RuffaloCODY Your goals. Our passion. Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:00:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Who’s An Alumnus? Thu, 23 Oct 2014 20:09:30 +0000 Knox-College-bell-tower-tnThere was recently a great discussion on the CASE LinkedIn Forum that started with a question about whether a dues-paying alumni association should allow non-graduates to join. We generally agreed that being inclusive is better.

I’ve seen this question pop up regularly. Since most students now attend more than one college before graduating, and over a third transfer, if your alumni association is closed, you should open it up.

Consider the several generations whose enrollment might have been interrupted by military deployment or those students who wanted to stay but a family circumstance or pressure to “get a more marketable degree” pushed them to graduate elsewhere. They may very well feel like your institution is “alma mater.”

  • Decide and convince your board to allow non-graduates who are interested to join the alumni association and to be called “alumnus.” What’s a non-grad? Anyone who attended for even a day. Some institutions are even allowing parents to join.
  • A best practice is to start inviting non-graduates when they show any positive interest. Any event attendance, email, or phone call puts them on your radar. Reaching out to every non-grad automatically has real pitfalls. You probably don’t want to invite a former student who was dismissed.
  • Automatically invite the non-grad partners of graduates. You may get some polite declines, but you might also re-engage a future “power couple.”
  • If you regularly use “class years” for reunions or other purposes, put in place a system that allows alumni to choose their class year or have several attached to their record so they receive communications for the events and news they care about.

I’m passionate in these recommendations because I have seen them in action. My own alma mater adopted the alumni of the college that Pulitzer-prize winning poet Carl Sandburg attended when it closed in 1930 during the great depression. There is only one known living alumnus of Lombard College remaining. They have had a long history as members of the Knox College community.

I asked a friend on campus about those dear adopted Lombard grads, and their total giving over the years exceeds $1.28 million—all to Knox.

The belltower from long-gone Lombard College was removed years ago and placed on the grounds in the middle of the Knox College campus, where it stood for many years. I used to walk inside it and stand under the bell. I thought Sandburg’s spirit would help me write. It’s also where I asked my wife to marry me.

Alumnus means family, and everyone who is touched positively by your institution is family. Use the term openly.


Drawing of Lombard College bell tower at Knox College circa 2010 by Knox alumnus, Jason Connell.

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Have You Thanked Your Donors Today? Fri, 17 Oct 2014 14:10:24 +0000 thank-you-noteYesterday, you heard about the importance of stewardship and cultivation from Chris Hughes. Today, I wanted to share a very recent stewardship event I participated in that utilized the campus community to thank donors in a way no other nonprofit can.

At last week’s Thank a Donor Days (THAD) at Ball State University, the advancement team involved hundreds of students, faculty and staff in the effort to show gratitude to their loyal supporters.

If you take a look at their Flickr site, you’ll see that the event included everything from academic leadership to the school mascot. This incredible effort also produced over 630 handwritten notes for donors written by students. Involving your entire campus or organization in the stewardship effort not only thanks donors, it:

  • Engages students (the next generation of donors) to show that philanthropy is a part of the lifetime relationship with your institution.
  • Reminds leadership that donor support is crucial to your mission in a public way.
  • Raises the profile of philanthropy on your campus.

It’s great to see that events like THAD at Ball State are becoming more common, and there is a big rise in student philanthropy programs that engage students directly with donors.

As research efforts like the Burk Donor Survey have shown, your stewardship efforts directly affects the emotional ties that donors have to your cause and greatly impacts donor loyalty. If you don’t have a year-round stewardship plan that involves your entire institution, you should create one right now.

Along with these efforts, don’t forget that tools like calls and broadcast voicemail allow for a very powerful “thanks” to donors in the voice of those they have helped support. Check out our Stewardship White Paper for some other great ideas on how to show gratitude to your donors in powerful ways.

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Cultivation and Stewardship Can Equal More Effective Solicitations Thu, 16 Oct 2014 15:42:04 +0000 donor_giving_wheel_donor2_180“What can make our solicitations more effective?” is a question many organizations and individuals routinely ask of us about all fundraising channels, especially direct mail, email, and telefund.

One way for solicitations to generate more donors and dollars is to be sure your annual plan also incorporates a solid mix of cultivation and stewardship.  As you can see in this graphic, cultivation and stewardship have a very tight relationship to solicitation.

When it comes to cultivation and stewardship, a couple of important statistics:

The 2010 Millennial Impact Report indicated that 86% of young donors want regular updates.

In the 2013 Convio, Edge Research, and Sea Change Strategies report, The Next Generation of American Giving, approximately 50% of Generation X donors born between 1965 and 1980 said that “the ability to directly see the impact of their donation would have a significant bearing on their decision to give.”

Why are GenX and Millennial donors important?  Because those two generations will encompass the majority of any organization’s database.  For higher education institutions, these two generations will encompass all alumni that graduated in the last 25-30 years.

