Alumni Participation Will Continue to Affect US News Best Colleges Rankings

Alumni participation's influence on the US News rankings is something development professionals should be celebrating.

Alumni participation’s influence on the US News rankings is something development professionals should be celebrating.

I have great news for higher education development professionals – alumni participation will be affecting the US News & World Report rankings for quite some time! So stop what you’re doing and start celebrating!!

Why, might you ask, is this such a great thing? Because thanks to online and social media, you now have direct control over boosting your alumni participation. With a smart, ambassador-led or crowdfunding-focused strategy, you can drive a significant uptick (1 percent or more) to your institution’s overall alumni giving participation.

Really. Our clients do it all the time. Here’s how:

Build a Robust Online Ambassador Program:

An strong online ambassador program is the single best thing you can do when it comes to increasing new donor participation. During online ambassador fundraising campaigns BWF has either helped produce or has learned about, on average 40 percent of donors who participate in online campaigns are new donors. And we’re not talking about 40 percent of a few dozen donors. We’re talking several hundred or several thousand new donors. Here’s a quick rundown of successful ambassador-led campaigns:

  • UMass Amherst – UMassGives: 1,588 donors during 36-hour campaign (1,056 new, 626 were students)
  • Florida State’s Great Give #1: 1,100+ donors during the 36-hour campaign (380 new)
  • Columbia’s Giving Day #1: 4,940 donors during the 24-hour campaign (Approx. 2,000 new)

People learn of causes to support via social media:

Generally speaking this is true for all nonprofits, but it holds true in higher ed, too. A recent Georgetown University/Waggener Edstrom study found that social media is – by far – the number one way even marginally active online users learn of new causes to support.

So, knowing that statistic, it makes perfect sense that online ambassador programs are so crucial to acquiring new donors. Using a dedicated group of ambassadors to disperse your fundraising asks online spreads those asks out to new potential donors your school or organization had no way of contacting before the campaign. And because people trust a friend’s recommendation above all other forms of advertising, when those ambassadors ask their peers to give, they do.

Donors you acquire online are more likely to become major gift donors: 

Consider this the double bonus of online-acquired donors – they have higher household incomes, give more over their lifetimes, and give larger gifts when compared to those who make their first gift via mail. So, not only will all those new donors boost your US News & World Report ranking, but they’ll also help you close the gap on your overall dollar goal for major campaigns and everything in between. Which, unlike the US News rankings, it TRULY something worth celebrating. 😉

Justin Ware is the author of this post and Director of Interactive Communication at Bentz Whaley Flessner. To learn more about the services Justin provides, click here.


Michigan State’s Successful Crowdfunding Campaigns


Michigan State leveraged the popularity of its mascot, Sparty, for one successful crowdfunding campaign.

A handful of small projects are the beginning of what Michigan State development staff hope will be a massive change in annual giving work at the University. That change involves a shift of focus toward more donor engagement via crowdfunding.

Crowdfunding allows donors – specifically new and smaller gift donors – to more clearly see the impact of their gifts, because they’re helping to fund a specific project or cause. This demonstration or proof of impact is something annual giving programs have been struggling with for some time. Crowdfunding, or online peer-to-peer giving, is one very effective way of addressing that desire of the donor to see the impact of their gift.

At the same time, crowdfunding is tremendously efficient at acquiring new donors, because …well, it’s all about the crowd! Peer-to-peer or online ambassador-fueled crowdfunding campaigns reach out to new donors by way of friends and family communicating online, specifically, via social networks. On average, 40 percent of the donors who give during ambassador-led online campaigns are new.

In the video below, Michigan State’s Director of Online Engagement, Paul Prewitt, uses MSU’s recent Extreme Makeover: Sparty Edition campaign to show how crowdfunding is helping the University identify more new donors and communicate the impact of philanthropy to all donors, big and small.

Consider the following:

In other words, all those new donors the Sparty campaign brought in for MSU are not just college kids and recent grads – they’re middle age and older supporters of the school. Many of them have deeper pockets than you might imagine.

Knowing the above, it’s clear – serious resources should be dedicated to an online and social media strategy for development. And not just resources for crowdfunding in the annual giving department, but for your entire development operation. Millionaires are online disproportionately more than those of lesser means. It’s not just about the annual fund – if you want to have a major gift program ten years from now, you had better start engaging and stewarding those future big gift donors with a smart online and social media strategy today. And you can start by leveraging the crowd.

Justin Ware helps BWF’s clients build online and social media strategies that lead to six and seven-figure online fundraising campaigns. For more on BWF’s social media service offerings, click here.

Average New Donor Acquisition During Online Campaigns – 40 Percent

Are you concerned about the future of your nonprofit’s base of fundraising support? Do you like the idea of adding new donors who are wealthy and well-educated? Then you might consider adding a robust online ambassador program and social media strategy, because simply put, nothing adds more new, wealthy donors more quickly than a well-run online ambassador campaign.

BWF did a quick survey of seven very different higher education institutions who recently conducted mostly online or online-only fundraising campaigns. The sample size was small, but diverse – schools included major public research institutions, small liberal arts schools, an Ivy League member, an internationally-renowned private, a small state school, among others. Of those surveyed, the average percentage of new donors during an online campaign was 40 percent. And the outliers were subtle – the lowest school had 27 percent, the highest 58 percent. And we’re not talking about 40 percent of a few dozen donors – most of the schools counted their donors in the thousands during these campaigns. This is especially impressive considering most of the campaigns were 36 hours or shorter.

Online ambassador campaigns lead to a huge influx of new donors.

Online ambassador campaigns lead to a huge influx of new donors.

Who are these newly acquired online donors? On average, they’re far wealthier than their peers who chose to give through traditional means like direct mail. According to a recent Convio study referenced below, those who give both online and off have the highest household incomes, followed by those who give only online. The distant third and least wealthy group are those who only give via mail.

Dual Channel Donors Income

If you want the wealthiest donors, look online.

To create online campaigns that help your organization or institution leverage the above trends, consider increasing your effort and resources in the following three areas:

  1. Develop a robust online ambassador program that identifies, engages, stewards, and leverages your most influential online supporters. Your message will go much further when it travels through this group of savvy Internet supporters.
  2. Invest in infrastructure. Unless you’re the Obama campaign, you can probably improve something about your organization’s online giving experience, Facebook applications, widgets, data recovery and storage, et al. Actually, I’ll bet even the democrats are thinking about how to improve things for 2016.
  3. Invest in personnel. Ultimately, ambassador programs and social media strategies are about managing relationships. To manage relationships, you need people.

To learn more about BWF’s online and social media fundraising consulting services, click here.