Katy Perry’s Secrets to Staying Connected to Alumni and Getting Them To Give

August 31, 2015 Marc A. Pitman

As we approach the start of school, those of us in the development office are well into planning end-of-year fundraising. Often, our plans scare the rest of the school because it looks like we’re “over communicating” with our alumni. I think looking at a couple songs by Katy Perry, and the Black Eyed Peas can help alleviate this fundraising fear.

Do you remember Katy Perry’s song “Teenage Dream”? It hit #1 on Billboards Hot 100 chart and became 2nd best song of 2010. When I think of award-winning music, I think of creativity and poetry. But if you check out the lyrics, you’ll see the song is basically a few lines of lyrics repeated over and over. Yet it topped the charts in popularity.

When I first realized this, the Black Eyed Peas’ song “I Gotta Feeling” was popular. This song also topped the charts and as well as topping Apple’s list of most downloaded iTunes songs of all time. Just like Katy Perry’s song, this song is simple lyrics repeated over and over.

If you need to be convinced that it’s the same lines repeated over and over with random phrases thrown in, check out this parody on YouTube: I Gotta Feeling – that this owl is really creepy! If you grew up with Dr. Demento, you might remember Weird Al’s “This Song’s Just Six Words Long“? Another great parody on the lack of lyrics in popular songs.

The thing is, it works. People remember the lyrics and the songs are wildly popular.

Repetition Begets Action

We need to learn a fundraising lesson from this. People remember the lyrics of the songs because they are really simple. And repeated over and over. The singers likely get tired of repeating the same words. But people like hearing it.

The fact is, your school is not the center of the lives of your alumni. Even if you hear yourself saying the same thing over and over, they may only hear it once. That’s why repurposing content, saying the same thing in different channels, is so important. And why having multiple mailings with multiple email and social media contacts in between is important.

And good fundraising results come from direct appeals tell the story of the donor and the impact of their gift. Not charts, graphs, and faculty certifications. In the past year, I’ve had clients double and triple their annual funds by removing charts and graphs and refocusing on the story of the donor and the difference their gift is making!

Review Your Communications

This week, why not look at your fundraising appeals and your other alumni communications.

  • Are you communicating with them enough?
  • Are you mixing up the ways you communicate well – digital and print?
  • And are you communicating in the right way? Are you overwhelming them with facts and data, trying to firehose them with information? Or are you inviting them into a story in which they’re the hero?Why not try to rework your solicitations by singing from the same sheet as Katy Perry, the Black Eyed Peas, and Weird Al:
    • Say less

      Studies show that giving too many options causes us to shut down rather than make a decision. Giving fewer choices encourages us to act.

    • Use emotion

      I would not advise you to encourage your alumni to disrobe like Katy Perry and the Black Eyed Peas do. But where in your school’s messaging can you find emotion? Fundraising guru Tom Ahern reminds us that one emotional story outperforms either statistics alone or statistics and a story. He tells us to invite donors to a fight. What are you fighting for? What fight are you inviting your alumni to join? Find the driving emotion and tell that story.

    • Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. And do it again

      As mentioned above, your alumni’s lives don’t revolve around your school. They don’t live and breath your mission. So you need to keep repeating the same old message points, letting them take root and grow. Ad mogul David Ogilvy used to say people needed at least seven impressions before a message takes root. Changing your messaging simply because you or your head of school is bored with it is like digging up a seed you’ve planted to see if it’s growing. You’ll kill the plant. Don’t kill your message. Water it and let it grow. And do it again.

    Remember, if you want to raise money for your school and keep alumni giving year after year, your job isn’t to give alumni an intellectually stimulating dissertation. Your job is to move them to action: the action of making a gift.

    So commit to making sure your messaging is helping them take that action!

Hear More From Marc

Sign up for Marc’s coaching webinar that takes place on September 30, 2015, at 1:00 p.m. ET as he answers your fundraising questions live.

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