Here are three specific items to consider ensuring are part of your cultivation and stewardship strategies:

1) Make thank you phone calls and/or mail thank you notes.

For the phone calls, this can be done through your normal telefund calling, personal staff calls, or consider using a 30-second broadcast voice message from a prominent member of your organization’s community.  Thank you calls can have an impact on completed solicitation calls later in the year, especially for your first-time donors.


2) Develop cultivation and stewardship videos to distribute via email and social media channels to showcase past, current, and future impact of gifts.

Digital Sherpa reports that video increases the understanding of a product or service by 74%, which is a major component of cultivation and stewardship. In fact, simply including the word “video” in an email subject line has been known to increase email opens by 20%.  Remember that videos don’t have to take months to develop.  Many great videos can be filmed and edited on short notice using commonly available software.

3) Develop short informational pages about areas directly impacted by giving on your web site – and don’t forget to incorporate those videos.

Once you have these web pages, which should updated on a regular basis, you can use any number of channels to engage donors and prospects with this information in either a cultivation or stewardship message.  This includes using postcards to direct mail specific segments of your database information on areas of the donor’s interest.  As noted in an earlier blog post, postcards have a very high read rate.

As of June 2014, there are more than 1.4 million registered 501(c)(3) charitable organizations in the United States.  With that much competition for the charitable dollar, the most successful charities are going to be the ones that fully engage their donors and prospects in the Ongoing Cycle of Engagement, including cultivation and stewardship.

Note: More information on stewardship can be found in the August 2014 RuffaloCODY white paper entitled “Stewardship: Creating Strategic Programs That Inspire Loyal Donors.

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ScaleFunder Crowdfunding Campaign for Ole Miss Athletics Raises $100K in Less Than 100 Hours Thu, 09 Oct 2014 11:52:05 +0000 ole-miss-victory-celebration-fund-screenshot-low-tnOn Saturday, October 4, 2014, the University of Mississippi football team defeated the University of Alabama, 23-17, to give the Rebels victories in their opening five games of a season for the first time since 1962.

Following the game, many fans in the sellout crowd went onto the playing field and tore down the stadium’s goalposts in celebration of the win. These acts resulted in $75,000 in unanticipated expenses to Ole Miss Athletics: a $50,000 fine from the Southeastern Conference (crowd control policy) as well as another $25,000 in expenses simply to repair the playing field and replace the goalposts.

That night, just a few hours after the victory, Ole Miss Director of Athletics Ross Bjork tweeted a photo of the celebratory crowd with a lighthearted message saying “Everyone in this picture should send donation to All donations accepted for the post & fine!”


What started out as a fun tweet on a Saturday night became an incredibly successful crowdfunding campaign and generated significant dollars and donors as well as immeasurable positive media exposure over the next 100 hours!

By the afternoon of October 8, less than 100 hours after the conclusion of the game, Ole Miss had generated more than $100,000 from more than 840 donors – an average gift of approximately $120 per donor, and well above the $75,000 in unanticipated expenses directly resulting from the on-field victory.


“We were going to pay all of this no matter what, and it was worth it,” said Ole Miss athletic director, Ross Bjork, to regarding the $75,000 in expenses. “This wasn’t all about the money. It was about the connection and the cause and tapping into the emotion from the big win.”

Ole Miss leveraged the “Victory Celebration Fund” campaign through popular gamification enticements easily created (and highly recommended!) through ScaleFunder, a RuffaloCODY crowdfunding platform. These included everything from a thank you letter from the athletic director, to a commemorative print, to actual pieces of the goalposts ($500 and above). In fact, the goalpost levels proved to be so popular, Ole Miss had to convert some of their larger pieces into smaller pieces in order to meet demand!

On the afternoon of October 8, Ole Miss Athletics launched a previously planned crowdfunding campaign entitled “I Wear 38,” benefitting an endowed scholarship fund created in 1989 and named after a former player (Chucky Mullins) who wore uniform #38 with the Rebels, but was sadly paralyzed making a tackle during a 1989 game and passed away less than two years later.

Again, leveraging the ScaleFunder platform, Ole Miss incorporated video and other social media opportunities to generate more than $113,000 from more than 150 donors in a matter of hours!


To learn more about the ScaleFunder crowdfunding platform from RuffaloCODY, visit to schedule an online demo.

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The Reports of Phonathon’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated Mon, 06 Oct 2014 19:39:34 +0000 phonathon-not-deadPhonathon is not dead.

We’ve all been talking about the declining number of donors to higher education, influenced by both a “leaky bucket” of alumni donor loyalty decline and the fact that so many of our youngest alumni are not yet contributing. We were wondering how institutions that have comprehensive phonathon programs compared to the national trends.

