Moving Forward In Times of Crisis - Supporting Students (Part 1)
Join us for this 1-hour webinar where we speak with Erin Glidden, Director of Loyalty Giving at South Dakota State University Foundation.
In this webinar, we'll discuss how SDSU made the decision to move forward with their student-focused hardship appeal, the steps they took to ensure a successful launch and what next steps they'll be taking to engage donors.
To watch the recording of this webinar, please click on the video (above) and register when prompted. All webinar recordings are free to view.
If you would prefer to read a transcript of the webinar recording, please find this below.
Erin Glidden - Director of Loyalty Giving, South Dakota State University Foundation.
Kat Carter - Head of Marketing & Digital Giving Specialist, Hubbub
This is the three part series where we'll be hearing from educational institutions both here in the UK as well as in the US who are currently running appeals to support students during these very challenging times. While there is a tremendous amount of vitally important work happening right now to support our frontline workers as well as funding to aid research into finding a vaccine.
There is also a need to ensure that current and future students who attend our educational institutions have the ability to remain at these institutions in the months and years that follow the pandemic. There are many institutions out there who are currently running student related appeals and we hope that the experiences they'll share with you will be helpful as you too consider the ways in which you may move forward with conducting your own student focused appeals.
A worrying time for many
For many students and their families, this will be a worrying time. Students who work to afford their education may find themselves worrying about how they will pay for their living costs while they are currently unable to work. Care for international students who are unable to travel home will become an important opportunity for institutions to understand how they can support students during this time who are still remaining on campus. And finally, there may be a worry from parents who are concerned over being able to still afford the tuition for their children when they themselves are unable to work as a result of the current climate.
As we've seen over the last few weeks the generosity of our supportive communities has never been stronger. Alumni and others are coming forward in their droves to support these initiatives. From those Hubbub customers who are running COVID-19 related appeals, we've seen a truly tremendous amount of support for a wide variety of projects that have brought our communities closer together in a united message of hope.
Today we'll hear from Erin Glidden, Director of Loyalty Giving at South Dakota State University Foundation. Erin will share with us the experience that SDSU have had from running their emergency student related appeals, how those appeals were facilitated, the results they've seen and what's next for SDSU.
Erin Glidden - Introduction
Hello everyone, as mentioned, my name is Erin Glidden and I'm the Director of Loyalty Giving at South Dakota State University Foundation. I've been with the foundation now for four years where I've been doing development work. I'm also a graduate of the University of Iowa. And today I have the privilege of sharing with you how we've adjusted our fundraising approach in response to COVID-19. First I want to say this has been entirely a team effort. Much of the material I'm sharing with you has been done by my amazing co-workers.
South Dakota State University was founded in 1881. We're located in Brookings, South Dakota, which is approximately 200 miles west of Minneapolis Minnesota just to give you a reference. Our enrollment is 11,518 and we have approximately 85,000 living alumni. Currently we raise $56 million or more annually for the past five years. That comes from about 10,000 or more unique donors each year. Fun fact: we are the only division 1 university with a jackrabbit as our mascot!
Today I'm going to share with you how we responded to COVID-19, what appeals we are using to support our students during this difficult time and the importance of selecting the correct channel for the appeal and the strategy behind it. Then I'm going to talk about how the impact of one word has made a big difference on our organisation, and what's next. What's on the horizon for us and how we are embracing some organic messaging? Let's jump right into it.
Our world was turned upside down
Like all of you our whole world was turned upside down due to COVID-19. On March 16th, our office went completely remote, students were granted an additional week of spring break to allow our faculty and staff time to prep for distance learning while our campus partners were feverishly working to adjust lesson plans in their curriculum to meet the needs of our students through e-learning. Our office halted direct mail appeals that were set to go out in the mail. Literally, they are sitting in mail trays ready to go to the post office. We were canceling events our Development Directors were busy canceling trips and communicating with donors about all sorts of things and trying to either postpone or adjust or figure out if they could connect with them via Zoom.
Focus on what you can do
We also knew that with our students not coming back on campus we wouldn't be able to have our phone center and our phonathon program because there's just no way we could do it remotely to make sure we were PCI compliant. We also needed to figure out how we were going to adjust there. There's just a lot going on and we also knew it wouldn't be a good time to put our students on the phone even if we could logistically figure it out. With the economic climate and everything going on we just don't want to put them in that position. This is all a lot different than the week prior, when we were literally sitting cheering on our men's and women's basketball teams in their tournaments. With so much uncertainty we decided to focus on what we could do not what we couldn't do. Just like the saying goes. “Focus on what you can do right now. Not what you can't do right now”.
