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Growing the Giving Tree

Non-alumni nurturing and the case for support.
University Business, Feb 2008

ON OCCASION, MEETING A FUTURE donor with no known institutional ties simply involves being in the office to take a phone call. It happened to Scott Leisinger, vice president for institutional advancement at Wartburg College (Iowa), when in February 2007 his department got a call from Gerald Kleinfeld, founder of the international German Studies Association and a professor emeritus of history at Arizona State University.

That's a far reach from northeastern Iowa, and Kleinfeld had never been to campus or been in contact with anyone who had. Who could have guessed he'd be making a $1 million gift commitment by summer?

"He did mention right away that he may be interested in making a gift," Leisinger recalls, "but most of the initial conversation focused on the history of our college, our German studies program, what the college's commitment to German studies was."

Kleinfeld also mentioned a handful of other institutions he was considering as gift recipients. So Wartburg administrators faced a connection-building challenge.

"He wanted to find a home in which he could really make a difference," Leisinger says, adding that a two-day campus visit seemed to be enough to make Kleinfeld feel at home. Before leaving, he "hit the college bookstore and bought orange [Wartburg] sweatshirts, signed up for a Wartburg credit card, and even bought an orange watch." And the next time he set foot on campus, he left with the promise to fund a distinguished professorship in German history.

'We wanted to change the perspective from giving TO an institution to giving THROUGH an institution.' -Tamsen McMahon, Harvard Medical School

While alumni make natural gift prospects because of their emotional ties, soliciting non-alumni gifts-whether for $100 or $1 million-takes tactical tries. The rewards, however, can make the effort worthwhile. According to the Council for Aid to Education's latest Voluntary Support for Education survey, of the $28 billion given to higher ed institutions in 2006, $5.7 billion was given by non-alumni individuals-a 14 percent jump over the prior year. Here's what has worked in obtaining these gifts.

Share economic impact figures.

When locals learn of the millions that a college's presence brings to their area, they're more likely to want to give something back. Augustana College (Ill.) officials used an economic impact study to create a brief handout on community engagement, which notes the school's estimated $157 million annual impact on its metropolitan area. "Sometimes we make the mistake of assuming that people in the community know all this information. We live it every day," says Al DeSimone, vice president for development.

Central Michigan University library's development team is staying in touch with friends made during a recent event for Ernest Hemingway buffs. Held about three hours from the CMU campus in Petoskey, where Hemingway lived as a youth, the August 2007 event featured pieces from the library's Hemingway collection and a tour of his family's cottage. With local libraries helping with promotion, "it sold out very quickly and was terrific fundraising for us," reports Brian A. Palmer, director of library development and community outreach. Development officers are following up with the 60 attendees (who paid $125 each for the dinner and tour) to see who might give to the library directly-or even just attend the next Hemingway event, planned for this spring in Chicago.

Purchase College (N.Y.) has several such groups, from the Friends of the Neuberger Museum to the Friends of Humanities. Members pay $100 to $1,000 to support scholarships, student performances, and academic programs. Group members and each school's dean help recruit additional members, says Tom Schwarz, president of the college.

Think of it as a more formal way of networking for dollars. At Augustana, council members are attorneys, trust officers, insurance agents, and financial planners who may help influence the philanthropic efforts of their clients. The council, currently with about 20 professionals, meets on campus "a few times a year, so they're current on Augustana programs," says DeSimone.

Twice a year, VIPs from all over the country, as well as some locals, meet up at Southwestern University (Texas), a liberal arts college just north of Austin with under 1,300 students, for a day-long program. The eclectic group, currently headed by an American Airlines executive and representing a broad spectrum of society, explores a question related to the Southwestern educational experience, explains Rick McKelvey, vice president for institutional advancement. Members are appointed by the president. "We designed the board of visitors specifically to engage individuals who would not normally be engaged on a serious level with the university," McKelvey says. "Some wonderful gifts have come in from individuals and from organizations in which they're affiliated. It is an outcome, but it is not the stated objective." In fact, the only thing asked of the board members is that they go back into their segment of society and talk about their experience.