So, we went through the Voluntary Support of Education database and created some comparison groups. Here’s what we found:

In 2013, all higher education institutions averaged 87% of their total alumni donors from 2003.

Institutions with RuffaloCODY on-site managed phonathons averaged 99% of their 2003 alumni donor total.


At some institutions, this amounts to thousands of donors and certainly affects both dollars and the alumni participation figures used for rankings. It’s great to see that even through a major recession, there is evidence that programs committed to a comprehensive phonathon have retained a strong donor base. As the economy improves, we’re all hoping that we can see the alumni donor numbers return to their peak from 2007.

If it’s so much harder to reach alumni, why have schools with comprehensive phonathons retained their donor base through the recession?

First off, there’s nothing like sitting in a room and having a great group of students dial away through your entire donor pool and make the case for support. The fact that phonathon programs take gifts via debit and credit card right there on the spot certainly helps encourage donor action in a time when first class mail use is declining. These institutions are also very likely to have comprehensive multi-channel annual fund programs, allowing donors to respond to the channel they most prefer.

The influences on the donor pool are also greater than the actual phone solicitation. In an age of data overload, phonathon is a powerful focused data enrichment tool. A comprehensive phoning program calls through a big part of your database, making updates, confirming employers and addresses. This helps solicitations through other channels like direct mail and email, including being able to send everyone you spoke to a link to your online giving page. This valuable information is also crucial for prospect research in the major and planned gift program.

We heard earlier this year from the Non-Profit Research Collaborative that organizations with solid annual funds are more likely to be on track with their overall fundraising goals, and this is not surprising. There is a huge synergy between annual and major/planned gifts.

There is also a deeper influence at the basic level of what psychologists call “normative behavior.” Phoning programs involve a person (usually a student) asking another person to contribute.

Institutions with strong annual fund and phonathon programs have alumni that are used to being asked.

And when we call, a whole bunch of them say: “Yes.”

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Optimize Your Results With Channel Optimization Fri, 19 Sep 2014 17:55:50 +0000 multichannel_tree_tnThere is no doubt we are living in a multichannel fundraising world, but using more channels does not necessarily mean you’re effectively communicating with donors.  Instead of continually adding channels, consider using channel optimization to increase efficiency instead of quantity and to enhance holistic results for your annual giving program.

What is Channel Optimization?

This approach increases overall efficiency of your available communication channels through data-driven decisions.  Knowing what communication vehicles motivate a donor to give as well as knowing what giving mechanism a donor prefers can result in better fundraising.

  • Channel optimization can help you communicate with donors through their preference, not yours, and thus maximize your message being heard.
  • Optimization does not mean eliminating a channel, nor does it mean reducing quantity.  Don’t necessarily cut down on how much you send…just strive to always do it smarter.
  • Applicable to cultivation, stewardship, and solicitation within the donor cycle.  As we’ve discussed in previous blog posts, the cultivation and stewardship activities for a fundraising program are just as important as solicitations with today’s donors.

What Can Channel Optimization Accomplish For Your Program?

1) Cuts down on “noise” for your donors and prospects.  By communicating using the donor’s preference, your message has a better chance of being seen and heard.  Communications sent by less preferential channels could be viewed by the donor as both noise and waste.

2) Enhances your internal budget efficiency.  Maybe you’re direct mailing donors who do not respond to that channel.  Maybe you are using email or the phone channels in an inefficient manner.  Channel optimization can eliminate waste and enable you to shift precious budget resources into solicitations for other segments of your database or for enhancing the cultivation and stewardship of your more recent donors.

3) Enhance results.  For recent donors, channel optimization can strengthen your renewal percentages and average gifts.  For acquisition and reacquisition, channel optimization can enable you to put more focus on specific segments (such as young alumni) and increase giving in targeted areas.

Three Steps to Help You Get Started in Channel Optimization

1) Survey your donors and prospects.  Directly ask about their communication preferences, including channels and timing.  Ask not only what they’d like to receive but how and when.

2) Conduct an analysis of your gift data to use in tandem with your donor survey feedback.  Determine if your donor “preferences” match with how they are currently giving.  Look for trends in areas such as geography, graduation years, ask amounts, degrees and majors, and overall efficiency.

Note: RuffaloCODY currently has a Direct Mail Reporting Tool to conduct this kind of analysis for solicitations in your direct mail channel.

3) Develop your communications plan to integrate your new findings.  You’ve invested time and resources in surveys and analytics.  Now focus on realizing the ROI of that effort.  Prioritize what you integrate based on what your program can reasonably handle.  It’s better to add five things and do them all extremely well than to add 10 things and be average at each.

By optimizing your channel usage through data-driven decisions, you can make the best use of your available staff and budget resources in order to not only achieve your program’s goals for the current year.  You can also develop other pillars of your overall program to better enable future growth.

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