There’s nothing wrong with wanting your fundraising efforts to be lucrative, but what does that actually mean?  

While raising money and stewarding donors is the ultimate goal, the quality of conversations with donors should also be at the top of your priority goals list. By focusing on meaningful interactions with donors, your student fundraisers will increase gift-giving and build strong relationships with your constituents.  

Regardless of the type of work your student fundraisers are doing, whether they’re making phone calls, engaging in personalized multi-channel outreach, or performing in-person ambassadorship, it’s crucial to focus on setting them up for success. At the core of this success is the connection your fundraisers are forging with your donors, and it’s important that we’re helping them make the most of these constituent interactions.

Here are some useful tips to get you started. 

1. Hire the Right Students for the Job 

You probably know a frequently-quoted corporate adage saying, “Your employees are your most valuable asset.” It applies to hiring student employees and building your university fundraising team. 

Remember that student fundraisers are practically front-office staff and constituents’ first point of contact with your school, meaning they have to be on top of their game. 

Therefore, your ideal candidates who: 

  • Possess the necessary verbal and networking skills this job requires 
  • Will project a positive image of the university 
  • Are capable of having more profound and sophisticated conversations with donors 
  • Demonstrate a genuine interest in succeeding in the role and professional growth. 

Therefore, design an effective hiring process that will check all those boxes and help you select motivated and proactive candidates willing to learn and contribute to your fundraising program. 

The first step is getting the word out about your job vacancy and providing all the relevant information about the role’s tasks, responsibilities, hours, pay rate, and the application process. Returning students can be of great assistance since they know the nuts and bolts of the job and might know someone from their network who could be a perfect fit for the job. 

We’ve already covered this topic in great detail, so check out our guide on the best practices for hiring student employees to get more ideas. 

2. Double Down on Their Training 

Even if you managed to hire top talent, you can’t expect your new student fundraisers to be naturals. Even if they are, they still need you to show them the ropes, onboard them into their positions and provide them with the right tools. 

Pay special attention to realistic scenarios they might encounter and implement them into their training. Don’t just flood them with theoretical knowledge and drop them in hot water — they need practical, real-life examples and advice on handling constituents’ objections and other obstacles. 

Conversations with donors

Talking to potential donors on the phone requires students to act quickly and come up with the right thing to say in a snap. But, by no means should they be left to their own devices and expected to ad-lib. While scripting doesn’t work well in this industry, VanillaSoft’s Dynamic Scripting feature can be of great help since it allows for the talk track concept. In other words, students don’t get “canned” scripts that they will parrot by reading from the screen.  The talk track concept guides your callers through different conversational topics based on their responses.

“Not right now” is an objection that they will get a lot during their tenure as student agents, but even such a straightforward rejection doesn’t have to result in waving the white flag and moving on to another prospect. Being well-versed and equipped with the right technology will turn your students into savvy negotiators, ready to offer solutions that might work for fence-sitting donors.  

Work with them on effective objection responses and angles they can take to reframe conversations and turn a no into a maybe. 

Here’s an example of a clever objection handling: 

“You know, you said you like to give around tax season and would do at least your last gift this year, but you’re not sure yet. Since we’re coming up on tax season, I can help expedite this process for you by getting you set up with a pledge real quick here, and I can extend the due date for you to the end of April to give you some extra time with it while you make your decisions and get organized. We can put down that last gift amount of $500 just to get this card set up for you, but you can always increase the amount on the card once you receive it if that’s what you decide you’d like to go with.

Learn more about onboarding strategies in our blog post on student fundraiser training tips and tricks

3. Support Your Team’s Growth 

Getting your student fundraisers up to speed is a process, and they won’t realize their full potential immediately. Confidently engaging in meaningful conversations with donors is the ultimate goal, but they will need your support until they get there. 

Set expectations and communicate them to your students on their first work day. The most important factor is to make these expectations realistic and achievable. They need time, so raising the bar gradually and celebrating small successes is best. Otherwise, you risk overwhelming your new hires and making them feel frustrated or incompetent while they’re still inexperienced. 

