Sunday, December 14, 2008

High Propensity Prospects

Philanthropy-seeking organizations spend a lot of time trying to find prospects. All too often, they build prospect lists on the basis of financial capacity alone. But being wealthy and being philanthropic are not necessarily one in the same. So, those organizations that chase prospects solely on the basis of wealth find themselves long in the chase, often with disappointing results. Organizations that build prospect lists by looking for those who possess the combination of financial means and philanthropic propensity (which I have explained in an earlier blog post) are invariably more successful.

Is there an even better way? Can we identify those with high philanthropic propensity early in life so we can spend most of our time building relations with those who are most likely to support us? Can we build those relationships in such a way that those with high propensity give increasingly, even without being asked, as they become more financially comfortable?

Well, in higher education, there is one group that I would pay enormous attention to because of their remarkably high propensity to be involved and to give: married alumni. That propensity is even higher if they began dating and got married on campus. It is even more so, if either one or both are legacies, or had siblings or other family members who are also alumni. The more family connections, the deeper the propensity to give. Indeed, the more family connections, the more alma mater seems like an extension of family. Do you know who fits this bill on your prospect lists? Are you paying great attention to them, early and often in their marriage and careers? I hope so.

And is there any way you can particularly cultivate the interests of married alumni? Let’s brainstorm. Do you know the great families of your institution? Do you keep diagrams showing various family connections over time, including in-laws? Do you seek out family archival material of those family for your library? Do you do oral histories of those families? Do you know when a new member of that family enters your admission pool? Do you keep records of those who request to be married in your chapel or somewhere on campus? Upon receipt of a campus wedding request, do you immediately check if the couple has broader or deeper family connections to other alumni? Do you do anything special for alumni when they get married, even a nice note of congratulations from your president or a “two for one” alumni discount on events and activities for the first five years of their marriage (also an extremely important period in cementing ties to one’s alma mater and establishing long-term philanthropic patterns)?

One of the best ways of recognizing the marriage bond and helping cement a couple’s relationship to their alma mater was instituted by Laura Wayland (now working for Georgetown University) when she was at the University of Dayton. Laura created a brief, half hour ceremony over reunion weekend, where married alumni, in unison, renewed their marriage vows, “all the men together; then all the women.” Says Laura, “We called it a ‘Blessing of Married Couples …. Our first year we had approximately 80 couples attend. Each lady got a single white rose and so many couldn’t get their rings off that our priest asked them to hold their hands up… At the end, he asked couples to remain standing” as various anniversaries were called out. “We had two couples married over 70 years. It was quite moving. I still don’t know if it was the exhaustion of the weekend or the ceremony, but I had to step outside as I was overcome with emotions myself.” Who wouldn’t be?

I realize that secular institutions cannot stage single-faith ceremonies but I cite this example to cause us all to think how we can do a much better job of letting our married alumni know that they and their families are very important building blocks in our vision of an ever greater alumni community.

If there are some that you are particularly proud of, please share them with us all.

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