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Donor Participation Project

Building a Culture of Philanthropy: Lessons from a $1 Billion Campaign

To reach William & Mary’s first $1 billion campaign goal, university leaders focused on building a sustainable culture of philanthropy. They started by gaining buy-in from across the institution, including the board, president, staff, and volunteers. With a shared vision to strengthen engagement, boost participation, and raise more money, advancement, alumni relations, and schools worked together.

Early on, William & Mary set an ambitious 40% alumni participation rate to encourage broad support. They analyzed data to see if 50% of alumni had given in the past 5 years, showing more could be activated. Focusing first on retaining current donors, they increased the retention rate from 63% to 74%. New student philanthropy and giving day programs engaged the next generation, turning 30% of senior class gifts into repeat donors.

Using a peer-to-peer model, William & Mary recruited 800 alumni volunteers to connect with fellow classmates. They also fostered student ambassadors to build a culture of philanthropy on campus. Stewarding donors with personal notes celebrating years of consecutive giving or reactivation kept them loyal.

Rather than an either/or choice between dollars and donors, William & Mary integrated efforts. While renewing current donors, they also acquired new supporters from past decades. Increasing frequency and upgrading gifts through giving societies and crowdfunding further boosted revenue.

After 6 years, William & Mary surpassed 40% alumni participation and $1 billion raised. But more importantly, they built the foundation for ongoing success. By making philanthropy an institutional priority, focusing on engagement and retention, and creating meaningful opportunities to support the school, William & Mary forged lifelong bonds between alumni, students, and their alma mater. Overall, the lessons from William & Mary’s campaign demonstrate how advancement programs can work together to establish a culture where giving back is simply what you do.

View the full recording of this session in ourĀ Resource Library.

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