I’ve had the opportunity to work on hundreds of phonathon and annual giving programs in my career. As part of my consulting and audit responsibilities, I often take a closer look at statistical results and attempt to dig into the numbers to find trends that the phonathon and annual giving staff can exploit. It’s amazing how consistent statistical trends are from campus to campus. What one might consider at first to be an isolated phenomena is often found in other programs as well, leading me to the conclusion that human behavior is remarkable similar no matter what institution people attend.
In particular, I like to review the alumni participation rates by proximity to campus. They tell an interesting story; one that fundraisers should not overlook. In general, the farther one goes from campus, the higher the alumni participation rate. I would say that the vast majority of the schools I work with follow this pattern. In fact, I cannot remember the last time this wasn’t true. There are a number of theories floating around out there that try to explain this, but let me give you my basic reasoning for why I believe this happens.
Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
As somebody who has moved away from his undergraduate college, I can tell you that I pay closer attention to the mailings, e-mails, and telephone calls I receive. In fact, a representative from my college was recently in
Out-of-State Students Select Your Institution for a Reason
With well over 2,000 colleges and universities in the
Those in Close Proximity to the School Take it for Granted
If students come from out of state to attend the school, those students in close proximity might just take the institution for granted. If they’ve lived their entire lives within a short drive’s distance, the attraction to the school may not be as strong as those who traveled long distances to attend. If they drive by the school, hear it in the news, visit campus, or know people who attend, it’s a little harder to feel nostalgic every time you receive a call from a student or an e-mail from the development office. Plus, some students look at local schools as a “school of last resort”. This is especially true of some public universities, though I believe undeservedly so. The stronger the academic reputation or campus atmosphere, the more likely the institution can shake off that stigma. But in any event, sadly, the numbers almost always show those that are in close proximity give the least.
The Bottom Line- Using This Knowledge
Knowing that proximity to campus affects alumni participation is just half the battle. The other half is having a plan to exploit this knowledge. Phonathon managers and directors of annual giving should review the statistical performance of their alumni and develop a strategy to maximize the productivity of those prospective donors who demonstrate a higher propensity to give. This means completing a higher percentage of out-of-state calls, using targeted solicitations for e-mails, text messaging alumni for events in their towns, etc. The goal is to understand where your “hot pockets” of support are and maximize your performance within those groups.
As I said in my book, phonathon is a game played at the margins. The little things make a significant difference at the end of the year. Annual giving is no different. Every campaign is in competition with last year and the year before that. Nostalgia and emotional attachment often drive participation in any charitable organization, and higher education fundraising is very similar in that respect. To gain the support of our constituents, we must better understand their patterns of giving and why they choose to invest in our institutions. Carefully review the results and plan your strategy to focus on those alumni who give you the best opportunity for success. Knowing who they are could put your program over the top.