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U's call bank supervisor Larwin Kaufmann.

Student supervisor Larwin Kaufmann in the call center at the McNamara Alumni Center on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis. With the help of students in the call center and annual fund mailings, the University raised the number of alumni donors to more than 51,000--a 20 percent jump from just three years ago.

More than 51,000 alumni give to the U

From eNews, September 29, 2005

When the University of Minnesota set a goal to raise the number of alumni donors to 50,000, Jennifer Eggers, director of annual giving, wondered where the donors would come from. Sure, University alumni love their alma mater, but...

"With only 42,600 alumni donors in 2002, the 50,000 goal seemed nearly impossible at the time," says Eggers. Yet remarkably, she adds, the U managed to surpass that goal in 2005.

When fundraising professionals at other universities heard about the U's success, they were stunned. Annual gifts are important to every institution because they support scholarships and strengthen academic programs, but the average annual growth rate for alumni giving programs is only 3 to 4 percent. The University of Minnesota had an astounding 20 percent growth rate between fiscal years 2002 and 2005. "That kind of growth is really unheard of in universities around the country," says Eggers. "Everyone wants to know what our secret is." Turns out, there's no secret; just lots of generous alumni and lots of hard work. Eggers' team focused on mailing gift requests more often to more alumni ( 1 million direct mail pieces to 300,000 households in 2005) and increasing the number of student callers to ask for gifts and thank donors (more than 100 student callers had conversations with 141,000 alumni and friends in 2005). Departments across the University added giving envelopes to their alumni newsletter and other publications. The U hosted alumni focus groups to learn more about the giving-related motivations and attitudes of alumni. While all this was going on, the U's Information and Computer Services crew worked on improving the quality of information about alumni.

The investment of time and resources paid off: Last year the University of Minnesota received gifts from 51,145 alumni donors, surpassing its seemingly unattainable goal. Giving through the mail increased 32 percent--a statistic that bucks the trends at other institutions, most of which are seeing a decline in direct mail giving. Online giving also increased--at a slower but steady pace.

"Our success over the last four years was all about broadening the base of alumni donors," explains Eggers. "Now we're working to retain these new donors."