first_img Mail campaigns, which usually take the form of heavy, glossy brochures carrying high postage costs, have been even more unsuccessful. A 2007 paper-based campaign by Mansfield, who have the smallest endowment of all Oxford colleges, raised £1200 pounds, but cost over £2000 to run. One Magdalen alumnus, who left the college almost 30 years ago, described his college’s attempts to contact him by post as “fairly uninspiring.” He said: “I received a letter from the college asking if I’d like to donate, and was told that I could – if I wished – be contacted by a current student who would talk me through the ongoing campaigns. “I sent them an email in reply, pretty much saying “No, thanks.” I don’t mind being asked, though. I get such a lot of requests nowadays that I don’t feel bad about saying no. I think I’m a bit desensitised to it all.” The alumnus says that Magdalen had been “in very patchy contact until the mid-1990s”, when letters and termcards began to appear. “I prefer the invitations to college events, such as the Waynflete music forum in the summer; they don’t feel so pushy. I think the way forward is to get alumni more closely involved with day-to-day stuff. “I read History, for example, and if the college was to say: ‘We’d like to buy these new books on the French Revolution for the library,’ I might be interested.” A recent Christ Church graduate disagreed. He said, “trying to tailor the campaign to appeal to individuals doesn’t work for me. It’s so vulgar to pretend to be interested in getting in contact, when all you want is my cash.” However, the statistics suggest that most alumni prefer the former approach. Mansfield College, which previously “scraped by on the back of large, infrequent bequests,” decided to change their fund-raising tactics for 2008. Oxford colleges are missing out on millions in potential revenue in their attempts to raise money for cash-starved “annual funds.” A Cherwell investigation has revealed that most colleges still rely on outdated methods of fund-raising that sometimes incur an overall loss. Mass telephone campaigns, often staffed by students who take up room in rentable college accommodation during vacations, rarely provoke interest in those contacted. Some colleges have even outsourced their “telethons” to external consultants. St Anne’s, Keble, St Catherine’s and LMH, have all paid generous sums to conduct campaigns, either to private companies or students. Other colleges pay significant sums to their own students. Undergraduate students at Wadham College were offered free room and board in return for two weeks of telephone shift work in the Easter vacation. Cornelia Carson, the college’s Alumni Relations Manager, said: “the campaign was slightly less successful this year, as only a small number of students agreed to undertake the work. However, we’ve found telephoning in general can be very effective.” Carson continued: “the college is trying a more personal approach to fundraising, attempting to involve alumni in college life through our stewardship programme. “We’ve found that hiring students to contact these individuals has a far higher success rate: they are able to talk personally about their experiences and fondness for Wadham, unlike a professional caller.” However, a third-year student at the college, who had been involved with a previous telethon, told Cherwell that he “hardly raised a penny.” He said, “it was good fun and interesting work, but the alumni didn’t respond to my enthusiasm that well. There’s always that background knowledge that the call has a financial point to it.” Paul McCarthy, the college’s new Development Director, above, described their new approach. He said, “we dispensed with mail campaigns and telethons. They had been in use for 15 years, since this office was opened, and they weren’t raising anything. “Our main priority was to boost our endowment by getting regular donations to the annual fund. Donors are still free to specify where their money goes, but this way we discourage massive one-off investments, which leave us with an uncertain future.” McCarthy continued: “nowadays we go to meet our alumni, instead of them coming to us. We might go down to London, for example, and meet a few of them for coffee, individually. “We try to make proposals that are tailored to each person – so for example, suggest that an ex-rower might like to contribute towards getting our 1st VIII a new boat.” “The figures speak for themselves. 80% of people we meet give some kind of donation. And they’ve all been extremely generous. “Our office has had to change from getting monthly to weekly bank statements, since the monthly income went up from £1800 last April, to £95,000 this time around. And the numbers keep on rising.” Wadham’s Alumni Relations Manager agreed with McCarthy that a one-on-one approach had great benefits. “Just as alumni can help us, we hope we can do something for them, too, on top of the good feeling they get from helping out their college. “Putting old friends in touch with one another, for example, has proved very popular with old Wadhamites, whether or not they give.” However, McCarthy conceded that this method was easier in a small college like Mansfield, where it was easier to keep in personal contact with leavers. Nick Thorn, Corpus’s Development Director, insisted that “any sensible campaign always combines more than one approach. There’s clearly not enough time to see all our alumni – some have got to be contacted via mail.” One Mansfield undergraduate, who did not want to be named, argued that other techniques had also been successful, even since the college instituted its new policy. “We held a gala dinner a few months back,” the student said, “and one of my tutors raised a massive number of pledges from those attending. What you really need is someone persuasive. And a few glasses of wine.” Most development offices agreed that it was important to build a culture in which donating is seen as the norm. McCarthy said: “we want to start as early as possible, while recognising that students are unlikely to be in a position to give when they first leave. Last year, for example, leavers all contributed to getting a new bench for the gardens.” He hopes the prospect of donation will be more natural for these students, once they have begun to earn a wage. “I have to admit, though, the bench was all their idea,’ he said. “Maybe students are just getting more generous.”last_img read more