We know there is always an overwhelming concern for our students whether we're in a crisis or not. COVID-19 though does present a series of unique challenges for our students and their families. SDSU benefits from the generally generous philanthropic spirit of our alumni and friends. Right away, a lot of people reached out to us and said, "How can we help? What can we do?"
This is when we decided to partner with our on campus Student Affairs Group to create a Student Emergency Fund to help students with unexpected expenses related towards transportation, food, resources, lost income, potential medical bills or other financial obligations.Many of the part time jobs in their communities have been eliminated or reduced. With this rapidly evolving situation it left a lot of our students and their families with urgent costs that they may be unable to meet. This fund was just one way we knew we could help alleviate some of those concerns.
A Digital, Remote Platform
So we knew we wanted to do a Student Emergency Fund, but the next question was which platform And, how shall we go about advocating and soliciting for gifts? We could choose our traditional ‘Give Now’ page or we also could choose our Rabbit Raisers platform, which is the Hubbub crowdfunding platform. We knew that we needed to do an online type of approach, given again that direct mails weren't going out and we weren't in the office.
So what can we do remotely? We had a couple of ideas and then we just needed to figure out what was the best way to tell our story. Given this time, the need is so important. But we also needed to express the ‘why’: why now more than ever should Jackrabbit Nation rally together to help support our students? We also wanted to have a visual progress bar or a bar chart to illustrate how far or close we were to meeting our goal.
People right now are really big into social media and engaging with each other through that digital network, since we can't be face-to-face. How are we going to have a platform through this to make sure that we have that donor engagement?
Then, we wouldn't be doing our friends in Data Entry any favors if we didn't think about data integration into our CRM: keeping that in mind, to make sure that we can be as easy on them as possible, since we are doing this remotely.
It didn't take much to decide that this appeal would be a great fit as an evergreen project on our Rabbit Raisers platform. The platform would meet all of our needs. From the visual display chart where it shows the goal, the percentage vertical, the number of donors, and it allows you to change the max or the min. Once you've hit a minimum goal you can change that to reach a stretch goal. Definitely something that we wanted to have: that visual, real life, up-to-date element. We didn't have to worry about somebody having to manually update this since we could just have it live and up to date. Definitely easy and seamless. Streamless.
Tell your story
Part of the platform is allowing us to tell our story. We know that even in times of crisis or not, people are tending to want to give less and less to discretionary funds, excellence funds or just these general funds. We really needed to showcase the story and the need as to what these funds could be used for and why now? was such an important piece. But also doing it in a clean, concise message that was also mobile responsive as well as web responsive. Here is just the excerpt from our website on our Rabbit Raisers platform of us expressing the need in sharing our story.
The site also allowed for updates, which was something that we wanted to make sure we were doing. Throughout this campaign, since things are changing with COVID-19 on a daily, even hourly, basis sometimes, how can we make sure we are constantly communicating about this project? As soon as we met our minimum goal we were able to talk about our stretch goal. Then when we had hit our stretch goal, we were able to talk about how we are still going to need the support from all of our alumni and friends.
We are working to continue to post updates throughout our campaign. Some of the updates coming up this week are going to be testimonials from some of the committee members that are helping facilitate this project on the campus side and going through that application awarding process. But I'll speak to that more a little bit later.
Another reason we chose to have this appeal go on our Rabbit Raisers platform is because it provided that donor engagement, which as we mentioned, was really important. Because people are not face-to-face, they're using social media to engage with one another. The ability for our donors to have the capability to list themselves as a donor as well as being a social ambassador for this project meant they can have their custom url and they could help share our message. We can really benefit from that organic messaging that our campus ambassadors, our friends and our alumni can help rally around. We do benefit from having a strong social ambassador network that we built around our Giving Day. As a result, this was just an easy time to reach out to that social network and help them help us share the message of our students.
To tie this into our CRM data upload, we are a Blackbaud NXT donor database so that seamless integration from a data entry side was really handy. Therefore, our donor entry folks didn't have to do a whole lot of new learning or anything of that nature because everything has been a seamless process.
