In the basketball world, March is the most wonderful time of year. Our collegiate teams find out if the hundreds of hours devoted to practice, travel, and gameday have landed a ticket to a national tournament in March. Recent post-season victories flooding our screens remind us of the many successes that higher education institutions may have the opportunity to celebrate: awards, honors, athletic feats, Nobel Prize winners, ribbon cuttings — the list goes on.
In this article, we explore how to engage your donor base in collegiate success. Ben Mandelbaum, Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach at Alcorn State University, a “public historically Black, comprehensive land-grant institution of higher education” located in Mississippi, helps us paint the picture through the lens of basketball.
Annually, CCS Fundraising conducts thousands of personal interviews with constituents of our incredible partner organizations. One of the questions we like to ask during those interviews is, “When you choose to make a gift to a nonprofit organization, what compels you to make that gift?”
Year after year, donors are compelled to give when they feel they are making a true impact with their gift and that something great happened because of their generosity. Storytelling is an important way of underscoring the impact made from philanthropic gifts. If your higher education institution has achieved a noteworthy feat, like making a national tournament, it is a tremendous opportunity to engage your community.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind while telling your story.
FOR NEWLY ENGAGED constituents
Whether your school has made it to a tournament game or seen another success among the student body or institution, consider these tips for engaging your community now.
- Partner with your school’s marketing department to share your message in a timely way. Once you have something exciting to share, you can plan and schedule your social media content to post at opportune times.
- In fundraising, we always say that folks want to be a part of success. Your own community’s local media likely will be interested in showcasing the good news of your school. If you can share on a wide scale, end your engagement stories with a call to action by sharing where constituents can continue to engage with and cheer on your university.
- Use this opportunity to showcase how a win for your team, or other triumph at your school, extends to positive accolades for your regional community. As in campaigns, success builds upon itself, and a strong educational institution pays dividends to communities.
- Lean on your volunteers. Has an identified prospective donor showed interest in your success? Ask one of your closest fans to invite them to the game and sit with them, or invite them to special presentation from a university award winner. Nothing helps show the power of your mission than being in it.
With all eyes on your team, help show the world what it took to get here. It could be a great time to share some of your easy-to-understand team needs; the cost of a scholarship, room and board for a standout athlete, equipment, and gear, can be daunting. And if your constituents want a thriving college community, nothing is better for enrollment in my opinion than something exciting to stand behind.Ben Mandelbaum, Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach, Alcorn State University
FOR YOUR BIGGEST FANS
When it is time to speak personally with your closest constituents about supporting the program, consider the following ideas:
- In some ways, individual students’ stories can make the most difference. Each student has a unique story that brought them to your school. When appropriate, help donors connect with those stories. Most certainly, a standout student, faculty or staff member from your home state adds a layer of excitement.
- When it comes to a “quick win,” no one understands you better than your top donors. Sharing what is needed in real time — whether a travel expense, celebratory gear for the team, or the like — can make it clear for donors to understand and support your needs.
- For VIP prospective donors, it is important to make the need tangible. Each school has different budgets, and budgets are shockingly disparate. Bring your prospects into the fold and show them what is needed to take your program to the next level.
You can make people feel really close to the game. Invite folks to practices, show them through your eyes what your needs are. A quick walk through the locker room, as an example, and you won’t have to explain that it needs a facelift.Ben Mandelbaum, Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach, Alcorn State University
IN THE OFFSEASON
- Looking for a new storyline for a giving day? You can use a running storyline to grasp audience engagement, like a day in the life of different players, or an example of things that happen each month leading up to a major success.
- It can be hard to explain in the moment how much goes into a collegiate achievement, like making a national tournament. Use the offseason to point to what it felt like to work up to tournament season personally, in your own words.
- Use the time in the offseason to research who supported your team when you made a call to action or when you had a great deal of success. Use that research to determine who should be next on your list to qualify as a potential continued donor.
Every team has a story. I hear the ins and outs of each player every day. If more people knew those stories, how could you not root for the team?Ben Mandelbaum, Assistant Men’s Basketball Coach, Alcorn State University
In conclusion, with the above tips, you can translate your good news into ongoing philanthropic support and engagement for seasons to come. Congratulations to all teams who participated this year and to every college and university that has seen a recent institutional success. And congratulations to Coach Ben and the Alcorn State Braves on their regular season title and NIT appearance.
The 2024 CCS Philanthropy Pulse report serves as a guide for fundraisers, offering insights into the modern strategies nonprofits employ for development and highlighting avenues for fundraising success.