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October 4 , 2004
Annual Fund making some big strides
BY michael terrazas
During the course of this semester, at a handful of alumni homes around Atlanta, groups of about a dozen Emory students will be treated to dinner at the houses of people they’ve never met and who share only an affiliation with the University all will call their alma mater.
It’s called “Dinner With 12 Strangers,” and it’s just one of the new programs being launched by the Annual Fund within the Office of Develop-ment and University Relations (DUR). Targeted toward related but nuanced audiences of students and alumni, the initiatives together take a strategic approach to building what President Jim Wagner has called a “culture of philanthropy” at Emory.
“It’s vitally important that we create this culture not only for alumni but for faculty and staff—and especially students, preferably from the moment they first set foot on campus,” said DUR Senior Vice President Johnnie Ray. “To the degree that we can inculcate a real sense of pride and ownership in Emory among all of our constituent groups, but especially alumni and students, we will be that much more successful in reaching our vision.”
Since his arrival this summer, Ray has proclaimed a new day in University fund raising, restructuring his division and issuing an ambitious set of standards for Emory development officers. And if there is a poster child for Ray’s new brand of innovative, aggressive, professional fund raising, it is the Annual Fund.
Encompassing development offices and activities in schools and centers across campus, the Annual Fund is one of Emory’s primary sources for unrestricted funds. Rewind to June 30, 2003: The Annual Fund was reeling, trailing the previous year’s pace by nearly $140,000. Then a new assistant vice president, Francine Cronin, arrived from the SUNY Institute of Technology in Utica, N.Y., to take over the program.
Two months later, at the close of fiscal year 2003, the Annual Fund not only had caught up to FY02 but set a record by raising nearly $3.6 million, an increase of some $115,000 over the previous year. Cronin accomplished this remarkable goal with a series of late-year electronic communications to donors.
Fast-forward another 12 months, and the Annual Fund again shattered records in fiscal 2004, raising upwards of $4.8 million—roughly 34 percent more than in FY03, an increase Ray called “virtually unheard of” in higher education development. Making the feat even more unbelievable was the fact that Cronin and her staff accomplished it while slashing the department’s direct-mail budget in half. The Annual Fund spent nearly $70,000 less on direct mail in FY04 than the previous year and still raised $751,706 in direct mail solicitations, an increase of more than 20 percent over FY03.
“We just looked at what people have been historically responding to and designed solicitations around that medium,” said Cronin of the increased reliance on e-mail communications, electronic donation opportunities (such as the “Make a Gift to Emory” link on the internal homepage) and other novel approaches to development.
The numbers are just part of the story. In addition to Dinner With 12 Strangers, Cronin and her staff have come up with a host of unorthodox—and, often, downright fun—ideas to provide alumni and students with opportunities to give back to Emory. For instance, the “Professor for a Day” program will bring alumni back to campus for a day, this time to appear in front of classes, talking about their own professional experiences.
The “Adopt-a-Scholar” program will enable alumni to choose an individual student and “adopt” him or her for the entire four years of the undergraduate experience, serving as a sponsor and mentor, with the student reporting back at least once a semester. Cronin said a handful of students and alumni already are involved, and early results are encouraging.
With the money recouped from cutting back on direct mailings (the Annual Fund has maintained a steady program budget), Cronin was able to build the Telefund program, adding eight calling stations and employing about 120 work-study students a year.
Also on the student side, the Annual Fund will launch the “Soaring Eagle Society,” to which students can belong after making donations to the University for consecutive years, and Cronin is drawing students with a phased-in approach; freshmen, for example, might be asked to contribute $10 back to Emory. As sophomores they might give $15, followed by $20 their junior year, and so on. Studies show, once a donor gives to Emory for five consecutive years, there is an 85 percent chance that individual will continue to give, year in and year out.
“We want them to develop a habit of giving,” Cronin said. “Alumni and students are happy to have new ways to get involved, especially ways for which they don’t have to commit a huge amount of time. Dinner With 12 Strangers was a fun way for alumni to host student groups and give back to Emory in a way that they can juggle with their own work, families, children and so forth.”
All this work ultimately stands to do more than just give Emory more operating dollars; in this year’s U.S. News & World Report rankings, Emory’s drop from No. 18 to No. 20 was attributed in large part to a decrease in overall alumni giving numbers. If the Annual Fund’s success is any indication, those figures are about to change in a hurry.
“Before, we either weren’t contacting alumni at all or not contacting them in the right way,” Cronin said. “That’s why people weren’t giving—it’s not because they didn’t want to give.”