4 Tips for Managing a Student Giving Program

Last month, we completed the tenth annual Resident Members Gift Campaign (RMGC) at International House.  As my colleague was out on maternity leave, I served as the lead advisor to the Campaign Co-Chairs and their Steering Committee.  I am proud to report that this was a banner year, as the residents were able to break the previous record for the most money raised — more than $7,200.

To provide a bit more background, this year’s RMGC ran for a total of 40 days and the Steering Committee was composed of 21 members and 3 co-chairs who represented a wide swath of our resident community.  During the first two weeks of the Campaign, Committee Members focused on soliciting a specific group of 10-15 of their fellow residents.  Following this period, it was open season to approach the entire community and was done through numerous venues, including tabling at the 24-hour entrance/exit and outside the Dining Room, a sponsored musical performance event, a used bicycle sale, and having Committee members address small groups during normal resident programs.  This year’s funds went toward the creation of an endowed fund to support greater resident engagement with alumni through programming.

As I reflect on the experience, I wanted to share four tips for managing a student giving program:

  1. Set mutually agreed-upon goals: After going through a training session for the Committee members on basic face-to-face fundraising techniques, they were able to mutually agree on Campaign goals of raising $5,000 from a minimum of 350 resident members.  By virtue of having past Committee members serving again, they were able to provide some context for and clarity of what it really takes to meet the goals.
  2. Communication is key: I made it a high priority to communicate as regularly as possible a) with individual Committee members about their personal progress and when the prospects on their lists made gifts; b) with the entire Committee about their progress on their goals; and c) with the resident community through e-blasts, signage and updates to the I-House website on the Campaign’s progress.  While all of these efforts required a great deal of my time (and that of my colleagues), it was absolutely important to keep everyone in the loop and on the same page.
  3. Be supportive & encouragingHowever long your campaign runs, you will need to keep the students encouraged and feeling enthusiastic.  One way that I did this was simply through my regular check-ins with the Committee members, whether via e-mail or in person.  If they have questions or concerns, be sure to respond to them ASAP.  It also helps if your campaign has a history of success, which always helps propel the students forward as they never want to be the year that doesn’t make their goals.  Another important element of our Campaign is that a group of Alumni Trustees provide a challenge grant to the resident members to provide additional encouragement — and it keeps these Trustees engaged and connected with each year’s class of residents.
  4. Start recruiting early!  As I write this post, we already have one co-chair committed for next year’s Campaign, who served on this year’s Steering Committee.  If you have some bright stars with potential on your committee, don’t be afraid of asking them about their interest in participating in the effort next year.

What other tips have you found useful in working with student giving programs?  Please share your experiences in the comments!

How One Web Search Led to a $20,000 Gift


As International House’s Board Chairman retired last year, the Board announced that it was designating an endowed fund to  benefit programming and resident scholarships named in honor of the outgoing chairman.  In addition to the funds designated by the Board, my office was charged with raising additional monies in support of this named fund from the contingent of our major donors who are particular fans of the chairman.

After reviewing our donor files to confirm all of the recent donors who should be solicited for this special named fund, I did some online sleuthing in the hopes of uncovering a few more people who would want to honor the Chairman by supporting the fund.  After a particularly revealing search on Muckety (a useful site that details personal, corporate and non-profit relationships for some of the more connected people in the U.S.), I found a gentleman who used to work with the Chairman in one of his past careers and after confirming that he had a private foundation, he was added to the list.  Now, let the record reflect that we had not previously contacted this prospect, as he was not in our donor database which dates back to 1986.

Based on the name of this post, I think that you can see where I’m going with this . . . we sent this cold prospect an ask for the named fund and after a phone conversation with our president, he sent in a check for $20,000 from his private foundation!!  Let this be a lesson, dear reader, that a cold ask can easily be warmed up with the right relationships already in place.  It also reminds us of the value of doing thorough research before any major solicitation effort.

Do you have any success stories like this one where solid research and the right relationships made a measurable difference?  Please share in the comments!


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How Do You Find Out that a Donor has Died?

Now I know that this is a bit of a morbid topic, but one that has been coming up pretty regularly for me this year.  During my tenure at International House, I have noticed a bit of a strange trend among the survivors of my organization’s alumni donors — they seem to choose NOT to notify us of the donor’s death until many years later (which is always hard to stay on top of when you have tens of thousands of donors, and a significant percentage of them outside of the United States).

With that introduction out of the way, I must share with you a unique story that recently happened and made me really think about how the families of donors notify our organizations of their passing.  Last week while excitedly opening that day’s responses to our spring appeal, I opened an envelope that I assumed was just a notification that an alumnus had moved and had not left his/her forwarding address.  However, I soon found myself looking at a copy of an alumna’s death certificate — without a note from a survivor or anything.  Now for those of you who don’t know, I have been researching my family history for almost 20 years, so I know death certificates very well.  After getting over the surprise of receiving a death certificate of someone to whom I am not related, my mind immediately went to concerns about identity theft (as the certificate has the alumna’s full name, the names of her parents, birth and death dates, home address, Social Security number, etc.).  Did this well-meaning relative assume that the easiest way to let us know to remove this person from our mailing list was to send a copy of the death certificate, so that we would know it is official?

I know that there are the normal ways to notify organizations: a short note or e-mail asking that the person be removed from the mailing lists (ideally with a date of death for tracking purposes), reading about it in the local newspapers and/or other publications, or receiving notification of an estate or a trust to which your organization is a beneficiary.

What’s the strangest way that you have learned of a donor’s death?

P.S.  My organization has recently purchased one of the various services that will use your donor database to comb through public records and determine who has died; I am looking forward to making this a regular part of our data cleanup strategies.

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