Appendix B
Episode 031 -

No More Multi-Level Fundraising!

Appendix B Episode 31, text is present that reads, "No More Multi-Level Fundraising!"

Newsflash… alumni fundraising campaigns shouldn’t feel like Multi-Level Marketing. And if they do, maybe it’s time to take a closer look at the relationship between alumni engagement and university marketing messages.
The harsh truth is that former students might not want to fundraise for their alma mater simply because they don’t fully identify with it anymore. But luckily, Joel and Kristin have thoughts…
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Kristin Van Dorn:
Okay, so Joel, it was my birthday this past weekend.

Joel Goodman:
Happy birthday this past weekend.

Thank you.

I knew that just for the record. I knew it was your birthday.

Yeah, you sent me donuts. It was very lovely. OK, so I’m just going to come right out with a huge pet peeve that’s going to seem very disconnected from Higher Ed, but I’ll get there, I promise.

So I got happy birthday wishes from about three or four different people that are trying to sell me multi-level marketing products. And I hate this, because we’re not friends. But I know that I look like their white whale client, because I moved away from my high school town. I have a network of friends and contacts that overlaps with no one else that they know.

You know, so they’re like, oh my gosh, fresh meat. They’re so excited. If they could only get me as a subscriber to their handbags and candles and makeup and

Essential oils.

Essential oils, they’re just desperate for me. But it’s so annoying. And I feel like I’ve been so polite about it, being like, were we really even friends? Why are you doing this? Why do you think that like you have access to me or deserve my time and attention? And then my least favorite thing is they’re starting to call it network marketing. Like, oh, you’re going to try to rebrand. So gross. Oh, god. So I’ll be honest. This Appendix B is totally like my passive aggressive way of shaming these people. I hope some of them are friends with me on LinkedIn.

Anyway. I also got an email from my alma mater, from my alumni association, and they wanted me to start a fundraiser on their behalf. And I was like, This is very coincidental. It sounds an awful lot like network marketing. And I had strong reactions to it. So Joel, tell me I’m wrong.

I’m not going to tell you that you’re wrong. I think I think one you probably have a lot of thoughts as to why you’re right about this. I think that I’ve seen those things pop up a lot and I but I think most people at least most of you on my network, You know, they’re doing fundraisers for a charity or for a local not-for-profit. They’re not generally asking people that may have no affiliation with the institution of higher learning that they attended to give money to their alma mater.

It’s a little weird. You know, it’s I understand why someone would think that might be a good idea. But I also think it’s not taking into account a lot of the risk in terms of where your reputation can lie when you make those asks to people that if they’re in your network, aren’t ready to give. But of people that have really no affiliation except through a friendship, that’s just, that’s a long shot ask and just feels a little creepy to me.

So full disclosure, I have done things like rode the MS-150 and I raised money for multiple sclerosis, and I rode my bike 150 miles and that was really fun. And I don’t naturally hate all of these types of fundraisers. I think a lot of them bring people together around a certain initiative or around community.

People make friends or… people do things together with their friends and family for a certain cause, they feel really good about it. And they put some money towards a really positive cause. The thing about doing that for your alumni association is sometimes it feels completely disconnected from a cause other than we just want your money.

You know, like I could imagine doing the exact same kind of fundraiser, but let’s do a walk for relieving student debt. And it’s something that your alumni association does and they all raise money. And a portion of that money goes to relieving students that have enormous amounts of student debt loads that they’re carrying and giving them a break and paying off like one month for them.

Right. And I think there’s a difference between, you know, raising money for a cause that’s helping other people directly and raising money for like a general capital campaign or a general fund at an institution. And I think that part of it, well, I wonder, like … Is it a marketing problem? Is it just like, is this mostly related to a distrust in universities being able to spend money or a disconnect between how colleges and universities portray themselves, I guess, with like compared to what the public thinks they do. Or what or what a university wants the public to think that they’re doing but you know, they’re not actually they’re actually not talking about those things.

I think there’s a distinct difference in the mind of the public between a charity fundraiser that’s helping a specific people group or a specific community group that’s helping other people, and a massive large entity, you know, that’s got millions and millions of dollars in budgeting stuff, asking randos for cash.

Yeah, I think having worked in nonprofits and worked a little bit in higher ed fundraising, we know that general operating support is the golden goose, versus project specific or designated fund support where it’s going to a specific purpose. The tricky part is that when you’re launching a project like Raise Money For Us, I think maybe you could gain more traction if it was towards a specific purpose and people could feel better about where their money’s going or exactly what they’re aiming to do.

But it leaves the administration with their hands tied because then they have to apply that money to a very specific end as opposed to being able to fund really important things like infrastructure and salaries where there’s still obviously gaping holes.

You know, I think part of what could make this a better process for everyone overall is if, for one thing, the Alumni Association was more integrated with career services and with advising. I don’t know how many schools are doing breaking down the silos between those unique organizations, but making sure that Alumni Associations are really engaging and supportive and feel like a community in and of themselves so that when you proposition a former student to run a fundraiser for you they feel connected to you already.

That is the rub, that is the thing that keeps coming up in my head is institutions are not positioning themselves as doing goodwill in the community. And those are the things that people give money to. They’re not positioning themselves as active members that are doing good for the poor or for the hungry or for people that are unhoused or for, you know, these other very important issues that people see every day.

They’re positioning themselves as, what are they positioning themselves as? We’re educating people and charging them a lot of money for a degree that may or may not pan out and improve their lives. That’s the message that the general populace hears. That’s maybe untrue of what’s going on, but that’s the marketing that has to be overcome. And asking someone to put their personal reputation and their personal relationships on the line to fundraise for that, one, feels like a real hard sell in that first leg of getting your alum to actually run this thing. But also it feels like a waste of time when that person could probably raise a ton of money for, you know, a local cause that’s better. There’s a big disconnect there in my head.

I think the challenge for universities is to figure out ways to engage alumni in meaningful fundraising activity that will make the alumni feel it’s worthwhile to go out beyond their network of friends that they graduated with and say this is a worthwhile cause, at the same time that a university is trying to be smart about how they market themselves in the community.

Because ultimately for the giver, at the end of that journey, they have to reconcile what they’re hearing from a friend versus what they’re seeing in media. And if they have that touch point with your school, it’s likely that it’s about graduating career-ready professionals. And their friend that is an alum is maybe more apt to talk about cancer research or education research or, you know, like really life-changing stuff, but it creates a disconnect because those two things aren’t connected anymore.