The COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainty among fundraisers about whether or not to continue asking for donations at a time when students have been sent home and donors are feeling anxious about their communities, their health, and their portfolios.
Some schools have cautiously adjusted their fundraising language and proceeded with planned solicitations, and others have cancelled or postponed their plans. While it may be too soon to gauge how giving behaviors have changed, examining how people are interacting with solicitation emails during quarantine provides a window into how alumni may feel about receiving asks from their alma mater during this strange time.
Read what we learned from two institutions that continued to send ask emails during quarantine time in late March 2020.
Institution A (Midsize liberal arts institution in the Midwest)
After internal discussion, Institution A decided to proceed with their Day of Giving scheduled around St. Patrick’s Day, adjusting the language of communications to recognize the new reality of their students, staff and alumni during quarantine. In addition to exceeding their donor and dollar goals, the metrics around email engagement showed an interesting shift in how many alumni were engaging with their emails. Prior to March 2020, this school was average around a 10.6% open rate and 1.3% click to open rate.
In March, with emails sent out during the quarantine period, this institution saw a Click-to-Open rate that was more than 2x the typical CTO rate from their December emails, and an unsubscribe rate that was half that of their December emails, despite deploying more emails in a shorter time span in March. While comparing Calendar Year End to Day of Giving stats is not going to be entirely apples-to-apples, there is a substantial improvement in key email engagement metrics that holds up when we examine other institutions.
Institution B (Midsize public institution in the mid-Atlantic, HBC)
Institution B deployed a late March email appeal around a Student Emergency Fund, in response to the COVID-19 crisis and the havoc it was wreaking in some students’ lives. Comparing the Student Emergency Appeal email metrics to their December emails, they saw an open rate double that of their December emails, a click rate double that of December emails, and a modestly lower unsubscribe rate relative to their December emails.
While it is early to make judgements on their overall effect of the coronavirus crisis on fundraising, the data around how alumni are interacting with fundraising emails points to higher engagement. With widespread anger at receiving any kind of solicitation, we would expect higher than normal unsubscribe rates. However, we see the opposite – fewer alumni are tuning out their school when they ask for money during this crisis. This implies that rethinking and adjusting fundraising strategy and continuing to deploy solicitations during this time is worthwhile. The early data suggests that our alumni are still expecting their school to ask for money, and are receptive to the urgent case for giving that schools are presenting to them. With many donors spending all their time at home during this crisis, looking for ways to help the institutions they care about weather this storm, emails from their alma mater seem be garnering more attention.
Read this article for four imperatives of how CAOs are rethinking outreach in these uncertain times.
To help build a community of support, institutions are asking for stories of how alumni are making a difference in the fight against coronavirus.
The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked many questions for alumni relations teams: how can we continue to engage alumni while also offering support? How do we shift existing engagement opportunities to fit a new format?
Read three examples of recent solicitations sent by colleges and universities letting alumni know how they can help current students.