Giving vs. Gimmicks: Using Emotion and Data to Secure Donors

There are many reasons to give to a college or university, says Matt Hames at Inside Higher Ed. “It could be a personal connection, such as fond memories of an alma mater or pride in the school of a child or grandchild. It could be because the gift helps fund the journey of the next student. Or an alum may think, ‘This school helped get me to where I am; now I want to give back.’ ”

In any case, says Hames — a communications strategist — these are emotional appeals. A school, he says, is a “personal premium brand,” a brand that doesn’t compete on price but rather appeals to emotion — and does so to secure donors who are emotionally invested in the school are willing to give money.

Given this emotional aspect of philanthropy, the impulse decision to give during #GivingTuesday, or any other sort of “gimmick” presents unique challenges. It may work this year, but it is difficult to retain and secure donors.

“So, each year,” he argues, “marketing effort needs to be spent on the people who gave via a gimmick. For people who run an annual fund, that is hard.”

Viewing annual giving as an opportunity to maintain lifetime relationships that maximize donor value, advancement offices may take a page from premium brands: promote the emotional elements of the brand and cultivate lifelong customers as a counterbalance to “one-day sales, coupons or other gimmicks.”

Consider a strategy shift to gather the right data while “friendraising.”

“Using organic Facebook posts,” Hames offers, “a school could post about these things, not as a solicitation, but as news. The choir plans to travel to Europe in the fall; here are photos from the last trip. Then, take the data and build Facebook ad sets of people who engaged with those organic posts and challenge them to fund the next journey.” Send a thank you letter, signed by one of the choir members, and send photos of the trip, too. With this data, we can begin to build emotional connections with alumni who may have visited transactionally.

“Instead of using a hashtag,” he says, “use data to make a more targeted emotional giving reason.” No surprise: this is exactly what Capture Higher Ed’s marketing automation does for advancement offices.Secure Donors

By Sean Hill, Senior Content Writer, Capture Higher Ed