Plugged in – Email giving on rise

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — While it will shine a national spotlight on Wake Forest University, the presidential debate scheduled for Oct. 11 also threw a glitch into the school’s plans for its annual fall fundraising telethon.

But the school has adapted. Because the news media during a critical two-week period will take over the campus building normally used for phone banks, fundraising officials sent email appeals on Sept. 1 saying anyone sending a gift by Sept. 28 would not get a phone solicitation later.

By Sept. 22, 349 donors had made gifts totaling $127,854, compared to $33,362 from 122 donors in the same three-week period last year – when email was not used.

The email campaign underscores Wake Forest’s effort in recent years to build Web technology into its overall fundraising strategy.

“It changes the way in which we can communicate with alumni and friends and others in almost every way,” says Bob Mills, associate vice president for advancement.

Three years ago, the advancement office created an “advancement technologies” unit to put computers, email and the Web to work building relationships and raising money.

In the fall of 1997, the unit launched a Web feature allowing people to make gifts online. Web donations totaled only $3,200 in the 1997-98 school year, but grew to $14,985 the next year and to $80,546 last year.

In June 1999, Wake Forest made its first email fundraising appeal – a reminder to people who had made pledges during the school year but hadn’t sent in their gifts. In just two weeks, the school received funds from roughly three of every 10 people receiving the email.

But aggregate numbers alone don’t capture technology’s impact on fundraising, says Tim Snyder, Wake Forest’s director of advancement technologies.

Last Dec. 29, for example, the school received a number of online gifts, including one for $10,000 — it’s biggest gift ever over the Web. The next day, the school received several more online gifts, including one for $25,000.

“What that says to me is that people are now more comfortable making significant transactions on the Web,” says Snyder.

The Web also is a powerful tool to keep in touch and even reconnect with alumni, he says.

Two years ago, a Wake graduate living overseas who had lost touch with the school for seven or eight years found its Web site and sent an email message. One thing led to another and when the alumnus finally visited the school less than a year later, he stopped by the development office to drop off a $40,000 check, pledging to give $10,000 more over five years.

“That’s the power of the Web that isn’t measured if you’re just counting dollars that come in online,” Snyder says. The school plans to increase its use of email to communicate with alumni, family and donors – in some cases will use email to replace traditional mailings. It also will add Web features to recognize significant donors and help prospective donors plan large gifts.

Mills, the associate vice president for advancement, estimates that annual fund dollars “will be raised almost totally online within five years.”

And Synder says that three of every four dollars raised a decade from now “will be significantly influenced by an experience that took place on the Web.”

Yet while technology can be a powerful fundraising tool, he says, it is best used to support the larger challenge of building relationships.

“You need to view your technology outreach program as part of your overall fundraising strategy,” he says.

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