Donor Relations/Customer Service: Tufts University - Silver Medal

Category 3C: Advancement Services Programs – Donor Relations/Customer Service
Tufts University: “You Make It Happen”

Contact: Laura Ferguson, associate director, communication, Advancement, Packard Hall, Medford, MA 02155, Phone: (617) 627-3602, e-mail:

Purpose Statement: “You Make It Happen” replaces the traditional donor honor roll to Arts, Sciences & Engineering, mailed to approximately 12,000 people last year to thank them for their contribution.

The honor roll was a modest two-color publication, limited in visual appeal, and cost just under $10,000 to design and produce.

This year, the Office of Advancement Communications and Donor Relations was charged with coming up with a more visually attractive piece and one that would be a warm thank you for philanthropy. In short, we had to create an entirely different kind of product to demonstrate the value of donor gifts.

Our clients comprise a large group of fundraisers from Tufts’ undergraduate Schools of Arts, Sciences & Engineering (AS&E) within the annual fund, capital A&S, capital Engineering and the Parents Fund staff. They did, however, all agree that an “impact piece” would be more informative and valuable because it shows how donor gifts do indeed transform Tufts.

In making this decision, the team was following the sentiment of an emerging nationwide stewardship trend that providing information on the impact of giving is more valuable to donors than a published list of names.

Challenges: The main challenge was to create an effective communications piece that would appropriately thank donors (alumni, parents, and friends) who made gifts ranging from $250 to $1 million-plus. The solution included identifying a wide range of initiatives and programs within the schools that were impacted by donor giving and presenting them in a format that was engaging and personable. Additionally, making this change from a donor honor roll involved many strategic discussions on donor expectations and negotiating comprises across a diverse client group.

What worked: We spent significant time analyzing and talking about donor comments from the past and using that information to create a relevant communication piece that would make our donors feel a part of the success of the schools. We selected content topics that reinforce university priorities, such as financial aid, active citizenship, and faculty development. Our photographs of people also drove home the implicit message that faculty and students are thriving in large part because of philanthropy. The voice of the piece reflects our gratitude and expresses the excitement of Tufts’ momentum.

Justification: Although the cost of this piece was more than the donor honor roll it was replacing, the staff time involved was considerably less and the group felt strongly that the piece was significantly more valuable to donors. Also, since donors to the annual fund had been requesting this type of information on how their money was being used, the annual fund staff was willing and eager to provide this type of information instead of a list of donor names that seemed to cause donor confusion and failed to express appropriate appreciation.

The client group and the Office of Advancement Communications and Donor Relations agreed the above rationale was more than sufficient to warrant this change. But the cost was further justified by the fact that the annual fund team was so pleased with the new project that they decided to eliminate a traditional fall solicitation and instead use those designated funds to provide additional funding for this piece. We included a giving envelope with a coded appeal that will allow us to track gifts resulting from this mailing. From a communications and donor relations standpoint, we were thrilled by the opportunity to both strengthen our “thank you” mailing and to eliminate one solicitation.

Audience and budget:
We produced approximately 15,000 pieces targeted at the following groups:

  • Tufts Fund donors of $250+ cumulative over past five fiscal years
  • Capital engineering donors in past five fiscal years
  • Capital A&S donors in past five fiscal years
  • Donors to the Institute for Global Leadership in past five fiscal years
  • Donors to Tisch College in past five fiscal years
  • Parents of current undergraduates

Our expenses were:

  • $3,500 for freelance design
  • $1,300 for photography
  • $100 for proofing
  • $7,500 for postage
  • $12,000 for printing (includes reply envelope) and fulfillment

Total cost: $24,300. Unit cost: $1.63/piece.

Effectiveness: The overall effectiveness of the publication is positive. As of November, we received $16,245 from the piece, with 22 gifts at an average gift size of $738. This piece has yielded the second highest average gift of all our direct mail pieces thus far in FY 07.

But perhaps more importantly, it has succeeded as a thank you gift, as a milestone in our stewardship endeavors. We have heard from alumni that they were very pleased to see such a friendly and high quality publication and that it encouraged them to feel excited and proud about Tufts. We intend to conduct a donor survey in the spring and, among other things, donor feedback on “You Make It Happen” will help us further refine this new effort.

This giving impact piece marks a significant new chapter in how we think strategically and creatively about communications with our donors. The use of photography, informal and upbeat language, good quotes from Tufts leaders, all contribute to connecting our donors with the institution in a fresh and lively manner.