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.

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