Making Donor Recognition Stick and Pay Off

by Jonathan Oleisky

Imagine, after making an annual donor contribution to your alma mater, instead of receiving a standard “thank you for your gift” letter, you received a square sticky note holder with a selection of brightly colored personalized sticky notes that read “’Your Name,’ thank you for sticking with us.” Well that’s what my wife Deborah received shortly after making her annual gift to her former school, Albany Academy for Girls.

Clever, unique, personal and a clear winner with my wife. She was incredibly impressed; and the thank-you gift said to her that her school is doing the right thing.

While most schools wind down their fiscal year during the spring, summer is a great time to start thinking about your next donor campaign, and this was an idea worth sharing.

Thanking Your Donors Creatively

After a quick breather when you close the books, your development office and publications/communications team will start to plan for the fall giving season. I encourage you to take some time this summer and think beyond the donor thank-you letter. How can you creatively and genuinely thank your donors? What personal touch will resonate with them?

It made me think about what lessons from my wife’s thank-you “letter” could stick to enrollment marketing and retention. Keeping the students you already have is infinitely easier and more cost effective than finding new ones. The latter is crucial, yes, but many schools and colleges stop wooing prospects once they enroll.  So, it’s crucial to continue the courtship, especially through word-of-mouth.

What people say about your institution remains the most effective marketing tool you have.

Happy students and their happy parents talk about how thrilled they are at your school to pretty much everyone – family, co-workers, neighbors, the Target check-out person. And unhappy families talk just as much. In our digital world, word-of-mouth – what people say about your institution – remains the most effective marketing tool you have.

Use the summer to develop a unique thank-you program for student and family donors that drives stronger word-of-mouth. Referrals and reputation are the top reasons why someone looks at any school. Giving current families reasons to talk about your school makes it easier for them to do so. Time planning now on messaging and messaging methods that are portable, repeatable and emotional – the tenets of a word-of-mouth campaign – will have a big impact on your inquiries this fall.

Brainstorm and see what sticks. If it resonates with you and your school’s messaging and mission, it will stick with your families.

Next week, we begin a weekly series on making the most of your summer “downtime” to plan for a more effective year marketing and communicating about your school or college. Our series will start with word-of-mouth “how-tos.”

What types of donor recognition tactics have you implemented for your school? Please share your strategies in a comment.

Jonathan Oleisky is the President of Kalix Marketing

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