It is well known that British universities lag significantly behind our American cousins when it comes to fundraising from alumni. Much has been written about the importance of shaping students into lifelong donors of their university, but that has not yet become a reality for the vast majority of higher education establishments, with Oxbridge accounting for 49% of new donations pledged in 2012/13. In an era where higher education finances are stretched ever tighter, untapped income from alumni becomes ever more critical.

We have considerable experience in acting both for philanthropic individuals and grant-making charities wanting to donate funds to assist universities and for educational establishments seeking to raise money. With this insight, here are ten pointers to help you to engage alumni and encourage/manage donations are as follows:

  1. Ensure that you have a clear point of contact for potential donors. Make this information visible and accessible on your website.
  2. Choose your words carefully. Some institutions have decided that the term "fundraising" is not appropriate for them and use terms such as "development" instead.
  3. Identify tangible examples across a wide price range of what a certain sum of money donated to your establishment could be used for. Donors like to know that their money is being used for a specific purpose in an area that is of interest to them. You may wish to identify "priority projects" so that donors can be directed to a specific area of need if they are unsure how to help.
  4. If the donor wishes to make a substantial donation for a specific purpose, such as to support the work of a researcher, offer them a tour of the department and an opportunity to meet someone working in the field before they donate. A recent client doubled their legacy under their will to support the work of a research fellow after a site visit.
  5. Make sure that your contact for donor support is well informed about the basics of the tax reliefs available when gifts of cash or other assets are made to a charity. Tax reliefs may boost the coffers of your organisation and will often provide a personal tax advantage to donors as well. A basic awareness of these reliefs proves to donors that your organisation is professional and efficient and it may encourage donors to give a little more if they know that they will be getting tax relief on their gift. If you intend to encourage donations from a particular country overseas (for example if you have a large quantity of alumni based in China), consider obtaining some local advice about taxation issues there.
  6. Prepare a bespoke Gift Aid form for your organisation so that the donor's details and the value of the donation can be recorded. One form can cover every gift made to your organisation for whatever period the donor chooses. It can cover gifts that the donor has already made and/or gifts the donor may make in the future.
  7. Prepare a "legacy pack" for individuals wanting to make gifts by will. Typically, such a pack will include a draft clause for insertion into an individual's will or codicil, naming your organisation as the recipient of the legacy.
  8. Consider the mechanics of giving to make it easy for the donor to send a cheque, arrange a bank transfer or make a payment online.
  9. Consider how gifts of different levels will be acknowledged (a common issue is naming rights). Prepare a precedent letter to acknowledge small gifts to ensure consistency.
  10. Keep in touch with alumni and past donors via newsletters, emails, events etc, but make sure that the relationship is managed so that they are not bombarded with different pieces of information from different sources within your organisation