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The dos and don’ts of leveraging university traditions in your annual giving strategy

January 22, 2024, By Meredith Dobbins, Director, Program Marketing

Think back to your time as an undergraduate student. What memories stand out most to you? Perhaps it’s the electrifying game-day rituals that united the entire student body, or maybe it’s the tradition of rubbing a campus statue for good luck before an important exam. These cherished experiences are the heart and soul of university life, forging lasting connections and bonds to an institution that help build a loyal and vibrant campus community.

Today’s donors are more likely to give when they have an emotional connection to a mission or organization. Utilizing these traditions in your institution’s annual giving strategy can reignite memories in your alumni and inspire them to give back to their alma mater. However, there’s an art to skillfully including university traditions in your campaigns. In this blog, we’ll explore the dos and don’ts of leveraging your institution’s traditions in an annual giving program.

DO: Weave nostalgia and connection-driven content throughout your campaigns.

Nostalgia and emotional connection hold immense power when it comes to motivating donors. By tapping into the positive associations your alumni have with the traditions at your institution, you can evoke a deep sense of pride and belonging, which may inspire them to contribute.

The emotional connection your alumni audience already has to your institution is what sets them apart from other donor audiences. Use this to your advantage by crafting compelling fundraising narratives that transport them back to the cherished moments of their college days. Share anecdotes of how these traditions have continued to shape the lives of students, faculty, and the entire campus community. Emphasize the enduring impact of these traditions and how their continued support ensures that future generations will benefit from the same enriching experiences.

Alumni face a multitude of important nonprofits and charities when deciding where to give their philanthropic dollars. While leveraging university traditions in your annual giving strategy is powerful, it’s essential not to rely solely on them to encourage your alumni to give. Instead, think of them as supporting messaging in an annual giving campaign.

Emphasize the impact alumni can make at your institution by highlighting key support areas such as groundbreaking research, inclusive community spaces, or new academic programs. Highlight how each donation empowers students, faculty, and staff to excel in all aspects of university life. By diversifying your messaging and showcasing the multifaceted impact of donations, you create a compelling case for why your alumni should choose to invest in their alma mater—something that is more critical than ever given donors’ desire to know their financial contributions are going to an important cause.


DO: Deploy your campaigns on the right channels for the right audiences.

To make the most of university tradition messaging, your annual giving strategy must be deployed on the right channels for the right audiences. Utilizing digital platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Snapchat can help you connect your message with your younger alumni audiences. These platforms are particularly adept at showcasing traditions with strong visual components, such as game day celebrations and homecoming events.

Capitalize on the interactivity of social media by encouraging your alumni to share their own memories tied to your institution and traditions. This can help foster a sense of community and nostalgia amidst your alumni that can spread your message further online.

Additionally, some of your audiences, such as older alumni donors, may prefer different communication channels such as direct mail—a medium where nostalgic storytelling can make a powerful impact on your donors.

Using an omnichannel approach that incorporates social media, email marketing, and direct mail can help you reach all donor segments effectively. Understanding what platforms your audiences are using will allow you to maximize the impact of your annual giving program, creating a strong and lasting connection between your institution and its alumni community.

An omnichannel strategy is key for higher engagement and should include a consistent mix of soft-touch and deadline-focused communications.

  • 8+ touchpoints before never-givers made first time-gift
  • 26% growth in donor counts via digital, offsetting drastic decline in phone revenue
  • 50% of prospective donors who visit a giving page do not convert
  • 5x increase in phone response rates among those engaging digitally


DON’T: Assume one size fits all.

It’s important to note that not every university tradition will resonate with every alumnus. Each of your alumni generations likely has different experiences and connections tied to your institution’s traditions. Younger alumni may be more drawn to more recent campus traditions, such as a student body chant in a new athletics facility, while older donors may cherish longstanding and time-honored traditions that shaped their own college experiences, such as an annual event they used to attend.

This is where personalization comes in. Tailoring your campaign messages and appeals to different donor segments can significantly impact engagement and donation rates. Utilize historical data and past engagement patterns to design custom campaigns around university traditions that resonate with each alumni segment and evoke nostalgia, pride, and a sense of belonging. By showing that you understand and value the unique experiences of different generations, you can foster deeper connections and inspire increased engagement for your annual giving campaign.


Incorporating university traditions into your annual giving program can be a game-changer for inspiring your alumni to give back. By tapping into the nostalgia and emotional connections associated with these honored traditions, your annual giving program will be well on its way to building a strong and dedicated community of supporters who are passionate about sustaining the legacy of your institution for generations to come.

Meredith Dobbins

Meredith Dobbins

Director, Program Marketing

Read Bio

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