Leveraging Athletic Events to Inspire Giving
Annual Giving can be a lot like a basketball game – fast-paced and full of activity. There are quick passes to the printer to get appeals out the door and last minute calls to prospects to beat the buzzer at the end of the fiscal year. Don’t forget about the occasional slam dunk meeting with a donor that results in a big gift agreement. It’s the tempo and the excitement that makes it such an exhilarating field to work in.
But it’s not all fun and games. It’s hard work too, especially when it comes to finding new and interesting ways to engage and solicit prospects. Next time you’re out of fresh ideas, stop for a moment and take inventory of what’s going on around you. Is there an important event taking place on campus, an upcoming holiday or something in the news that will be on the minds of your alumni and the rest of your supporters?
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s annual giving team found their inspiration in the NCAA spring basketball tournament. They used it as the basis for a campaign to encourage participation by young alumni which they called March Mayhem. Although they had originally planned to organize a young alumni push around graduation later in the spring, they were able to seize on the excitement of their team’s invitation to the tournament and create a new concept in just a few weeks.
Hoping to encourage recent graduates to make a gift of any amount (to any designation), young alumni were urged to make symbolic gifts that were significant to the university’s basketball history such as:
- $23 to honor the jersey number 23 of former UNC star Michael Jordan
- $46 to honor the 46 years UNC had appeared in the tournament
- $106 in honor of the 106 seasons of basketball in UNC’s history
- $879 in memory of Dean Smith and his 879 wins as their basketball coach
March Mayhem was promoted through a series of emails, and dozens of “online ambassadors” helped spread the word online. The office provided these virtual volunteers with message templates and links, and together they boosted cheeky language posts on Facebook and other social networking sites using the #UNCMarchMayhem hashtag. Messages were also posted on regional young alumni pages throughout the country. For young alumni who live near campus, the office sponsored a March Mayhem happy hour. The event featured a digital photo booth and encouraged attendees to share their fun photos online using the challenge’s hashtag as another way to get the word out to others.
UNC ended up making it to the championship game, which allowed them to host a bigger happy hour in Houston during the Final Four weekend. What’s more, six young alumni volunteers hosted events of their own. These events included 150 attendees and served as a way to collect updated contact information from many “lost” alumni who were in attendance.
When the clock ran out, March Mayhem proved to be a huge success, helping to secure over $87,000 from 455 young alumni donors. This was 291% above the goal of 156 young alumni donors – one donor for every tournament game UNC has played throughout their history. The effort was also a major factor in increasing UNC’s overall alumni participation rate by 1.5% for the entire year.
While not every school makes it to the NCAA basketball tournament (much less the national championship), every school or organization does have an opportunity to use the events going around them as inspiration and as a way to keep things fresh and interesting for their donors. So, what’s going on in your neck of the woods?
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