3 min Read
December 29, 2010

All I needed to know about fundraising, I learned from my ten-year reunion

Big Duck

Back in the last millennium when I was a wee college student, I had no idea I was going to be a nonprofit fundraiser when I grew up. (Ok I also had no idea I’d ever wear anything but flannel shirts and Birkenstocks, but that’s another story…)

In the decade since, I’ve learned a few things. I not only dove into the world of online fundraising and found that I loved it–I slowly realized that my alma mater was actually something of an evil genius when it came to my new profession.

This has never been clearer than during the build-up to my recent ten-year reunion.


My school’s alumni fundraising operation has been awe-inspiring to the point of being almost scary. Over the last year and a half I have received no less than 46 emails, 12 online appeals, 7 Facebook messages, 4 online videos, 3 online surveys, 2 phone calls, 2 matching gifts, 1 class book, a post-reunion picture gallery, and countless mail pieces.

Now, I’m not suggesting you go out and launch quite as intensive a campaign as all that. But since the reunion I’ve been itching to share many of my school’s most interesting tactics with my nonprofit friends. So in celebration of my ten-year reunion, I’m sharing with you, dear reader…

The top ten favorite fundraising tactics I was subjected to at my reunion (which you should steal if you can!)

10. Producing a Class Book for each reunion year.
Each alum could submit a page about themselves, and since the people I met were by far the most important part of my school experience, thumbing through the book kept me thinking about why I loved college and should give a gift. (This could be easily adapted for nonprofits by posting online stories about donors, volunteers, etc.)

9. Letting you do everything online.
You needed a login to register for the reunion or submit your class book page online–but they made it easy by including your login inside each email, in case you forgot it. (Which I had!)

8. Facebook stories about scholarships.
Financial aid made college possible for me, and alumni gifts made that financial aid possible. The school hit that point home very effectively by letting students and alumni post, rank, read, and tag stories about how financial aid helped them on a specially designed Facebook page.

7. Getting my college friends to be fundraising accomplices.
I started getting non-blast emails from a freshman dorm-mate about six months before the reunion, urging me to register and give. The name recognition alone was enough to get me to open the emails–a great reason to get your best activists to email their friends!

6. Using current students to make me feel guilty!
I got online videos, appeals, and phone calls from current students who reminded me they depended on alumni-supported financial aid to go to school. (This worked not just because the students were earnest and adorable, but because I made those calls to alumni myself when I was a freshman.)

5. Constantly setting deadlines.
There was a deadline to submit your class book page, a deadline to get a discounted ticket to the reunion, a deadline to have your gift matched–so many deadlines! And you know what? I didn’t take any of these actions until I saw those deadline reminders. Plan for procrastinators like me!

4. Holding mini-reunions.
The highlight of the reunion was the mini-reunions, where the school arranged for all the people in my freshman dorm to have a separate happy hour. Again, by connecting me with the people who were closest to me in college, the school underscored why I should give.

3. Unique match offers.
I had never seen this before, but one match appeal had the offer that not only would your donation be doubled–but offered that if we reached the goal, the donor would also make a special one-time gift of $50,000. That motivated me for sure!

2. A strategic deadline.
While I might have assumed the deadline to give was the reunion itself in October, they actually extended giving to December 31st to take advantage of the year-end giving boost. Smart, very smart.

1. Weather update
This may sound silly, but my overall favorite thing my school sent was a simple email, the week of the reunion itself, warning me that it might rain that weekend and I should pack a raincoat. There was no ask, and it was such a thoughtful detail that it made me want to give anyway!

And the million-dollar question? What finally got me to give my alumni gift? It’s shameful but true–the last, last, no-really-Rachel-your-LAST chance email appeal I received on December 28th. Of course.