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Simple, Yet Sophisticated Strategies for Achieving Full Lifetime Value from Your Alumni

Maintaining accurate data is key.
University Business, Mar 2007

Building healthy relationships with your alumni can lead to connections that last a lifetime. However, in a day and age where alumni constantly move, marry, divorce, travel, and switch jobs, universities must ask themselves one simple question: "Are we successfully aligning our data to reflect our alumni's many life changes?"

Most fundraising offices will agree that mature and settled alumni are more likely to be better donors over time. It is no surprise that universities that have figured out how to keep in touch with these alumni have consistently solicited higher levels of donations.

Lost letters equal lower response rates, which is a key factor in determining the success of your campaign.

To the dismay of many universities, inaccurate alumni data may be hurting outreach and fundraising efforts. Errors in alumni databases may be making it difficult for universities to achieve full philanthropic value from successful alumni years simply because they have not paid close enough attention to the integrity of their data.

The good news is that there are simple and cost-effective ways to ensure positive and ongoing communications, offering the opportunity to achieve greater lifetime value from alumni. Before discussing these simple strategies, it's important first to understand how inaccurate data can deter fundraising efforts.

Your school could be losing donations if your fundraising campaign letters never reach their intended recipients. Lost letters equal lower response rates, which is a key factor in determining the success of your campaign. In addition, if your alumni move and you lose track of them, you've lost the ability to communicate with one of your most valuable assets.

To illustrate the economics of a bad address, imagine that a university is planning to initiate a fundraising campaign targeted at its 100,000 alumni. If even 3 percent of letters are undeliverable because of incorrect addresses, this will mean that 3,000 alumni won't receive the fundraising letter. Based upon our experience in working with many education customers, we've learned that an average response rate for a development campaign is approximately 4 percent. Therefore, if the university's average donation is $100, it could be losing as much as $12,000 per campaign due to bad addresses alone. Assuming the fundraising campaign runs on an annual basis, the university may be losing almost $145,000 in possible donations over a decade's time.

This doesn't include wasted printing and postage costs and the valuable human resources that are needed to resolve address problems manually. An inaccurate address or incorrect data file results in the needless waste of money on mail that isn't serving its purpose. If the fundraising staff have to manually research, reformat, and update addresses, this could be adding hundreds of hours per year of extra work for them when they could otherwise be working on strategic efforts.

Now that you understand how bad data can negatively affect a university's fundraising campaign, it's equally important to know what you can do to deter bad data from entering your databases. Here are some simple strategies to consider when looking to achieve full lifetime value from your alumni donors:

Make a Good Impression Each Time You Communicate

For universities who send regular mailings to their alumni, making a good impression through even the smallest piece of mail is of utmost importance. Each mailing must have accurate and up-to-date information. Without the ability to communicate with your alumni, you could negatively impact or even lose your relationships with them. For example, if an alumnus receives mail with a misspelled address, he could think that your school doesn't care much about the relationship and therefore may be disinclined to send in a donation.

Make it easier for alumni who want to stay involved to update their address information through a self-service portal on your website.

Conduct Pledge Calls in the Most Efficient Manner Possible

When conducting pledge calls to alumni, keep the tone of the calls professional and to the point. Alumni don't want to be asked how to spell their city's name time and time again. Through the use of software that automates and verifies address information and catches spelling and formatting errors at the point of entry, your pledge calls can serve dual purposes by raising significant funds and obtaining up-to-date and accurate alumni information easily. As a bonus, such software may reduce data entry time per record by up to 50 percent.

Create a Self-Service Portal

Make it easier for alumni who want to stay involved to update their address information through a self-service portal on your website. However, to avoid jeopardizing your data integrity through spelling and formatting errors, remember to create processes and to employ tools that verify the accuracy of the incoming data.

Ensure Data Integrity Is Embraced from Top to Bottom

Every person in your organization-from the dean and the fundraising chair to students making pledge calls-must embrace the importance of keeping accurate alumni records at all times. Organization-wide support of such efforts may guarantee a better and more efficient interaction with your alumni, helping you to successfully achieve the best possible lifetime value from them.

So what do all these suggestions add up to? Through the implementation of these simple strategies, your school can answer the question raised in the beginning of this article in the affirmative: "We have successfully aligned our data to match our alumni's life changes." By employing these strategies, your school will successfully maintain and grow rewarding connections with your alumni, ensuring further development of existing relationships and starting new ones off on the right foot.

Joel Curry is the chief operating officer of QAS North America. QAS is an Experian company. To contact Mr. Curry, or for more information about QAS's address verification software, QuickAddress, please visit

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