Sept. 11 Appeal Pays Off for School Fundraiser
"Our average gift from any direct mail piece is usually $220," said Michael Sclafani, director of annual and reunion giving at Pace University. "So far the average for the current piece has been $270. We mailed just under 83,000 pieces to all mailable alumni who graduated from our schools at all campuses. The database includes those who graduated as long ago as the '30s."
Pace, whose New York campus is only a few blocks from Ground Zero in Manhattan, has raised $90,000 in pledges so far from the piece and expects to reach $150,000. An effort in September 2000 raised $80,000.
"It's an important part of the university's overall goal," Sclafani said, "which was increased to raising $1.75 million, an increase that resulted from initiatives that followed Sept. 11."
The original mailer, which was created inhouse, measures 9 1/4 by 5 inches unopened and folds out to reveal three sections that include the words Volunteer, Advise, Speak, Serve, Give, Ask and Endow. A pocket on one panel contained a business reply card recipients can use to designate the school or program to which they want to contribute, payment by check or credit card, whether the donor's employer makes a matching gift and different contribution levels. Also included was an appeal for donations from the chair of Pace's Annual Giving Committee.
"We were supposed to go to print on Sept. 15 with the original September letter, the wraparound piece and the BRE," Sclafani said. "But Sept. 11 occurred and we came back together a week later after canceling the print job, since we had to figure out how to continue with annual giving after Sept. 11. The development staff came together in Midtown to see how we would proceed before school reopened, and the ideas we were throwing around had to do with whether we wanted the whole idea focused on Sept. 11 regarding scholarships."
Sclafani said the university president thought of the idea of having a portion of all money raised go to scholarships for surviving family members of Sept. 11 victims.
"Our fear was that everyone would donate only for scholarships, so we created a way for the alumni to respond to Sept. 11 and support the university as a whole," he said. "We felt the messages of the September letter, regarding getting involved in the university, were still important."
The only change to the mailer was to include a second letter dated Nov. 1 that addressed several Sept.11-related funds that the university had set up. These include:
• A Student Assistance Fund to "aid current students who have been affected by the World Trade Center disaster in completing their education."
• A fund to cover the difference between the World Trade Center Memorial Scholarship set up by New York Gov. George Pataki and the cost for 75 full-tuition scholarships for spouses, partners and children of victims.
• Establishment of the Pace Responds Endowed Scholarship to help spouses, partners and children of victims. Those who regularly make a gift to Pace were asked to consider increasing their gifts at least 20 percent with all increased dollars going to the Pace Responds Endowed Scholarship. Also, first-time donors and those who have not contributed for some time were informed that 20 percent of all new dollars received would go to this scholarship.
"This represented a totally new approach to fundraising at Pace," Sclafani said. "I was told when I was hired seven months ago to develop a more sophisticated approach as opposed to just sending out standard solicitation letters. This is the result."
There was little concern about asking past contributors to increase their contribution level at least 20 percent in the recession.
"Nonprofit organizations tend to raise more money in rough economies," he said. "Asking people to increase their gifts was acceptable since they knew exactly where that money was going."
Pace also ensured the piece would be viewed as in good taste and not an attempt to take advantage of the tragedy.
"One of our standard practices is we work closely with our alumni volunteers and we use our Annual Giving Committee as a sounding board, and they found it to be positive," he said.