The key to alumni giving

Vice-Principal (Advancement) hopes to target non-alumni donors

Queen’s telefundraisers Tiffany Eaton
Image by: Joshua Chan
Queen’s telefundraisers Tiffany Eaton

Jamie Harshman, ArtSci ’10 and a Queen’s telefundraiser, is about to seal another deal—and she’s only an hour into her shift.

She’s on the phone with Leslie, a Queen’s alumna Harshman hopes will repeat a donation to the University she made last year.

(All calls are confidential and Queen’s Telefundraising Services wouldn’t release Leslie’s last name to the Journal.)

“[Giving] allows students like me to receive the same outstanding education that you experienced,” Harshman says, quoting from the prepared script.

Harshman has been making calls for two years and barely needs to glance at her sheet.

She lists where the donation will go: bursaries, faculty equipment and health services.

When she gets to new computers at Stauffer Library, she launches into a story about how her laptop recently crashed and how helpful Stauffer’s computers were during mid-term season.

Five minutes later she’s off the phone and Leslie has promised another donation to the University.

Queen’s Telefundraising Services (QTS) emphasizes rapport-building between each of the callers and potential donors.

Harshman began working with QTS because she needed a job last year.

“I absolutely love it. … It’s amazing to talk to alumni, see what they’re doing with their lives.”

Queen’s Telefundraising Services Manager Tania John, ArtSci ’07, said she can make custom call lists for telefundraisers based on their fields of study or extracurricular interests so they can share their experiences with like-minded alumni.

“It gives [alumni] the opportunity to connect very well with people who are on the phone with them,” said John, a geography major. “When I made calls, I sometimes talked to geography alumni and they would ask, ‘Is this prof still there … isn’t he a hoot?’”

About 80 per cent of the alumni contacts are on the QTS database.

Most alumni receive a call from the telefundraising service once a year. The University has basic contact information and the graduation year and faculty of each alumnus.

During the conversations, alumni often offer information about their previous extracurricular activities and campus group affiliations such as Queen’s Bands. That information gets recorded in the database by the caller.

First-year students’ parents also receive calls.

John said there are approximately 80,000 alumni in the database. As of March 4, they had spoken with almost 14,000 of them.

“We attempt to make about 2,400 calls in one night and about 170 people will say yes or no,” she said, adding that others usually ask to be called back or don’t pick up the phone.

For many alumni, this is the only direct contact they have with the University every year, John said.

“We’re the only personal contacts people have with the University alumni,” she said. “We want long conversations, we want a positive call. … It’s great if there’s a gift.”

QTS gives the telefundraisers a script with conversation starters and basic information on larger issues such as Homecoming and the Queen’s Centre project. The telefundraisers—all students—are encouraged to talk about their own experiences, as well as answer questions about the University.

After updating the alumnus or parent on what’s happening around campus, the telefundraiser will ask if he or she wants to make a donation to the Queen’s Annual Fund or a specific department or service. The database lists suggested amounts for the caller to ask for, usually between $50 and $100 for first-time donors and higher for repeat donors. Jeanine Foster, department of mass appeals manager, decides what the suggested amount should be for each donor.

The night’s supervisor confirms the amount and payment details the telefundraiser has taken down.

The Queen’s Annual Fund, which receives over $1 million a year in donations, is budgeted for and used as operating money for the University.

The 2005-06 breakdown of the fund is: 52 per cent to faculties for equipment and faculty-specific student aid; nine per cent for academic services such as the Writing Centre; nine per cent for library and computing maintenance; four per cent to student services such as Residence Life; nine per cent to scholarships and bursaries; and 18 per cent to institutional services such as building maintenance.

John said the average amount a donor gives is $140. She said she always reminds donors gifts under $100 made up almost $1 million in funds last year.

QTS doesn’t have a set goal of how much money it needs to raise towards the Queen’s Annual Fund this year, she said, but they’re aiming for about $700,000. The campaign total as of March 4 is $542,278.90.

“That’s not necessarily money in the bank; that’s how much money has been pledged,” John said, adding that the Office of Advancement handles receiving the money.

She said QTS has received individual donations of over $10,000 before, but telefundraisers don’t normally handle major gifts.

“Well, we don’t call Alfred Bader,” she said, citing one of Queen’s major donors who gave Herstmonceux Castle to the University.

Paul Chesser, Queen’s director of annual giving, said the average annual gift his office receives is about $400.

Chesser tries to personally visit as many alumni as possible—mostly in Canada and sometimes in the United States—but also relies on mail, e-mail and QTS.

