Student employees are an important asset of every successful university fundraising team. They’re the first line of fundraisers who connect and build meaningful relationships with alumni, engage them, and, ultimately, inspire donations.
By sharing their own experiences, student fundraisers provide a unique perspective on the impact of donations and how they’re used to improve the lives of students. This valuable insight can encourage giving by showing donors where their contributions go.
So, it’s obvious that you need strong performers on your team.
Hopefully, you’ll have most of your fall students returning to work at the start of the spring semester, so you won’t have to start onboarding new hires from scratch and showing them the ropes. Now that they have been working with you for at least one semester, you can help them fine-tune their skills and get them ready to take their calling game to the next level.
Here are 8 tips to level up your student fundraisers.
1. Start the Semester with Refresher Training
Even though the fall semester ended just a couple of weeks ago, students haven’t been focused on talking to potential donors for a while. They were busy with their final exams, and the holiday season took its toll on everyone’s performance, so it’s essential to support their return to form.
The best way to do this is to start the semester with a refresher on your software platform/s, key talking points, a run-through of the script, and any updates or new info you might have.
Instead of facing your student employees with high-stakes calls that would catch them off guard, it’s much better to take a gradual approach that would allow them to warm up and set their calling mindset in motion.
Give them a shift to ease in with some less demanding outreach, such as event reminders or stewardship work, and THEN get them to jump into the big-ticket records.
2. Set Attainable Goals
Don’t set the bar too high right off the bat.
Think about a combination of goals for the room, each team of students, and individual goals.
They can be statistics related, such as specific amounts of revenue, pledges, credit card gifts, or things each student can work on. This way, you’ll ensure that everyone on the team feels included and given the opportunity to grow and expand their skill set.
Perhaps someone is great at building rapport but struggles with transitions. Their non-monetary goal can be to come up with three solid transitionary sentences that can be used in most scenarios and commit to using them every time to get more comfortable with the situation.
Communicate everyone’s goals at the start of the semester with the room and with individual students on a one-on-one basis.
Finally, be sure those goals are attainable.
If the largest amount of money the room has ever raised is $50,000 and you set a goal of $200,000, that would be aiming too high. There’s nothing wrong with trying to achieve more and increase your donations, but pushing the envelope too soon will have the opposite effect.
Goals need to be attainable; otherwise, everyone will feel defeated before they even begin working.
3. Follow Through on Those Goals
Goals mean nothing if you don’t follow up on them regularly.
Set up goal check-ins or evaluations throughout the semester where you can discuss the progress, what’s working well, and what’s still a struggle so that you can adjust the goals accordingly.
There should be a clear plan for what needs to happen to meet the set goals. It’s equally important that a predefined event happens when the goal is met.
Is a new goal set? Is there some kind of reward? Is it evaluated at the end of the semester to determine the raise or bonus the student will get?
Whatever it is, plan it out in advance and keep everyone in the loop.
4. Provide Regular Monitoring and Feedback
Setting goals without supporting to your student employees to help get them there wouldn’t be fair.
Organize regular feedback, coaching, and/or monitoring sessions with your students to track their progress and talk about how to best achieve these goals. The more feedback you can give about certain situations that might trip them up or things they’re working to improve, the better off they’ll be.
Not only will they be able to feel more confident and work harder towards their goals, but the quality of their interactions will also improve, and you’ll see the needle move on your overall fundraising goals. They’ll also learn how to handle a wider variety of scenarios and exercise good judgment when coming across a new or even trickier situation than they’ve seen before.
All this will help your student callers become more independent and trustworthy, thus improving the outcomes of their fundraising efforts.
5. Reward Their Hard Work
No, staying silent doesn’t mean you’re communicating with your employees they’re doing everything as expected. Lack of feedback is frustrating and can leave them feeling insecure over their performance.
Four out of ten employees who get little or no feedback become actively disengaged from their work.
Everyone is motivated differently, and not everyone has the same preferences for recognition, but all of your employees need to know that their hard work is valued and that you’re appreciative of them.
Let them know that you recognize the effort they’re putting into their phone calls, even if the numbers don’t always reflect that. Sometimes they might call for 4 hours and speak to 2 people who both hang up on them. That’s a rough shift but if their attitude is still good and they tried their best with those two people that picked up their call, give them a shout-out for keeping after it.
Boosting the morale of your student employees when it’s tough at work goes a long way.
6. Hold Them Accountable
Rewarding your employees’ efforts goes hand in hand with holding them accountable.
Are they skipping asks?
Letting people hang up on them on purpose?
Not working to build quality rapport?
They’re not going to meet their goals, and if you let that slide, they’ll be under the impression the goals don’t matter. And before you know it, their effort will continue to wane.
If you notice such a negative trend, you must talk to underachievers and find out what’s happening. This way, you can come up with a plan to get them back on track. It might be a challenging conversation, and they might be going through a rough patch, but they’ll know that you’re invested in their success.
7. Test Them Out in Some New Segments
Once you have students regularly putting forth a good effort, showing improvement, and consistently working hard towards their goals, you can see what else they can handle. Test them out in higher calling levels, more challenging segmentations, or new types of calls or outreach.
This will be their ultimate reward — who wouldn’t want to advance in their career?
Killing it in non-donors? Great, let’s move that student up to lapsed.
Maybe your top students in the room are ready to be moved onto discovery calls with potential leadership-level donors. They’re still tasked with rapport-building calls to learn who is most engaged, meaning they have to go through notes to check who should be passed along to gift officers.
Whatever the “next level” is, when you feel you have someone ready to be promoted, don’t hesitate to put things in motion. Give them some quick training or coaching, and provide some feedback to ensure they can handle the next level.
Some students might thrive, while others might need to take a step back and keep working at it — you’ll never know who’s ready unless you give it a shot.
8. Rinse and repeat!
With these new promotions, you’re back to square one, so to speak, and the cycle starts all over again.
This means you should begin by setting some goals, providing coaching and feedback, checking in on the promoted students regularly, and evaluating how they’re doing in this new role.
When they’re ready to be moved up again, the cycle repeats again. They can keep adding to their skill sets and continuing to learn more; there’s always a new tactic to try or a different way to approach a conversation.
This is a job where there’s always something new to learn, so as long as your students are receptive to that idea, so you’ll have everyone working at a variety of levels and covering your full donor base in no time.
Running a high-performing student fundraising team means your work is never done. It’s critical to keep the lines of communication open at all times, provide regular feedback, praise your students’ hard work and dedication, and help them take their careers to new heights. Status quo is never a good thing, even if your numbers are great — trying out new strategies, giving your employees more responsibility, and helping them grow will result in improving the outcomes of your campaigns.