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Move Engagement Centers Out of Annual Giving

Updated: Apr 29

Engagement Centers should complement the entire donor lifecycle, from annual giving through principal gifts. Focus student video and outreach on moving donors through your pipeline to find your next cohort of major donors.

The Engagement Center

As I heard Perry Radford say during a recent webinar, “Move engagement centers out of annual giving and have them serve greater advancement purposes."

I couldn’t agree more with Perry’s statement. Your student voices are incredibly vibrant and compelling, don’t pigeonhole them by focusing exclusively on cold prospects, like an old phone program with a fresh coat of paint.

Instead, free students to do what they do best – communicate over digital channels to warm hearts and inspire action. Create a team of authentic student video engagement officers and apply this asset across your entire development operation for maximum results.

Consider the following ideas to turn your engagement center into a program that improves results at every level.

Build an authentic student video team that elevates ROI from annual giving through the major gifts program

Students can be the face of your entire fundraising program if you can combine their natural skill at video production with your institution’s brand standards.

Taking a step back, we know that video works. For more than a decade, we’ve been tracking this Google stat that says 57 percent of everyone who watches a nonprofit’s video will go on to give to that nonprofit. Based on our data, this statistic still holds true today and it is no accident that giving day clients enjoy up to 300 percent growth in donations. That meteoric rise takes place after we target audiences with a stack of authentic student video that alumni and donors actually watch.

What if you had 300 percent more qualified major gift leads? How about a 300 percent increase in donors moving from the annual fund to leadership annual giving? This should be possible by applying similar tactics, distributing authentic student video via your engagement center to energize leadership annual and major giving.

At, we hire, train, and manage teams of student video producers. These students produce several hundred unique videos every year. This content is used for warming and solicitation around annual campaigns, leadership annual giving campaigns, and highly personalized major donor engagement. This mountain of new, authentic student video increases giving while also creating familiarity with the student video producers and alumni and donors. This familiarity opens the door for 1:1 or segment-based outreach built around the personalities of the student video producers.

Break out of “telemarketer” mode and empower students to be donor concierges

Perhaps the most enduring legacy of the traditional phone program is the creation of a student-to-alumni connection. Engagement centers focused on authentic student video storytelling keep that connection alive in a more personal and compelling way.

Work with engagement center students to contact donors and prospects, ask about their experience, and take the time to learn more about what matters to them. Capture their attention and keep the connection alive by using student voices they actually recognize. When alumni have repeatedly seen a student on Facebook and Instagram via digital warming campaigns, it should feel like outreach from a campus celebrity. Assign specific donors and prospects to these students and build a strategy that covers everything from warming to discovery calls to direct solicitation to stewardship.

Embrace real content that inspires action by removing institutional blockers

The move toward authentic video outreach is new to higher education, but not to marketing. The for-profit marketing industry has embraced authentic content voices, with very few guardrails, as is evidenced in this piece on retail giant Claire’s.

To produce the content to which modern audiences react positively, you need a program that produces genuinely authentic assets while simultaneously adhering to brand standards. Of course you must have a review and approval process to avoid disasters, but keep it as streamlined as possible. The further you diminish the student’s voice and creative energy, the further you move away from content alumni want to watch.

When institutions allow the authentic student voice to lead the way, you end up with wonderful pieces like this video from the University of Texas at Austin or this from the University of Missouri. This is the content that donor and alumni audiences want to watch. When you produce and distribute this content across multiple channels, including social media, you are capturing the attention of current and new audiences. This content will be the difference maker in the decision of whether to give when asked by your potential supporters.

Do Your Biggest Giving Day Yet

Dollar for dollar, a giving day is the best tool for building and retaining your base of donors. When you’ve invested in a team of effective authentic video producing students, creating content to exponentially grow your giving day is affordable and attainable. As a growing number of case studies suggest, nothing beats authentic student video for giving day promotion. Nothing.

And giving days are not just about annual giving. If you have digital development officers (DDOs) using digital tactics to engage your top donors and prospects, giving days become the catalyst to secure big gifts. Whether it’s a matching/challenge gift or a major gift inspired day of. ( clients have secured multiple seven-figure donations on giving days, using that highly public event to move warm prospects over the finish line)

So yes, let’s expand the “engagement center” beyond annual giving. And it starts with finally washing our hands of the “traditional”phonathon which has led to engagement centers (or “phonathon 2.0”) that do little more than add texting to that phone call intended to secure an annual gift. Create truly modern engagement centers, built around authentic video storytelling by student ambassadors who can lift giving at every level of your development operation.

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