Charitable giving tops $400 billion

Charitable giving report now available from Giving USAThis year’s Giving USA 2018 report revealed that U.S. charitable giving exceeded $410 billion. Some highlights:

  • Personal giving increased by 5.2 percent, the same amount as the overall increase.
  • Corporate giving rose by 8 percent, on the back of tax reform and strong corporate profits.
  • Giving to foundations increased by 15.5 percent. A strong contributor to this was contributions to donor-advised funds. Education continues to receive the highest portion of donor-advised fund-distribution giving.
  • Giving to education increased by 6.2 percent, adjusted to a 4 percent increase with inflation. Alumni drove much of this increase.

You can purchase and download the full report at Giving USA.

For higher education institutions, you can compare your donor, alumni participation, and dollar results with our no-cost benchmarking reports. Request one today, and a RNL consultant will share the latest insights and strategy with you.



March (Alumni Giving) Madness 2018 – Final Results

We have the winners of the 2018 March (Alumni Giving) Madness tournament!

This tournament is our fun way to determine the top alumni giving institutions for higher education fundraising. We took the institutions in this year’s men’s and women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments, analyzed their alumni giving statistics, and determined the two top institutions for alumni giving.

2018 March (Alumni Giving) Madness final brackets

2018 March Alumni Giving MadnessView the final 2018 March (Alumni Giving) Madness bracket

You can read about the methodology we used and about the first two rounds of results in our first blog.

And the winners are…

Men’s Bracket: University of Pennsylvania. Returning after last year’s win in our women’s bracket, Penn continues to have one of the highest alumni participation stats in the tournament.  As we mentioned last year, donor growth and consistency in young alumni giving have been real strengths at Penn.

Women’s Bracket: University of Notre Dame. Another return winner, Notre Dame also took home a win in 2016 in the men’s division of our tournament. Two years of consistent alumni donor growth and a LeBron-level performance for giving-per-living-alumnus made the Fighting Irish unstoppable.

All this year’s tournament participants are winners. As we approached the final bracket stages, we noticed some pretty incredible alumni giving and donor growth at the top institutions. All participants in this year’s tournaments should be congratulated. The generosity of their alumni is incredible, with more than $3.7 billion given by alumni to these institutions in 2017.

Get the E-Book with all the results

Check out all the results, with expanded commentary on the stats, in our March (Alumni Giving) Madness 2018 e-book. Download your copy here.

2018 (Alumni Giving) Madness commentary:

Alumni participation declines again: In most of this year’s match ups, it was more about who had declined the least. We’re on a 20-year downhill spiral for the percent of living alumni who give. While we know that part of the issue is the sheer increase in the number of alumni institutions are trying to engage, with the good economy and real effort, some are building back. Colleges and universities that bucked this trend were also commonly the top alumni giving dollars institutions.

Averages can be deceiving. Less than 1 percent of institutions raise over 28 percent of the funds in higher education, so the stats are skewed toward the top. This caused some real blowouts, especially in early rounds. However, there were some institutions who really posted gains over the past few years, largely due to campaign dollars.

Many institutions still need a training camp for online giving. We saw a wide range of online giving presence at institutions. It was less common for it to be hard to find the giving portal from the main university web page this year. Crowdfunding and giving days continue to grow, but news of these options wasn’t present on most “give now” pages we reviewed. Social media engagement continues to be minimal, but was definitely something more common at the top fundraising institutions. Overall, online giving is improving a bit, with average score from our refs rising to 3.46/5 over last year’s 3.30/5.

How the tournament is evolving: We heard from advancement leaders that immediate dollars are dominating as a concern at most institutions. So we weighted alumni giving dollars a bit higher this year.  Alumni giving dollars are indeed up, rising over 14% this past year. There were also a few match ups that might be considered upsets this year — an institution won because of strong donor count growth in one case but raised about 1/12 from alumni in dollars. We will be doing further polling of advancement professional this year to get a handle on donor counts, growth and the alumni denominator. That may cause changes to next year’s tournament.

Listen to the podcast

I once again break down the results with RNL’s Shad Hanselman, on the latest episode of podcast Fundraising Voices, available on iTunes and Stitcher.


Can we compare our results even if our institution wasn’t in the NCAA Tournament?

2018 March Alumni Giving Madness tournament You can find out how your alumni giving compares to your peers by requesting a Donor Comparison Report. Using data from the VSE survey, this report allows you to benchmark your alumni giving statistics and identify alumni giving trends. Request your free report here.

