Q. What’s so special about the University model of fundraising and fundraising via Friends’ associations?

A. University-based fundraising requires the same planning and diligence as other nonprofits. However, the university model has some amazing advantages. With a continually growing alumni base (read: funding source) who enjoy a shared experience the memory of which becomes better with each passing year, and a renewable group of beneficiaries (read: students) who become alumni– the potential is limitless.

You can offer donors proof that their investment is working through any number of creative invitations: Would you be interested in meeting the playwrights behind the latest student-produced production? Can I offer you a spot on the judging panel of the business school’s management competition? Care to stop by and experience the latest discoveries in the lab. And while not all donors can benefit from these unique experiences, all alumni donors –at all levels—can get excited by stories about a student-run clinic or some other means by which they reconnect with their own memories.

OK-It’s Not That Easy
No matter how many people work in the development office of a university, the potential donor pool is so big that the major gifts officer assigned to the class of 1965 may still feel overwhelmed. And, that doesn’t include the four other classes for which they are responsible. Another difficulty is that the more recent alumni are often the ones who can give the least, and get the least attention as a result. How do you keep them involved and passionate until they can become major donors? It is no easy task, but the key is great patience. Re-read this month’s companion article about long-term cultivation.

This brings us to the second part of your question about Friends associations—an amazing tool – once established. Friends organizations, for those who might not know, are groups of organized volunteers whose mission is to further the cause of the organization through philanthropic investments—theirs and their friends. Committed volunteers who are willing to donate time and money are always invaluable to nonprofits. They help keep large groups of interested parties become and remain involved and passionate about an organization.

Some of the best ways that these groups can aid an organization is to take on some of the ‘friend-raiser’ events (the activities that are great for the community, require a substantial amount of work but don’t raise enough money to dedicate the necessary staff.) These are often small special interest programs or pet-projects of an involved volunteer. It is nice to have these events, but the staff could never accomplish them all on their own.

Of course, the more involved a person is within the organization, the more likely they are to give meaningful gifts and encourage peers to do likewise, the true meaning of leverage.