Friends or Funds? C.A.S.E. Focus Group Dishes Out the Age Old Debate: Is it better to build relationships, or bank accounts?

Friends or Funds?

C.A.S.E. Focus Group Dishes Out the Age Old Debate: Is it better to build relationships, or bank accounts?

Summary: Take a moment to consider your alumni association’s main focus. What are your goals? What holds value in your organization? Would you rather have ten thousand members, or ten thousand dollars? On the same hand, do good members make for good earnings? A recent Council for Advancement and Support of Education (C.A.S.E.) focus group collaborated to touch on this topic to determine which is better.

Overall, the discussion resulted in what many existing organizations would consider old news: it’s vital to create relationships with your alumni before asking them to open their wallets. Many agreed that it’s not even a question, and, in fact, organizations should not expect members to lay out any donations until they have received something substantial in return. It could be argued that a quality education, for example, is a good return, but many students and alumni would say they have already paid. The extras– the bonus of membership in an alumni association– is what comes after a degree is handed over. “We build/strengthen a relationship and the bond between alumni/students and their alma mater and ensure loyalty, engagement and support (in all its forms),” says Peter Maher, Director of Alumni Relations for University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa. “The value of interested, proud, engaged alumni who defend and promote the institution, volunteer, mentor etc is invaluable to a university, regardless of whether they donate.”

As with a business, services are expected to be rendered in return for any payment, such as dues, but also for donations to occur. Megan Reile, marketing manager at 360Alumni, mentioned that an alumni organization needs a “mission, [which] should be to create a community among alumni, allowing them to easily network, find others near them, recruit for their companies, etc.” The concept is that once a student graduates, your organization takes over assisting and guiding the individual, just as your school did. This way, the tuition paid lasts a lifetime, proving the worth of the institution for years to come. Donations follow naturally. Andrew Shaindlin refers to a concept of “a basket of behaviors” he believes a successful association brings out in its membership, including “event attendance, online interaction, volunteerism, contact information – and yes, giving.” With his colleagues at Carnegie Mellon University’s Alumni Relations department, Shaindlin speaks of the word “engagement” with a nod to financial giving, as is plays a role in their relationships with past students. The particular word philanthropy was a common trend amongst responses. While it is undoubtedly easier to ask an alum for money than to ask them to elevate themselves to a higher level of human caring, nourishment, and development, alumni organizations should be doing both–and in the opposite order. Stacie Grant works for UC Berekeley, in a department that actually includes the word philanthropy in their name (Class Campaigns & Alumni Philanthropy). Perhaps an annual giving fundraiser comes across in a way that is less likely to ensure donations are made, while a “Philanthropy Day”, as Berkeley hosts, engages the current students in writing thank you cards to donors. Grant says once these students become alumni, “they understand the importance of engaging with the University in many ways [including] attending events, advocacy, [and] philanthropy.” The outcome? An alum that cares is an alum that shares, be it a monetary donation, a donation of time, or the donation of a position at their company to a fellow alum– all wonderful contributions to your cause.

Simonetti, Kristin, ed. “Alumni Relations’ Great Debate: Friendraising, Fundraising, or Both?” Council for Advancement and Support of Education (n.d.): n. pag. Rpt. in LinkedIn. By Stacie Grant, Peter Maher, Megan Reile, and Andrew Shaindlin. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Web.