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Business Officer Magazine
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Despite Economy, Donors Keep Giving

Spotlight: Small Institutions, from "Business Briefs" department in November 2009 issue of Business Officer

By Laura E. Doherty

Randolph-Macon College (R-MC) received more than $7.7 million in private support from alumni, parents, and friends of the college during the 2008–09 academic year, an annual jump of more than $1.2 million. “Given the current economic climate, this increase in giving is remarkable,” says Randolph-Macon College President Robert R. Lindgren.

More importantly, 33 percent of R-MC alumni chose to make contributions to the college. This is the highest alumni giving participation rate in nearly a decade. We were particularly pleased to see our outreach to graduates from the 1990s classes yield an increase in participation to 25 percent compared to approximately 17 percent in recent years. At the same time, we learned a few things with this campaign that should help in our future fundraising efforts.

Speak Their Language

Much of our growth in donations can be attributed to an increase in the number of alumni volunteers soliciting their classmates on behalf of the college. Peer-to-peer solicitation methods are oftentimes the most successful ones. More than 175 alumni volunteers were recruited for this special effort, and they reached out to thousands of our graduates.

We've been increasingly aggressive in recruitment, adding 25 to 30 new volunteers each year. With little attrition, our cultivation efforts have a cumulative effect.

The process to manage such a large group was fairly staff-intensive. For each alumnus serving as a graduating-class “agent” we provided:

  • Resources, such as sample scripts.
  • Unlimited access to a dedicated point of contact, with a specific staff member assigned to serve volunteer agents from the various class years (2000s, 1990s, and so on).
  • Continuous updates from our office on the status of campaign goals.
  • Personal thank-you notes from the president.

Provide Training and Tools

Initially, the dedicated staff liaison contacts his or her volunteer group via e-mail. We host a sizable training session each year in conjunction with homecoming weekend. We train volunteers on the details of different gifts and the ways they can be contributed. Along with sample scripts, we provide common objections and how to handle them. And, we continue adding tools to make fundraising efforts easier. For example, new software enables volunteers to customize a Web page within our site to more easily communicate with former classmates electronically.

Appeal to Favorite Areas or Activities

When contacting potential donors, alumni offer the opportunity to specify particular areas to which contributions could be directed, including endowed professorships, renovations of campus facilities, endowed scholarships, construction funds for new athletic facilities, and the college's annual fund. The largest number of donors, by far, contributes to the annual fund.

The annual fund contributions totaled $1,141,000, which represents the largest total in the college's history. Support for the 2008-09 fund was especially important because all donations to the annual fund were used to provide financial aid support for deserving R-MC students. “This sort of increase in alumni giving is almost unheard of in higher education,” notes Lindgren. “Randolph-Macon is very lucky to have such dedicated and committed alumni who have stepped up in a big way this past year despite a year of financial uncertainty.”

SUBMITTED BY Laura E. Doherty, executive director of development, Randolph-Macon College, Ashland, Virginia