College looks to increase alumni participation
Though the College has surpassed a 50 percent alumni participation rate on multiple occasions in the past, contributions have recently declined as a result of the economic downturn, hurting the Colby Fund—annual contributions from alumni, parents and students spent in the year they are received. Certain marketing approaches designed to increase alumni donations have not seen the same success rates as they have in years past, so the newly-appointed Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations Deborah Dutton is now working to implement new fundraising techniques on the Hill.
President William “Bro” Adams said that the Board of Trustees “was, as we were, concerned about [the Colby fund], and they’ve been eager to see it improve, and it’s improving. I think we’ll meet our dollar goals this year, we just need to meet the participation goals as well.”
According to the College’s annual report from the 2008 tax year, revenue in the form of contributions and grants consisted of $18,319,000, compared to $26,083,000 received in the previous year.
From “08-09 and 09-10 we had a decline again,” which was partly because of the recession, Adams said. In terms of the College’s future fundraising plans, this decline “doesn’t change very much the dollar goals, but participation is important for other reasons,” he said. “Participation is a sign of alumni loyalty and engagement, so it’s an important measure of that kind of thing.”
Dutton said that past marketing techniques designed to increase contributions to the College, such as “using sophisticated photographs” on mailings, ultimately did not raise participation rates. “It didn’t get the results we wanted, so we’re trying some different approaches and trying to be more simplistic,” she said. “The thinking [behind our marketing efforts] is that the more sophisticated you are and the more sophisticated your mailings [are], the more successful you’ll be, but that hasn’t been true at Colby,” she said, citing the economic downturn as the cause of this decline.
Dutton said that the College is now working to convince alumni and parents of the importance of participation. “We’re going to try to do three communication pieces this spring that just focus on why participation matters at Colby. And some of it has to do with the value of a degree…the more well-regarded and well-respected Colby is, the more valuable your degree is when you’re out in the community,” she said, as noted in last week’s Echo article, “Dutton leads fundraising goals at the College.”
According to the College’s website, “Over the last decade, Colby's participation rate has exceeded 50 percent seven times, meaning that half of all living alumni gave back to the College. Only one percent of all colleges and universities [in the U.S.] can boast this level of participation.”
Adams said that when the College’s participation rate had surpassed 50 percent, this was considered “‘the big leagues.’” Now, Adams said, “We want to get back over 50 [percent], so we’re trying to do that this year.”
Dutton said that the College is using the upcoming bicentennial “as a moment for people to get excited and come on board” with contributions. The development team is asking alumni to participate in a three-year pledge leading up to 2013. The College is also testing another fundraising method that allows alumni to “text a gift” to the College and pay for their donation on their phone bill, Dutton said.
Adams said Dutton will take on a variety of development projects in addition to the Colby Fund. “Rebuilding [the Colby Fund] is a key priority,” Adams said. “Then there are a number of capital objectives that we have, probably the first on the list is financial aid [and] endowment of financial aid in support of greater affordability and diversity.”
Adams said that the College would also “still like to build a new science building.” He added that “the museum expansion is an important fundraising objective [and is] ahead [of the science building] in the queue.” The College has already raised about $11 million of the $15 million needed for the museum,” Adams said, “and then we’d hope to raise some money in the next three to four years for academic programs [and] endowed chairs.”