Prime Time: Annual giving’s profile is on the rise

Posted on 03/12/2014

Prime Time 2

My career in annual giving began nearly two decades ago when, fresh out of college, I sat down at a word processor to write a cover letter for a job running a student phonathon program at a university in Washington, D.C. My father, who worked in university development, noticed what I was doing and offered me two pieces of advice. First, he cautioned, never start a cover letter with I because it will make you appear conceited. Second, if you want to work in development, annual giving is a great place to start. I took his advice, and I also got the job.

Back then, annual giving departments played a role similar to farm teams in baseball: they were filled with young professionals eager to be drafted into a more important role in the major (gifts) league. The development landscape was different too. The Internet was in its infancy. Caller ID didn’t exist, which made prospective donors available (and vulnerable) to telemarketers.

Direct mail was simple and relatively cheap. Annual fund case statements typically focused on the need for unrestricted support. Give back was a good enough message to motivate alumni giving. The annual fund was an afterthought in most capital campaigns, and with the possible exception of elite institutions with a history of philanthropy, alumni participation simply wasn’t that important.

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