Harvard plugs in – Testing email appeals

By Todd Cohen

Harvard University is banking on email and the Web to do a better job at raising money.

After using its Web site for several years to keep alumni informed and explain its development activities, Harvard now plans to embrace email to reach donors and drive them to a redesigned Web site that will be launched Jan. 1, 2001.

“Over time, as people become more comfortable with online banking and with making purchases online, we believe that they will make many of their charitable gifts online,” says Andy Tiedemann, director of communications for alumni affairs and development at Harvard.

Harvard is one of America’s premier fundraising organizations. In December, it completed a seven-year, $2.6 billion capital campaign.

In the year ended June 30, 2000, Harvard College and Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences raised an estimated $164 million in their annual fundraising drive and capital campaign, up from $127 million a year earlier.

Those annual totals include more than $4.5 million raised through four direct-mail appeals each year to a donor base of 126,000 alumni. The appeals cost a total of $125,000, an amount that Harvard hopes to reduce by adding email appeals.

To test alumni receptivity to email, Harvard last spring sent a series of email messages to more than 59,000 alumni of six undergraduate classes. Of the total, only 2 percent said in replies that they didn’t want to receive email from Harvard.

One test email message from Harvard solicited funds from 4,000 alumni. Of those, 200 replied with contributions totaling $38,000.

“One person sent a $10,000 gift and said, ‘I only want to be solicited by email,’” Tiedemann says.

Harvard now plans to add at least one email fundraising appeal to the four direct-mail appeals it has made each year. Harvard has 90,000 email addresses for graduates.

“Our long-term goal would be to replace some of our mail campaigns with email campaigns,” Tiedemann says.

Email is less costly than regular mail and generates a much quicker response, he says.

Harvard also is revamping its Web site, which now lets visitors make a contribution using a credit card. In January, Harvard will add the option of downloading a pledge form that can be completed and submitted with a check by regular mail.

A third option – coming soon — will allow donors to transfer stock electronically to Harvard. In the year ended June 30, 44 percent of Harvard’s $483 million in gifts were stock transfers.

Tiedemann estimates that Harvard in the fiscal year ended June 30 received more than 350 gifts online totaling less than $100,000, compared to more than 83,000 gifts overall totaling $485 million.

“We’re in roughly the same place that all nonprofits are in,” he says. “We all envision that this will make a big difference. We envision that this will become a significant portion of our fundraising strategy. But right now it’s sort of a giant experiment.”

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