If you’ve read our previous blog posts about hiring, training, and helping your student fundraisers realize their full potential, you’re familiar with their evolving role in the university fundraising teams.
The entire concept of university fundraising has become more sophisticated, constituent-oriented, and focused on building relationships and maintaining meaningful conversations with donors. So, the role of student employees had to be reimagined and aligned with personalized outreach that doesn’t always have money as the ultimate goal of every single interaction.
While this seems a bit counterintuitive, it’s actually very logical: the stronger your relationships with donors are, the more invested they’ll be in helping your university grow, which will translate into bigger and more consistent donations.
There’s no need to limit your student employees to the agent role. With the right onboarding, they can become your superstar Gift Officers, capable of filling any existing gaps on the team and targeting constituents that are challenging to engage.
This article will expand on this idea and help you turn student fundraisers into your best Gift Officers.
The Problem with Traditional Student Fundraising Practices
Traditional student fundraising practices are a staple of every university giving program, and with good reason. But, we should be honest and admit that they aren’t working like they used to. There are several culprits behind their somewhat modest performance, so let’s pinpoint them.
The success rate of one-touch solicitation tactics has dwindled.
This approach has become a relic of the past, mainly because donors are tired of being used as ATMs. Nobody likes feeling like you’re reaching out only when you want something from them. Hint: you need to engage your donors if you want to stay top of mind.
A quick call during the Giving Days or another limited-time campaign simply won’t do. The trick is to touch base occasionally without asking for a donation. This brings us to the next hurdle.
Hiring and retention trends
Hiring top talent for your student fundraising team can be a real feat.
All this leads to university fundraising teams being understaffed and having empty seats. If you don’t have enough callers, you won’t be able to establish some kind of consistency in contacting your donors.
If your calls and messages are scarce, they will forget about you, and once your student fundraisers get a chance to call during a particular campaign, you’re back to square one and coming across as only trying to push your agenda and get some money for your cause.
People don’t pick up the phone as often
One of the biggest hurdles in the process is reaching your constituents. People are busy and fed up with spam calls. You can’t blame them for not picking up when they see an unknown number on their display. Hint: you can’t rely on a single communication channel.
It’s all about diversifying your activities and introducing new approaches.
Does this mean that the era of the traditional engagement center as we know it is no more?
Quite the opposite.
Your traditional engagement center is still a great asset to your advancement shop, while Student Gift Officers can help to enhance its success.
Reengaging lapsed alums is a numbers game, so maximizing your outreach efforts through the engagement center is still important. Your alum base grows exponentially every year, so you must keep up.
Using new gadgets to engage alums is a must, but it is common to see that schools may be using new tools but still employ the same approach as before.
That’s why it’s time to explore some new options and implement more Student Gift Officers that will be a welcome addition to your fundraising staff.
How to Make the Most of Your Student Gift Officers
Okay, now that we’ve built a strong case for offering students the Gift Officer positions, let’s discuss how you can make the most of this motivated workforce.
- Give your best students portfolios. Determining the right portfolio size will be critical since every constituent needs to be engaged with and nurtured from the start of the relationship to solicitation and beyond. So, if a Gift Officer has too many potential donors to cultivate on their portfolio, they won’t be able to connect with all of them meaningfully. As a result, their performance will suffer.
- Let your Student Gift Officers create and cultivate relationships with your alums like your full-time staff. Students have a unique connection to your alums and can relate to their experiences on a level that someone outside of your organization may not be able to.
- Diversify your channels. Instruct your student Gift Officers to use all the available channels to stay top of mind with constituents. This means including email, video, texts, and calls to their activities. Even throwing in a handwritten letter is a good idea since this old-school approach can make communication more genuine and personal.
- Trust the process. Don’t give up, even if it takes a few conversations before the gift comes in. It’s much more important to build loyalty with your constituents than quickly grabbing some cash. Don’t sacrifice the quality of your relationship and an opportunity for more sizeable gifts only to speed up the process.
- Think more than just gifts. Through the cultivation process, your student Gift Officers can get folks registered for events, signed up as volunteers, back to campus, and keep them engaged. So, it’s important to consider these small wins and include them in your metrics.
- Fill holes in your team. Many institutions across the country are struggling to hire full-time fundraisers. Staffing is a crisis in higher education advancement as of late. Your most talented fundraisers are in your backyard. Bring them on, train them, and keep them after graduation.
What Makes a Gift Officer Position Such a Great Job?
Being a student fundraiser is a great way to start a career, but landing a Gift Officer Position is the next-level job that comes with some additional perks.
When recruiting your next student Gift Officer, emphasize how great this position is and how they will benefit from it.
Here are some points you can mention in your job ad:
- Incredible networking opportunity. Students will be able to get in touch and establish relationships with successful alums of their alma mater. This will give them an opportunity to learn from these accomplished professionals and even potentially get a job referral from them. It’s like rubbing shoulders with the best and most influential community members, which is a huge benefit in itself.
- Applicable communication experience that will translate directly to literally any career path. In other words, highlight to your job candidates that the skills they will acquire in this position are highly transferable. So, regardless of the career they ultimately choose, they will have competencies they can put to good use.
- Opportunity for growth. Numerous institutions across the country are looking to hire talented gift officers. Having this experience on their resume will put them ahead of the pack and give them a competitive edge during the hiring process.
- Gift Officers have flexible hours, which many students find convenient.
- Longer hours translate to a higher salary. Have them use 12-18 hours a week, which is more than they can earn by working from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. two days a week.
- Remote work option. A Gift Officer position can easily be remote since students can get the equipment they need and contact the constituents from their portfolio wherever they are.
Recruiting students as your Gift Officers is a win-win situation — you’ll get the best employees who can connect with constituents on a more profound and relatable level, while they will kick-start their career and get numerous opportunities for professional growth. Plus, you can secure your full-time staff ahead of time by onboarding students, showing them the ropes, and promoting them to full-time positions once they graduate.