Advancement officials at Southern Polytechnic State University (Ga.) had both practical and aspirational reasons to reconsider how it ran its faculty/staff annual giving campaign. From a practical standpoint, designing and printing packets filled with a promotional postcard, sheets listing accounts and giving incentives, a pledge card, a return envelope, and labels for each of the university’s nearly 850 faculty and staff was costly. Not to mention, printing, stuffing, and distributing these packets took valuable human resources department time. Packets often were lost or misplaced, requiring reprinting, and faculty and staff who chose not to participate would throw the packets in the trash, an unfortunate increase in wastefulness.
Aspirationally, SPSU’s president, Lisa Rossbacher, had been a charter signatory to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. With a reduction in the university’s carbon footprint and incorporation of sustainable practices and initiatives embedded in its strategic goals, officials had good reason to target the waste generated by its internal campaign.
The electronic campaign saved money and time, and participation was about equal to prior years’ paper campaigns.
“We looked at all the paper we were producing to get this done, and we realized that given the electronic means that were out there and our nature as an engineering and technological school, we ought to utilize those means,” says Ron Dempsey, vice president for university advancement.
Those means, as you might have guessed, involved going online to solicit funds. The entire packet of materials—four sheets of paper, two envelopes, and a label—went electronic, with the exception of a pledge card, which could be accessed online but had to be printed out and sent in. In all, nearly 1,300 pieces of paper and 850 envelopes—costing $1,500—were saved, along with the energy needed to produce and distribute them.
“There was no chance of folks losing their materials or of our office giving paper packets to folks who would just throw them away,” Dempsey points out. “Waste was eliminated on several levels.”
The electronic campaign was launched last fall, announced with a splashy e-mail and led by an administrator and a faculty member known across campus for their commitment to sustainability. The result? It notched about the same level of participation, above 70 percent, as prior years’ paper campaigns.
“It’s been very positive,” Dempsey notes. “Folks have become very used to e-mail correspondence and very nicely done e-mail distribution messages. The fact that we were reducing our costs as well as our paper usage helped the campaign to be overwhelmingly received.”
The internal campaign’s success after the online transition led SPSU to replace two direct-mail pieces with electronic pitches. And while the university still mails a solicitation to older constituencies, Dempsey is reconsidering that tactic as well.
“Given the response rate we’re getting, they’re getting online, too,” he notes with a chuckle. “Next year we’ll probably reconsider doing even the one direct mail piece and do them all online.”