Working adults crave fun. Four out of 10 adults worldwide deal with excessive pressure on the job, according to a global workforce study by Towers Watson. A recent work survey showed that more than 80 percent of Americans are stressed about at least one thing at work—from low pay and long commutes to overwhelming workloads and annoying co-workers. Put another way, we want to laugh more.
Your alumni are also begging for something fun that will grab their attention. Let’s look at ways your university can dust the stuffiness off of its giving campaigns and attract the attention of long-lost alumni.
When we took over alumni giving as volunteers for the alumni association at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga in 2007, the participation rate was zero percent. Four years later, participation was at 11 percent, and we ambitiously decided to surpass the rate of the university that raised the most money that year—Stanford University, which received gifts from 34 percent of its alumni in 2011. Two years later, our Let’s Beat Stanford campaign came to fruition: Approximately every third alumnus donated, increasing participation by 318 percent. This multiyear campaign also allowed us to grant 60 scholarships and provide ongoing support to renovate an auditorium.
How did we do it? By challenging egos, inventing mascots, tapping into nostalgia, and having fun.
The annual participation rate is the best measure of the strength of an alumni network—and the only true metric, suggests Dave Celone, former head of the annual giving effort at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. Alumni participation has steadily declined throughout the last decade, even as total amounts of fundraising have grown. We as an industry are good at contacting prospects but struggle when old tools no longer engage the masses—and when alumni adapt to new technologies faster than we do. More charities are also competing for the same donors than ever before.
Traditional approaches seem to have reached their limits. 47 percent of people find it annoying to be solicited for gifts via phone, revealed a 2013 survey from the U.K.–based nfpSynergy, a research consultancy for nonprofits. It’s time to rethink your strategy.
You may be hearing a lot about gamification as a flashy way to change people’s behavior. Yet if you’re not addressing the innate needs and desires that get people to participate and care about something, it doesn’t matter how much money you spend on social media campaigns, fancy websites, or exotic scavenger hunts and adventure mazes.
Think about what drives people to spend. Everyone has to allocate money for necessities like housing, gasoline, insurance, and groceries. Beyond that, most money is spent on entertainment— dinners, movies, iPads, vacations. Fun makes people part with their earnings, not only when they want to but even when they know they shouldn’t. When you combine fun with great causes, you can give people the amusement they desire and are willing to pay for. But even more than fun, good appeals, regardless of medium, have to address the need for playing, being social, and receiving recognition for good deeds. Give your alumni a game, absolutely, but match that game with insights into your community, and you will have an approach that gives the best digital life to your campaign.
If you want prospective donors to fall in love with your cause, these components are crucial. Instead of considering the needs of the institution, remind alumni what makes it special.
The key to engaging more people is to appeal to a number of triggers: peer pressure (All your friends are donating! You should too!); competition (Can your class be the most spirited?); nostalgia (Remember how fun it was here?); and pride (Look what your university has accomplished!). If you can integrate these elements into your messaging and appeals, you will persuade alumni to part with their time and money. Participation rates will soar.
Go ahead, try it. We dare you.