As a copywriter, I’ve written a number of direct mail fundraising letters to college alumni in the past. So I have to admit that I had more than a passing interest in the recent brouhaha over “blah, blah” at Framingham State College.
If you aren’t familiar with the story, apparently the college mailed a letter in early September to thousands of graduates from the past decade asking for their financial support.
That alone wasn’t enough to make the news, however. It was how the letter was worded that captured the attention — unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons — of the mainstream media. According to an article written by Martin Finucane in The Boston Globe on October 22, “the 312-word letter used the word “blah” 137 times.”
According to that same Globe article…
The letters sent on Sept. 5 mixed the usual earnest pitch for donations with long sections of “blahs”…
“Today, the fact of the matter is that deserving students need help to finance their education. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah,” one section said.
On the one hand, knowing what an outstanding reputation Framingham State College has as well as understanding the challenges of fundraising in today’s uncertain economic times, it’s easy to forgive those responsible for the mailing. After all, word has it that FSC isn’t the only educational institution to have leveraged this copywriting gimmick. So if it’s already worked for others, one school of thought (no pun intended) among direct mail fundraisers might be to support FSC’s decision to adopt this approach as their own.
But on the other hand I’m thinking that there are many other ways FSC could engage its alumni and — ultimately — convince them to lend their financial support to their alma mater.
If a college is using direct mail to elicit support, what about a heartfelt, personal letter written by a compassionate fellow graduate, listing all the reasons she is proud to be a generous donor?
Or what about having a charming, hard-working student writing to tell alumni that thanks to their support, he’s able to attend college without having to resort to an inordinate amount of financial aid which would saddle him with debt for years to come?
What about a blog? The college could invite students, graduates, faculty and administrators to post about life on campus as a way of building camaraderie and a massive, collective desire to be there for one another. That’s what schools such as Colorado Mountain College, Sherman College and Simmons College are doing, each in its own inimitable way.
In fact, in addition to any traditional, tried-and-true methods of fundraising (e.g., direct mail, phone calls, special events, etc.), there are countless ways social media could be leveraged on behalf of a college’s advancement efforts, especially if it’s trying to engage constituents who are members of the so-called millennial generation (those born between 1978-1995).
Twitter could be used to provide frequent status updates on a variety of campus events — athletic contests, reunions, networking parties, family weekends, etc. — and educational experiences.
Of course, these suggestions are really just scratching the surface of what such a fine institution as Framingham State College could do today to fundraise instead of writing “blah” 137 times. Don’t you agree?
What would you do to convince alumni — especially young alumni — to donate to their alma mater? What would get you to give to yours?