When Others Lead, We Can Learn

Written by Bre Swims

Earlier this year, the Chronicle of Philanthropy published a blog detailing a fundraising strategy utilized by the University of Michigan, which is currently almost halfway through a $4 billion capital campaign. By creating a campaign for Giving Blueday, a spinoff of the popular Giving Tuesday, the university successfully raised already raised more than $3 million dollars in one day. So, how are they doing it?

  1. Appealing to Donors’ Personal Ties: In this particular strategy, the school catered to the unique interests of their donors by giving them the option to allocate their gift to the program of their choosing. In my personal experience, this tactic increases the chance of a donation. Within weeks of graduating earlier this year, my university sent me a fundraising appeal. I didn’t have the funds to contribute; however, had I been prompted to donate to my specific undergraduate and/or graduate program, I would have scrounged something to send. One approach that organizations can take to employ this strategy is to segment your donor list by the ways your donors engage in your mission – think about the different connections supporters have to the work and how those connections might make them more likely to give. For example, if you have committed volunteers that work for a specific program, ask them to support that program and highlight how their work for the organization makes their financial support go further.
  2. Equating Giving Funds with School Spirit: It’s no secret that colleges and universities have a unique advantage in that their potential donor base grows each year as students graduate. But how can this large pool be engaged effectively? U-M accomplished this by equating donating with showing school spirit. Genius! Small to mid-size nonprofits can use this same approach by connecting their asks to donors’ passion for the mission.
  3. Getting Students Involved: College students are known for having little to no money, so at first glance, they do not seem to be a worthy population to pursue when fundraising. Instead, U-M capitalized on another well-known aspect of student life: their on-campus involvement. Along these same lines, organizations seeking to widen their donor base can focus on engaging millennials (more on that here!).
  4. Spending Money to Make Money: In the aforementioned student involvement campaign, the university rewarded the students out of a pool of $50,000 that was donated specifically for the purpose of engaging the student organizations. As a result, 5,437 donors gave a total of $3,252,309. Now, that’s an investment! Mirror this strategy by investing in donor stewardship resources, a donor database, and strong branding that helps tell your story.
  5. Making it Easy for Donors: Along with its own easy-to-navigate website portal, Giving Blueday gives donors the option to add the event to one’s personal calendar with just one click. For those who want to be even more involved, U-M offers free digital resources to spread the word. If you want your donors’ experience to be more streamlined, consider this example along with others, such as simple landing pages, minimal clicks to donate, and readability.

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