When William & Mary embarked on their first-ever billion-dollar campaign, they set an ambitious goal of 40% alumni participation—one of the highest rates among private institutions. According to Vice President for University Advancement Matthew Lambert, “this was an audacious goal for us to reach forward.”
To achieve this “stretch” target, William & Mary developed an integrated strategy focused on strengthening engagement, boosting participation, and ultimately raising more money. As Associate Vice President for Development Dan Fresza said, “ alumni, parents and friends… behave differently, but there are commonalities.” One common thread is that highly engaged donors are more likely to give year after year.
William & Mary started by growing their volunteer network, recruiting 800 alumni to engage their classmates through calls and messages about giving. They created “One Tribe, One Day,” a 24-hour fundraising campaign that brought in 2,000 donors in its first year. And they built a robust recurring giving program, increasing sustainers by 70% during the campaign.
A key to their success was a focus on retention over acquisition.
Analyzing five years of donor data, they found 50% of alumni had given at least once. “Nearly half of our donors year over year were not renewing,” Fresza said. To change this, they improved retention rates by 73% through strategies like student philanthropy and giving societies recognizing loyal donors.
Most importantly, success required leadership buy-in.
“Leadership is crucially important,” said Lambert. “It’s hard to do this if you don’t have a committed board, president, and executive team.” With the support of top leadership, William & Mary was able to dramatically expand their advancement efforts and foster an institutional culture of philanthropy.
By making alumni engagement and participation a priority across the university—not just in advancement—William & Mary transformed their donor base and more than doubled their alumni giving rate. Following their lead, any institution can build a sustainable culture of philanthropy by focusing on participation over the long run. Retaining loyal supporters must be an institution-wide goal to achieve fundraising success.
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