Purchase College officials have organized financial planning seminars and mailed newsletters about planned giving, thereby providing friends with information on changing tax incentives for charitable support. And in Purchase Perspectives, the president's newsletter, Schwarz has shared his views on issues such as public support of higher education and even included an article encouraging wealthy graduates of private colleges to adopt a public college.

The "Endless Possibilities" marketing campaign at Montgomery College< (Md.), launched a few years ago, branded the two-year college as accessible and affordable. About 100 students and alumni reflected on their experiences in radio spots and other ads. When a school gets a face, support may follow. Purchase College development materials are more blatant about requesting funds for the students featured. Its Adopt-A-Dancer program, now in its 10th year, features a booklet highlighting "14 brilliant dancers" in danger of having to leave (or never reach) Purchase. Each page's profile breaks down tuition dollar sources and exactly how much unmet need is left. Booklet updates, with "Adopted" stamped over the photos and benefactors named, show Adopt-A-Dancer program progress.

Six-year-old Harrisburg University of Science and Technology (Pa.)-which now has just nine graduates-has done exactly that, soliciting pledges of $1,000 per year for scholarships and academic support. A letter sent to prospective members argues that investing in the Honorary Alumni Association means investing in aspiring students as well as "in the long-term prosperity of the Capital region." Nearly 200 people have stepped up, and the school has placed full-page magazine and newspaper thank-you ads, as well as recognized members during special events.

One may argue that parents of current students feel they're already writing enough checks to the institution, but in Donald J. Weinbach's experience that's not the case. "Parents realize that universities need additional support," says Weinbach, vice president for development and alumni affairs at Quinnipiac University (Conn.). Those whose children went to private schools are particularly not surprised to get a call. Why not make the school the best it can be while their children are there? Besides such mass solicitation, Weinbach says his team selects some parents to engage in ways that may lead to further investment in the university, such as guest speaking in classrooms. Engagement is the goal for Southwestern parents as well. McKelvey notes that the university has "a robust parents orientation weekend and a robust online community," and family weekend includes exposure to classroom experiences. "Our only frustration is that you can't personally engage all 1,270 sets of parents." Still, the team must be doing something right. Over the past six years, the rate of parent giving has been between 31 percent and 45 percent each year.

The College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University saves information on its teaching hospital clients. This came in handy several years ago when Prof. Oscar Fletcher, dean at the time, and his team generated a potential donor list and worked to cultivate those individuals. For example, a brick walkway campaign generated $150 per engraved brick. Staying in touch with one particular client whose golden retrievers had been successfully treated at the hospital resulted in the college's largest private donation ever. "His dogs were his family," Fletcher says of the late Randall Terry, who served two terms as president of the college's veterinary medicine foundation and in 2000 established a challenge gift to help generate private funds for a new hospital and for student scholarships. His foundation's donation of $20 million will help support the $45 million companion animal medical center, now under construction.

Harvard Medical School's brochure "The Power of Ideas: The Promise of Harvard Medicine" aims to grow non-alumni giving. Developed with the Boston-based strategic communications firm Sametz Blackstone Associates and rolled out early last year, the piece touches on five donor "entry points," explains the firm's president, Roger Sametz. These are disease, accelerating discovery/new technology, fundamental science, training doctors and leaders, and being transformational visionaries (those who realize that big changes in health and medical fields take time). The brochure is used by HMS's director of development, Tamsen McMahon, and her team to start discussions.

The medical school's brochure stops short of implying that Harvard is needy, Sametz says. "The whole thing we're trying to do is flip it around and be donor focused." Under development are additional documents, which will be used as potential donors show interest in a particular area.

Purchase College's Schwarz and David Sears, vice president of institutional advancement at Montgomery College, find themselves talking in terms of how many more students benefit from a donation to a public school compared to a private one. Donors' dollars "go further here in supporting students' financial needs," Sears argues. Allan Price, vice president for advancement at the University of Oregon, recalls that his president, in an initial meeting with philanthropist Lorry Lokey, expressed his belief that supporting public institutions is also about giving back to the area. Lokey, says Price, was known for being a major donor to many private institutions and "had some sense that that's what tax dollars were for. He was pretty shocked to find out the low percentage of our budget that comes from the state." The president also pointed out that a donor's money could leverage state money. In Oregon, private donations for building construction are matched by the state. Schools such as Harvard Medical, meanwhile, make the reputation case-that gifts are "leveraged by the strength and resources of Harvard University," as its new brochure states. "We wanted to change the perspective from giving to an institution to giving through an institution," McMahon says.

