In 2012 Trinity-Pawlings’ new director of advancement inherited a nine percent alumni participation rate and a staff of four. Just three years later, he and his staff of 11 are celebrating a 28 percent participation rate and a donor base that has grown from 724 to 1592.
When Grayson Bryant began his work as director, he knew the first challenge would be imparting the importance of investing in advancement to his board. He also knew data would be a critical component of the analysis, so a benchmarking study was among the first initiatives he undertook with Marts & Lundy.
“Seeing the significant variance in staffing levels and fundraising outcomes of Trinity-Pawling in comparison to other schools was an eye-opening moment for the board,” offered Karen Callahan, senior consultant and principal with Marts & Lundy and Trinity-Pawling’s’ lead consultant. “We know that tuition income is an inelastic resource to fund a school’s vision. It is philanthropy that allows for deep investment in a meaningful education agenda. Building that culture of philanthropy requires a well-resourced program, a vibrant staff and messages that inspire.”
The board response was swift, giving Grayson all of the resources he needed to immediately bring on additional talent and build an effective advancement department. Among his new hires was Colleen Dealy, who serves as the Director of Annual Giving and Major Gifts Officer.
“At many schools, there is emphasis on dollar amounts, particularly leadership giving. Those same schools are seeing a decline in the number of donors. From the start, we agreed that this is not the scenario we wanted to play out at Trinity-Pawling,” shared Colleen, “so we built a team of approachable, energetic, organized and extremely creative people.”
The advancement team spends much of their time on the road, having face-to-face meetings with alumni. Colleen says that her team truly loves the boots on the ground approach. “When you meet with alumni and show you are interested in them, they are delighted. And when you encourage a T-P alumnus to tell his story, he often reflects on what a transformative experience it was to have gone here.”
Guiding the team’s work is a communications strategy, a compelling cause and a highly organized plan, implemented with an annual calendar of tasks. Colleen points to collaboration as one reason for her team’s success. “We are not competing – we are truly a team. We work in one room with no walls between us. We keep each other’s energy levels high and that fuels our creativity and commitment to our common purpose.”
A renewed focus on alumni relations meant the advancement team was faced with how to reconnect generations of alumni with the School, some of whom had not been back to campus since they graduated decades before. They designed a communications strategy intended to celebrate the brotherhood at Trinity-Pawling, reminding each alumnus of what it meant to be that young boy who grew up on campus.
“Our advancement communications don’t solicit dollars, they solicit engagement. When you do that – and do it sincerely – you are nurturing a culture of philanthropy,” said Colleen. The Trinity-Pawling team isn’t shy about asking for money, but they are keenly sensitive about making a personal relationship the focus of their work.
The Reunion Challenge
In 2013 the new Trinity-Pawling team experienced their first opportunity to leverage a generous commitment to advance a key advancement goal, the deepened engagement of reunion alumni. This Reunion Challenge enabled them to be true to their promise – that reunions were first and foremost meant to reconnect alumni and reignite their passion for the School. In the process, they inspired new, renewed and elevated alumni support for Trinity-Pawling. In just three years, overall reunion giving grew 1192 percent.
At this point in the School’s history the advancement team did not have a strong reunion program in place. So when Trustee Tom Ahrensfeld’73 stepped forward with the $500,000 Ahrensfeld Decade Challenge, which matched all gifts given during a reunion, advancement now had the platform for building a culture of giving within the context of a reunion. In addition to many other gifts, the class of 1964, in honor of their 50th Reunion, contributed the most money and set a new record in reunion giving. In total, 51 percent of their class participated in the reunion challenge, which realized $1,564,554 in total gifts. Clearly the brotherhood stood the test of time.
10 Weeks – 1,000 (+) Donors
Building on the momentum established with the Ahrensfeld Decade Challenge, Trinity-Pawling seized on the opportunity to leverage a new and thoughtful gift from Henry B. duPont IV ’86 through the Nor’easter Foundation. This commitment of $100,000 provided a springboard for elevating Trinity-Pawling’s number of donors in a short window of the fiscal year. They launched the 1000 Donor Challenge: 10 weeks, 1000 donors, $100,000. True to their commitment to expanding support, they did not emphasize a dollar goal. Instead, they focused on participation of alumni, parents and friends. It worked! In 10 weeks, Trinity-Pawling received 1,187 gifts and closed the 2014-2015 school year celebrating their most successful annual fund ever.
They also kept their promise to celebrate every gift.
“We had some serious conversations about donor retention. We committed to immediate contact to express our sincere appreciation for the gift and to show that it really does matter,” shared Colleen. “Some feel that their gift is insignificant unless it’s six figures. You really have to let them know you just want them in… at any level. Most schools are very adept at finding the people who can make the big gifts – but a successful annual fund requires broad participation.”
For more information on Trinity-Pawling’s advancement program and team, www.trinitypawling.org.