A few years ago, an alumnus at Babson approached the advancement office with an idea. He’d seen something similar at his prep school alma mater. “I think this can work at Babson,” he said.
The idea was a twist on the giving day formula: after alumni donate, encourage them to post memories, photos, and updates within their respective class year Facebook group. Donate, then connect. In FY 2015, Babson reunion classes saw a 70% increase in donors above the prior 5-year average for these classes.
Mike DeGuglielmo (Associate Director, Young Alumni and Special Gifts), Michael McPhillips (Assistant Director, Class Liaison), and Lindsey Athanasiou (Assistant Director, Class Liaison) presented on the strategy at the recent CASE D1 Conference in Boston. We asked them to share their takeaways.
LAST YEAR, THE NUMBER OF DONORS IN BABSON’S REUNION CLASSES INCREASED 70% OVER ITS FIVE-YEAR AVERAGE. HOW DID YOU ACCOMPLISH THIS?
Mike DeGuglielmo: Thanks to the suggestion of an alumnus, we developed a class-based day of giving social media strategy led by his Reunion Committee. With our “behind the scenes” support, they encouraged everyone to go online and make a gift to any area at Babson, then go to their class Facebook group and post a personal update, photos, and tag their classmates.
Our pilot class blew it out of the water. They had over 80 alumni, or 25% of their class, give on their day and generate a ton of interaction on Facebook. We saw that and said, “Hey, this is pretty successful, why don’t we try this with our other classes?”
Michael McPhillips: The key to the day is it is a “virtual reunion.” It’s a great opportunity for them to come together as a class and accomplish something. I think the key to its success is it is really fun. People have a hard time not participating.
MD: The other important component is that the voice of the day comes from the volunteers. We as staff members and the institution itself aren’t doing anything to promote this. It’s not something our marketing department has put out. As a result, it is very authentic.
Lindsey Athanasiou: It starts from the first piece of communication in our Reunion volunteer timeline. Alumni receive a letter written by the Committee for their upcoming Reunion. It gets classmates excited for Reunion and wanting to reconnect.
MM: We recognized that some of our alums don’t feel as connected to the institution as they do to their classmates. Their classmates are often the most effective voice.
Because we’ve seen this success with the peer-to-peer outreach, we are expanding the Day of Giving strategy to our other affinities like Greek organizations, and extracurricular groups. In other words: celebrating the group that alumni most affiliate with on campus. We’re calling on volunteers rather than the voice of the institution to inspire these celebrations.
With all of this volunteer participation, how do you maintain a consistent voice in your messaging?
LA: We arm every volunteer with language about giving: how to solicit someone, how to encourage participation, and, most importantly, we also have them thank each other. The gift is treated the same from our end: it's entered into the stewardship database.
I think that in an age when most schools are struggling with participation rates, it’s important to look at the message you’re presenting and how you’re presenting it. The biggest champions of the institution are alumni.
How can other schools take what you’ve learned and translate it into their own success?
LA: We’ll be honest: during the lead up and on the Days of Giving, we’re running around like chickens with our heads cut off to coordinate the effort. We support our volunteers before, during, and after. It’s a lot of staff time, but it is so much fun to see the connections and excitement, and it is definitely worth the time investment.
MD: The biggest takeaway is listen to your volunteers. Listen to your alumni. We never would have dreamed this strategy on our own. If we hadn’t taken the time to stop and listen to our reunion volunteer, we never would have seen our participation rate go up in the way that it has.
Want more on increasing participation? Get our free whitepaper on 5 schools doing young alumni engagement right.