Is There a Community College Fundraising Advantage?

When it comes to rallying hometown support, two-year schools may just have the upper hand

Think you don’t have the staff, time, or resources to achieve the same fundraising success as the four-year institution down the road? Think again. The advancement team from Holyoke Community College (HCC) in Western Massachusetts is breaking all kinds of Giving Day records—and they’ve been doing so with a small but resourceful annual giving staff of one. 
How? By thinking big, investing in the right tools, and leaning into their home-team advantage, HCC has succeeded in finding and engaging a loyal community of donors that’s grown each of the last three years since a new advancement team arrived on campus. Here’s how they did it.

Step 1: Fundraise like a four-year

Patrick Carpenter joined Holyoke in the spring of 2019 as Director of Institutional Advancement, and a few months later Julie Phillips came on board as Coordinator of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving. Both Patrick and Julie hailed from four-year schools with successful fundraising programs and were eager to apply their big-school expertise in a more intimate Community College setting.
As newly minted members of the HCC institutional advancement team, their first goal was to launch a new online Giving Day. Historically, HCC had participated in the annual global phenomenon that is #GivingTuesday, but Julie and Patrick wanted to create another more targeted appeal—one that wouldn’t have to compete with the millions of other nonprofits vying for coveted end-of-calendar-year donors and dollars. So, they set their sights on the spring of 2020 and set their fundraising expectations at a modest $30,000-$40,000.
Then, they set out to find a community college fundraising tool that could help them identify and engage more donors and advocates, and rally the kind of support that their colleagues at four-year institutions typically enjoy.

Step 2: Invest in solutions that make community college fundraising easier

When Patrick and Julie first started at HCC the only “tool” they had at their disposal for fundraising was their CRM, and that wasn’t going to deliver the functionality they needed. So they began researching affordable platforms that would be 1) easy to use right out of the gate, and 2) wouldn’t break the bank.
“When you commit to purchasing fundraising technology, you have to make a strong case to the internal community that you’ve found the right place to invest your resources,” explained Patrick.
As a small annual giving shop under new management, usability and affordability were key. After doing their homework and talking to their peers, they chose GiveCampus because it not only met their selection criteria, but it was also the only crowdfunding solution built exclusively for educational fundraising.
“For me,” Julie explained, “the biggest draw was the way the platform is structured. Even if you have a tiny staff, a staff of one, GiveCampus is set up to help you deliver really big results.”

“Even if you have a tiny staff, a staff of one, GiveCampus is set up to help you deliver really big results”

Julie Phillips, Interim Director of Development
HCC started using the GiveCampus Social Fundraising Platform in January of 2020. After putting it to the test over three consecutive annual giving appeals, it’s safe to say they’re convinced they made the right call. Patrick put it very succinctly, “Frankly, GiveCampus is amazing! It just makes it easy.”

GiveCampus has proven to provide a solid return on investment for HCC too. “We’ve paid for GiveCampus a hundred times over in a period of two and a half years… It’s been a home run for us.”

“We’ve paid for GiveCampus a hundred times over in a period of two and a half years… It’s been a home run for us.”

Patrick Carpenter, Director of Institutional Advancement

Step 3: Leverage peer-to-peer outreach and your community advantage

After raising well over $100,000 last year and netting just shy of $200,000 on their annual Giving Day this past April, the team couldn’t be more proud of the way the HCC community continues to step up, year after year.
Doug Scanlon, who joined the institutional advancement team in November of 2021 as Development and External Communications Coordinator, credits the GiveCampus Social Fundraising Platform with helping HCC capture that elusive and highly coveted new donor segment. “GiveCampus helps us find and engage new donors,” said Doug. “It’s uncovering people connected to HCC that we had no idea were connected.”
Peer-to-peer outreach has consistently proven to be the most effective strategy for reaching new audiences and compelling new donors to give. In fact, one out of every five donors who give via the GiveCampus platform can be directly attributed to our peer-to-peer functionality. There’s a whole world of connections beyond alumni and parents just waiting to be tapped, and social fundraising helps to shine a spotlight on those relationships.

At two-year institutions, community may just be the ultimate superpower

When you launch a Giving Day, you have a 24-hour window to flood the market with your message. Recruiting at least one spokesperson with a strong community presence (e.g., a well-known board member, an alum, or a local business owner) can help to increase your campaign’s visibility exponentially and across a variety of channels.
In HCC’s case, the megaphone for their first 24-hour day of giving was Gary Rome, an HCC Foundation board member and the owner of Gary Rome Auto Group. Community college fundraising efforts that get the backing of an area personality like Gary can literally command every local media outlet: radio, television, social media, and more.
Four-year colleges and universities really can’t monopolize the market in this way. Because the majority of their alumni often reside outside their region (and across the globe), saturating the community with their Giving Day message is next to impossible.

Summary

Curious about how your two-year institution can start leveraging its community advantage? Download 10 Community College Fundraising Best Practices, a guide inspired by the savvy fundraisers at HCC, and discover how to start crushing your own community college fundraising goals.