The title of the article beside an illustrated team of individuals in charge of alumni fundraising.

Alumni Fundraising: A Complete Guide to Winning More Support

For many students, attending an institution of higher education is a transformative experience. This is all thanks to the professors you hire, the programs you offer, the facilities you maintain, and the scholarships you grant. To continue presenting your students with the resources they need to fulfill all their academic and personal goals, however, you need funding.

Most schools immediately turn to alumni fundraising to acquire these funds—and it’s not hard to see why. Even though they’ve left your campus, your alumni will always have a special connection to your institution. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk through all you need to know to maximize alumni giving:

The more engaged your alumni are, the stronger your school’s community will be. Set your current and upcoming students for success by improving your alumni fundraising strategy.
Download our free guide to learn how your school can double its alumni fundraising revenue with matching gifts.

Why is alumni fundraising important?

Colleges and universities undertake a variety of projects, initiatives, and improvements to create fulfilling experiences for their students. By securing alumni gifts, your school can:

  • Fund more scholarships. According to Hanover Research’s U.S. alumni survey, 74% of alumni indicate that their top inspiration for giving to their alma mater would be to either make education more affordable for other students or because they want to give back. Alumni donations are a stellar way for them to “pay it forward” and make your institution more accessible to aspiring scholars.
  • Create enriching programs and events. Alumni fundraising allows you to increase the value that students receive during their years of study. For instance, you might hire nutritionists to host informational healthy eating sessions, open up more study abroad opportunities, or expand your music program with new course offerings.
  • Improve campus facilities. Whether you’re seeking to construct a new dormitory building or renovate old classrooms, alumni gifts can provide you with the necessary funds to embark on such projects and improve the student experience on campus.
  • Upgrade technology. While new technology can be a considerable upfront investment, state-of-the-art tools like laser projectors, 360-degree lecture recording cameras, and interactive whiteboards can significantly boost student engagement.
  • Provide more student services. More students than ever are struggling with their mental health, with 44% reporting symptoms of depression and 37% indicating that they have experienced anxiety. Alumni gifts can go toward essential student support services such as mental health counseling, career planning, and tutoring.

It’s clear that alumni fundraising can have a significant impact on students and your institution as a whole. Understanding and communicating why gifts are so important can go a long way toward raising more from your graduates.

6 Strategies to Encourage Alumni Giving

Your school equips its students with the skills, knowledge, and connections they need to thrive in the professional world. After they’ve received their diplomas and launched their careers, invite them to give back and set the next generation up for success. Follow these six strategies for requesting donations from alumni:

Six strategies for requesting donations from alumni, explained in more detail below.

1. Conduct prospect research.

Your alumni are just as diverse as your student base. This means that, especially if you’re trying to secure a major or annual gift, some alumni will be more promising than others. Prospect research refers to the process of using philanthropic and wealth indicators to identify individuals who have both an affinity for your institution and the capacity to give.

Typically, you’ll search your alumni database for information such as:

  • Past engagement history with your institution, such as volunteering.
  • Personal interests related to your funding goals, such as an affinity for the arts.
  • Previous gifts made to your institution.
  • Real estate ownership.
  • Business connections.
  • Stock ownership.

By conducting prospect research, your school will determine which alumni to prioritize for your mid-size or major gift outreach. If this process seems too intensive for your team, there are plenty of prospect research services that can sift through your data and build a list of prospective donors for you to solicit.

2. Segment your alumni.

Before you begin crafting your fundraising messages and reaching out to alumni, take the time to segment your audience. This step involves separating your alumni into various groups based on shared characteristics so you can tailor your communications to resonate with each individual’s giving capacity, interests, and preferences.

For example, you could segment your alumni based on how recently they graduated from your school. After all, recent graduates won’t have been in a career for long and likely won’t be able to give a significant amount. Rather than asking these young professionals to make a major gift to your institution, you might encourage them to sign up for smaller recurring gifts that are much more convenient and manageable.

On the other hand, a recent study by CASE found that alumni who graduated 21 years ago or earlier gave 88.9% of total alumni support. Since these individuals have had more time to achieve financial success and stability, ask them for more mid-size to major gifts.

3. Promote matching gifts.

Your alumni give because they want to make an impact on your school and the students attending it. With matching gifts, they can double or even triple their donation amount at no additional cost. Many companies have a matching gift program as part of their corporate social responsibility initiatives, in which they’ll match employee gifts made to your institution at typically a 1:1 ratio.

