College Fundraisers Want Personal Experiences, Impact Stories

SydneyVanHornHeadshotCollege students can be a great audience for your peer-to-peer program. Each year, students at colleges raise millions for charities across the country at dance marathons and other events.

But we all know that college isn’t the same as the working world, so working with students comes with some different hours — and some different expectations.

To learn how to work best with this audience, we reached out to Sydney Van Horn, Associate Officer of Development at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, who has built the charity’s highly successful UP 4 The FIGHT dance marathon series.

Below is an excerpt from our interview:

Can you describe your role at the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation?
I am the Associate Officer of Development. My role is to manage and advise our collegiate and community event fundraising platforms. This consists of any individual or group looking to fundraise for the organization outside of our annual signature celebrity events. I work with these fundraisers to advise on best tactics and strategies, brainstorm what will and will not work for their event, facilitate online fundraising pages, and complete overall management.

How is working with a primarily collegiate audience different than working with other peer-to-peer fundraisers?
Working with a primarily collegiate audience is extremely fascinating for a few reasons.

First of all, there’s a high turnover rate. Leaders of campus organizations are likely to be juniors and seniors in college. You are lucky if they are juniors because you get one more year with these driven individuals. This atmosphere, in turn, may seem like you are re-inventing the wheel each new year as new directors, presidents, steering, and general committee come through the ranks with new ideas and old questions. It is working with these groups to establish consistency that is different than other peer-to-peer fundraisers.

But the great thing is that these students are yearning to learn more. These students are surrounded by incredibly brilliant peers and professors. They are taking classes in nonprofit management and international development. They KNOW what you are talking about and then some.

They want to know the cell biology of HIV and where drugs intervene. They want to know the value of their dollar and where exactly their fundraising is at play in the organization.

In the beginning, I was not prepared for the amount of deep questions I received. But over time, I realized what they were looking for: personal stories, personal experiences, innovative and interactive activities and data, and other ways to connect with a cause that is so far removed.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned working with college-aged fundraisers?

There have been a few big lessons I’ve learned from working with this audience – I can’t just narrow to one! So I’ll pick three:

  1. Work with the school you are at, not against it
    Each university/school campus has its own rules, regulations, budgets, and ways of doing things. Work with the student organization’s campus advisor quickly and often, as they will be your lifeline to understanding structure on campus and how things can get done!
  2. Adaptability & flexibility are key
    These students are in school full time, in a dozen clubs, a member of their fraternity/sorority, AND are fundraising for your organization. While this is my job full time, I’m thinking about them much more than they are thinking about me. Remember their schedules and their role as volunteers and be flexible (to an extent). I will get emails at 2 a.m., knowing this is the only time they have to address something. They will get a response during the normal business hours, but I quietly praise their dedication and passion to the cause constantly.
  3. Never underestimate them
    These are young activists that are dedicated, intelligent, and aware of their world. They will ask tough questions, they will want to know more, they will try to make things better. Let them. Your organization will create a huge impact on their college career. EGPAF did with mine!

What can other peer-to-peer professionals learn from college-aged fundraisers that they can apply to their engagement efforts?

Really everything I mentioned above professionals can use to apply to their engagement efforts: create personal experiences, use impact reports to demonstrate fundraising use, and work within the school setting to accomplish your goals.

In addition, some other items that have worked well with our students are swag items at the event, incentives to push past fundraising barriers, and connecting your groups with personal contacts your organization has in the restaurant and corporate markets. They need your suggestions and advice, as well as your hands-on assistance where necessary, but these groups are independent and ready to take on their campus year after year.

Join us on September 29 at 3 p.m. Eastern time for a webinar with Sydney Van Horn. She will share additional insights about collegiate peer-to-peer fundraising and take your questions.

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