Fundraising is a group activity. Yet institutions (many universities, e.g.) remain decades out of touch with that basic (and enriching) realization.
I got this email.
It was an inquiry wrapped inside a complaint. The writer asked, in essence: Had I [Tom] ever encountered a situation as odd as his?
He works as a fundraiser for a public university.
His problem? The editor of the university's alumni magazine resists covering "philanthropy" stories. The editor defends her position with "research," saying that "surveys show that readers of alumni magazines rate stories about philanthropy at the bottom of the list."
"...at the bottom of the list." Really?
Blindfolded, I could within seconds eviscerate the scientific reliability of any research instrument that produced these horribly misleading results ... and I'm only a fan of honest data, not a trained geek.
But let's put that aside. Because that's not the problem.
The problem is two-fold.
First, there's the message. The basic right message is, "Philanthropy and this university's greatness are directly, inextricably linked." With that message in place, you can move to the clarification: "Alumni giving is the chief source of that philanthropy." And with that message in place, you can move to the secret ingredient: donor love.
Connect those dots thousands of times over the years, with your students and your alumni; and you will see giving steadily rise.
Second, there's the silo. What kind of silo? Like an alumni magazine that insists "it's not our job to help you fundraise. We exist to serve our readers' interests. Which do not include philanthropy."
Is this attitude uncommon? Not at all.
Many public universities condemn themselves to an uncertain future, because the need for philanthropy is not instilled as an everyday cultural value.
The students don't see the need, the faculty don't see the need, the alumni don't see the need. The only people who see the need are the fundraisers, and they stand alone: "That's their job, not ours."
"With a projected $100 million or more gone from the state budget for education this year, faculty members acknowledged the urgency with which the administration is seeking out new streams of revenue," reported the Arizona Daily Wildcat, the University of Arizona's paper, in September 2009.
This is the faculty's best response? To hope the administration will come up with some fresh ideas? Why not just throw pennies in a wishing well? It would have the same net effect.
Fundraising, played to win, is a team sport. Everyone (including recalcitrant editors) needs to be on the team, by choice or by policy.
Fundraising -- i.e., the gathering of philanthropic resources for the greater good -- is an institutional priority. Fundraising is NOT just somebody's job in isolation.
Let's return to the fundraiser who sent in the question. At his particular public university, the annual alumni giving rate is less than 10%.
High? Low? Somewhere in the middle?
Anything below 10% is third tier; your philanthropy is little more than a band-aid.
Second tier is 10-20%; there are some public powerhouses like Michigan State University in that group.
First tier starts at 20% and rises to a high of 60% at Princeton, near 40% at Harvard, or 28% at brand-name public schools like Georgia Tech. (2009 data)
These days, an annual alumni giving rate of 10% or less is staggeringly uncompetitive. You might as well hang a sign on the gates saying, "The future will not be ours."
The competition amongst research universities, public and private, for best facilities, best faculties, best students (graduate and under-) is brutal. And it is ruled by ready cash.
The schools with the best alumni giving rates and the biggest endowments win.
Alumni magazines that do not recognize this fact risk irrelevance. Ms. Editor: What do you want to be, in these severe days of straitened budgets: a contributor to the university's future greatness .... or a cost?
Thought for today >>>>
About finding the best stories.
Pulitzer Prize winner, Tom Hallman, was giving a workshop for journalists, which you can view on line. At about 11:15 into the video, he starts talking about how he finds the deeply emotional story that lurks inside the factual story.
"Most of us have tuned out our hearts. If you start feeling, you will find the stories. If you feel nothing, the reader's not going to feel anything, I don't care how beautiful your words are. If you don't feel it and convey that feeling to them, why would they read?"
He's talking to journalists. But his observations apply as much to nonprofits trying to talk about what they do, and proudly displaying statistics instead of heart. Tip of the hat to Dr. Frank C. Dickerson who took the time to let me know about Tom Hallman's talk.
Visit aherncomm.com - you'll be glad you did.