However, an estimated $6-$10 billion in matching gift funds goes unclaimed every year, simply because donors aren’t aware of these opportunities. Ensure your alumni don’t miss out by promoting matching gifts across your various platforms. For example, consider:

  • Including basic information about these programs in a section of your email newsletter.
  • Sending follow-up emails after a match-eligible graduate makes a gift.
  • Producing eye-catching social media posts to spread awareness of matching gifts.
  • Creating a dedicated matching gifts page on your school website with detailed instructions about the process.

For alumni who are worried that they won’t be able to give enough to make a meaningful difference, learning about matching gifts could provide them with the motivation they need to follow through.

Check out our short video on matching gift best practices to unlock additional insights for improving your alumni fundraising strategy:

As the video suggests, your school can even turn to a matching gift expert for specialized assistance in using matching gifts to boost your fundraising efforts.

Explore real-life case studies to learn how higher education institutions leverage matching gift software to boost their alumni fundraising results.

4. Invest in tools that facilitate alumni giving.

Modern technology has opened up many possibilities for your school to raise funds. The more options you provide your alumni, the more likely they are to donate. Some game-changing fundraising tools that are worth investing in are:

Several tools that can support a higher education institution’s alumni fundraising efforts, detailed below.

  • Matching gift software.matching gift platform like 360MatchPro makes it easy for your institution to identify match-eligible donors and send automated follow-up emails with all the information they need to request a match. Plus, with the latest auto-submission feature, alumni who work for a company with CSR software that integrates with 360MatchPro can simply input their corporate email address when they donate and let the technology complete the entire request process for them.
  • Text-to-give platform. 85% of all Americans own a smartphone. Embrace the popularity of these devices by using a text-to-give platform that allows your alumni to donate directly from their phones. All they have to do is text your chosen keyword to your text-to-give number and receive a link that takes them to your mobile-responsive donation page.
  • Peer-to-peer fundraising software. Empower your most passionate graduates to fundraise on your behalf with peer-to-peer fundraising software. With this software, alumni can create individual branded donation pages to which they can direct their friends and family.
  • Event software. Hosting alumni events is an effective way to both keep them engaged and raise revenue for your school. By leveraging event planning and management tools, you can set up registration fees, plan in-person, virtual, and hybrid events, and create a memorable experience for all your attendees.
  • Online donation pages. Create a dedicated online donation page to house your alumni fundraising efforts. Include a matching gift FAQ, eligible funding programs, and an easy-to-use donation form. The philanthropic sectors of universities are also eligible for the Google Ad Grant, which you can use to enhance your donation page’s online visibility and appear on the top of Google’s search results page for keywords related to your institution.

Review your goals and budget before researching specific software solutions to implement for your institution. Take the time to read online reviews and request demos to determine which options will work best for your needs.

5. Provide a variety of opportunities to contribute.

Not every one of your graduates will be a major donor. However, that doesn’t mean many of them aren’t willing and eager to contribute in other ways. Keep these alumni involved by sharing a variety of opportunities for them to support your school, such as:

  • Planned giving. Alumni can set up planned, or legacy, gifts that your institution will receive after they pass. There are multiple types of planned giving, including bequests and charitable gift annuities. These gifts allow alumni donors to leave a legacy without having to worry about factoring donations into their day-to-day financial obligations.
  • Volunteering. While your recent graduates may not have the capacity to make large gifts, they can demonstrate their commitment to your school by contributing their time and skills instead. In fact, the average number of alumni who engage in volunteering is higher among those zero to five years out from graduating than any other cohort. Plus, if their employers offer volunteer grants, you can earn a certain amount of revenue based on the number of volunteer hours your alumni serve.
  • Fundraising. Encourage your alumni to participate in a peer-to-peer fundraising campaign or start a birthday fundraiser on your school’s behalf. This way, they can support your fundraising efforts by reaching out to their friends and family members for donations.
  • Attending events. Alumni can register for your events or participate as speakers. For example, they could lend a hand by serving as a mentor for a current student or using their professional expertise to hold workshops on important topics such as financial literacy.

To open up more opportunities that appeal to your alumni, consider sending out a survey to find out what they’re most interested in. You could ask them about the types of events they prefer or what skills they would like to apply as volunteers.

6. Focus on building strong alumni relationships.

At the heart of it, alumni fundraising is anything but transactional. The key to success lies in building strong, meaningful relationships with your alumni. Start by collecting information on and abiding by their communication preferences. Hanover Research found that 7 in 10 alumni donors want to hear from their institution at least quarterly.

Stay connected beyond fundraising appeals by sharing relevant news, updating donors on the impact of their gifts, and interacting with graduates on social media. Remember to practice frequent, thoughtful recognition to demonstrate just how much alumni mean to your school. Rather than sending generic thank-you emails, consider these popular ideas to appreciate your alumni:

An example of an eCard that schools can use to express their gratitude for alumni giving.