March (Alumni Giving) Madness 2018 – Part 1

We have been treated to some exciting results during the 2018 NCAA tournaments for men’s and women’s college basketball. And once again we have conducted our third March (Alumni Giving) Madness bracket—where teams fight for the championship title in our alumni giving tournament! This is the first part of our results. We’ll publish the final results at the conclusion of the men’s and women’s tournaments next week.

How does this alumni giving tournament work?

Using the 2018 Men’s and Women’s NCAA brackets, we apply a six-part methodology to determine the winner in each match-up:

  • (20%) Overall team strength: the 2017 alumni participation figure reported to the Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) Survey.
  • (20%) Upward momentum going into the tournament: the increase or decline in alumni donor count from 2016 to 2017.
  • (20%) Recruiting strength and past tournament performance: The total increase or decline in alumni donors between 2008 and 2017.
  • (25%) A strong bench of dedicated team members: The total alumni giving in dollars divided by the alumni of record over the last three fiscal years (2015-17).
  • (10%) Getting a shot (gift) off: Our team of six expert referees compare the two institutions’ online giving presence, including ease of online giving, giving day portal (if any), and crowdfunding. They grade how easy it was for an alumnus to “get a shot off” and make a gift.
  • (5%) Pure luck: Our simulator assigns a small portion of each team’s score to a random factor.

Results are based on publicly available data. The 2017 VSE Survey serves as our primary data source, with annual donor reports from school websites and alumni participation numbers submitted for the U.S. News & World Report rankings used for institutions that did not submit data to the VSE. These numbers and ratings go into our simulator, which calculates a “score” for each team and the winner of each match up.

Watch here at for the results. We’re releasing the first part of our results today and will release the final winners as the NCAA tournaments conclude next week.

From 64 to 16: First Results

2018 March Alumni Giving Tournament MadnessView the current 2018 March (Alumni Giving) Madness bracket

Some things we noticed in the first round of results:

  • There are a few upsets based on recent donor growth. While alumni participation has declined nationally, some institutions have been able to grow alumni total donors with hard work, great messaging, and coordinated communications. This allowed them to beat bigger and more established fundraising programs in the early rounds.
  • Ease of giving makes a difference. A few of our early round matches were so close that the ease of getting a gift off determined the winner . Make sure you’re looking at how easy it is to give on your online giving portal and use effective, socially-engaged giving technologies like crowdfunding and giving day portals.
  • We’re already seeing some big alumni giving. Total alumni giving dollars rose by 14.5 percent across the US last year, and some of the first-round winners won big in both giving and our tournament.

My school isn’t in the NCAA basketball tournament—can I still participate?

2018 March Alumni Giving Tournament MadnessYou can find out how your alumni giving compares to your peers by requesting a Donor Comparison Report. Using data from the VSE survey, this report allows you to benchmark your fundraising results and identify alumni giving trends. Request your free report here.

What happened in the last alumni giving tournament?

Check out the results of the 2017 March (Alumni Giving) Tournament here.

Giving Day Results: February Update

Since the start of the year, we’ve been watching the great giving day results of our campus partners using RNL Giving Day. As we shared last year in our report examining more than $35M in giving day results, these one-day events involve a lot of planning and great technology. They’re also true multichannel engagement efforts.

Giving days vary quite a bit with some institutions including significant leadership and major giving components. Here are four recent examples of successful giving days from RNL partners where they exceeded their goals and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Stockton University—First giving day exceeds donor goal by 28%

Click for the Stockton University giving day page – The university’s first giving day had a goal of 500 donors and had secured more than $55,000 in match and challenge gifts prior to the day.

  • Total Dollars: $101,949.00
  • Total Gifts: 643 (143 more than their goal)
  • Online Dollars: $42,350.55
  • Online Gifts: 564

“You and your team were a huge part of our success and played a vital role in providing us confidence, research and the necessary resources to launch our inaugural day of giving.” – Kelly Brennan, Assistant Director of Annual Giving, Stockton University

The University of Kansas—More than $730k and 1,900 donors

Click for the KU giving day page – KU also launched their first giving day ever, but also dealt with inclement weather that closed four of their five campuses. Despite that obstacle, their 65 matches, challenges, and leaderboards helped saved the day and produced a giving day in the high six figures:

  • Total Dollars: $734,621.00
  • Total Gifts: 1,898
  • Online Dollars: $245,584.16
  • Online Gifts: 1,522
Giving day results: University of Kansas raised more than $734,000.

