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5 Email Design Tips for Alumni Engagement to Increase University Fundraising

5 Email Design Tips for Alumni Engagement to Increase University Fundraising

In 2021, U.S. colleges and universities raised an impressive $52.9 billion toward their fundraising goals. Alumni donations accounted for 23% of that total, showing just how important strong alumni engagement is for a university’s success.

So, how do universities use the money donated by alumni?

  • Maintain operations
  • Offer scholarships
  • Improve/update technology
  • Support specialty programs, such as study abroad and athletics
  • Revitalize campus facilities
  • Fund research programs

Higher education institutions rely on donations to support their everyday operations and to be able to give back to the students through events, tools, resources, and courses. Coupled with the changes in the workforce and mostly digital society, funds acquired help universities provide students the latest software and technology, setting them up for success.

5 Tips to Increase Alumni Engagement Using Email

Statista projects businesses will send more than 375 billion emails daily by 2025. This means that any email communication you send to alumni must command (and keep) their attention.

We Know You Hear This A Lot, But Write Compelling Subject Lines!

The subject line is truly the most important line of copy in an email. Why? Because it helps alumni decide whether they want to open the email or not.

A great subject line evokes an emotion, elicits curiosity, and at times, makes them laugh. But most importantly, emails for alumni serve as reminders of why they love their Alma Mater.

Here are some tips for writing an attention-grabbing subject line.

  • Keep it short: you should grab their attention with as little as 40-50 characters.
  • Don’t sound spammy: even though you may want to give away a free item in exchange for a donation, don’t use “free” in the subject line, or your message could go to spam.
  • Ask a question: use a question to remind them of a college memory, like cramming for a test in the library.
  • Create a sense of urgency: remind them students need their support now for the upcoming year 

Besides keeping it short and clear, here are some additional elements (with examples you can steal) to create a subject line that gets alumni to open:

  • Draw curiosity: [First Name] – trust us, you don’t want to miss out on this
  • Urgency: One day left to make a difference!
  • Belonging: We couldn’t have done it without you
  • Personalized: [First Name], your help is needed

Use Personalization to Connect with Alumni

As we mentioned before, email inboxes are busy places. Personalization is an excellent way to get alumni to engage. When scrolling through the list of unread emails, readers are more likely to click on an email that calls them out personally.

In fact, research shows personalized content engages readers. It improves open rates by 11% and clicks by 27%.

When using personalization, consider what you know about your audience to generate successful email campaigns. Some personalized fields include:

  • Name
  • Last gift amount
  • Donation history
  • Graduation class
  • College field of study

Use this information to interest readers beyond a simple “Hello, John.” We recommend weaving personalized details throughout the message to strengthen the idea you’re trying to communicate.

Here are some ways to integrate personalization into a fundraising message:

  • Thank you for your gift of [$10,000] last year.
  • We appreciate the generous donations coming from the [Class of 2020].
  • Your support is helping to keep the [biochemistry] department thriving.

Web is Dead: Optimize Email Content for Mobile Devices

Up to 41% of emails are opened on a mobile device, surpassing desktop (39%). While that might not seem like much of a difference, we will continue to see a spike favoring mobile in the coming years.

This means that if your email is not optimized for mobile, you could be delivering less-than-stellar experiences for alumni. Always make sure that it is easy for alumni to complete the desired action.

Here are some essential items to consider when optimizing your messages for mobile.

  • Make the design feel app-like: use short amounts of copy and big buttons to take action.
  • Use small file sizes: attention spans are short, and readers won’t wait for images to load.
  • Use a large font size: no one wants to squint at their phone!

Don’t be Shy! Ask for a Donation.

When it comes to email marketing, beating around the bush won’t get you very far.

A call-to-action is a direct statement leading the reader to take a desired step.

Calls-to-action should be displayed as a large button or a highlighted link that the reader can easily click on.

And if you’re too shy, we get it – there are various ways to ask for money without saying “Give Now” or “Donate Now.”

After all, if every email you send says “Give Us Money Now,” alumni will eventually stop opening them. It’s good to change things up now and then to maintain engagement.

Here are some options for inspiring call-to-action phrases.

  • Make a Difference
  • Donate Online
  • See the Impact
  • Support Students
  • Leave a Legacy
  • Join Us!

Remember, the alum audience is already invested in your university and wants to help in whichever way they can. A clear call to action makes it clear to the reader exactly how they can help.

Design Matters!

Inspire action in your university’s alums with engaging and strategic email design. Some ways to use design to level up your fundraising emails are:

  • Send branded emails with university colors and logos to improve the legitimacy
  • Incorporate images and videos in emails to evoke past college memories
  • Use a layout that’s easy to navigate and write short copy
  • Use an attractive and attention-grabbing color for call-to-action buttons

Great email design delights the reader and sparks memories of the fun they had in college. Feeling reminiscent of positive experiences can contribute to a larger sense of camaraderie with today’s students.

One way to do this is to show them how their contributions are supporting current students in creating memorable, community-building experiences.

Include photos or videos of life on campus, events, scholarship recipients saying “thank you,” or new equipment being used in class to relay feelings of gratitude and inspire future giving. 

Increase Alumni Engagement With BEE Pro

Designing engaging alumni fundraising communications and newsletters has never been easier using BEE Pro. Our easy-to-use, mobile-responsive, drag-and-drop editor will help you follow email best practices to drive donations and alumni engagement.

Start designing your university fundraising efforts using one of our free higher education templates made with conversion in mind.

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Emily Santos
Emily Santos

Emily Santos is a Content Specialist with experience as a Brand Strategist and Designer.