Parent Season is Here! Are You Here for It?

My passion for parent engagement started long before I became one – it was built when I served as a summer orientation leader while I was a student at San Diego State University. I loved meeting parents, sharing about the student experience and providing resource suggestions as a member of the student panel geared for parents.

Later, my first professional frontline fundraising role had me expanding the parents program from a purely programmatic one to a program that built generosity to inspire individual gifts. That passion stayed with me, and only grew years later when our oldest starting touring colleges. I was able to experience universities from the parent perspective, and I saw so many opportunities to grow how we invite parents and families into a generous relationship.

Fast forward to today, where I find myself discussing parent fundraising regularly during coaching sessions with clients. The number one topic: the differences between inviting parents and alumni to give.

With parent fundraising heavily underway, let’s look at those differences and how we can use them to better engage our enthusiastic new parents.

  • With alumni, our job is to re-engage. They often have not heard from us in years, or even decades. Parents are the exact opposite: they have been deeply engaged with us for months. They read everything about our campuses they can get their hands on, shop our books stores and look for campus swag on Amazon, decorate high school graduation parties with school colors and mascots, and they post, post, post their child’s campus choice on social media. (Decision day takes over Facebook in the days surrounding May 1!) These folks are ENGAGED, and aligning our work with that ongoing daily engagement is a critical tool in building generous relationships.
  • High schools have taught parents that generosity is a normal part of the educational experience. They are giving to performances (costumes, instruments, props), athletics (uniforms, transportation), competitions (registration fees, tutors) and on and on. Parents are prepared to be generous during the child’s college education as well, and when we don’t invite them to give early, we change that pattern and that message for the worse.
  • Higher education philanthropy has an opportunity to build from the foundation laid by high schools. High school programs regularly focus on need or maintaining programs. However, at our institutions, philanthropy inspires our supporters to dream – to dream of how we can solve significant challenges, build stronger communities, create first- and best-in-class programs and more. This model strengthens parents’ relationships directly with our institutions outside of their students’ relationships.
  • Many, many parents will be ready to discuss giving early – even in the first meeting. By using probing questions about high school giving, educating them about how we align giving to vision and strategy at our institutions and inviting them to make a gift, we can build on parents’ excitement for this next step in their children’s lives. Even the first call to a parent can be energizing, as they’ll often want to talk with us. But, let’s make sure to be clear about our role in securing support, and then serve as a bridge to other areas of campus as needed.

But it’s not just freshmen parents we should be engaging. Our youngest walked across the commencement stage earlier this month, and his campus did an exceptional job of weaving the message of Wildcat for Life with speakers who role modeled philanthropy in meaningful and relatable ways. We had family members with us for their first visit to his campus, and I guarantee that if any of us were to receive an engaged solicitation, we would give. Our pride was once again swelling at our son’s choice, and all that the campus did to foster his growth. We felt deeply connected to the community, their vision and goals. All we need is a fundraiser to bring it home. 😊

Whether you are welcoming new parents, or looking to continue to keep graduating parents/families philanthropically engaged, parent pride is at an all-time high from late April through move-in or start a new job day. Think about how you’re building excitement about philanthropy with parents and families, and how you can grow their engagement into giving. And don’t wait: Our parents and families are bursting with pride, and that pride can translate into meaningful philanthropic partnerships with our campuses right now.

Need a bit of extra guidance or coaching around parent philanthropy, language or strategy? KDD Philanthropy and our coaching team is here to support you with customized training or coaching. And this is a topic we are passionate about! Let us share our energy and practical approach with you.

Prospective Parents are Prospects Too

Not long after our family celebrated our daughter going away to college did we begin preparing for our son to select his university. A high school junior, he is visiting campuses — parents in tow — to find his match.

While I’m there as a parent, my fundraiser hat never truly comes off (which could probably be considered a hazard of a career in higher education).

And this part of me – the part that believes deeply in the power of generosity – was disappointed at the missed opportunities. At the five different institutions we visited thus far, public and private, not a single one mentioned philanthropy or a parents fund during the admissions office overview or during the campus tour. And an online review of other institutions fared only marginally better.

It’s easy to imagine how those running these programs don’t see how philanthropy fits in. Admissions requirements, student experience, academic programs – these make sense for prospective families. But donating?

However during these campus visits, we discussed study abroad opportunities, scholarships, campus improvements, new majors, and more. And at most campuses, every single one of these programs is fueled by generosity.

