Student-led email fundraising appeals to program alumni are relatively easy to organize and can be conducted separately, or in conjunction with letter-writing appeals and/or phone-a-thons. If this is the first time students in your program are doing sending an email appeal, the AFC Coordinator may be more heavily involved in this process than if students in your program have been doing so for several years in a row.
Before getting started, the “powers-that-be” in your program and/or PSA (Program Student Association) should be decided from whom it would be best to have the email sent. Email appeals could be from individual students in the program, PSA leadership, the Executive Officer, a combination of these, others, etc.
Assuming that the email appeal will be coming from individual students or a PSA, the email appeal requires a bit of planning, and should be coordinated with the Development and Alumni Relations Office through the DSC Alumni-Engagement & Fundraising Commission (AFC) Coordinator. If this appeal becomes an annual event for your program, it is best to host it around the same time each year.
Does your program have its own GC email account? If not, your program should establish one. Can your program’s GC email account be used for this appeal? If your program has a PSA, does the PSA have its own GC email account? Could we use the PSA’s GC email for this appeal? In all situations, we need to send this appeal from an official GC email account of some kind.
Does your program have a “Donate Now” or “Giving” link on its main page? If not, can you ask your APO to add that, with a link to Funds for Academic Programs and Departments: https://community.gc.cuny.edu/ProgramGifts
Step 1: Make the decision to solicit gifts from program alumni by email. (Be sure that you know the specific cause or activity that donations will be supporting. For example, student travel and research grants. Also, be sure that all of the concerned parties agree on how these funds will be distributed, and by whom. Ideally, you would be soliciting funds in the current academic year to be spent in the next academic year.) Currently, September, late January, February, and early March are the best times of year to send a student-led email appeal, because that coordinates better with the GC’s fundraising calendar.
Step 2: Contact the DSC AFC Coordinator and let her/him know about the decision to organize this appeal, the cause or activity that donations will support, and settle on a date/dates when you would like a student volunteer(s) to help email program alumni. (FYI: The best day of the week to get someone to open an email is on a Tuesday.) Ask the AFC Coordinator to bring this appeal to the attention of the GC Development and Alumni Relations Office. (Some mechanism needs to be in place to ensure that funds raised go into the appropriate account. This will be specific to your program and this appeal.)
Step 3: Through the AFC Coordinator, find out from the Development and Alumni Relations Office the number of program alumni that could be solicited by email, and agree on the number of student volunteers (and/or others) that you should ideally recruit to help with these efforts. (FYI: In most cases, you will not want to be soliciting alumni who have already given in this same academic year, or who have indicated to the GC that they don’t wish to be solicited/contacted.)
Step 4: Recruit a student volunteer(s) within your program to help send email solicitation notes to program alumni. Volunteers will need to know how much time is needed to help with this. (For example, they should set aside an hour in the morning on a particular date to send out emails.) All volunteers will also need to know what is involved. (For example, reviewing email lists, drafting/writing email text, creating an email merge, etc.) In most cases, one or two student volunteers may be all that is needed.
Step 5: Work with the DSC’s AFC Coordinator on drafting the text of the email appeal. Ideally, the email appeal would be written from the perspective of a current student. The email would leave space for the email merge to fill in the appropriate salutation (i.e., “Dear Jane,”). In the email, it will be important to provide a link where donors can make a gift online. The email should also provide potential donors with directions to a “Donate Now” or “Giving” button on your program’s website, since some people are reluctant to use direct links from emails. The email text should provide donors with information on how to make contributions by mail or by phone, if they prefer to do so. The emails should include information stating that funds raised through this email appeal will be tax deductible and used to support the specific activity or initiative that is the focus of this appeal—for example, student travel awards and research grants.
Step 6: Reserve appropriate space(s) where volunteer(s) will meet and send out emails. In many instances, this will be at a computer in your program’s office or student lounge. Be sure that you talk with the AFC Coordinator about contacting the IT Department to make sure that the list of alumni contact names and email addresses can be merged electronically from the intended sender’s email account. (If this is being done with a non-human email account such as the one associated with your department or your PSA, IT will need to make special arrangements to allow a PARTICULAR computer, with a particular person logging on–i.e. your APO, or a PSA student leader–who has access to that specific non-human GC email account.)