The KU Giving Day raised over $734k in gifts

DePaul University—Beating a goal of 1,000 donors

Click for DePaul’s giving day page – DePaul’s fifth giving day surpassed their goal of 1,000 donors with an hour to spare.

  • Total Dollars: $70,506.16 ($120,506 with their challenge included)
  • Total Gifts: 1,034
  • Online Dollars: $46,745.88
  • Online Gifts: 723

Cleveland State University—Biggest giving day reaches $270k

Click for Cleveland State University’s giving day page – Also hosting their fifth giving day, Cleveland State engaged more donors and raised more money than ever.

  • Total Dollars: $269,332
  • Total Gifts: 2,541
  • Online Dollars: $201,806.32
  • Online Gifts: 2,356

The Cleveland State call center also exceeded their goal for the day by over $2,000. This was truly a multichannel event.

Learn strategies that lead to great giving day results

You can read more giving day statistics and find out about best practices for these record-breaking events in the RNL Giving Day Index and by listening to our webinar, Top Takeaways From $37M in Giving.

RNL Giving Day and RNL Crowdfunding offer your institution the tools to get excite your donors, engage volunteers, and harness a multichannel effort for success. Our expert team can help you take your giving day and online giving to the next level. Talk with our strategists about how you can tap into the power of online giving and write your own success story.

RNL partnerships win higher education marketing awards for fundraising

Winners have been announced in the 33rd Annual Educational Advertising Awards, sponsored by Higher Education Marketing Report. This year, 2,250 entries were received from more than 1,000 colleges, universities, and secondary schools from all 50 states as well as several countries.

RNL partnerships won five higher education marketing awards for fundraising campaigns:

  • Mary Baldwin University (Total Fundraising Campaign category – calendar-year-end solicitations)
  • University of Auckland (New Media category – phonathon emails)
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks (Social Media category – digital ads)
  • Montana State University (New Media category – phonathon emails)
  • The College of Saint Rose (Direct Mail category – fall direct mail solicitation)


Higher education marketing awards winner: Montana State University

Phonathon follow-up emails winner – Montana State (click for the full campaign)

Why did these campaigns win higher education marketing awards?

What made these fundraising communications great? First, it starts with the institutions sending compelling images, messages, and reasons to give to the RNL creative team. We use the best design and technology to turn these ideas and materials into compelling campaigns that make it easy for donors to respond. This includes making the giving link or button immediately visible and even driving donors to online giving from direct mail. Mail reply devices also have to be easy to complete. In today’s attention economy, institutions have tremendous competition for the time and interest of their donors. We have to get attention quickly and convert it to action.

Here are examples from our winners from these prestigious higher education marketing awards. Click on the images to see more examples from each campaign.

Higher education marketing awards winnerL College of Saint Rose

Fundraising direct mail award winner – The College of St. Rose (click for the full campaign)



Higher education marketing awards winner: University of Alaska Fairbanks

Social media digital ads award winner – University of Alaska Fairbanks (click for the full campaign)

Judges for the Educational Advertising Awards consisted of a national panel of higher education marketers, advertising creative directors, marketing and advertising professionals, and the editorial board of Higher Education Marketing Report.

These RNL client winners also show the power of multichannel outreach to donors, using a mixture traditional and digital marketing to attract the attention of their target audience whether those donors were on social media, browsing websites, or opening their mail.



Higher education marketing awards winner: University of Auckland

Mobile and web communications winner – University of Auckland (click for the full campaign)

“A very well deserved win for a beautiful piece of media. You and the team did an extraordinary job!”
– Anastasia Papadakis,
University of Auckland

Higher education marketing awards winner: Mary Baldwin University

Direct mail winner – Mary Baldwin University (Click for part 1  Click for part 2)

Are you ready to be an award winner? Contact us today

These institutions represent just a small sample of the many campuses we serve with our RNL Complete Fundraising solutions. We have plenty more examples we can share of effective and award-winning fundraising communications, as well as solutions for annual giving, crowdfunding and giving days, and major and planned giving.

If you’re ready to join this group of award-winning fundraisers, talk with our fundraising strategists. We’ll discuss your goals, challenges, and strategies for taking your fundraising to the next level. Contact us to set up a time to talk.

The future of higher education fundraising campaigns according to fundraising leaders

What’s working in today’s fundraising campaigns according to the leaders who oversee them?

In the past few years, we’ve seen record-setting fundraising campaigns at both public and private colleges and universities. Campaigns receiving $1 billion or more in support have become more common. How has this increase (and expectation of) historic campaign results impacted fundraisers?

