This article first appeared as a series of five posts on Kivi Leroux Miller's Nonprofit Communications blog in November 2007. Those posts have been combined into one article here.
The fundraisers at the University of California at Berkeley (Cal), my alma mater, had a problem: they needed to raise more money from alumni to support the diverse education and research programs where Cal excels, but their current direct mail program wasn't increasing the size of the alumni donor pool. While the standard annual appeal in a letter format did a good job at renewing existing donors, says Virginia Gray, Cal's associate director of annual giving and regional programs, the letters weren't bringing in many new donors.
To learn more about these alumni who weren't currently donating, Cal sponsored some focus groups. "We found that a lot of people felt like going to Cal was a big, impersonal experience and they didn't have the same emotional connections and bonding experiences that you'd find at a smaller university," says Virginia.