East Carolina University's (N.C.) health services division sends annual customized endowment reports, which are "very well received," shares Carole Novick, associate vice chancellor for health sciences development and alumni. At Augustana, calling officers strive for face-to-face contact with even modest givers, such as those who have given a small amount each year for 10 years. "They're making a statement to you. They're voting with their checkbook," DeSimone says. "That's the person a calling officer should visit." He notes that donors expect both appreciation and that "their hard-earned gifts are being well spent." The fact that the college has operated with a balanced budget for more than three decades helps calling officers prove it.

'I'm pretty convinced that [major donor Lorry Lokey] was a University of Oregon student in a past life!' -Allan Price, University of Oregon

This strategy is used by schools of all types and sizes and at times can lead to major gifts. Gary Hoover, an Arizona resident whose uncle works in Wartburg's city of Waverly, Iowa, "was invited to join the school's board of regents and has since offered much in the way of leadership and generous financial support," says Leisinger. Just how generous? Hoover provided the lead gift in support of Wartburg's new stadium.

DeSimone notes that with every person on the Augustana campus benefiting from major gifts, "it's a mistake to try to limit or focus on a handful of individuals to carry that message [about giving]." At the University of Oregon, a dean checking references for a fundraising firm being considered first spoke with Lorry Lokey, one of the references given. Lokey mentioned originally being from Portland and that he had supported a number of private universities in California, including Stanford, his own alma mater. "As a good dean should, he let the development office know," recounts Price. "We had an appointment with Lorry two weeks later."

Northern Arizona University's College of Business got a commitment in spring 2007 for a $25 million donation from William A. Franke, former CEO of America West Airlines. But it wouldn't have happened if it weren't for '76 grad Scott Coor, who met Franke while a student (he hosted Franke as a guest speaker) and was later hired by the company Franke headed at the time. They remained in touch, and one day Coor suggested the school approach Franke for a transformational gift. "We do encourage alumni, especially those we know very well, to let us know of [potential donors]," says Betsy Putnam, senior director of development at Northern Arizona, who worked on securing the Franke gift. With Coor, it was his own idea-one that the college didn't just take from there. During the initial meeting with Franke, Coor made the direct suggestion: "Bill, you need to name Northern Arizona University's business college." Putnam recalls, "Bill looked at me and asked what the cost would be. That was the start of a three-year conversation."

Schwartz recalls that one Purchase College Friends of Humanities member, who first got to know the institution as a senior citizen class auditor (an opportunity offered at no cost when there's an available seat), initially donated $100. After attending the college's scholarship reception, that person committed to creating a $50,000 endowed fund. But the story doesn't stop there. This person continued to make gifts of $50,000 per year to that endowment for the next six years. Invitations to faculty seminars and dinners with the president were extended throughout this time. Eventually the person made a $1 million gift to create a chair, a gift that the donor's family doubled with a match. One never knows what one single donor might do.

Purchase also hit it big with its recent Nelson A. Rockefeller Awards, presented to performing and visual arts luminaries at a benefit gala. "We anticipated 250 [attendees] and got 420," Schwarz notes. With tickets at $750 or $1,000 each and additional pledges, $1.3 million was raised.

East Carolina's health sciences campus, which serves 29 surrounding counties, is trying something new to win over potential donors-having small groups of board members invite about 30 people each to come to campus (with a guest) and spend half a day visiting new campus buildings and learning more about the school through simulations and discussion. The hope is to determine what area each guest is most interested in and then to follow up with a giving pitch, says Novick. Similar events are being planned to cover board members from other counties. And at Wartburg, officials packed a lot into Kleinfeld's initial two-day visit to make it memorable. He met with faculty, spoke in classrooms, and had dinner with the president and board chair. "I think he was kind of floored that we would go out of our way to give him such a grand experience," Leisinger says.

