Helping an elite private school dramatically grow alumni engagement and donations…… in just a few weeks.
Ask anyone who holds a leadership position at a private school–a headmaster, development professional or alumni relations director–and they’ll tell you how crucial alumni engagement and support are to maintaining a high standard of education and continued growth to meet future needs. A strong vision is important, but ample funding is a school’s lifeblood if that vision is to be realized, and financial benefits can only be realized if alumni are engaged.
Last fall, administrators at a small, elite private school here in Miami, a client of ours since 2010, found themselves in a scary situation. Tuition and alumni donations were down, funds were needed to keep the school competitive, and there was no real promise of change on the horizon.
In recent years, the school had hired a number of consultants who tried to reverse this trend, but to no avail. In addition, a team of five school staff members initiated a giving campaign, during which they contacted previous donors, parents, and others who had not provided previous support. Unfortunately, no one could make a dent in the problem.
Having apparently exhausted all available options, and perhaps even some hope, the school’s headmaster contacted us to ask if we might be able to help improve the effectiveness of their capital campaign activities. We’d worked on a variety of initiatives with the school, and the headmaster and his administrators were very happy with the results we had produced for them in the past. We welcomed this challenge and quickly put our expertise to work.
Frank Sanabria, Vice President, set up a research initiative to measure alumni engagement and donor levels. Realizing that the school’s internal fundraising team couldn’t possibly deliver the needed results if they were juggling their capital campaign work with a variety of other day to-day tasks, Frank advised the headmaster to outsource capital campaign activities to our Market Research Center and its staff, which would dedicate its time to contacting non-donors, gaining an understanding of their relationships with the school and, ultimately, persuading them to donate to their alma mater.
A results-oriented approach.
Frank recommended a four-step approach aimed at achieving results where others had tried but not been successful. The first step involved research and fact finding. This past November, just after Thanksgiving, our Market Research Center staff began contacting non-donors to assess their levels of engagement with the school. “We needed to gain an understanding of perceptions regarding the school and, more important, how they perceived their relationship with it after leaving the institution” said Frank. “Have they remained in any sort of contact? Did the school keep them informed? Were they aware of the school’s current activities, future plans and need for their financial support?”
Through those conversations, we discovered that many graduates didn’t feel very engaged by the school after they’d moved on and, as a result, weren’t motivated to donate. This was not only a revelation to the school’s administration, but also important information that would make it possible for us to open the door to a successful fundraising effort.
The second thing we did was set up a system to increase the school’s efficiency in managing alumni engagement activities. This involved ensuring that alumni contact information was accurate and up to date, and that it would be maintained on an ongoing basis.
Once this was accomplished, we launched the anticipated non-donor campaign with a target goal of $1.1 million. We proceeded with the newly acquired knowledge that many graduates haven’t felt engaged with their school, so our Market Research Center contacted them not only for purposes of fundraising, but to build relationships with them; relationships that we believe will be financially rewarding for the school in the months and years ahead.
Dramatic results – return on investment of 450 percent.
At both The Doug Williams Group and our Market Research Center, our primary objective is to deliver results. And deliver we did. The school’s investment in our expertise brought $20,000 in new donations in a matter of weeks, a whopping 450 percent return on the school’s investment.
Needless to say, the headmaster and school administrators are very, very pleased with the results we’ve helped them achieve in such a short period of time. The campaign is off to a great start and our Market Research Center is now preparing for a second fundraising effort that’s set to take place in February. This time, we’re going to make follow-up calls to alumni who weren’t prepared to make donations in November, and we anticipate another successful response.
Thank you for taking time to read this issue of Taking Action. If we can be of assistance to you in any way, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Warm regards,
Doug Williams
Chief Executive Officer

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