How to leverage graduation season to fundraise from graduates and parents

It’s that time of year. College students across the U.S. are donning mortarboards and gowns, preparing to celebrate the culmination of their years of study. Many are also preparing to receive a boatload of cash. According to estimates by the lending platform Fundivo, Americans gifted $4.7 billion to college grads in 2014. Yes, there are loans and moving costs to pay, but even so, for nonprofits there remains a largely untapped opportunity. 
graduation season

If your organization isn’t yet leveraging graduation gifts to achieve potentially seismic fundraising gains, it’s time to go to school on how to change that. Maybe you’re too late to tap the class of 2015, but thinking ahead now will keep you from having to cram to fix things for next year.

1. Start at the source. 

Parents, relatives and family friends are the primary givers of graduation lucre, and that makes them obvious targets for solicitations. Develop a communications strategy that appeals to this inner circle. Stress the impact a nonprofit donation can have on a young person’s life—specifically, that it teaches social responsibility, broadens awareness of humanitarian issues and encourages selflessness. Explain how these lessons can help a recent graduate succeed in the workplace and in life, and point out that there’s no better time to impart such wisdom than at the moment students officially become young professionals. 

2. Make it easy. 

Internet Retailer notes that as of 2010, 34 percent of polled online shoppers planned to spend at least half of their graduation windfall shopping online. That was five years ago, and e-commerce sales have been growing steadily ever since. To reach these givers, meet them where they are. Make sure your website is optimized to accept online donations. A range of available tools make implementing such avenues inexpensive for you to put in place. Consider PayPal and Google Wallet, as well as the lesser-known but massively helpful Razoo and DonateNow.   

3. Keep it small. 

According to statistics aggregator Statista, givers of graduation gifts spent just under $98 total in 2014. So don’t get greedy. Instead, focus fundraising efforts on small payouts. To be fair, people often give graduation gifts to help out just-beginning-to-earn grads so you shouldn’t expect to snag a giver’s entire gift anyway. Ask for a portion—say, $25—and focus on volume rather than size.  

4. Go right at the grads. 

The younger set has an abiding passion to do good. A 2014 article from Forbes noted that 55 percent of millennials consider a company’s social involvement when mulling a job offer. This generation-wide interest in affecting positive change can offer a powerful assist to your fundraising needs. Make sure your organization targets the graduates themselves, asking them to direct gift givers to donate on their behalf. Many will be happy to see a little less inside that envelope if it means a little more for a worthy cause.

The Takeaway
For nonprofits, graduation season is an overlooked fundraising opportunity. So start to plan now for next year, by building a communication strategy that targets family and friends of the class of 2016. Relatively little effort could bring substantial fundraising improvements. And that’s one test you definitely want to ace.


RelSci is the leading relationship mapping and analytics companies. Our nonprofit clients use RelSci to transform fundraising, board efficacy and prospect research.
Get more on how to fundraise from young donors with our white paper, “Innovative Fundraising: Three Strategies for Attracting the Next Generation of Donors.”

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