How Going Social is Changing the Fundraising Game in Higher Education

Colleges and universities across the country are beginning to realize that social media is quickly and drastically changing the way in which they engage alumni and garner donations. In 140 characters, over a video livestream, or simply through a captivating photo, higher educational institutions are turning to platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to increase their base of engaged alumni.

When higher educational institutions use crowdfunding and collect small donations through campaigns utilizing social media, more alumni become engaged, thus increasing the national attention campuses receive. Perhaps that is why nearly 70% of colleges and universities are turning to social media to increase alumni relations and fundraising efforts.

Appealing to Alums of All Ages

“Millennials” are among social media’s most active users. According to Pew Research, in 2015 more than 90% of 18-29 year-olds who ventured online spent time on social media sites where they posted and shared news with family, friends, and followers. These young, tech-savvy graduates are the perfect ambassadors for colleges and universities seeking to engage a wider base of alumni. By promoting alumni fundraising events over social media, these young people are likely to share the news and help it spread to thousands of digital friends and fans.

These young “ambassadors” have become a major source of higher education’s online marketing strategy. Through their posts and shares, they catch the attention of students currently searching for the college or university they want to study at, driving the admissions process for new and prospective students. From their posts about campus events to their photos of decorated college dorms, these ambassadors digitally influence the way the school is viewed, directly affecting the higher educational institution’s enrollment. However, the ambassadors do so much more than recruit prospective students. They also engage former students, bringing the attention of alumni back to the campus.

Columbia University has already experimented and achieved great success in alumni engagement through recruiting social media “ambassadors.” They even have a website specifically for the vast network of engaged alumni promoting the school on social media. The traditional use of student and alumni-run phone banks is gradually disappearing and being replaced by alumni-created media content that just may go viral. Colleges and universities have reached out to social-media-savvy alumni and have asked them to post about and share college news and events through their Facebook walls, Twitter feeds, and Instagram photos. No doubt, this network of social media ambassadors greatly influenced the university’s very successful 2015 Giving Day campaign, during which nearly $13 million, a new school record, was raised in only 24 hours.    

However, social media is no longer the corner of the internet where only young people lurk, sharing their lives through pictures and posts on a virtual wall. Pew Research also found that, of the amount of adults aged 30-49 who went online in 2015, more than 80% used social media, while the amount of online adults aged 50-64 using social media was more than 60%. These numbers will only rise, broadening the outreach colleges and universities can achieve through social media campaigns. Not only are colleges’ and universities’ more recent graduates active on social media, but older graduates, who often are able to offer more generous sources of monetary support, are as well.

It Takes a Crowd

The year 2015 saw the highest amount of contributions to colleges and universities ever, totaling $40.3 billion and a growing source of those donations are from days of giving and crowdfunding campaigns. As more colleges turn to social media, a Day of Giving is ranked among the most popular and lucrative fundraising efforts. These one-day campaign events utilize multiple social media outlets in order to increase alumni engagement. In 2015, 42% of institutions held a day of giving and used social media to engage alumni and make the most out of the crowdfunding effort.

Columbia University’s very effective Giving Day used a specially-designed website and Facebook to raise money from over 13,000 individual donors. From celebrity shout-outs to student stories and selfies, the alumni of Columbia University were able to connect on not only a social level, but on a very purposeful and personal one as well.

Other higher educational institutions have also experienced great success with days of giving. With the help of a platform designed by KDG specifically for Muhlenberg College’s 2014 MuleMentum campaign, the college was able to attract over 1,600 donors in less than 24 hours. About 31% of new donors learned about the campaign through social media links. For Muhlenberg, the campaign was a precedent-setting success.

KDG also helped Drexel University break records with its social media-influenced crowdfunding campaign, one of the most engaging higher education Day of Giving efforts undertaken. The school received more than $713,000 in donations and trended on Twitter as alumni, and even students and faculty, participated in the unique campaign and referred friends and social media followers as participants as well.

These “Day of Giving” campaigns and social media’s influence in them allow alumni to see their donations and the impact they are making in real-time as they come together for a common purpose. As more alumni become engaged and spread the word through retweets and shares, the base of support only grows and, as Columbia, Muhlenberg, and Drexel all recently discovered, the engagement and awareness does not end after the 24-hour campaigns. The hype, excitement, and attention continues throughout the year until the next Day of Giving, which ends up being more popular than the last.

But Don’t Forget the Snail Mail

The more traditional method of direct mailing and marketing to alumni is still a fundraising technique that should not be rid of completely. However, colleges and universities may see more success in their fundraising efforts by integrating their social media and web platforms into their direct mail and emails. Digital marketing for higher education is rapidly becoming a means of growing both admissions statistics and alumni engagement. If you are a higher educational institution, let alumni (like the nearly 20% of online adults aged 30-49 or the nearly 40% of online adults aged 50-64 who aren’t utilizing social media) know that you have social media sites. Direct them to your Facebook pages and your Twitter feeds. It is important to help them reconnect with their alma mater in a more digital way, while not losing the immediate connection that personalized letters and emails have traditionally brought to the college-alumni relationship.

It’s Time to Go Social

Of the colleges and universities that held days of giving, 37% raised more than $50,000 in the 24-hour time span and reinvigorated their alumni relations in the process. With rapidly growing numbers of alumni becoming more engaged in their alma maters thanks to social media, and the billions of dollars in alumni donations being raised through inventive social media strategies, colleges and universities have so much to gain from going social, as well as a lot to lose if they don’t.

KDG has had experience helping many institutions of higher learning increase their fundraising game through specially developed web platforms and social media campaigns. From Muhlenberg’s highly-successful MuleMentum crowdfunding campaign to Drexel University’s trending Day of Giving, KDG works closely with colleges and universities to develop online portals that make giving easier, more efficient, and more social. If you are ready to go social and are looking to improve your fundraising efforts and alumni relations, contact us today.  

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