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{{University of Massachusetts Lowell}}

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UMass Lowell, like many institutions, was not seeing the return in traditional phone, so leadership pivoted toward an authentic student video ambassador program

After investing in an authentic student video program, UMass Lowell enjoyed a massive increase in new and overall donors during their most recent “UML Days of Giving,” a 48-hour annual giving day event. 

 

Produced by a student team led by firstname.co, the sincere and dynamic student video content was a driving force behind the 2023 UML Days of Giving success. The following are year-over-year increases from 2022 to 2023 Days of Giving:

  • 80 percent in donors

  • 92 percent increase in alumni donors 

  • Most donors and dollars ever raised during a UML Days of Giving

The “hockey stick” increase in donors was no accident. UMass Lowell leadership knew bold moves were needed to increase donors and dollars after shuttering their outsourced calling program.

“The ROI of phone no longer made sense, but phone calling programs that connect students to alumni do generate dollars and donors,” said Derek Berger, associate vice chancellor for development at UMass Lowell.

“We wanted to maintain the student to alumni equation, but turned to innovative thinking in order to boost our results and meet modern donors where they are, and that’s online and watching videos.”

“We wanted to maintain the student

to alumni equation, but turned to innovative thinking in order to boost our results and meet modern donors where they are, and that’s online and watching videos."

UMass Lowell partnered with the firstname.co team and together, both would build a robust authentic student video operation. The “River Hawk Digital Ambassador program was launched in January 2023. After interviewing dozens of applicants, six students were hired with video production starting in late February. The focus was on the April 11-13 Days of Giving.

“We knew other solicitation mechanisms had to make up for the loss of phone,” said Mike DeGuglielmo, UMass Lowell director of annual giving. “The hope was that authentic video, supporting a giving day, could close the gap on what was lost when phone calling ended.” 

 

Authentic, student-produced video is powerful, but the video alone would not be enough to move the Days of Giving needle in a significant way. To maximize the Days of GIving potential, a sophisticated marketing strategy, with heavy emphasis on digital video distribution, was necessary.

“We worked with the firstname.co team, providing them with info about the institution, talking points, and we discussed past Days of Giving success and explored opportunities for improvement,” said DeGuglielmo. “From there, the UML and firstname.co teams worked hand in hand, leading the Days of Giving marketing strategy, from planning through implementation, to the stewardship that happened in real time during the event.” 

The Days of Giving strategy included a robust email plan, organic social media, and paid social media (ads). All of it was centered around the authentic student video focal point. In total, 13 videos were produced for donor warming prior to the Days of Giving event. Meanwhile, detailed plans were prepared for creating “of the moment” content that was gathered during the 48-hour micro campaign. Using this strategy the team produced an additional 13 videos with real-time updates throughout the Days of Giving bringing the total number of videos to 26. 

The plan worked well. Leading up to the UML Days of Giving, more than 3,000 minutes of promotional video was viewed by potential donors. That video engagement is part of the reason UMass Lowell enjoyed a 20 percent increase in gifts from email. The video also powered day-of social media, which was responsible for 22.8 percent of the Days of Giving donors – a remarkable metric for social media which rarely converts at a high rate during giving days. 

“Social media was an area around which we knew we had to improve,” said Berger.

 

“The authentic student video ended up being the perfect content for social media. The realness of the videos hooked a massive audience and primed them for giving during the micro campaign.” 

 

As the gifts rolled in, the students took shifts producing personalized thank you videos. When the dust settled, the six-student team produced 383 personalized-by-name thank you videos sent during the Days of Giving. This was in addition to agile content the student team was producing for email and social media throughout the 48-hour Days of Giving event.

 

Click the phones below to watch the students in action!

“The authentic student video ended up being the perfect content for social media. The realness of the videos hooked a massive audience and primed them for giving during the micro campaign.” 

“I never imagined student work could be this exciting and rewarding,” said Destiny Mirabello-Moore '23. “My area of study has a communications focus. To gain hands-on video marketing experience is going to be so valuable when I graduate and start applying for jobs.”

 

“The job is so fun and fresh and dynamic,” said Jessica Daniliuk '24. “I will absolutely be back next year if UML will have me!” 

 

Ultimately, the authentic student video content led to 3,375 donors giving $853,777 during the Days of Giving. Both numbers are the highest ever experienced at UMass Lowell. The 3,375 donors was 998 donors more than UML’s previous best giving day.

The program works because of its authenticity; students relish the role, alumni enjoy the connection with students across channels on which they feel comfortable, and the institution wins with higher donor counts and acquisition that can replace what phone once delivered. 
 

“The alumni reaction to authentic video is truly remarkable,” said Berger.

 

“There is something in the student energy and delivery that can’t easily be recreated through the typical video production process. When it comes to alumni engagement, the firstname.co approach to authentic video just works.”

“There is something in the student energy and delivery that can’t easily be recreated through the typical video production process. When it comes to alumni engagement, the firstname.co approach to authentic video just works.”

firstname.co builds teams of authentic student video ambassadors for development, marketing, and admissions and enrollment. To learn how authentic student-produced video can help you reach your goals, click here and schedule a call to learn more. 

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