Development leaders agree that the asking can't be done too early and bluntly. But it must be done. For NC State's veterinary medical center project, Fletcher and a chancellor visited Terry at least twice, asking him to consider a major gift "so that we could name a building after him," Fletcher recalls. That didn't particularly interest Terry, but later, secretly and while terminally ill, Terry pledged $20 million through his foundation (which later added a $5 million challenge gift). "He didn't want to call much attention to himself," Fletcher says. "He was proud to be able to make a difference."

This approach worked for Wartburg officials in conversations with Kleinfeld. His gift to benefit German studies there "could really have a tremendous legacy at Wartburg," they suggested. "We were proud of our German tradition, of our German studies program, but knew it could probably use strengthening," Leisinger says. Inspired, Kleinfeld got administrators to realize "there's no reason why Wartburg can't have the top German studies program in the Midwest." Al Novak, vice chancellor of institutional advancement at the University of Pittsburgh, which has gotten capital campaign donations from many non-alumni, sums up the legacy conversation in this way: "You've got to be able to make the case that you're worthy of the gift from the friend, that the gift will make a difference, that the gift will change lives, and that the gift will have an impact on their own life, on their community. If you can do that, they'll support you."

At Wartburg, this means working hand in hand with Kleinfeld, whose connections could certainly help build the German program. At Northern Arizona, leaders are in close touch with Franke, despite his public promise not to "meddle" in their operations. And at the University of Oregon, officials can't help but be in touch with Lokey, who continues to give-to the tune of about $132 million in total over the past four years. "I'm pretty convinced that Lorry was a University of Oregon student in a past life!" says Price.

The best part about interest from a non-alumnus is probably the message it sends to other potential donors. NC State's College of Veterinary Medicine widely promoted the fact that Terry was not an alum and that people give to the college not because they went there but because of an interest in animals, Fletcher says. Franke's gift to Northern Arizona "really has caused a stir and people are noticing," says Susan Schroeder, interim vice president for advancement. Putnam adds that Franke has spoken publicly about his expectation that the gift be leveraged. Not surprisingly, Lokey's many contributions to the University of Oregon have "created a real sense of excitement and energy," Price says. Lokey's confidence in the institution spurs involvement by alumni and non-alumni alike. His gifts even make a difference to past donors, Price notes, since major gifts create "a return on investment for all the people who have given before them. They've helped create a place that's so good that people like Lorry believe in it enough to invest in it."

Engage Non-Alumni and the Money May Follow

A more subtle way of making the case for support from non-alumni involves simply getting people to feel a connection with the college or university. Here are five ways to help make it happen.

Pine Manor College, in the Boston suburb of Chestnut Hill, partners with local social service agencies, in part because the 500-student women's college emphasizes traditionally underserved communities. Partnerships lead to new programs, which get media attention and then "catch the eye of potential donors," explains Susan Webber, vice president of Institutional Advancement.

Montgomery College (Md.) officials make every effort to get student stories on television and radio as well as in local and major media outlets such as The Washington Post and The New York Times. "Non-alumni read about the college in their everyday local, regional, and national media outlets," says David Sears, vice president of Institutional Advancement at the two-year school.

Attend just one Annual Seminar on Jazz-a four-day University of Pittsburgh event combining scholarship, performance, community involvement, cultural diversity, and musicianship-and part of a mailing list you'll become. Al Novak, vice chancellor of Institutional Advancement at Pitt, notes that simply letting people know about upcoming events often gets them back to campus. "If you're lucky, they feel like they're part of your program and part of your institution, and when the annual fund or a major gift officer calls, they're willing to talk to you."

Further east at Purchase College (N.Y.), officials have created a "Community" web portal that invites the public "to become part of Purchase." From the Neuberger Museum of Art to the classroom (where senior citizens can audit classes tuition free), there are lots of options. Community members may receive official invitations to an annual event where students talk about the meaning of their scholarships, and to smaller, timely, topic dinners with the faculty.

They're the most practical form of mass follow-up. Purchase College friends receive the alumni magazine, president's newsletter, and monthly calendar of events. Development staff at Augustana College (Ill.), who also send their magazine as well as the president's report to friends, work to keep the school's name in front of these individuals. As Al DeSimone, vice president for development, explains, "Once you get on a mailing list, it's hard to get off!"

