If it’s true that most alumni won’t become donors for ten years, does that mean higher education fundraisers are out of luck until that magic moment arrives?

Not at all! The fact is that while many graduates leave school with a mountain of debt, they still care about meaningful causes and making an impact in the world. Younger generations may not be influenced by traditional fundraising efforts, but any so-called ‘magic moment’ for donating will most certainly be tied to causes they’ve built relationships with.

It’s time for young alumni fundraising to grow up, so to speak, if it’s to succeed within these realities.

Fundraising Gamification: Making Engagement Fun

Gamification, structuring campaigns with all the familiar features of a game, is working successfully in every industry, including Higher Ed.

Why is it so perfect for this audience?

  • Everyone prefers fun over drudgery and obligation
  • It taps into core motivations for engaging with brands
  • They are familiar with it and prefer it to traditional engagement requests
  • Social sharing (the heart of gamification’s success) is second nature to them


When it comes to donations, young alumni should be considered part of a long-tail strategy, not a major source of funding. In fact, pressure to donate at this stage could put them off permanently. However, play your cards right (pun intended!) in the early years and you could win loyalty for life. You do that by understanding what they crave:

1. Community

Because people naturally support their communities, getting young alumni engaged into a supportive community where they feel a sense of belonging is key. Within that setting, educating them about philanthropy should begin in their freshman year.

According to Chris Taft of Pollination Group, who has extensive experience with what he calls edutainment campaigns in the Higher Ed space, “Even if they’re not there on scholarship, they should start learning how philanthropy benefits them and begin the habit of responding with the school on the first day of their freshman year.”

He goes on to say that, historically, unless an edutainment campaign is part of a larger campaign like Giving Day, it works best for name acquisition and growing your donor base, rather than immediate fundraising – which makes it perfect for young alumni. In his experience, 30-35% of game participants are new names, and many are converted to donors in subsequent follow-up conversations or engagements.

Of course, the social aspect of community is what makes it so powerful for the school. Leveraging the influence of those who are already your fans is where gamification shows its value, especially if you’re lucky enough to snag a social influencer. Chris shared actual results (shown in the infographic to the right) from one individual in a campaign he worked on.

A young person may be broke but have 10,000 Twitter followers. Use that!

2. Competition & Challenges

For many people, competition is highly motivating and fun. Game components like point scoring, direct competition, challenges and leveling up for rewards in your alumni engagement strategies encourage people to get involved and bring others in – and have a blast doing it. The fun makes it ‘sticky’ and memorable, in terms of loyalty.

This goes beyond the traditional reward levels that have long been used to encourage regular giving. Today’s young alumni make up the generation that took gaming to a whole new level online, and activities like the ones below can score some serious attention from this group and beyond.


1. Capture the “Flag”

First, recognize that capturing contact information is your first goal. So, whatever your game is, a high number of points should be awarded when participants divulge their information.

One school Chris worked with hosted a virtual marathon where participants earned miles for various actions they took. Registering for the marathon (i.e. sharing their contact info) gave them an automatic 3 miles, the highest that could be earned by any one action. Every share on social media, every click on those shares, and every survey or quiz taken earned additional distances. Bonus miles were awarded for posting a button or badge or reaching a certain milestone in the race.

The goal of the game wasn’t donations per se but furthering the organization’s mission. Ultimately, however, the impact of the campaign exceeded the cost of the grand prize (an international trip).

Check out the current Post Your Colors game that Pollination Group
developed to connect and engage the Boy Scouts of America community

2. Ready, Get Set(Up for Competition)

Some people are motivated by beating themselves (hello, Solitaire fans), but most people play games to beat someone else. The Higher Ed space is filled with competitive personality types. Pit these groups against each other to amp up the engagement and be sure to allow players to issue specific challenges:

  • Classmates within each class
  • Classes (Class of 2017 vs. Class of 2016)
  • Schools/departments (Theater arts vs. science)
  • Teams (Tennis vs. Rowing)
  • Genders (Men’s tennis vs. Women’s tennis)
  • Faculty vs. Student Groups

Tap into the exponential power of challenge donations triggered by some sort of achievement:

  • Engagement/donations from all 50 states triggers a $10k challenge donation from a legacy donor
  • The donor furthest from the campus gets to designate the recipient of a corporate $50k donation

Chris shared that millions of dollars have been raised on Giving Day via gamification for individual universities, with competition and challenges like these fueling the generosity.

3. Follow the Leader(board)

For a game to work, the technology behind it all has to be flawless. Gamers won’t tolerate glitchy or confusing game components or crashing sites, and donors are easily deterred by a cumbersome giving experience.

Key to the success of this type of competition is a dynamic leaderboard with real time results that people can watch and react to. And getting others to join has to be extremely easy, from a technical perspective.

Find out how the iDonate donor engagement platform can integrate
the entire donation backoffice with your gamification campaign.


  • Offer prizes at different levels that are exciting and useful. Tap sponsors (Legacy donors, restaurants, retailers, affiliated memberships) to subsidize prizes. Internal awards can be inexpensive for the school and include such items as game tickets, access to tailgates, discounts on university gear or special privileges at the school’s alumni center when they visit campus, can be inexpensive
  • A daily task creates a pattern of engagement.
  • An end date to the game creates urgency and sustained momentum. Interest will eventually wane, so while you may create an annual version of a game, it shouldn’t just be ongoing, ad infinitum.
  • Get creative with your game “moves.” You can assign points for virtually any activity alumni might take, including:
    • Attending events of any kind: Games, alumni social events, class reunions (Adding a charitable component, such as bringing canned food donations to a mixer, nurtures the generosity habit.)
    • Offering a testimonial about the school (whether you use it or not)
    • Buying school gear
    • Volunteering on campus
    • Serving as a mentor
    • Videoing and posting a physical challenge
    • Entering images into a contest
    • Participating in a charitable class project
    • Bonus points for the more recent their graduation
    • Social shares and the engagement received on them
    • Answering a riddle, quiz or survey question
    • Donating

Note: Remember to assign the most rewards for the actions that grow your donor base. Also, Chris warns (from experience!) against offering points for number of donations. This can result in a deluge of $1 donations that could overwhelm your technology!


Alumni school pride and engagement are important for nurturing the school’s brand and ultimately growing long-term financial partners. The earlier your alumni develop the habit of engaging with the university after graduation, the more likely this is to happen.

Appealing to this demographic’s competitive spirit is a proven way to get them into the game.

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