Can We Talk?

Sue Cunningham (@Cunningham_CASE) is CASE’s president and CEO.

The latest CASE Currents cover story no doubt will prompt some lively conversations in the CASE communities and in schools, colleges and universities around the world.

In “Why We Hung Up on the Telefund,” CASE volunteers Martin Shell and Amy Wilson explain why they decided to eliminate Stanford University’s telephone fundraising program—a program that generated 9 percent of the institution’s total annual dollars. That is not a small risk.

When one of the largest, most successful educational fundraising programs in the world makes a decision like this, others may be inclined to follow suit. Is what’s right for Stanford right for you?

Beyond Pros and Cons

Our ability to serve the profession depends largely on how generously and freely our members share their accomplishments and setbacks. (It has been said that CASE should stand for “Celebrate and Share Everything.”) We thank Stanford for telling its story so candidly and fully.

We often hear the question, “What’s the best way to [pick the topic: market to students, communicate with alumni, increase giving…]?” and, of course, there is no right answer. A cookie-cutter approach across institutions and countries does not work.

So as discussions unfold and debates begin about the pros and cons of telephone fundraising programs, I encourage you to frame the topic beyond a simple yes/no question. As with any fundraising program, many variables contribute to success. Your stakeholder relationships should be a key determinant.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Stanford based its decision on extensive research, overall goals and—most important—focusing on the needs of its donors. The institution decided to risk a potential short-term drop in participation rates to raise its long-term donor engagement and satisfaction. Smaller or newer programs may not be able to take such a risk, nor may it be appropriate for their communities. One size does not fit all in terms of fundraising, or marketing and communications, or alumni relations, or advancement services.

We have much to learn from one another. To that end, a dedicated group of experienced CASE volunteers, shepherded by the CASE Commission on Alumni Relations, is endeavoring to create some standard metrics for alumni engagement—no easy task! I encourage you to share how your institution measures alumni engagement here in the comments of this post or in our CASE Community for Alumni Relations Professionals. Also, share both the value of as well as the challenges of operating a telephone fundraising campaign here in the comments or in the CASE Community for Fundraising Professionals.

And remember, it’s often not the answers that matter the most, but the questions we ask.

Learn more about Stanford’s program.

Review CASE resources on telephone fundraising programs.


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