Step 7: Through the AFC Coordinator, let the Development and Alumni Relations Office know where and when volunteers will be meeting, and keep the AFC Coordinator updated on the number of volunteers recruited to prepare the appeal materials.
Step 8: Confirm with the AFC Coordinator that the text of the email appeal is completed, and that alumni contact information from the Development and Alumni Relations Office (and/or your program) will be ready when needed. (You may need to run that text past certain individuals in your program or the GC Development Office, to confirm this with the AFC Coordinator.) Also, confirm that IT has set up the computer to allow the non-human email to create this email merge.
Step 9: Remind student volunteers about the date, time and location to meet. If anyone such as your APO is going to be involved in this effort, be sure that s/he is reminded, as well. Schedule a student leader who is familiar with the email-appeal process to oversee any volunteers.
Step 10: On the date when these email appeals are to be sent out, student volunteers should have the contact information for the alumni to be solicited and the text of the email appeal. Any links to be imbedded into that text should also be provided. (Be sure to run test versions of the email merge to ensure that the links are actually functioning properly.) Through the email merge, volunteers need to do the following for each alumna/us being solicited:
a) Fill in the salutation with “Dear [FILL IN ALUMNA/US’S FIRST NAME],”.
b) Sign the email. This might be with the volunteer’s first and last name, and the name of the program. (For example: Jane Doe, Ph.D. Candidate in Computer Science, CUNY Graduate Center) It could also be from a group, such as your PSA leadership, or a faculty-student alumni relations committee.
c) Fill in the “Subject” line of the email with “CUNY Graduate Center–” and the name of your program. For example: “CUNY Graduate Center–Theatre”. (This will help distinguish it from SPAM)
Ideally, the emails will be created using an email merge, so much of this can be done quickly and easily, but if that’s not possible, then emails would need to be sent out one at a time from an @gc.cuny.edu or @gradcenter.cuny.edu email account. (Make sure that no one is solicited if s/he has already given in this academic year. Make sure that no one is solicited if s/he has indicated that s/he doesn’t want to be contacted.) In some instances, a department officer such as the EO or your APO may also know that certain alumni like to be contact at specific times of the year, in specific ways, so those alumni might also be kept off this particular solicitation list. In most cases, an email merge should only be sent out in batches of 20-50 emails at a time or less, as the GC computer system may put a stop to larger emailings for fear that some kind of unwanted email blast is being sent.)
See the guide at bottom of this post for how to perform email merges. You can also find sample solicitation letters in the Appendix.
Step 11: Send the merged emails.
If any emails bounce back, take note of them so that this information can be passed on to your program and/or the Development and Alumni Relations Office.
If any alumna/us sends a reply back with any questions or comments that cannot be answered by the program or the student volunteer(s), this email should be forwarded to the appropriate person in the Development and Alumni Relations Office to handle. (For example, someone may want to donate to a different fund, or may ask to meet with a representative of the GC to talk about making a larger gift.) All responses to alumni comments or questions should be respectful, keeping in mind that you are representing the program and the GC, not just yourself.
Step 12: Once the student volunteers have worked through emailing all of their names (or as many as they can in the time allotted), they should let the student leader know that they are finished, and if there were any problems/concerns, or not.
Step 13: The student leader should let the AFC Coordinator know how the process went, pass on any concerns, and provide lists of out-of-date emails for the program and/or Development and Alumni Relations Office.
Step 14: Follow up with AFC Coordinator and/or the Development and Alumni Relations Office, as needed.
Step 15: Send thank-you notes/emails to all of the volunteers, and anyone else who helped with these fundraising efforts.
Step 16: Update the student volunteers on the results of these efforts, as needed. FYI: The Development and Alumni Relations Office will send out tax letters to donors. If you have volunteers to send out individual thank-you letters to donors as well, letting them know how much the students in your program appreciate their support, that would be a worthwhile effort. In most instances, the Development and Alumni Relations Office would cover the postage involved in this. The AFC Coordinator may have notecards or stationery that could be used for these thank-you notes.
See below for an example of an email appeal.