Student Application Process
So while we were figuring out what platform we wanted to use, what messaging and all of those kinds of things, we needed to rely on our campus partners for the logistics of the allocation process. What would the online application look like? What information would be captured for the students to fill out? What kind of contact information? Amount requested? The process and the purpose of the funds being used? Additionally, what type of expenses are even allowed to be covered? Would there be a minimum and a maximum amount that would be awarded? Is there vehicle information that needs to be provided? Could this alter somebody's financial aid package? A lot of things that students would need to think through but it's stuff that on our end, from a foundation side, we're not necessarily able to answer because we're not experts in that field. We really did need to lean on our campus partners to help us with this process. It was definitely one of those where we would work on the back end and then they would work on the front end of trying to help answer those questions, get everything streamlined and ready to go.
Ultimately our campus partners decided that they wanted to award these funds in terms of a grant, which would make the most sense for them based on all of the legalities that they work through from a financial aid side of things.
They decided that the awards would be typically in a range of $50 to $500 and they would ask that it only be once per academic year. The grant also would help cover costs for travel, housing, emergency medical or dental expenses, replacement of supplies or some other things that you can read here on this list.
Campus also wanted to spell out items that would not qualify for the grant, such as: parking tickets and cell phone bills, to help reduce the amount of applications that would be automatically be thrown out and disqualified. As our campus partners we're working diligently through all of these legalities and creating a new fund for a new committee to review, we were working through all of the logistics of getting the platform and our social media and our messaging up to date and ready to go.
That's when we also came across another project that we thought would be an excellent fit to promote alongside our Student Emergency Fund, Rabbit Raisers project: our on campus food pantry, known as Jacks Cupboard. Jack's Cupboard addresses the food insecurities faced by our students and last December they actually did a 30 day crowdfunding project right around the time of Giving Tuesday, which was very successful in meeting their fundraising goals. Therefore it was only natural for us to use the Rabbit Raisers platform again to promote Jack's Cupboard. But this time we decided to use an evergreen page versus the traditional 30 day campaign page, because we wouldn't want to be limited to that 30 day window. We knew that while a lot of our students are now back home, not everyone has left campus. We still do have a number of students, particularly international students, who are not able to go home during this time. We know that needs for resources, such as food and security, are going to be continuously increasing. It was only a natural tie to help promote this alongside our Student Emergency Fund.
Ready for Launch
Only 48 hours after the idea of us wanting to create an established student emergency fund, we were ready to launch our project and get started promoting the appeal. It was only natural that we would push this appeal out on our social media platforms as well as some other multichannel efforts. Social media and crowdfunding go hand-in-hand, especially with the social ambassador element that the Rabbit Raisers platform provides.
During times of crisis you need to be extra careful about the messaging and timing. It is very key. People's lives are changing on an hourly basis and we wanted to make sure our empathy shone through our messaging. Here are a few examples of our social media posts and ironically our content strategist who oversees our social media accounts actually went into labour early and delivered her daughter the day before we launched our Student Emergency Fund project. Like I mentioned before, this project has definitely been a full team effort where everybody stepped in to help fill in those gaps
Over the course of the weekend, we were in awe and just inspired by the Jackrabbit spirit. That even in times of crisis we all can rally together. Our minimum goal was met before 8 a.m. on Monday and it wasn't long before we were trying to go to our stretch goal and then even exceeding that. That was also when we discovered the power of what one word can have on all of us. Earlier I mentioned one of the reasons we decided to use the Hubbub Crowdfunding platform to promote our Student Emergency Fund. It has an interactive feature where the site allowed for donors to leave comments. Well I don't know if Steven Jacobs probably knew the impact his comment would have when he left just one word:
It is amazing how much emotion can be felt in that one word. How much passion can be stirred in a word when there is a time of crisis, when you don't know, when things are just turned upside down. Hope: it's a powerful and impactful word.
That word has since inspired a community. That one word even inspired a 50 feet wide, 9 foot tall mural outside our office windows (thanks to our creative marketing director and her family), with over 300 hearts shaped in a rainbow pattern with personal messages and drawings from our foundation staff and kids. With this message of love, hope and togetherness we can get through these hard times if we all lean on each other and are here together.
Here are some examples of the artwork created by my co-worker's children and how we continue to share the message of hope on our social media platforms.My 10 month and 3 year olds' artworks are somewhere on that window. Let's just say their scribbled artwork wasn't quite up to par to be able to make some of the social media shout outs on that page. But, it was definitely a fun family activity that we could do during this time of quarantine.
Another element that came out from that one comment, that one word of "hope", was a piece that inspired our holiday card that went out to over 300 trustee members, campaign committee members, and lifetime giving society members with the goal to reinforce their hope in us as a society and as a university as we entered into the Easter holiday.