Quinnipiac University (Conn.) leaders will ask parents who are leaders in a particular industry to be guest speakers or to sit on committees where they can "provide intellectual talent," says Donald J. Weinbach, vice president for development and alumni affairs.

"If people become involved in an institution or organization and believe in the mission, their investment will follow. If you do it right, you probably don't have to ask for their investment." The tricky part is to press parent "cultivation activities into a four-year period," Weinbach adds.

"With alumni you have the lifetime relationship, and there isn't a sense of urgency."

Networking with powerful business, academic, and political leaders in greater Boston has been "a key strategy that has paid dividends for Pine Manor," Webber says.

At Augustana, networking isn't all business, all the time. This December, the president and his wife hosted about 30 community leaders for a light supper in their home, followed by a basketball game in the sports arena. The opposing team was the crosstown rival, yet that institution's president was part of the group too. Augustana leaders shared their new impact statement with their guests, but there was "no mention of [gift] money whatsoever," says DeSimone.

Still, the night was an example of how administrators are intentional about who should be present for conversations about the role of higher education in the community.

As any development officer knows, there are only so many dollars that can be tapped from alumni. While Harvard Medical School has a small number of known, living alumni (currently about 9,000), and historically about three-quarters of its gifts came from non-alumni, there was still "this expectation that we could raise significant gifts from our alumni," says Tamsen McMahon, director of development at HMS. "We had reached a point where we had done everything we could do." With the school's needs still growing, it was time to take action.

The department turned to Boston-based strategic communications firm Sametz Blackstone Associates for help in attracting new donors. "Together we decided there were five major ways in for donors," notes Sametz president Roger Sametz.

They developed a strategy based on five donor-focused entry points, or broad topics designed to align different potential donors' interests with the school's strengths and promises. The five points cover what Harvard medicine and Harvard Medical School are focused on: alleviating suffering from disease; accelerating the pace and scope of discovery; answering unanswered questions; training the best doctors, scientists, and leaders; and changing the future of human health.

Those points are covered briefly in an eight-sided, visually driven brochure, which ends with inviting the reader to "be part of Harvard medicine." The brochure was rolled out in early 2007.

A 31-page booklet, Securing the Future by Building the Brand, is used within the HMS Office of Resource Development to help team members understand and participate in building the school brand-including the strategic messaging now used to influence people to support Harvard medicine.

The overview brochure and educational booklet are enough to get new team members up and running quickly. "One new gift officer with no science background said she felt she could connect with her prospects within just a few weeks on the job," McMahon says. Using the brochure, gift officers can start discussions about the vision for the school. Then as they pick up on what area seems to most interest each prospect, they can follow up with more detailed information.

The system has five levels, which "get increasingly specific and decreasingly costly" to produce, Sametz explains. Individual research studies, for instance, are published online rather than printed in bulk. In the works now are the next set of documents, each honing in on one of the five entry points.

"It's all set up around facilitating a dialogue rather than going out and trying to sell something," Sametz adds. Gift officers don't talk in terms of what the school is raising money for, McMahon says. "While you eventually need to be at that point, you can increase the amount of people who give when they realize what kind of impact people can have." For example, the gift officer may talk about a new building by explaining how, through the building, the school will be able to do something in particular. "People say, 'Great! How can I support that?'" she says.

As Sametz puts it, "It's all about benefits and outcomes, and what's in it for the beneficiaries-not, 'Aren't we cool?'" Perhaps the best part of the new overview brochure and the communications strategy it represents is that it got the development team to better understand how to reach alumni too.

"Prior to this brainstorming, development officers tended to go out and talk to alumni only about the training, the education portion," McMahon says. "But the research effort is vastly larger than the education piece. For people who weren't really engaged by the notion of training doctors, we were able in some cases to reconnect even with alumni about what made them a doctor in the first place."

She adds that the perspective is about giving through rather than to an institution. "Thinking of our messages in this way helps us bring clarity to what it is about Harvard that makes giving to our institution that much more impactful."

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