Technology helps save college fundraising

Contributions to colleges and universities fell by 11.9 percent in 2009, according to CAE, with alumni giving dropping sharply.

The steep drop came after a decade that saw college fundraising rise by about 4 percent annually. CAE’s report showed that even the largest institutions were not immune to the economic slump that started in fall 2008: The 20 top-fundraising universities in 2009 brought in $7.3 billion, or about $1.1 billion less than in 2008.

Stanford University was the top college fundraiser in 2009, taking in $640 million. Harvard University finished second with $601 million, and Cornell was a distant third with $446 million in contributions.

Contributions from foundations made up 29 percent of higher-education giving last year, according to CAE, with alumni donations making up 25 percent and corporation contributions consisting of about 16 percent.

Ann Kaplan, director of CAE’s voluntary “support for education” survey, said the steep drop in alumni giving could have been caused by “many alumni [giving] through donor-advised funds and foundations,” meaning those contributions aren’t calculated as individual contributions.

Video clips that rely on alumni sentiment aren’t the only ingredients for effective college fundraising, said Sean Brown, vice president for higher education at Sonic Foundry, a company specializing in webcasting for more than 1,500 colleges and schools. Sonic Foundry is the maker of Mediasite, the video program used at UW La Crosse.

eMailing alumni with highlights of presentations from presidents, provosts, and deans, Brown said, can lay out an institution’s plans for a new building in a concise demonstration, using graphs and charts instead of emotional pleas that could be interpreted as vague and uninformative.

This strategy “instantly turns a presentation into something you can put behind a hyperlink and blast out,” Brown said. “People want to know more about where their dollars are going in these times, so there is a lot more pressure on universities to show that in detail. … Video plus presentation material is transcendent in that it brings something that never gets stale, which is human-to-human interaction.”

Marybeth Gasman, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and author of several books on educational philanthropy, said colleges and universities risk “overuse” of college fundraising videos that could lead to spam treatment: See a video eMail in your inbox, and hit delete.

Instead, Gasman said, college fundraising officials should create videos and post them on Facebook, where watching the short clips isn’t as forced as it is when the videos are sent directly to an eMail inbox.

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