GW pushes students to text their thanks to donors

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

For the first time, students will be able to text thank-you notes during the annual Flag Day celebration on April 17.

The University will offer students the chance to extend a digital thank you to the donors who funded their educations this year.

For the first time, students will be able to text thank-you notes during the annual Flag Day celebration on April 17, a campuswide event that aims to show the impact of philanthropy at GW. Officials said the new method – an addition to the handwritten notes students write in Kogan Plaza each year – will reassure donors that their gifts are appreciated as administrators gear up to launch the University’s next capital campaign.

University spokeswoman Maralee Csellar said GW is constantly searching for ways to “create meaningful interactions” with students. She said students who send emails may feel pressure to write “perfectly” and hold off on sending their notes to officials, but a text message is more casual and “shows us that they are interested in sharing their story.”

“We also know students are already using texts to communicate with friends, family, classmates and colleagues,” she said in an email. “We hope that by providing students with an additional method to contact us that we will hear from more students about how philanthropy helped them pursue their academic studies.”

Csellar said officials will use the text message interactions to follow up with students and “learn more.”

She declined to say how many stories officials hope to collect.

Students who text in their thank-you notes to the University will be entered in a contest to win a free GW t-shirt, according to a Flag Day Facebook post.

The texting initiative comes during a year when Donna Arbide, the vice president for development and alumni relations, has emphasized donor stewardship. Last semester, she set a goal of retaining more than 60 percent of donors this year and also implemented a new donation tracking system to allow donors to follow up on the impact of their gift.

Arbide has also prioritized thanking donors who gave money during the University’s $1 billion campaign a few years ago. The initiatives have all been a part of a University-wide strategy to build up GW’s donor base ahead of a planned fundraising campaign in 2021.

Fundraising experts said the new tactic could engage more students in administrative efforts to improve donor stewardship.

Lori Gusdorf, the executive vice president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals for Philanthropy, said she has not yet heard of a text-in thank-you campaign but added that the initiative shows the power of technology to change university development offices.

She said that because students are more familiar and comfortable with technology than previous generations, offering a text-in option could encourage them to show their thanks or donate in the future. But she said fundraisers should also consider that the recipients of the thank-you messages are often members of older generations who more heavily value handwritten notes.

“There are so few letters that people receive in the mail that a handwritten thank-you note stands out,” she said.

Elizabeth Lowe, a development coordinator of stewardship and donor relations at the University of Southern California, said thank-you notes in any format are always appreciated because people like to know that their gifts make a difference. Boosting student participation in thank-you campaigns may make the notes seem more genuine than if they came from those working for the University, she said.

“We know that it’s more impactful than getting some sort of perk or bonus or a statue or trophy,” she said.

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