Recognizing Common Life Stages of Alumni Donors
In the world of fundraising, giving patterns vary widely. Every donor gives in a manner and at times that are uniquely right for them. In the case of most educational institutions, the majority of alumni won’t even make a single gift during their lifetime. Fewer still will ever make a major or planned gift. Even so, recognizing common giving patterns for those who do give can help you, as a fundraiser, plan solicitations that will (hopefully) steadily increase a donor’s giving over time.
Consider the lifelong pattern of an ideal alumni donor, which might look something like this:
- Before graduation, they make their first gift through the senior class gift campaign
- 1-15 years out, they make consistent donations to the annual fund
- 15-30 years out, they make leadership gifts to the annual fund
- 30+ years out, they make a major gift or planned gift
These stages suggest a model for cultivating alumni in a way that’s most likely to be in line with their own circumstances and capacity. For example, it’s probably not realistic to expect a recent graduate to be able to make a major gift since they are just starting out in their careers and in accumulating assets. Nor is it realistic to expect someone who has never donated before to make a major or planned gift if your institution has done nothing to build a relationship with them over time.
Encouraging people to move through these various stages of giving is often referred to as building a pipeline, and it’s one of the most important functions of an annual giving program. It begins with identifying and acquiring new donors, encouraging their consistent support, and raising their sights in a way that leads to their increased giving over time. A strong pipeline will ultimately produce a pool of prospects that have been regularly solicited, appropriately stewarded, and prepared for a conversation about a major or planned gift.
Make no mistake: every donor is unique with his or her own motives and interests. Cultivating relationships with donors based on their individual characteristics – and timing your solicitations accordingly – is fundamental and essential for successful fundraising. But it’s also important to be able to step back and see individual donors within a bigger context. Doing so can not only help you determine when it’s an appropriate time to ask for a gift, but it can also help you gauge when it’s the right time to go back and ask for more.
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