We explore this question in a new report that examines trends and priorities in higher education’s largest fundraising endeavors. We combined the opinions of more than 600 fundraisers with industry trend data and observation of mega-campaigns to find out how campaigns are changing and what fundraisers are doing to better connect with donors during campaigns.

We found that the “perpetual campaign” is a reality for today’s advancement professionals. Campaign timelines are growing, and preparation for the next campaign happens right after—or even before—the current campaign completes.

We heard from fundraisers that campaigns are encompassing more types of giving than in the past, with pushes for current-use dollars and for new donors becoming more common. Fundraisers are also turning to new channels to contact donors.

This means that gift officer outreach, while still the primary method of seeking major and planned gifts, is not alone as a primary campaign activity. Fundraisers have strong interest in campaign analytics and monitoring of appeals. They also want more monitoring and enhancement of gift officer productivity.

Donor campaign fatigue, providing a strong donor experience, and engaging the entire campus are also key priorities for fundraisers. Knowing that they will return to a campaign after only a short period of stewardship means fundraisers are keen to preserve donor relationships.

Fundraisers also confess that large campaigns have an opportunity cost—other priorities may be ignored during campaigns.

Here are findings from two of the five areas we surveyed.

Perpetual fundraising campaigns are the norm

For the vast majority of fundraising leaders they are in campaign mode—either currently in a campaign or preparing for one to start one soon. Only 1 in 5 said they were not in a campaign.

Fundraising campaigns - Are you currently in a campaign with your current institution

When asked about the duration of the campaigns, from the silent phase to completion, the average response was that higher education fundraising campaigns should last five years.

Fundraising campaigns encompass more goals

We asked fundraising leaders a pair of related questions regarding their fundraising campaign experiences.

  • Which of the following goals and priorities have been part of your previous campaign experiences?
  • Which do you expect to be a part of your current or next campaign?

Here are their responses:

Fundraising campaigns - which elements are part of your campaigns

Major and planned gifts continue to dominate campaign priorities, but campaigns are now more likely to include pushes for current use, annual fund, and leadership giving, matching institutional needs for immediate-use funds.

Read more findings in our report on fundraising campaigns

The Future of Higher Education Fundraising Campaigns
Download Advancement Leaders Speak 2018: The Future of Higher Education Fundraising Campaigns, for findings and comments from fundraising leaders. As well as our recommendations for improving engagement, efficiency, and results from fundraising campaigns. Get your copy now.

And if you have any questions about fundraising strategies for campaigns, alumni engagement, digital outreach, and more, please email me and I’ll be happy to talk with you.

10 fundraising insights from our 2017 research

To help provide more fundraising insights for campuses and nonprofits, Ruffalo Noel Levitz surveyed and interviewed more than 3,000 fundraisers in 2017, and also reviewed data from millions of student records from our partners. We translated this research into the popular Advancement Leaders Speak (ALS) series of research reports, groundbreaking indexes of crowdfunding and giving day results, and action-oriented tactical white papers.

As we head into 2018, here are 10 fundraising insights from this research that can help guide your efforts.

Fundraisers need to raise more with a (little) more

In our first ALS report, we interviewed 40 chief advancement officers, and 90 percent told us that raising big dollars is the top goal at their institutions. And while budgets might be increasing a bit in the coming few years, fundraising expectations are increasing at a much higher rate. This central finding drives many of the other things we heard about through the year.

Investments are going to direct solicitation channels

It is likely that institutions will be placing more resources into major giving, planned giving, and annual giving in the next 2-3 years. Alumni outreach, marketing, and events were most likely to receive cuts. This fits the aggressive dollar goals we’re seeing in campaigns and annual metrics.

Fundraising insights: Budget shre to change

Productivity is key for major and planned giving work

Nine out of ten gift officers want to spend their time differently. And they feel like only about one-third of their assigned prospects are truly qualified to make a major or planned gift. It’s time to re-invent prospect discovery and qualification. We need to create a more productive system for gift officers and a better experience for donors.

Data-driven decision making is the new norm

More than half of the advancement leaders we surveyed indicated increased investment in data and analytics in the coming few years. Institutions have mountains of data on their donors, but many are not getting the fundraising insights out of that data that they need. Chief advancement officers told us they want to get more from these systems. Only one in four said that wealth scoring and predictive scoring they currently receive are really helpful.

It’s time to optimize traditional channels like mail and phone

“How to justify ROI” and “reaching new audiences with mail and phonathon” were common responses we heard in our surveys. In order to meet goals and preserve budget dollars, fundraisers are looking to get more from traditional channels, the way one of our campus partners did.

