I graduated from Park University in 1995, back when it was Park College. For the longest time after, I was a strong supporter through volunteer hours, if not money, of the institution generally and the theatre program specifically. (In fact, it was through my volunteer marketing efforts that the theatre was able to have their first ever sold-out black box performance.)
I took the fast track to graduating, only taking three and a half years for the four year program, in the hopes that getting a degree faster would give me the chance to move into the job market while my husband Rich worked on his two degrees. I was proud to claim myself an alumna, and was tickled when I started receiving the magazine for alumni, which includes news about Park graduates (including deaths).
I would receive the occasional letter asking for financial support (most of them having the minimum be $50 or $100, which is still out of my league for a one-time donation), but I had to set those aside as the job market never gave me the chance to get the experience I needed in my field to get the higher paying jobs. I always knew that when I would get that higher paying job, getting myself out of the debt I piled up while I was in school, I would donate.
However, there seems to be a lack of communication on the part of Park that has made me change my mind. A few years ago, I lost a good friend (and fellow Park alum). When I noticed he wasn’t listed in the list of “Park Mourns” section when I received the next issue of the alumni magazine, I sent them an e-mail. At this time, I understood that sometimes time delays on printing might mean it may not get in the very next issue, and that they may not have even known of his passing. However, when I received the issue after that and he still wasn’t listed, I sent another e-mail – and a letter, just in case my e-mail was going to spam. With both of these, I never heard back a response (outside of a generic ‘thank you for writing, please donate’ appeal) – and he still wasn’t listed in the following issue.
Last May, when I was accepted as a fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute in Theater and Musical Theater, I – through the KC Stage press release system – sent out a notice about it to not only all the press, but included the Park alumni office as well, letting them know I was sending it for inclusion in the magazine. And surprise – it never showed up there or anywhere else on the Park website. After the Fellowship, I sent another e-mail (this, by the way, was from a different e-mail address) – and I got a standard ‘your e-mail was received’ response, but again it never showed up.
Just a few months later, though, I see a note in their Imprint Express (“Weekly newsletter published by University Advancement”) about my December spotlight article on Park alum Pete Bakely – stating it as news of Pete, but nowhere mentioning that it’s written by a fellow alum.
However, the calls to action to donate to Park have increased in the last year – no thanks, I’m sure, to the tanking economy. But these communication fails (along with some other issues that aren’t appropriate for this blog) make me feel that all they care about is my money – that I’m just a walking ATM to them. Whether I’m succeeding or failing as a Park alum only matters to them in terms of how much I can give to them. As a result, I’m less likely to donate to them.
So, think about your day-to-day communications – each one could be that proverbial last straw a person has that makes or breaks whether he or she continues supporting your organization.