Tough times don't last; good people do.
We're still in an uncertain time and our world is changing each and every day, every hour. We need to lean on each other and hope for better days. As the old saying goes, "Tough times don't last; good people do".
I'm going to play for you now a video we released last week reminding us all of the greatness our university has had throughout the course of our history and how strong we can come together if we lean on one another. And we have hope.
Where do we go from here?
What's next? As a society we're slowly starting to adjust to social distancing and remote work. This is going to be our new norm for probably longer than we originally anticipated.
For our Loyalty Giving Annual Programs Department, we're continuing to promote our Rabbit Raiser's projects. We are still in the process of conducting stewardship and connecting with our alumni and friends, but we're also moving forward with a scholarship direct mail piece that had been on the docket even before COVID-19. This mailer will go out in May with an email and social media multi-channel follow up approach. And while the message will still focus on scholarships, our message, in terms of tone and segmentation, will alter to reflect the current situation that we are in.
Our Development Directors are busy making well-being calls to those in their portfolio. They're reaching out to folks who they haven't had a chance to meet before face-to-face, simply saying, "Hi. I'm thinking about you. I hope you're doing well." Here's one example of that:
This photo here was taken from a social media post one of our alumni posted after receiving a handwritten note from one of our development staff members.It created a pretty impactful, organic experience that was created simply by our Development Director reaching out and writing that note.
I'll leave you with one more organic experience from a donor well-being call one of our development directors had. She was simply calling the alum to see how he was doing and holding up during this time of social distancing. During the conversation the donor said "When the sun rises, and it will, what does our organisation want to be remembered for?
That's a powerful statement and very true. And you'll know that he said "our organisation", which shows how connected the alum is to the university and the foundation. We've given some thought about that as a foundation and we know that we want to be remembered for a few things.
We want to be remembered for sustaining relationships with our donors and friends and remaining a source of comfort and resources when they need it most. We want people to remember that we did our best under the most trying circumstances to fulfill our mission to provide financial resources to the university and we got better as individuals and as an organisation from this experience. We were able to emerge as better communicators, collaborators, more creative and more innovative.Now I want you to think about your own organisation. When the sun rises and it will, what does your organisation want to be remembered for?
And with that I want to thank you all for allowing me the opportunity to share a little bit about South Dakota State University and South Dakota State University Foundation and how we are responding to COVID-19. Here you'll find my contact information in case you want to connect after this webinar:
Question (Kat): I wanted to first ask you about the relationship that you have with the Student Support Team and the team or who are working to hand out those hardship emergency support bursaries to students. Was that a relationship you had before or is it a new relationship that you had to create?
Answer (Erin): We try to always have a constant relationship with our campus partners, but that group of individuals that were going to be the ones now facilitating the application process and awarding them were actually piecemealed specifically for this Student Emergency Fund. It wasn't already an established group on campus. It was something that, even from a campus side, they needed to create because they wanted to make sure that they had people from different areas. For example, from student affairs as well as financial aid and just some other folks. We had to rely on them to make sure they had the correct people in the room. I worked through just a few individuals and then they set it all up on their end. Definitely something that we knew we always had on the docket, to create a Student Emergency Fund, just so it was there. Then when a crisis happens that's when we should have had it already established. But we were able to quickly get all the pieces together and, like I said, within 48 hours from when the idea was thought of to execution, we were ready to get up and rolling.
Question (Kat): How are your Major Gifts team adjusting to communicating with donors?
Answer (Erin): Our team is, like many people, utilising Zoom and other technologies to still try to do some face-to-face in theory with constituents and alumni. For the past month or so they've been focusing more on well-being type calls, just making sure people themselves are doing okay with all this uncertainty and just updating everyone with what the University's plans are. Because, at first, we were going to be remote for two weeks, and then it kept stretching out till finally now. They were not going to be on campus until hopefully in the Fall. Commencement is now an online ceremony. It’s just about talking through all of those types of changes, but they've actually found some of this technology that we're utilising now quite useful. I think once we get back to our normal, or whatever our new normal is going to be, they're going to be able to utilise some of this stuff. Where maybe before a Development Director was traveling to Oregon and the Dean wasn't able to go out on a trip, now they can sit in the living room with the individual and the alum and have the Dean Zoom in, or Skype or Facetime or just utilising some of that technology to best utilise our resources and time for everybody. Now as we are just establishing getting more used to remote work, we are transitioning into doing some more solicitations and more asks because we do have a mission to the university that even now, more than ever, they are going to need funds. We just need to make sure that we are connecting with the right folks in an empathetic way to share that we still have a need and we still could use their support.
