Today is BowdoinOne Day, Bowdoin College’s annual fundraising event. As the parent of a Bowdoin junior, I had the opportunity to learn firsthand just how strategic Bowdoin’s campaign is – and how it’s transformed the traditional annual fund campaign into a community engagement event.

If you visit BowdoinOne Day’s website, you get the impression that alumni are the primary targets of the campaign. While that is clearly the case, the Office of Annual Giving made the strategic decision to turn the campaign inwards and engage students as well.

Last week my wife and I visited our daughter at Bowdoin. We met her for lunch in one of the campus dining halls (Bowdoin is continually ranked by students as one of the best campus dining programs in the country).

Every table in the dining hall had a well-designed, double-sided table tent promoting BowdoinOne Day and emblazoned with the questions:

  • What would your ONE best Bowdoin day include?
  • What food would you eat?
  • Which professors would you spend time with?
  • Which campus spots would you visit?
  • What would you be sure to do with your friends?

Calls-to-action on the table tent also encouraged students to share pictures of “your best Bowdoin day on social media using #BowdoinOneDay” and invited students to “wear your gear” and stop by a table on April 24 in the Student Union.Photo of BowdoinOne Table TentsAs part of the coordinated BowdoinOneDay campaign, the college created a short, well-produced video featuring students talking about what their ONE best Bowdoin day would include.

Now in its seventh year, this well-coordinated campaign certainly is successful in raising needed annual fund dollars. In 2017, BowdoinOneDay raised more than $1.9 million. What’s equally as important, though, is that the campaign is clearly an opportunity for the institution to both engage and thank current students for all that they do to support Bowdoin.

Bowdoin considers this a “participation-based initiative,” one designed to solicit and “message gratitude and appreciation for donors,” according to Aric Walton, Bowdoin’s director of the annual fund, in an interview with the campus newspaper in 2017. “You don’t always want to be in an ask mode, you want to be appreciative of it,” he said. “I think in the last five years we’ve really kind of doubled down on the mindset that we want to be as good at thanking as we are at asking.”

In smaller educational institutions, such as a K-8 or K-12 independent school, every dollar is a dollar well earned. Building a way of “thanking” your donors into your annual request is a smart way of stewarding development and an excellent way to engage your greater community.

Could the BowdoinOne Day be an opportunity for your school to retool its annual fund? Why not consider turning your campaign into a teachable moment for your younger students and ask your older students (middle and high school) to actively participate in an annual day of celebration that promotes all that is good about your school community?

How easy would it be for your development office to mimic certain elements of the BowdoinOne Day campaign? From a strategic perspective, it is clear that the campaign is built on the following elements.

  1. An overall development and communications strategy and plan. This is where your development and marketing/communications teams have an opportunity to work as one.
  2. Campaign communications tools. Based on your budget and level of sophistication your campaign could include;

✔︎ A dedicated campaign landing page on your school’s website.

✔︎  A campaign video, which could be a student-produced project.

✔︎  A simple, yet well designed table tent for your school’s dining hall (don’t overlook the power of print to engage and send an important message to your current students).

✔︎  Use of a #hashtag as part of a coordinated social media campaign.

✔︎  A campaign giveaway to celebrate this special day on campus.

For those of us involved in supporting educational institutions, the work never stops. Let’s use the example of BowdoinOne Day to look inward at our own institutional campaigns to see how we can best improve them.

Good luck with your own school’s campaign.