Five Customer Service Tips to Energize Your Fundraising

Good customer service should be at the center of your alumni engagement strategy. Almost 90% of customers have “stopped doing business with a company after experiencing poor customer service.” Though business and alumni fundraising have some critical differences, you can largely think about your alumni as “consumers” who can walk away from the “business transaction” of a donation. How are you going to keep them engaged enough to donate again and again? Here are 5 customer service tips to keep in mind during alumni engagement efforts:

1.  Focus on the beginning and the end

Humans most remember the beginning and end of an interaction, often forgetting much of the middle. Keep this principle in mind throughout your communication efforts. Emails should start with a persuasive call to action or emotional appeal in the subject line or first sentence, and should end with a concise request or invitation. This applies to things like newsletters, donation request emails, registry updates, mailed marketing materials, phone calls – if you’re sending any type of communication to alums, it is important that it stands out in their minds.

2.  Give your team the right tools

The right engagement tools can make or break an interaction. Alumni engagement budgets vary, but even the smallest teams can pack a big punch with the right arsenal of support platforms. An alumni community can do a lot of the everyday work of alumni communications, as alumni interact with one another and existing content. Try to choose a platform that supports email marketing, content management, and social media management on the back end to further simplify engagement. Ideally, your alumni database links to your engagement tool simplifying data collection and prospect research. You can add other support tools on top if this – donation portals, advanced analytics tools, event management platforms – but you have to build off of a core tool delivers the bulk of your daily engagement work.

3. Use positive, conversational language

In the customer service world, it is expected to smile, use positive language, validate the customer, and respectfully match their conversational style. Keep this in mind with your content and outreach. Use an upbeat tone by featuring positive news stories in your content, fondly remembering alumni in throwback posts, and including affirming callouts in communications. Validate your alumni by not only thanking them for their past contributions but by using personalized, targeted outreach that appeals to their specific interests.  Match their conversational style by having a presence on channels your alums actually use (like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and the mobile app space) and keeping a language style that is both professional and compelling.

4. Use automation when it makes sense

As we pointed out earlier, it is critical that you are using the right tools to engage your alumni. Not only do the right engagement tools keep your alums drawn in and build community, but they can actually heavily automate communications to make your life easier. Instead of doing manual prospect research to segment alumni by affinities, the right tool can automatically identify what is relevant to alumni and target content, events, and other engagement. Moreover, some tools can automatically adjust the interval of communications and the creation of marketing emails, which could allow your development team to focus their time on other tasks.

5. Personalize your strategy

Personalized service experiences are one of the key drivers of customer happiness in business. So why not apply this principle to your engagement efforts? By personalizing your emails, curating your content feed to an alum’s interests, targeting event invites by more than just geography, and consciously balancing alumni facing content to appeal to a variety of backgrounds/interests, you can engage your alumni on a deep level to support your development efforts.


Even though your team has been interacting with alumni for a long time, we recognize that viewing this relationship through the lens of customer service may be challenging. We’re always happy to help with evaluating your current approach to alumni engagement and identifying steps you can take to build a service-oriented strategy.

Rachael Stein