Those of us who make our profession in advancement do so because we know that the act of giving makes the extraordinary possible. Generosity gets students to college; exposes them to a broader world; creates student experiences and relationships they’ll carry with them for the rest of their lives; and facilitates deep investigation of our world through research and teaching.

Our role is to bring our pride in this knowledge to every audience we have, and that includes prospective parents and students. Philanthropy is woven into our institution’s being, and we should be honored to carry that message forward and educate at every opportunity.

If you haven’t explored how your institution shares this message with prospective families, now may be the time.

To explore tools to build an all-campus approach to parent giving, contact KDD Philanthropy today.

Image credit: janniswerner via iStock

Senior Class Giving: the Beginning or the End of the Relationship?

As college students are having visions of spring break, many university annual giving offices or student foundations are putting the final touches on their senior class gift campaigns.

These campaigns so often center on ideas like a capstone gift, leaving the university and other language and concepts that represent finality. So while senior class campaigns were created to shift student culture around giving, the very words that we use to inspire our students may actually be sending the opposite message.

While many of these campaigns are quite successful, imagine how they could truly support life-long relationships if more of them embraced a beginning rather than an end.

If we truly want to inspire ongoing philanthropy, shouldn’t we invite these students to become a part of our giving traditions? Wouldn’t we be better served by championing gifts in celebration of joining our alumni ranks and the donor family? What if rather than using past senior class gifts alone as role models, we demonstrated the power of young alumni giving?

These messages aren’t exclusive of the successful tools of celebrating the student experience and paying tribute to their memories. They are, however, an opportunity to lay the groundwork for the beginning of a long and rich alumni relationship.

How could a fresh approach to your senior class giving campaigns bring about buy-in for the tradition of a lifetime of philanthropy? How could a change in language invite, educate and inspire our students to join our giving families for the long term?

Need help strengthening your fundraising infrastructure? KDD Philanthropy can assist your university through consultations, individual coaching calls and workshops. Send us a message to discuss how we can help.

Early Decision is an Early Philanthropic Opportunity

While December is a time that many of us are thinking of holidays, friends, food and family – for parents of high school seniors, we are deep into university early decision time. First-choice college applications have been submitted, and decision letters are arriving.

For those who receive an early decision admission letter, December brings a sense of pride and the beginning of new family traditions. And if you work at a university, this is also the time when parents will be the most engaged with your campus.

A few months ago, I shared with you my experiences as a parent of a new college freshman, and the opportunities I saw for universities to better engage freshman parents in giving. However, as we enter college early decision season, I’m hearing from some campuses that is too soon, that parents need to be engaged more before we ask them to give.

Trust me: as a parent who just lived this experience, the time to invite these families to learn about giving, share the importance of philanthropy and ask them to make an impact is now!

Right now, families are excited and proud of this new relationship. And, they likely haven’t paid deposits or tuition yet. There are opportunities for generosity right now:

  • In-home salon events in key geographic regions with other early admission decision families.
  • Personalized letters, emails and phone calls inviting parents to support need-based scholarships for incoming freshman.
  • Incorporate giving language and links on the Office of Admissions website.

How can you share the value of giving at your university as an integral part this relationship right away?

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Does Your Organization Just Have a Table?

In my last blog, I discussed some missed opportunities in parent fundraising and engagement. The blog provoked some great feedback (thank you!), including the suggestion from a former colleague to follow up with a conversation of “don’t just have a table.”

While tabling applies to parent programs (orientation, move-in), tables are also prevalent at alumni, athletic, career/networking, and stewardship events. So many universities and colleges think tabling is an answer to outreach. Put out some nice brochures, have a basket of candy, and call it a day.

The brochures end up in a bag or file, usually never to be read, and while the candy may provide instantaneous gratification, it doesn’t bring about engagement or a gift. In many cases, it is better to not have a table at all than to put out something that is lackluster or not tied to a larger strategy.

Ken Blanchard coined the term “management by walking around.” It is a top business strategy, and should be one for fundraising engagement as well. Walking around, greeting, connecting, engaging! These are strategies that work, and the fundraisers who deploy are the most successful. Conversation is organic, and you can often qualify someone while effectively engaging them at these types of events.

Tables are not enough … but having a product on display? Brilliant! Allow me to share another story from our daughter’s orientation. As we moved from table to table, we came upon the campus safety table. In addition to magnets with critical information (something that is actually useful), several campus officers were present. We were asked which residence hall our daughter would live in, and were promptly introduced to the campus officer assigned her hall. The officer discussed campus safety, and what measures the campus took to keep the campus environment safe. It was a great conversation, highly personalized. Now, take that scenario one step further, and imagine an annual giving officer or parent fundraiser stepping in to discuss how philanthropy supports that highly customized approach to campus safety.

