Officials offer incentives for students to thank scholarship donors

Media Credit: Davie Loria | Photographer

The Office of Development and Alumni Relations began providing students with incentives last month to encourage more students who receive donor-funded scholarships to fill out a survey about themselves.

Officials are trying to convince more students to thank donors for their scholarships by offering them gift cards and free pizza.

The Office of Development and Alumni Relations began providing students with incentives last month to encourage more students who receive donor-funded scholarships to fill out a survey about themselves. More student participation will ensure that donors know their gifts are appreciated and encourage them to give more money to GW, officials said.

Donna Arbide, the vice president for development and alumni relations, said about 22 percent of students who receive scholarships have filled out profiles highlighting how their financial aid has “made a difference in their GW experience.” About 59 percent of scholarship recipients filled out the profiles last academic year, she said.

“Communicating to donors about how their gifts have been used and who the recipients of their scholarships are is an extremely important part of how we acknowledge and thank our donors,” she said in an email. “Good stewardship is a critical part of DAR’s commitment to our donors and often influences whether a donor chooses to give again.”

Arbide said the profiles are a “core” section of the way the development office reports to donors and will continue to be an “essential” way to thank them even as the office’s new scholarship management system, AcademicWorks, begins to offer donors more information about scholarship recipients.

She declined to say how many events the development office hosts each semester to encourage students to fill out donor profiles.

An email sent to scholarship recipients last month said students could receive free pizza or win gift cards to Sweetgreen, Peet’s Coffee and Starbucks if they completed the profile.

“The profile takes less than 10 minutes to complete and will serve as a powerful ‘thank you’ to your donor,” the email, which was obtained by The Hatchet, states.

Officials have increasingly focused on donor stewardship in the past year. In the fall, Arbide announced that staff were catching up on writing thank-you notes from the $1 billion campaign that wrapped up in 2017.

Donor relations experts said it can be difficult to encourage busy students to take time to thank donors, but educating students about the significance of donations can increase participation and improve donor relations.

Rachel Humphrey, a an associate director of fund management at the University of California, Berkeley, said the development office at her institution sends emails to students asking them to fill out a profile, but officials have had more success using Google Voice to send text messages. She said students do not expect to get text messages from the office, so the extra effort can be “jarring” enough that it prompts students to complete the surveys.

She said the profiles “keep our donor base happy and keep them at Berkeley.”

“They can see the student who is benefiting from their fund, and a lot of donors respond to that by adding money to their fund or creating another fund,” she said.

Keiko Weil, the director of donor relations at the University of Nevada, said staff should encourage students to write thank-you notes instead of filling out profiles.

She said students typically do not need incentives to thank donors, but approaching them during exam season could hurt response rates. Telling students the name of their donor and giving them the opportunity to show their gratitude is usually sufficient, Weil said.

“Students are generally, I would say, good-hearted and appreciative if they are given the correct forum,” she said.

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