As a longtime Annual Giving volunteer, I am very concerned by the downward trend in participation rates. As a professional fundraiser who deals with concerns similar to those highlighted in the article (“The Giving Plea”) on a daily basis, I would encourage the University to lean in to the proven practices that are being employed by other nonprofit organizations and to question some of the traditions that have been central to the Annual Giving program over the years.
By encouraging alums to create set-it-and-forget-it monthly giving rather than focusing on one-time gifts, the University could forego annual solicitation for a portion of each class. Many organizations make monthly giving the initial request for all donors.
While the focus on peer solicitation is the hallmark of the Princeton approach, has the investment in staff and technology kept up with the growth of the alumni base and the total dollars raised? A ratio of 25 staff to $81 million for a program focused on participation is very low. And other organizations are actively using AI-informed technologies to identify who, how, and when to solicit.
One of the tenets of the Annual Giving program has been to minimize its focus during Reunions. But why? By not actively soliciting when huge numbers of alums are gathered in one place, the major classes miss out on a great opportunity.
I’d also ask if, in determining participation rates, the differentiation between Annual Giving and restricted giving (e.g., for capital or sports teams) still serves a valid purpose given the size of the institution’s overall budget, or if it just discourages alumni engagement and giving.
It’s time to ask serious questions about Annual Giving if the University hopes to return to the participation rates of the past.