  • Send an eCard. Level up your thank-you’s by producing branded eCards that your team can effortlessly personalize with each recipient’s name and details related to their specific contribution. Dedicated eCard platforms like eCardWidget provide all the tools you’ll need to create your designs, add engaging animations, schedule your eCards, and more.
  • Gift branded merchandise. Whether you send them a t-shirt or a set of stickers, your alumni will be glad to have the chance to display their connection to your school. This type of appreciation has the added benefit of providing extra marketing for your institution as well.
  • Add spotlights to your website. Set up a dedicated page on your school’s website to publicly recognize some of your top alumni donors. Ask for permission to feature individual names, photos, and quotes to turn these spotlights into an inspiring resource for other alumni who are considering making a gift.

Whatever thank-you methods you choose, remember to emphasize how your alumni have made an impact on your institution and the lives of its current students to keep them continually invested in your success.

Alumni Fundraising Letter Template

When it comes time to reach out to your alumni, what do you say? Use this template as a jumping-off point for your alumni fundraising letter:

A template that colleges and universities can use to craft compelling alumni fundraising letters, included in the text below.

[School Letterhead/Logo]

Dear [Recipient’s Name],

We hope this letter finds you well. As a cherished alumn(us/a) of our [Institution Name] family, you know that we’re on a constant journey to provide our current and incoming students with the highest quality of education. In our pursuit of excellence, we’ve accomplished quite a lot in the past few years, including [one or two recent accomplishments].

This year, we’re taking on a new initiative to [fundraising goal]. By raising $[fundraising goal amount], we’ll be able to [impact on the institution and students].

Today, we kindly ask you to take a moment and reflect on your time at [Institution Name]. Will you join in our efforts to create more valuable experiences for our students, so that they can go on to pursue their career aspirations and lifelong dreams?

Any gift, no matter the size, will leave a lasting impact on our students, faculty, and institution as a whole. To make a contribution, [specific instructions on how to donate, such as visit your online donation page]. If you’d like to learn about other ways to support our initiative, please visit our website to explore volunteering opportunities, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for being an integral part of our institution’s history and helping us shape a brighter future for [Institution Name] and our students.

Sincerely,

[Signature]

[Name]

[Title]
Download our free guide to learn how your school can double its alumni fundraising revenue with matching gifts.

Popular Alumni Fundraising Ideas

Once you’ve developed a foundation of strong alumni relationships for your institution, get creative to maximize participation. Some popular alumni fundraising ideas to consider include:

  • Silent auction. Go beyond simply requesting donations from alumni by hosting a virtual or hybrid silent auction. No matter where they’re located, your attendees can bid on desirable items such as concert tickets, artwork, travel packages, and more—all while supporting your school. Procure items that you know will appeal to your alumni to encourage higher bidding and participation.
  • Cookbook. Your alumni may move away from campus, but that doesn’t mean they can’t feel close to your school’s community anymore. Ask your graduates to submit their best-loved recipes and compile them into a cookbook that you can sell to alumni, parents, and other supporters of your institution.
  • Sports watch party. Sports are a tried-and-true way to rally your alumni together and rekindle their love for your school. Organize watch parties for your next major sporting event and ask attendees to pay a small registration fee for the experience. These can be wonderful opportunities for alumni to bond and make connections with others in their area.
  • Brick fundraiser. Is your school planning to construct a new building or renovate an area on campus? Start a brick fundraiser that allows your alumni to purchase a personalized brick or tile with their name on it. You’ll be able to raise funds and your alumni will be able to leave a lasting, physical mark on your institution.
  • Alumni reunion. An alumni reunion gives your graduates a chance to reminisce about their time at your school and revisit old memories on campus. Beyond charging registration fees, you can earn additional revenue by selling branded merchandise and holding raffles during the event.

After each fundraiser, review key metrics such as your attendance rate and average gift amount to determine which ideas resonate most with your alumni. Use these insights to tailor your alumni fundraising strategy to increase participation moving forward.

Wrapping Up: Maximizing the Potential of Alumni Fundraising

The success of your alumni fundraising efforts depends upon building relationships that harken back to the value you provided graduates during their studies and call attention to the impact they can have on the students who come after them. Make all your alumni feel included by sharing a variety of ways they can contribute to your goals. Then, as they continue to grow and flourish in their lives, they’ll be able to respond to more opportunities to give.

To learn more tips and best practices for connecting with your alumni and raising funds for your school, check out these additional resources:

Get a free demo of 360MatchPro to learn how this matching gift software can help your school earn more through alumni giving.