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How Video Helped American University Increase Total Gift Income by 1300%


In under three years, American University’s 36-hour Annual Giving Day increased total gift income by 1300% with the help of FYN Creative’s video content strategy, reaching alumni globally. The following is the story behind their success.  

In February 2015, American University Office of Development and Alumni Relations launched a new initiative to establish a 36-hour fundraising campaign, kicking off an inaugural Annual Giving Day that would align with their Founder's Day. After establishing a benchmark in 2015 (their first year), in 2016 AU’s Annual Giving team set their goals higher and turned to FYN Creative, a leading digital storytelling and video production agency in Washington, D.C. to help produce a compelling story that would appeal to diverse alumni, from past generations to current college students, evoking an emotional reaction to give.  

Washington, D.C. social media videographer higher education digital marketing alumni marketing American University

The Challenge

For any major university’s Alumni and Development office, staying engaged with a growing global base of more than 125,000 alumni is a constant priority. For American University, the fundraising challenge was to bring greater awareness to future Annual Giving Day campaigns to drive up total gift income and increase the number of donors beyond the current levels set in 2015.

Alumni and Development offices seeking donations at this level are critical to the overall institutional goals, with much at stake due to the small window for donations (less than 36 hours). In 2016, the first time working as AU’s video producer, FYN Creative worked to highlight several generations of alumni and produce a cohesive video message to drive donations from seemingly disparate groups of individuals located in every corner of the world.

Key Strategies to Success & Our Approach

When American University's Associate Director of Annual Giving approached FYN Creative in January 2016, they knew they wanted a video to supplement their marketing efforts. Undertaking any video production can be a daunting, time-consuming, and sometimes a costly investment. However, in under four weeks we were able to go from proposal to storyboard, then pre-screened each donor and assisted with all of the scheduling logistics for AU - all while staying under their initial budget.

We removed any additional stress or workload for the AU alumni staff, putting them at ease because of our 10+ years of working in higher education and on high-stake projects.  They knew we could be trusted interacting with high-profile alumni and community members before, during, and after production.

Washington, D.C. social media videographer higher education digital marketing alumni marketing American University

Once we were given a list of alumni and AU constituents to interview, we set up 15-minute calls to introduce ourselves, create rapport, and pre-screen each of them to help us formulate the best questions. In turn, this helped us be as efficient and creative as possible because in many cases, we only had 15-20 minutes of the alumni’s time for the on-set interview. This saved everyone time and helped us pull together the story for the 2016 Annual Giving Day video in a short time.

Our approach for this project and every project we work on: remove all barriers and extra challenges for the department while over-delivering a high quality digital asset and campaign.

The Solution

The biggest value proposition any alumni donation campaign can provide is celebrating the connection that alumni have to their school.

Knowing AU had to reach gift goals and to capture the hearts and minds of alumni, FYN brought in the perfect AU community members to share their stories. Because their goal was to double the number of donors and gifts from 2015 we were willing to take bold steps to find the right approach.

Enter a mini-documentary featuring two previous donors: Gabriel, a current student who was a junior Finance major and Penny, an alumni who graduated in 1965.

The first milestone working with AU Alumni and Development was producing a 2:53 second video that paralleled the journey of these two AU community members as they reflected on what AU meant to them. The major themes communicated were home, connectedness, impact, and pride.

Key Results

In 2016, the first year with video marketing, the AU donors story featuring parallel stories of an alum and student who made gifts to the university, sets record in first year.

  • Campaign raised more than $54,000, a 152% growth from the year prior

  • 450 donors and gifts made (150 more than 2015)

  • 100 alumni that never made a gift before

  • In a 3-day period, the video received:

    • 3,000 organic views

    • 35 engagements


    • Facebook reach of more than 21,720 in the week of Annual Giving Day

Washington, D.C. social media videographer higher education digital marketing alumni marketing American University
Washington, D.C. social media videographer higher education digital marketing alumni marketing American University

In 2017, Annual Giving Day’s third year, we worked with AU to create two pieces of video content that continued to set a new benchmark for total gift income.

The first video (above left) was a 35-second teaser video released mid-January 2017, a full month before Giving Day. This video asked one simple question: “Are You In?”

Students, staff, and faculty gave their answer and identified what initiatives they would be supporting.  

The second 3-minute video (above right) again highlighted students, staff, and faculty answering the question: “What does AU mean to you?”

This video was released across all social platforms university-wide, email listservs, to campus partners, and hosted on the Giving Day website, a week out from Giving Day. Both videos were produced for Facebook distribution knowing that 80-90% of viewers would watch without sound.

Throughout an 18-month span, we continued to partner together to create end-of-year Thank You videos that were tied with a greater campaign recognizing the impact of all the gifts made throughout the 2016 and 2017 fiscal year.

In addition, we branched out into new areas such as funding the Black Alumni Alliance Book Award, sharing special graduation messaging for the Latino Alumni Alliance, and most recently documenting the farewell dinner of the outgoing AU president, Dr. Neil Kerwin.

Washington, D.C. social media videographer higher education digital marketing alumni marketing American University

The results:

  • Campaign raised $118,923 a 249% growth from 2016

  • 676 donors and gifts made, a 48% growth

  • Total gift income goal unlocked challenge gifts to bring total money raised to $312,309

  • The teaser video released one month prior garnered:

    • 12,000+ views


    • 63 shares across YouTube and Facebook

  • The second call to action video received:

    • 4,000+ views



Bringing It All Together

Today, American University is globally recognized as a top higher education institution in the United States. The strong bond alumni have to the institution and to one another is the key to its thriving success. FYN Creative was able to capture the spirit that lives in each of its alumni to increase alumni giving two and a half-fold.   

We achieved this by identifying the best marketing platforms and digital channels that alumni will connect with, and created compelling content and stories to convert alumni into engaged donors. FYN Creative can take the same knowledge gained  from American University’s Office of Development and Alumni  initiatives and apply it to your institution to  deliver the same or better results.  


[Download] Alumni & Development Guide: Creating a Budget Friendly Social Media Strategy

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