Technology helps save college fundraising

Higher-ed leaders should make college fundraising videos brief, experts say.

Carefully crafted social media strategies and web videos that tug alumni heartstrings could become a foundation of college fundraising as campus officials use dwindling resources to recover from the largest ever one-year decline in contributions.

College operating budgets have stagnated or dropped during the economic downturn, meaning few campuses have funds for pricey mass mailings, open houses, and traveling to meet with wealthy donors across the country.

College fundraising experts instead have turned to less expensive pleas for cash in recent years, hoping well-timed tweets, Facebook campaigns, and high-quality videos will keep alumni attention long enough to secure a donation for a new stadium or academic building in the works.

The results of social media money-raising efforts have been mixed, but at least one school credited online videos spread via eMail for raising $21 million to help pay for two new buildings on campus.

The University of Wisconsin (UW), La Crosse used webcasting to raise $18 million for the Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex in part by sending specific video messages to groups of former athletes who competed at UW La Crosse during their undergraduate years, said Jim Jorstad, the campus’s director of academic technology services.

The university also raised $3 million in private funds to build the school’s newest academic building, Centennial Hall, which had a price tag of $44 million. Videos laced with comments from faculty members, coaches, and famous alumni proved vital to meeting UW La Crosse’s college fundraising goals, Jorstad said.

“We know that we have 30 seconds to grab their attention,” he said. “And we use a simple formula: I’ll make you laugh and I’ll make you cry. That’s what has to set you apart from the rest.”

Jorstad said interviews with students and faculty members for college fundraising videos are essential, because “it’s hard to create an emotional video of a recorded biology lecture.”

Appealing to the emotions of former students could be a key advantage for colleges as charitable giving has dipped to never-before-seen lows, according to a report from the Council for Aid to Education (CAE), an organization that tracks educational donations nationwide.