How Spelman College More Than Doubled Its Rate of Student Giving

We know it's best to encourage our constituents to give early and often, but that's easier said than done. How early do we start encouraging them to give? How do we convince them to make a gift before they've even graduated?

Spelman College has found answers to these questions. By developing a culture of transparency and philanthropy on campus, Spelman has more than doubled its rate of student giving. That increase has already begun to pay off after graduation as well.

We asked Spelman's Assistant Director of Annual Giving, Melissa Campbell, a few questions about reaching young prospects after her CASE D3 presentation on the subject.

Spelman began educating and cultivating donors as early as their first year as students. Could you give us an overview of Spelman's work on this front?

Melissa Campbell

Melissa Campbell

Spelman has focused on leveraging the influence of student leaders to lead a comprehensive student giving campaign at Spelman. Through an effective training model that focuses on the values and habits of millennials, the College has begun to build a true culture of philanthropy on campus.

First-year students are actively engaged throughout the academic year through events and talking points that engage them in better understanding the role of donor support on campus.

In particular, the Student Philanthropy Council shares important information about the finances of the College during New Student Orientation and gives each student a blue piggy bank to begin saving her change for a class gift contribution. 

We feel the most important data point is that student donors are increasing the average amount of their gift by more than 50% in their first year post-graduation.

Many of our students go on the graduate school or other ventures that limit their capacity to increase their earned income in their first year post graduation. 

Which assumptions about how and why alumnae give did Spelman debunk in order to make your efforts work?

Our efforts in training student fundraisers focused on changing the culture of philanthropy at Spelman.

We avoided relying on the assumption that alumnae feel or should feel a duty to give back to their alma mater. Millennials see higher education as a much more transactional experience.

Instead, we focused on training our student fundraisers to engage students in ways that built appreciation for their Spelman experience, explained the opportunity to increase their affiliation with the success of the College as current and future donors, and created a sense of agency by explaining how and why their gifts matter.

What results have the annual giving team’s work had, and how do you expect your work to continue to pay off in the future? 

Since the implementation of the comprehensive student giving campaign at Spelman, student participation has grown from 11% to 25% with students from all class years represented. First-year giving increased by more than 20 times from the C'2017 to C'2018. We feel the most important data point is that student donors are increasing their giving by more than 50% in their first year post graduation.

Many of our students go on the graduate school or other ventures that limit their capacity to increase their earned income. Yet, they are not only renewing their gifts, but increasing the amount of those gifts.

We are excited to see how the pipeline for support we have created since FY14 continues to grow recent graduate participation and average gift amounts in the future.

What advice can you give to those of us seeking to replicate your results?

Put students at the center of your efforts. Students with social capital are the key to connecting with millennial prospects and building trust with your organization.

Don't be afraid to be transparent. Millennials are skeptical consumers. Be open to sharing easily digestible facts about your college and the importance of donor support. Avoid relying on their sense of duty to gain support for your campaign.

Finally, pay attention to what your data is saying about whether you are renewing donors post graduation. If you are suffering from the "senior gift trap" (James Langley, Trusteeship July Aug/2014), where you experience a big drop in participation from recent graduates after a successful senior gift program, consider starting the conversation about giving earlier than their senior year.