I recognize that our campuses in some cases are doing dozens of orientations, and these may seem like fishing expeditions. But, a 90-minute commitment at these sessions will yield much more effective results for your program if you ditch the tables and you add an engagement tool with the goal of qualification.

The same goes for career networking/career fair events, homecoming/reunion events, etc. Use storyboards, students, faculty, science on display to assist in telling your story. And as you gather information about interests, tie that information to key philanthropic initiatives.

The next time the topic of “who is going to staff our table” comes up in a discussion, ask the question: what is the larger strategy, what do we hope to accomplish, and will just having a table matter?

Need help strengthening your fundraising infrastructure? KDD Philanthropy can assist your university through consultations, individual coaching calls and workshops. Send us a message to discuss how we can help.

Universities, Don’t Miss Your Philanthropic Opportunity With Parents

The season of students returning to campus is upon us, and this year, that season took on a whole new meaning for me. Our oldest child began her university journey last week, over 2,000 miles from home. I experienced this process through the lens of a proud (and sometimes overwhelmed) parent, but also of a career fundraiser who has led parent fundraising programs, a consultant who is working with several higher education clients, and a former student orientation leader.

And in a season where we should be honored to introduce philanthropy to these new and proud parents, instead I am seeing a wealth of missed opportunities:

  • Parent/family welcome receptions and orientations with no mention of philanthropy, and no development staff present.
  • Giving envelopes on tables with no statements of impact.
  • No strategies in place for parents whom we have now known about for months (and with the increase in early admission applications, in some cases we’ve known for almost a year).
  • Parent asks sandwiched briefly between other housekeeping statements at orientation.
  • No demonstration of how philanthropy supports the programs that I care about most as a parent (student success, safety and wellness).

The list goes on and on.

Allow me to share my experience at my daughter’s two-day orientation this summer:

The afternoon of the first day was spent with all students in her major for an academic overview. Halfway through that discussion, an articulate and passionate senior stood in front of the room, and shared that philanthropy and involvement were hallmarks for this college. Giving to and supporting the programs is important. And she gave examples. She then confidently asked the parents in the room to make a gift. The amount was not large, but that is not the point. She did exactly what we as fundraisers should do every day. She built passion. She linked us to the students’ success. And approximately 80% of the parents gave to the college after the session, and we waited in a line to do so!

On day two, at the Parents’ Breakfast, a representative from Student Affairs talked to parents about numerous topics. Somewhere in her remarks was a brief mention of parent giving. No passion. No vision. No statements of impact. Where was the message that parent giving supports student success? Where was the highlight of how philanthropy enhances student safety? Student wellness? Experiential learning? Career and professional development?

We walked out of the breakfast, and the person sitting at the Parents’ Program table was texting on her phone and had no parent representatives. I picked up the envelope on the table, and it looked like something I might have put together 20 years ago, before I knew better: Check boxes for giving amounts. No statements of impact. And no invitation. It was a missed opportunity, and then some! My husband and I have yet to make a gift to the parents program, because while the institution has done everything right in courting our daughter and our family, we have not been asked to make a true philanthropic impact to support this fund.

The priorities of parents of college students have not changed much over time, and linking philanthropy to these programs is not hard. And, there is NO better time to invite parents and families to join in philanthropic giving than right now.

I have had push-back that we need to build a case with parents; we need to better engage them, or we will ask them after homecoming. I appreciate the goal of engaging me, but I am already engaged. Engaged, excited, proud, curious, and committed to your mission. I could not be any more ready for the ask, and there are parents at every campus across the country who are feeling just like me. If you doubt the passion and pride of new parents, walk over to the bookstore and see how fast merchandise is flying out the door.

For years I have said if you did not ask by Thanksgiving, it was too late. As a newly minted parent of a freshman, I’ve updated that statement. If you have not asked by move-in, you may have missed the boat. Parents are the perfect audience to be presented an opportunity to give in a first meeting, as they already feel like part of the family! And, once they are part of the donor family, then you should build engagement from there.

So, for those institutions that will be welcoming parents in the coming days and weeks … get out of your offices, and get in front of some of your most engaged and passionate supporters. 

Need help strengthening your parent infrastructure? KDD Philanthropy can assist your university through consultations, individual coaching calls and workshops. Send us a message to discuss how we can help.