Raising Minimum Donations for Giving Societies
Economists will tell you that inflation is one of life’s realities. The truth is, most people expect prices to increase over time—whether it’s for something as small as a morning cup of coffee or as big as college tuition. Yet the idea of raising minimum donation requirements for giving societies causes anxiety and concern for many advancement professionals.
Giving societies—and their different levels—provide a way to thank and steward donors, create a community among donors and alumni, and provide a pathway to greater involvement and philanthropic investment over time. But because they can be so ingrained into the culture for many institutions, some are reluctant to make changes to them even when doing so could have a positive impact on their fundraising.
When the advancement team at Gettysburg College looked into raising minimum gift requirements for their annual fund leadership giving club, called the Cupola Society, they found it had been 17 years since the last increase! That fact was just one of many that gave the team confidence in their ultimate decision to raise the minimum gift requirement. If your institution is mulling a similar change, consider the following four tips shared by the experts at Gettysburg College.
1. Plan it, really plan it – Gettysburg spent a full year reviewing and evaluating their entire annual giving plan, studying peer programs, and conducting focus groups with current giving society donors. Gettysburg describes the process of preparing the transition as research intensive and very intentional. They weighed all of the potential risks and rewards and examined all of the possible pitfalls. And when they did finally make their decision to increase the minimum leadership giving level for the Cupola Society from $1,500 to $2,500, they started communicating with key constituents six months in advance of the change.
2. Give it context – Key to the process of raising the minimum gift requirement was the larger context of their comprehensive campaign, Gettysburg Great: a Campaign for our College. By the time Gettysburg started talking with donors about raising the minimum gift requirement, the school was in year four of a seven-year, $150 million campaign. For several years, donors, alumni, parents, and friends had already been receiving consistent campaign messages from the president, asking them to make an impact in whatever way they could. So by the time Cupola Society donors were asked to help lead the charge, the request had the full framework of the campaign behind it, lending credence and urgency to the ask and the increase of the minimum gift requirement.
3. Communicate it – In terms of what was most essential in the transition to a higher minimum gift level, Gettysburg points to a strong messaging platform and strategic communications plan. Advancement leaders honed the messages that rippled out across the college and beyond. They say their coordination among fellow advancement professionals was the foundation that ultimately ensured success.
Annual giving and stewardship professionals trained the entire advancement unit on the messages to use, which not only resulted in consistency in letters, calls, and emails but also a change in giving levels of other programs, such as an annual golf tournament. Just as important was the communication to institutional leaders. The first step was a presentation to the development committee of the Board of Trustees; and several months later, a presentation to the full Board of Trustees.
Communication directly to donors included focus groups among faculty and staff donors and Cupola Society donors, letters to donors six months in advance, individualized emails and phone calls to particular donor segments and hand-signed letters from the Board Chair once a gift was made post-transition.
And of course, advancement worked with alumni relations and marketing and communications so they could develop articles and features in the newsletter, alumni magazine, and beyond. Overall, executing Gettysburg’s strategic communications plan—from the macro down to the micro level—was less painful than they anticipated. The reason, however, all came down to the planning on the front end.
4. Steward it – It goes without saying that the primary reason to increase the minimum gift requirements for a giving society is to boost your fundraising results. But almost as positive for Gettysburg College were the rich and meaningful stewardship opportunities that resulted. With each outreach to parents, current Cupola Society donors, or faculty and staff, advancement professionals had an opportunity to make a significant contact. They asked donors’ opinions on what type of stewardship was most meaningful to them and how they wanted to be involved in the college; they invited them to events, or simply took an additional opportunity to say a heartfelt ‘thank you.’
The results one year after the transition showed that Gettysburg’s work paid off. The retention rate of donors in the Cupola Society who were previously giving below $2,500 was nearly 80 percent and giving from this group increased by 70 percent. When asked about the most frequent comment donors made once the minimum was raised, they said it was, “It’s about time!”–which simply reinforces Gettysburg’s decision to “level up” for the good of the institution and its students.
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