Launching new strategies and programs is always daunting. We often feel like we have to have everything ready to go right out of the gate. (Not to mention the fact we don't want our colleagues and supervisors to think that we're winging it.)
But in reality, we have to start with small prototypes, adjust our expectations, and test and tweak our programs to fit our audience before we can scale up. That's how Concordia College, a liberal arts college with 2,500 students in Moorhead, Minnesota, doubled its young alumni giving rate in three years. First it simply began targeting online outreach to young alumni, and then gradually moved into young-alumni-specific events, and eventually established young alumni engagement committees run by volunteers.
Concordia's Assistant Director of Alumni Relations Matt Dymoke is presenting on his team's success at the 2018 CASE District V conference. We asked him to share more about Concordia's young alumni engagement strategy:
Why is it important that we connect with recent graduates early and often? How are you doing that at Concordia College?
I think connecting with recent graduates early is incredibly important. As the alumni with the most recent connection to campus, they naturally have a stronger affinity to the institution. By keeping them in tune with what’s happening at the college and providing opportunities for them to engage with the college and their classmates, that affinity will only continue to grow throughout the years.
At Concordia, we’ve started emphasizing young alumni engagement over the last three years in a variety of ways. Initially, we focused on pure engagement: event attendance, social media engagement, and college updates. However, we’ve developed into more alumni-driven events and opportunities to extend beyond a simple happy hour. In our two major young alumni hubs, we have young alumni engagement committees that plan events including happy hours, service projects, sports games, musical concerts, and others.
On top of this, we’ve plugged our young alumni into our existing events to offer a fresh perspective, such as manning our booth at the Minnesota State Fair, coordinating our annual summer corn feed, and volunteering at our freshman move in day. These events give opportunities for young alumni to be involved in the college without a major commitment of time or money, and lead to further engagement with our career services and advancement staff.
How does connecting with recent graduates lead to gifts later down the line? How have you made those conversions happen at Concordia?
We’ve seen a positive correlation between an increase in young alumni events and an increase in young alumni giving. As a result of having more opportunities for our recent graduates to engage with each other and the college, our giving numbers have drastically increased. Over the last three years, we’ve seen the number of recent grads giving a gift in their first year out more than triple, and the total number of donors in the last five graduating classes has more than doubled.
I strongly believe this increase in giving is due to a concerted effort to engage these alums early and often and because we create a solicitation plan for these graduates. Last year we kicked off our first young alumni giving challenge: a giving campaign focused solely on the last five graduation classes. This targeted effort was wildly successful and pushed us to think about the importance of young alumni giving. These grads aren’t giving millions of dollars, but they’re deciding it’s important to support their alma mater eons before they were in the past, and it’s been so cool to see their giving efforts progress.
Because of this success, we’ve created a young alumni leadership giving society, invited our top young alumni donors to major donor events, and created opportunities for them to feel as special as a major donor. With minimal resources, we’ve been able to establish a culture of giving with our youngest alumni and had such positive results, and I can’t wait to see how this continues to grow.
How can we convince skeptical colleagues that investing in engagement early is vital for fundraising later?
Convincing leadership to invest time and resources into early alumni engagement isn’t necessarily an easy task, especially since the giving outcome may not be abundant. However, I’m lucky to have a leadership team in our Advancement Division that was willing to take a risk and try out this new initiative.
The best way to convince your colleagues is to try something simple (a small event, a targeted campaign, etc.) and show how the results could increase with additional time and resources. Concordia started this young alumni engagement endeavor with a zero-dollar budget and without a designated point person, but we’ve developed this system into a robust engagement and giving strategy that continues to produce solid results and show growth from year to year.
It’s not going to happen overnight, but with hard work and by enlisting the help of other young alums, these programs will be successful. We’ve already seen recent graduates make $100+ gifts in their first year out, something that was unheard of a few years back. These donors will become our next generation of major gift prospects, and by engaging them now we can save time, energy and dollars in the future.