“[The annual giving department] received nearly $6 million this year,” he said, adding that alumni donations from the science departments, School of Business and School of Medicine are about two per cent higher than in the arts, which is just ahead of the faculty of law.

Funds primarily go towards student services such as libraries, athletics and scholarships, and donors can request to allocate them specifically.

Alumni are the largest target but the University also receives gifts from parents, community members and faculty and staff, he said.

Chesser said 12 per cent of alumni give to Queen’s annually. He’s hoping to raise it to 20 per cent in five years.

“[Twelve per cent] is the national average,” he said. “We think we can raise the number … by creating the awareness that Queen’s needs money.”

He said although there are declining numbers of donors, but individual donations tend to be bigger than in previous years.

“There are less people giving more money to charities,” he said. “Twenty years ago, if someone had $1,000 to donate, they would put $100 to 10 different charities. … Now, instead of 10 charities, the donor may give to three, maybe $400 each.”

Vice-Principal (Advancement) David Mitchell said gifts and pledges amount to about five or six per cent of the University’s annual operating budget.

That’s a bit higher than the average for Canadian universities but below larger United States institutions, Mitchell said.

“My objective in the years ahead is to increase that number to about 10 per cent. … When we do get [there], we will be leaders in an advancement perspective.”

In the 2006-07 school year, the University received $35,887,000 in gifts.

Mitchell said this year’s target is to raise over $40 million. The University is projected to receive more than $50 million by the end of its fiscal year in April.

“Where we need to be is about $75 million a year, consistently,” he said, adding that fundraising campaigns generally achieve their objectives and then decrease in intensity.

“Each and every year we should be raising a predictable amount of money.”

About three-quarters of donors are alumni, Mitchell said, so he also wants to increase the proportion of non-alumni donors.

“I believe Queen’s has been focused almost too exclusively on fundraising from alumni,” he said. “There are many individuals and organizations who will want to align themselves with the excitement Queen’s represents. … They have not been engaged.”

Mitchell said some corporations might want to invest in the University’s research or athletics and recreation.

He said the advancement office encourages faculties to publish news about what they’re doing in order to raise the University’s profile.

“I honestly believe advancement work … [is] all about the quality of the relationships we form.”

The office of advancement has different departments that deal with fundraising differently, depending on the amount of money donated and from whom.

Foster said the annual giving office is most alumni’s first line of contact with the University’s advancement team.

“If you were to think about it in a pyramid style, we are at the base of the pyramid.” Annual giving deals with gifts under $25,000, she said.

“By creating a sort of culture of philanthropy … hopefully we can help them to see other opportunities where they could make larger gifts.”

Foster said she works with QTS to contact alumni.

“Most are just floored when we tell them that tuition is covering maybe 30 per cent of the cost … especially so with our older alumni, who see how much tuition is now compared with what they had to pay.”

There’s also a faculty and staff fundraising campaign happening right now, she said. This year there are 584 faculty and staff donors who have collectively pledged more than $546,000 to date.

Trevor Clark, director of planned giving, leads a six-officer team dealing with donors wanting to contribute long-term gifts.

His office deals with a different pool than alumni reached through the annual-giving office. People who donate through the annual-giving office usually contribute based on their income, but planned giving relates more to their assets, he said.

“You’re often dealing with a gift that … impacts family, it impacts their estate issues,” he said.

Clark said most people who contact his office want to leave Queen’s a bequest in their will.

More than $135 million has been pledged since the office opened about 20 years ago, he said. About $8 million is actually given to the University each year.

Clark said about $15 million is pledged each year in total. The average individual pledge is $100,000.

His office works with about 1,200 donors from across North America.

One popular option is the University’s charitable gift annuity, he said, where people donate a charitable amount to Queen’s and receive an annuity.

“Maybe they’re planning for retirement,” he said. “It secures the donor in terms of cash flow, giving them some income.”

An initiative like the annuity reaches beyond alumni to donors called “friends of Queen’s.” “We have [non-alumni] contact us and say they’re looking to give,” he said, adding that most say a family member of theirs went to Queen’s.

His office looks for people who are in their mid- to late-50s because they’re more likely to be looking into long-term financial planning, he said, but noted the trend is changing.

“Younger people are approaching us,” he said. “[They] are starting to find that the consistency of giving can lead them to planning.”

—With files from Rosel Kim and Anna Mehler Paperny


See next week’s Journal to read about the ThankQ initiative and how graduating students are encouraged to give back to Queen’s.

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