If you’re familiar with the university space, you know that development offices tend to get a bad rap for being overly pushy with alumni. But two of Texas A&M University’s largest fundraising organizations – The Association of Former Students and the Texas A&M Foundation – are doing everything they can to counteract that perception.
“There’s so much we do that has absolutely nothing to do with donations. We want to be a valuable resource for alumni, share what’s happening on campus, and help strengthen the Aggie Network,” said Scot Walker, Director of Communications at The Association of Former Students.
Two organizations working in harmony
Though they work toward many of the same goals, The Association of Former Students and the Texas A&M Foundation operate as separate entities.
“We’re two independent, private nonprofits,” said Diana Tomlin, Marketing Manager at the Texas A&M Foundation. "The Association is focused on generating a higher volume of small gifts from alumni, whereas the Foundation is focused on major gifts. Together and with other organizations in the Texas A&M network, we are in a university-wide comprehensive campaign called Lead by Example. Since the launch of the campaign in 2015, more than $2.6 billion has been raised to support students, faculty, colleges, academics and athletic programs. ”
The two offices also share a contact database and a tiered Emma account.
“We split the cost of Emma and make sub-accounts available to the different schools and colleges across campus. It helps keep things centralized, and it gives them access to our database of donors and alumni for outreach purposes and to assist with the $4 billion campaign.”
Email marketing as a key stewardship tool
Email sits at the center of both organizations’ communication strategies.
“We send email invitations to events – happy hours, football watch parties, etc. We market our Traveling Aggies program through email. We also communicate with our leadership council through Emma and produce a monthly newsletter that we send to all former students,” said Walker.
Sounds like a lot, right? But that’s just the beginning.
"Email also works as a stewardship tool for our organizations: We share how people have given, what they’re supporting, and what’s the highest priority based on current campaigns. A lot of it is about awareness. We want to continually build awareness for grads who maybe can’t give now, but might want to in 15 or 20 years", said Landon Harrell, Digital Communications Specialist at the Texas A&M Foundation.
Segmentation for a one-to-one connection
Because they want to ensure the right contacts get the right messages, smart segmentation is absolutely crucial.
For instance, The Association of Former Students runs a call center. Whenever a student speaks to someone on the phone and the person declines to give, they segment their list by reason and send some of those alumni a heartfelt follow-up email tailored to their situation.
Moving? The recipient gets an invitation to their new local alumni chapter.
Between jobs? The recipient receives a link to some career services that might help.
Having a baby? The Association sends them a congratulatory note and mails them an Aggie bib!
It’s a fantastic way to showcase their services, support alumni, and make those former students feel valued even if they aren’t able to donate.
Big results for an annual fundraising campaign
For both The Association of Former Students and the Texas A&M Foundation, email works as just a single element of their larger marketing ecosystem. Someone may get a few emails, then a call, then check out a landing page on their website... THEN decide to give. It all works together to create the best possible donor experience. But one success they can tie specifically to email is a fundraising campaign they launched last year.
In 2016, The Association of Former Students held their first-ever “Pass It Back Day,” a holiday similar to Giving Tuesday. Through a combination of email marketing and social promotion, they were able to significantly exceed their goal of 1,000 gifts and $100,000, generating 1,800 gifts and $260,710 in just 24 hours!
Scot, Landon, and Diana all named different reasons for choosing Emma as their email marketing platform.
1. Ease of Use
“Emma is so elegant, and the drag-and-drop features are so intuitive,” said Scot. "I can teach someone how to create an email in Emma in 20 minutes...and if they’re young, I can teach them in 10!”
2. Reporting Tools
"One of the things we use on day-to-day basis is the reporting functionality: seeing who’s opening, who’s clicking, which links they’re engaging with, and how can we serve our constituents better, more relevant content,” said Landon.
3. Tiered Account Structure
“When I was at Marketing United and talking to other universities, one thing I found we all struggle with is how big and sporadic and complex our systems are. The Emma sub-account system has helped us bring so many departments across campus on board,” said Diana.
Interested in taking our University Edition for a test drive? Just give us a shout!
If you’d like to learn more about The Association of Former Students or The Texas A&M Foundation, check out their websites.