The right approach for helping your team grow is identifying their skill level and giving them stretch assignments to advance their competencies. The trick is to challenge them enough so that they can learn but not overwhelm them with unrealistic expectations so that they never achieve success. It’s crucial to know all your student fundraisers individually and understand their strengths and weaknesses so that you can tailor their assignments. By striking the right balance between a challenge and support, you’ll create a stimulating learning environment and allow your students to work on the areas that need improvement and hone their skills.  

Following up on their progress is another crucial step. Whether it is goal setting based on metrics or the quality of conversations had, help your students develop so they can see the results of their hard work. They will be much more invested if they see their own growth, and receiving that critical support will help them grow.  

4. Don’t Be Afraid to Switch Up Your Segmentation Strategy

The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach is good, but there’s a risk of getting stuck in a rut if you never change anything. 

Often, especially when working with students, we tend to stick to tried and true methods year in and year out. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “doing it this way because we always do it this way,” and it can’t be denied that it’s much easier to execute a strategy you know by heart than a new one you’re doing for the first time. It’s also much safer — there’s practically no risk involved, and with high student turnover at times, it’s not surprising it’s a go-to method for many fundraising teams. 

However, you’ll have the opportunity to exceed your fundraising targets and have a much more rewarding experience if you do things differently. We’re not talking about flipping the script entirely (pun intended) and introducing seismic changes, but simply tweaking your segmentation strategy. 

For your fundraising efforts to succeed, you must explore every avenue to identify and segment your constituent population. The more detailed your segmentation is, the more granular and personalized your approach will be. 

You can use different segmentation parameters, including their engagement level, donation size, areas of interest, or anything else that makes sense to focus on and build conversations around. 

5. Think About the Best Way to Connect Your Students to Constituents

In one of our previous blog posts on preparing a successful university fundraising campaign, we touched upon the importance of matching student agents with the most suitable constituent segment based on mutual interests and backgrounds.  

Conversations with donors

But, you should go deeper than matching up a segment of engineering grads with an engineering student in the room or sending an ambassador over to a donor at an event and hoping the conversation goes well enough. 

Make sure to leverage your students’ skills by training, coaching, and equipping them with the ability to hold a conversation and be persuasive (when appropriate) even if they don’t have direct knowledge of the topic at hand.

A reasonably skilled student fundraiser can talk about a shared degree with a constituent and try to forge a relationship based on this factor. This is okay, but it’s somewhat limited and one-dimensional. You can help your students think outside the box and find their footing in a different conversational context, even the ones they’re not particularly familiar with.  

On the other hand, a fantastic student fundraiser has the training and aptitude to say, “My field of study was in XYZ, but our alma mater has such a fantastic program in your degree. Tell me a bit more about it and what path it took you on.” And then, they listen, extrapolate, and smoothly pivot the conversation to the next topic. 

6. Get on the Same Page with Other Stakeholders

Build relationships with other stakeholders from your university. The chances are your institution has several units or areas on campus with others working in advancement, so it’s a good idea to meet with them. 

Get their buy-in to your approach to fundraising with your students, and give them a voice and a seat at the table. Do so strategically, make sure you know what rules you need to follow and who you can and cannot solicit, but turn them into a partner for a less disjointed, more collaborative approach. 

Do the same with other colleagues in other departments whose support you want to tap into down the road or who could provide new partnership opportunities, such as ticket buyers. 

Rather than silo the work you’re doing with students, turn this into a bigger piece of the whole puzzle and keep everyone in the loop.

7. Test, Test, and Test Again! 

Any time you try something new, you should have a plan in place to evaluate the efforts and results, and along the way, you should be thinking about the next test you’ll run afterward. It’s an ongoing process essential to finetuning your fundraising campaigns.

If you run an A/B test, you come up with your conclusions, implement your findings, and then turn your old B group into your new A group and start all over again.

Wrapping Up

Having meaningful conversations with donors is crucial for building loyalty and encouraging recurring donations. And that’s where your student fundraisers and their skills and expertise come in. The tips we discussed will help you empower your team and set them up for success. With the right tools and training, they will be able to make a real impact on your institution’s fundraising efforts. 

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