Claflin University and Alumni Engagement: They Get It!

This post is co-authored by Nelson Bowman III, director of development at Prairie View A&M University.

Recently, Claflin University, located in Orangeburg, South Carolina, reported that 45 percent of its living alumni had given to the institution. Not only is this the highest giving rate recorded by Claflin, it is one of the highest among all colleges and universities. The institution is determined to reach the 50-percent mark in the near future, which would make it the first HBCU to boast an alumni giving rate of 50 percent.

Other HBCU’s, as well as colleges and universities overall, are probably wondering how Claflin achieved its success. We have outlined the institution’s strategy below:

First, Claflin received a $1.5-million grant from the United Negro College Fund’s Institute for Capacity Building (ICB). The ICB has a proven track record for strengthening various aspects of HBCU’s, including fund raising. One of the challenges at HBCU’s is that they often do not have well-developed fund-raising infrastructures. ICB provides much-needed financing to expand fund-raising staffs and support infrastructure development.

Second, Claflin has established active class agents throughout the country and has assigned them the task of encouraging alumni engagement and participation. This strategy is a vital component for extending the reach of the institution’s advancement operations. Research shows that individuals that are given a job, whether paid or unpaid, assume ownership when their buy-in is requested and respected. By asking alumni to help, Claflin is engaging and empowering its alumni leadership. These university ambassadors, some representing alumni chapters and others acting on behalf of graduating classes, are encouraged by the institution to challenge one another in order to achieve 100-percent giving. Healthy competition leads to higher participation and future giving.

Third, Claflin created an on-campus call center that operates 8 months of the year. It is staffed by students, who often start working on the institution’s phone-a-thon in their freshmen year and continue through their senior year. What makes Claflin’s approach distinctive from others is that in addition to their annual solicitation campaign, they also sponsor an annual, “thank you” campaign to show appreciation to alumni for previous gifts. Moreover, the institution has a “fulfillment call” campaign for alumni who verbally committed to a pledge but have not yet fulfilled it. This later campaign is a highly unique approach as many schools merely send reminders through the mail. Claflin uses a personal touch to increase follow-through on alumni pledges.

The institution is very pointed in its approach to calling alumni and, while it offers the use of the call center to all departments on campus, there is one rule. All departments are required to use the experienced student callers employed by institutional advancement. This approach provides for well-versed students that are able to communicate the needs of the university effectively, and as a result, are able to garner a larger participation rate among alumni.

Fourth, Claflin has been able to create a culture of philanthropy on campus. Marcus Burgess, the director of the annual fund and alumni relations, is consistently speaking to student groups about the meaning and importance of giving. This consistency has paid off in a remarkable way as student giving to the current capital campaign has exceeded $88,000. It would appear that Claflin students will leave campus with a built-in understanding of their responsibility to give back and a willingness to do so much sooner.

Claflin is deeply purposeful in its approach and other HBCU’s (or any institutions of higher education) would benefit from adopting their strategies.

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