alma mater doesn’t have to go away!

In fact, your alumni can strengthen their relationship with your university by donating year-round to your fundraising campaigns. This empowers alumni to play an important role in your university’s future, ensuring that the next generation of students have the same fulfilling academic experiences and opportunities that were available to your former students.

To capture alumni’s attention and strengthen their bond with your school, you need a strong fundraising strategy. In this guide, we’ll cover how you can bring in more donations from alumni and establish a reliable donation pipeline to power your school’s success.

Invest in the Right Fundraising Technology

Manually handling incoming fundraising data and personally reaching out to all of your donors can eat up way too much of your school’s time, and depending on the size of your alumni base, might be nearly impossible. Instead, work with the right tools to make fundraising a breeze.

Here are some essential tools to add to your university fundraising toolkit:

  • School fundraising platform:An can help your institution streamline fundraising and bring any event or campaign to life with ease. Look for software that comes with event management tools, mobile bidding capabilities for your auctions, online giving solutions, and text-to-give so you can maximize donations from alumni anytime, anywhere in the world.
  • Prospect research software: Major donors can make a huge impact on your fundraising goals. As such, you don’t want to waste time and money trying to cultivate a donor who doesn’t have the willingness or capacity to become a major donor. Prospect research software can help you identify qualified prospects and grow your major giving program among your alumni.
  • Social media management tool: A social media management tool can help you manage content across multiple social media platforms so you can connect with alumni online and inspire them to give.
  • Email marketing platform: With the help of a comprehensive email marketing platform, you can create segments to better target your alumni with appeals and automate emails ahead of major fundraising events and campaigns.

While building your toolkit might feel like a big expense, the right tools will pay themselves off in dividends, boosting your ROI and saving your team hours of administrative work. Take a look at your existing tech stack and look for the right solutions to fill in any gaps. 

Design Compelling Alumni Fundraisers 

To get your alumni excited about giving, you need to design fundraising campaigns and events that will meet your former students’ interests while inspiring them to donate. 

Consider planning one of the following:

  • Auctions: Host a lively auction that features exciting items and packages that are bound to ignite bids like sports memorabilia from your teams, tickets to upcoming games, or a private dinner with your school’s president. You might plan a live auction that gathers all your alumni together in person, or make it a virtual silent auction that lasts a few days to give everyone a chance to input their bids!
  • Fundraising galas: A fundraising gala brings your alumni community together for a dynamic evening, often featuring dinner, entertainment, and speeches from notable alumni or school staff. Charge an entry ticket and consider adding an auction component to prompt even more giving. 
  • Peer-to-peer fundraisers: Encourage alumni to create personal fundraising pages that highlight their connection to your institution and why they’re passionate about raising money on your behalf. Then, you can leverage their networks to acquire new donors and exceed your fundraising goals. 
  • Continuing education opportunities: Just because your alumni graduated doesn’t mean that they should stop learning! Many of your former students might be interested in taking continuing education courses to further their knowledge and skills. Charge a fee to take online classes or seminars taught by well-known professors, then grant your alumni digital badges and certificates upon completion that they can show off on their LinkedIn. 

Before you start planning events and inviting alumni to donate, it’s important to recognize who your target audience is. For example, are you going to target a specific graduating class in a reunion? Is there a milestone that will be more meaningful for one class and thus draw a larger crowd (and more donations)?

Ask these general questions before planning your event and take the time to identify, qualify, and cultivate prospective major donors among your target audience. This will give your event a strong foundation and empower your university to rake in as many donations as possible! 

Lead Donor Stewardship Activities 

Donor stewardship can help your institution form strong connections with alumni after they give for the first time and turn them into loyal donors. Leverage the following donor stewardship activities to boost your retention rate:

  • Write thank-you notes. When sending out thank-you notes after donors give, be sure to tailor your communications to the recipients. This level of recognition shows that you care as much about your supporters as they care about your school. Aim to greet each supporter by their first name and reference a specific detail, such as the amount they contributed. You might also include a signature from your institution’s leader or a video message from current students to humanize your gratitude.
  • Set up one-on-one meetings between members of your school’s fundraising team and alumni. During these meetings, you should ask your former students about their personal lives to show that you care about them on an individual level. Then, store these notes in a database so you can reference them in future communications. You can also use these meetings to ask alumni about your future campaign plans and get feedback on them. Your alumni will appreciate that you asked for their opinion and will be more likely to give to your campaign when the time comes.
  • Send free school merchandise or coupons to your school store. There’s no better way to ignite school pride than swag! Consider hosting a social media contest and inviting your alumni to share photos wearing their new gear; then, repost the content on your story or feed and award winners for categories like most creative photo or caption.
  • Invite alumni to join an exclusive donor club where they can receive unique perks, like early access to football games or homecoming tickets. Consider giving your donor club a unique name that connects back to your university and makes your top contributors feel special. For example, you might use the name “Friends of [Your School’s Name]” or “University Visionaries Club.”

Create a donor stewardship matrix so you can map out the different gift amounts that constitute each donor stewardship activity. For example, you should save one-on-one meetings for prospective and current major donors, but you might give anyone merchandise who donates at least $500. Be sure to send an automated thank-you email to all alumni who give so you can acknowledge their contributions and encourage them to stay involved.

Wrapping Up

Your alumni may no longer be physically at your institution, but there are plenty of ways they can reengage with your university to feel back at home. Encourage your alumni’s involvement in your fundraising campaigns year-round and foster strong relationships so you can maximize giving over time.

February 15, 2024

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