An Open Letter to My Alma Mater
To my Dear University:
Please know that you mean all the world to me personally. I can say without hesitation that higher education has been truly instrumental in my life’s success. I would not be the professional, nor the man that I am, without you. And so this letter gives me no great satisfaction.
Paying forward this gratitude is the one and only reason I have supported you philanthropically each and every year for at least the past 10 years. Helping, in a small way, today’s students to have (hopefully) some of the same opportunities that I received as an undergraduate and grad student is, for me, a moral imperative. There is nothing more. This is why I give. That is the only reason I continue to support you financially, why I guest lecture at least once per year, why I will always help a student network and job search. Moral obligation to give back, for what I have been given.
Last fall, this fiscal year, I made a gift of $500. This is not much money at all to a place routinely raising $1Billion+ for this and that campaign. I understand this. But $500 is also the largest check I wrote philanthropically last year. I have a young family, and I began saving for retirement later than I should, which limits my ability, but I do what I can, and this $500 was a meaningful gift in my life stage.
It is vital to me to support you, so that others have the opportunities I received. All I could ever ask in return is prompt, accurate, and sincere acknowledgement.
And so I was mystified and baffled by a bit of direct mail I received from you not too long ago. Inside the envelope was a pair of Decoder Glasses, along with a request to increase my current year gift by at least 50% to start and by 250% as stretch gift. I must take considerable objection to this request for funding, and must politely decline.
This is shabby, impolite, unsegmented, nonsensical, and beneath you. This is tacky. Simply garbage fundraising, unworthy of the legacy of Dr Wells.
Let’s establish the facts here and contemplate them one by one, together:
- I am a current fiscal year donor
- I have been a loyal donor for at least 10 years, and maybe closer to 15
- I do not need Decoder Glasses.
I am a current fiscal year donor. Asking a current year donor for support a second time in the same year is okay, I think, as long as the initial gift has been referenced and some rationale or opportunity is suggested, such as a match or challenge. For a modest $500 donor like myself, perhaps a $100 suggested ask would be appropriate. Asking me for $800, $1,200, $2,400, etc. out of the blue, for no good reason beyond the Decoder Glasses bums me out. What was the consideration here? That I would be so moved by the Decoder Glasses that I would more than double my current year gift?
I have been a loyal donor for at least 10 years, and maybe closer to 15. I ask my clients to pull from their database a report of donors who’ve made contribution steadily for 10 years or more. I ask them, “How many of these donors do you know personally?” as these are your planned gift prospects. At my age, and loyalty, wouldn’t a better strategy than the Decoder Glasses be planned giving materials? Or one on one conversations about interests, priorities, passions, and opportunities? Or was this invitation to dialogue the “Super Secret Message“?
I do not need Decoder Glasses. This is the big one, my friends, and the reason for my letter. I do not know who needs these Decoder Glasses, but it is not me. I expect this is a Millennial Engagement strategy, a way to get the younger graduates involved early with the university. I cannot know this for sure except to note that the young adults I encounter often enjoy quirky eyewear, which is terrific.
Last year you sent stickers. And that’s just fine and dandy as an acquisition strategy for non-donors or by age or demographic, if it encourages gifts. But I must ask, where did you draw the line with this solicitation? Clearly above $500 for current fiscal year donors, and clearly you mailed this to graduates from at least the 1990s. How high did you go and how far back? Did $10,000 current year donors get the Decoder Glasses? Did graduates from the 1980s get Decoder Glasses? The 1970s?
In my experience, a very common mistake in direct response fundraising is to send everyone the same thing at the same time, and this is where you need to reconsider your approach to direct mail. It is too easy to say, “Hey, why not send it to every current year donor and ask for a fivefold increase. Maybe some will say yes. Plus Decoder Glasses”
I understand this impulse, to blast out the Decoder Glasses mailing to One and All, but you should not have asked a current year donor of $500, who graduated 20 years ago, for $2,400 in this way. If you feel otherwise, let’s chat about it, could we?
Careful segmentation mitigates the risk of alienating a loyal donor, of a certain age, who wants to support students, and who does not want Decoder Glasses.
And so, beloved alma mater, I will not be supporting IU Day on April 18, though I am a fan of Day of Giving campaigns. I suggest you take a close look at Oklahoma State’s Give Orange campaign to see how this can be done properly.
You blew it this year. You are on timeout, for now. Let’s try again this fall. Good luck with the Decoder Glasses campaign.
Jeremy Hatch, Class of 1996