Question (Kat): Because you use digital channels already (you have your Giving Day and you have the Rabbit Raisers program), did you feel well-prepared, even for a situation that nobody could have predicted, to feel comfortable and confident using those digital technologies?
Answer (Erin): I think so. We definitely knew from the platform and the tools that all that execution was going to be pretty flawless. It was more just the uncertainty of stuff changing so quickly that if you post something and then within two hours it's already outdated, with social social media and this type of technology you can change it, versus a direct mail piece. If we wanted to send out a direct mail piece two weeks ago, by the time we would have - gotten the content, written, printed, stuffed in envelopes and mailed - by the time it hit people's mailboxes it would have already been outdated or sounded insensitive. Therefore, definitely having our background knowledge of doing some digital platforms and having that social ambassador team already in place made it easier. And people just being more aware that this is how we push out messages definitely helped play to some of our success within our State Student Emergency Fund appeal.
Question (Kat): The next thing down the line is your online auction and I know that some people listening today may have had events that were supposed to physically take place, like a kind of auction type event. Could you tell us a little bit more about how you're moving forward with that and the changes that you're making?
Answer (Erin): Yes. Historically we have an Athletic Auction every year in May and it's a big event where we have table sponsors and hundreds of people are gathered here. Well... there wasn't really an option for us to cancel the event because we normally raise over a million dollars for athletic scholarships on that event. Now, with all the social distancing and everything going on we needed to figure out a way that we could make it a virtual event.
Luckily from a bidding and sale at auction element, in the past we'd already used a platform to help facilitate that. But now we have shifted everything; we're utilising zoom, Facebook Live and some YouTube Live technology. We also are able to take our social ambassador platform that we've used for our Giving Day and work with the folks at Hubbub to completely rebrand that for our Jackrabbit Athletic Scholarship Auction to really help push out that message on social media to get the word out that it is a virtual event.
The nice thing with our auction is we do have an anonymous donor who already was doing a 2:1 match to help make the event successful. We circled back with the individual to see, especially right now, is there a way that we could make this event not only for Jackrabbit Athletics but somehow support just the university as a whole as well as the community. Within that we've worked through that we are also going to be raising funds for high need scholarships as well as Feeding South Dakota to help facilitate food and security within the State. The anonymous donor is going to also do a 2:1 match for gifts for those two elements as well.
Before the crisis, within the event, we would serve people dinner and that kind of thing. We're making sure that, again to help support our local community, to everybody that would normally be attending we're going to be sending them almost like this ‘party in a box’, where it would have their event favor from the night, the program and some other elements. We're also including a gift card to a local restaurant in their area so that they can put some funds back into their local economy and almost still have a night with us as we are all doing this virtually. It’s definitely something that has been all hands on deck. From the Foundation side we don't normally help with that event. It's just typically our Development Directors on the athletic side but because it's such an important event as well as a way to rally our community, we've definitely had a lot bigger involvement and we're looking forward to seeing how it will play out at the end of next week.
Question (Kat): Have you found that through reaching out you are now inspiring new donors through this campaign or are they existing donors?
Answer (Erin): We're still digging through all the data but we have found that it's been a mix of both. That it is some of our existing donors, especially because we within our Development staff have been pushing that message out to people in our portfolio, so they may have received it more than just the email or the grassroots messaging. That could be part of the reason why we're seeing a good portion coming in from existing donors. But we are seeing some new donors. I think that's the nice thing with it being a crowdfunding element, that you're simply saying that any gift makes a difference that it doesn't need to be this astronomical amount. That you're $25 does make a difference and make an impact on our students' lives. Also we're helping make sure we're facilitating a stewardship element.
After this, we have taken the lists and depending on if they're a managed prospect (some we know were not) we're having our Development staff reach out to those people individually. Those that we might not know as well, we wanted to make sure that they still had a personal thank you from a student, and so were actually partnered. We also use "Thank you" as one of our stewardship platforms, so we've been able to push out some pretty customised messages to them so that they can have that interaction with our students. Just knowing that right now, you don't want to give to this discretionary, ‘black hole’-type of piece, so having that student connectivity is really important.
Our Giving Day is our channel where we acquire the most new donors. and it's also our best channel of retaining those new, first-time donors. Again, if anybody ever wants to talk about a Giving Day, more than happy to share about that too.