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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Development uses new media to fundraise

Published: April 24, 2009
Section: News

In the wake of Brandeis’ economic crisis, the university announced in March that the Department for Development and Alumni Relations are going would focus their gift raising efforts on obtaining money for financial aid.

Integral in Vice President of Institutional Advancement Nancy Winship’s plan to raise funds is use of the Internet for the actual fundraising initiatives and in community building efforts.

“We live in a different world than five years ago,” she said, “we need to start using the new technology before we even finish with the old.”

The Department for Development and Alumni Relations has begun sending out e-mail message appeals for donations to their e-mail list of over 28,000 potential donors, in addition to calling potential donors through Phone-a-Thon. Additionally, each donor has an online giving page on the Brandeis web site where they can log in and verify how much money they have previously donated, or how much more money they have left to donate in their pledge.

“Even five years ago this is information that these donors would have to wait for the hours between nine and five to get,” Winship said. “Now, if a donor wakes up at three in the morning and decides they want to donate to Brandeis, they can.”

Winship however, is quick to ensure students that Phone-a-Thon—which is a student-run phone bank for university gifts—is not going anywhere.

“You never know which mode of communication is going to elicit a response from a donor,” she said. “There are some donors who would rather get an e-mail than a phone call every day of the week, but there are others who don’t even have e-mail.”

Even more important than internet or phone-based solicitations is “face to face contact,” Winship said.

“The traditional ways [of getting donations] still work, especially with our older alumni,” Winship said. “But now we are concerned with how to reach out to our younger alumni as well.”

Associate Director of Development Leigh Creveling said that the Department keeps track of which modes of communication individual alumni respond to for future use.

Winship said that the e-mail messages asking for donations have, for the large part, received a positive response from alumni, at least in part because it conserves paper.

“You know, in a green world, people are concerned with the environment,” she said. “Some people think letters are a waste, and we’re a university based in social justice, so we have to make sure we are very sensitive to these feelings.”

In addition to having online avenues for giving, The Department for Development and Alumni Relations has been working on online community building, with the hope that if the alumni community is more connected to the university, they will be more compelled to make donations.

Most recently, the department has launched a website called BConnect—an online community for alumni to communicate with each other.

BConnect, which was launched last April and already has roughly 6,000 registered users, features an online directory of alumni which allows alumni to update their contact information on the internet; online reunion information; updates on what their fellow classmates are doing; and a search by profession feature that allows alumni to find people in a given field.

Each alumna has their own username and password to the site, and the information on the site is not “googleable.”

Creveling said that a plan is in the works to make a BConnect application on facebook to make communication easier for alumni.

“You know, now a days people log onto facebook and they just stay there all day,” she said. “This way, when you’re connected to all of your other friends, you’re also connected to us.”

Another part of the Development Department’s effort to increase the connection between alumni and campus is “webinars.”

With “webinars” professors give seminars broadcast online to logged in alumni. The first “webinar” was taught by Prof. Stephen Whitfield (AMST) about whether President Barack Obama was a populist or an elitist.

After the “webinar” alumni were able to ask Whitfield questions, which he also answered live.

The “webinar” is posted on Brandeis University’s youtube channel, which has 52 subscribers.

All of this is in an effort to make the alumni feel more connected to the campus, Creveling said. “The Brandeis network is not just about being on campus,” she said. “It’s so much more.”