9 Fundraising tactics for your alumni program

McKenzie Gregory


Whether you work in the nonprofit or university development space, solid fundraising is absolutely essential to hitting your goals as an organization.

Luckily, the fall is the perfect time to ramp up your efforts, make up for a slow summer, and do your best fundraising ever. After all, what brings out generous spirits better than the holidays? And who doesn’t get nostalgic about their college years during Homecoming and football season?

Good fundraising is all about great storytelling, so to attract the right donors these next few months, you’ll need to tell a compelling story about why your cause matters, why people should get involved, and how their contribution will make a real impact. Here are three quick and easy ways to do just that.



Engage “in the moment"

1. Think mobile. People are constantly on their phones – the average person checks their mobile device 150 times a day! So it’s critical that you aim your online fundraising campaigns at that mobile-first audience. Make sure every element of your marketing campaigns, from email to your website, is optimized for the small screen.


Thistle Farms sends emails that look great on a desktop...



... AND render beautifully on a smartphone!


2. Evoke emotion. Always craft your campaigns with an eye toward evoking an emotional response from your audience. You’re passionate about your cause, so give them a reason to be, too, by adding a human element to your work – whether that’s from photographs of current students or video footage of one of your projects in action.

3. Keep it simple. One of the biggest challenges facing digital marketers is the fact that your audience is not a captive one – it’s incredibly difficult to keep someone’s attention long enough for them to read an entire email, let alone to make it through the donation process. So be clear, concise, and get to the point fast.


Keeping your email focused on a single CTA is a surefire way to amp up conversions.



Maintain authenticity

4. Pick the right channels. Use the channels where your target audience naturally would be. It might make sense for an admissions department to be on SnapChat and Periscope, but not so much for an alumni relations and development department. Don’t force it just for the sake of keeping up with the latest trends.

5. Don’t lose sight of your cause. We'd all love to create the next ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge,” but trying to go viral can muddle your message and waste valuable resources. Raising awareness is a valiant goal, but for the purpose of fundraising, it’s more important for you to reach the right people than to reach ALL the people.

6. Be transparent. Nowadays, most people know they’re being marketed to – in fact, they expect you to market to them. Manage those expectations by making your marketing message as transparent as possible. If you want to raise money, simply tell people that instead of masking your fundraising efforts as something else entirely.


charity: water is known for their radical transparency.



Think long-term

7. Play the long game. Fall is a fantastic time for fundraising and for building your audience so you can reach your goals all year round. Strategize ways to take advantage of the momentum from the holiday season and set the table for successful fundraising in the new year and beyond.


Build your holiday giving program to help fund efforts long after the year comes to a close.


8. Consider indirect giving. One interesting fundraising shift during the digital age has been the idea of indirect giving – or rather, when donations filter through an individual’s relationship to the donors rather than the cause itself. People support individuals they know: Think of all the KickStarter and IndieGoGo campaigns you’ve seen on your social feeds. So find ways to spread your message through individual people rather than just through the voice of your organization.

9. Build advocates. A great way to do that is to cultivate a group of highly-involved advocates – both influencers and everyday heroes – who are passionate about the cause you support. They’ll help market for you and bring more people into the fold through their own personal networks.


In this campaign, To Write Love On Her Arms turned to brand advocate Alex Morgan to add some credibility to the cause.

How to write a good higher education fundraising email

Now that you’ve got an idea of how to go about your higher education fundraising, it’s time to draft and send your fundraising email. When it comes to this process, there are several steps you’ll want to consider before you hit that “send” button. 

Plan it out

No good fundraising effort was pulled off without some sort of pre-planning process. This means identifying your audience, knowing your cause, and more. In fact, the co-founder of MoonClerk, Dodd Caldwell, recently told our readers that part of the pre-planning processes should include developing a selection of “success stories,” to use throughout the fundraising campaign. These stories should:

  • Create a sense of emotion
  • Highlight the importance of the work your fundraisers are doing
  • Identify who the fundraiser is helping and how

Define your goal

Once you’ve built your bank of success stories and defined who the fundraiser is for, how it’s helping and your targeted audience, you need to sit down with your team and define the goal your higher education fundraising team is going to reach—or at least attempt to. Keep your goals SMART:

  • S – Specific as possible
  • M – Measurable in some way
  • A – Achievable
  • R – Relevant 
  • T – Time-bound

Outline your message

With your SMART goals in place, it’s time to start outlining the message of your email campaign. While sending statistics can have an impact on your reader’s emotions, you’ll want to keep these at a bare minimum. The more numbers you bombard your readers with, the less impact your message will have in the long run.

Write your story

When writing your story for your higher education fundraising campaign, you want to make sure that you’re implementing the use of “you.” Why—because it makes the email more personable to your readers. As far as the flow of your story, Caldwell suggests following this format:

  • Hook
  • Plot
  • Transformation
  • Call to action
  • P.S – Postscript

Design your email

Now comes the fun part, the designing process. Depending on the tools at your disposal, you’ll want to design an email that is visually appealing, is easy to digest and maintains your University’s brand. 

A picture containing text, photo, person

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Source: Pinterest

Track after you send

The work on your higher education fundraiser doesn’t end when you hit “send”. To know just how successful your fundraising campaign is amongst your email subscribers, you’ll have to keep a close eye on some key performance indicators, such as:

  • Open rates
  • Click-through rates
  • Bounce rates
  • Unsubscribe rates 

These numbers will tell you if your campaign is being seen and engaged with, or if it is simply being tossed in the trash folder. 

Let Emma help with your higher education fundraiser 

Emma offers universities across the nation the tools needed to help them build and monitor their higher education fundraisers. Emma offers universities with tools such as: 

  • Email automation
  • List segmentation
  • Template editors
  • A/B testing 
  • Analytics

Are you ready to make your next higher education fundraiser your university’s best one yet? Let Emma show you how.




About the Author

McKenzie Gregory

McKenzie Gregory is a senior content manager on Emma’s marketing team. A Nashville native, she can be found covering all things email on the Emma blog, debating hyphenation rules, and watching obscene amounts of Netflix without a trace of shame.

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