The digital revolution is complete, now it’s about evolution

Social media, online giving portals, and digital ads are reaching near-universal adoption. About half of fundraisers indicate that they have used targeted digital advertising in the past year, and most fundraisers say their digital tactics are successful. But few are doing advanced tracking of impact, listening to what donors do online to personalized appeals, and we heard consistently that multichannel integration is a top priority.

Giving days and crowdfunding answer “why give now.”

We published two groundbreaking new indexes this year—the RNL Crowdfunding Index and the RNL Giving Day Index— based on over $65 million in donations through our platforms. These two time-sensitive channels show why giving “right now” can make a difference, through the use of deadlines, challenges, matches, and social ambassadors. Check out the crowdfunding and giving day research to see average product and campaign totals, key best practices, and find out how these 21st century donor engagement tactics can transform your program.

“How we’ve always done it” is a losing strategy

The definition of insanity in fundraising is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. What we heard as we talked to fundraisers this year, however, is that doing the same thing over and over is starting to lead to lower results, which is even worse. We have an extraordinary opportunity in a strong economy to capture new donors, re-engage lapsed donors and ask more from loyal supporters. But it’s going to require the re-invention of fundraising.

Perpetual campaigns are the new reality

Our survey of nearly 700 fundraisers told us that 81 percent of institutions were either in or about to go into a structured fundraising campaign. How institutions capture donor interest, meet goals, and thank donors in the face of significant solicitation fatigue are going to be important.

It’s time to take donors on a personal journey

A lot of these factors add up to a key strategic leap for fundraisers. It’s time to use the data, technology and new digital tools now available to let donors take the lead. This involves engaging new tactics like marketing automation, and optimized major and planned giving support services to reach the right donor at the right time with the right message. And it means not adopting a “spray and pray” strategy with appeals in the future.

Looking for more fundraising insights? Talk with our strategists.

Take a look at our major research releases from 2017,Ask our experts for fundraising insights with a free consultation and if you’re interested in taking your fundraising program to the next level, ask for a free consultation with our fundraising strategists.

Friday update: Giving Days and #GivingTuesday

Here are some great stories about Giving Tuesday and recent giving days, and a webinar about our groundbreaking Giving Day Index.

From around the web:

Spotlight: Watch this Giving Day Success Webinar

If you’re reading about all the recent giving day success and want to get your program in the game, check out this webinar which reviews over $30M in giving day results to explore best practices. And drop us a line to help take your Giving Day to the next level with RNL Giving Days powered by the ScaleFunder platform.

Recent Posts


Friday update: year end fundraising appeals, and the best of 2017

Here are some great stories about year end fundraising

From around the web:


Spotlight: RNL Year in Review Webinar

What happens when you talk with over 3,000 fundraisers and review $1.6B in fundraising results? One great year for RNL research!

Tuesday, December 12 | 2-3pm Eastern

Even though overall giving is up, fundraisers still face serious challenges. Donor counts remain down for many institutions, and many fundraising leaders are looking for new ways to engage their donors and channel their philanthropic spirit back to their institution.

Join us for this webinar to hear how you can meet these challenges. We’ll review the best research from our 2017 archive on emerging trends and tactics, which includes insights from over 3,000 fundraisers. You’ll leave with new ideas to boost your fundraising results in 2018. Register Now >>>

Recent Posts


Friday Update: Giving Tuesday

Here are some great stories about this week’s Giving Tuesday results.

From around the web:

Spotlight: Giving Day Success Webinar

Do you want to have the Giving Day and Giving Tuesday success others are experiencing? How do you plan, run, and make the most of a 24-hour giving event for your institution?

Tuesday, December 5 | 2PM ET

Join us for this free webinar to find out what we learned from analyzing over $37 million in giving day donations. Our researchers studied giving day averages, including total dollars, online giving, and number of gifts to unearth the common qualities of top giving days. Register today >>

Recent Posts


New survey: Global donors want fundraising personalization

Accenture, the global consulting giant, recently released the 2017 Non-Profit Public Citizen’s survey. Speaking with donors across six nations, the company confirmed some things we’ve been talking about here at RNL, especially regarding fundraising personalization:

“What do people want from their nonprofits? We asked people across six countries: Australia, France, Germany, Singapore, UK, and USA. Specifically constituents told us that they are open to nonprofit innovation, think that nonprofits can do more digitally, and most importantly that they are willing to give MORE for increased personalization.”

Six in ten respondents think that nonprofits should use more digital technology. Less than half are satisfied with the fundraising personalization they are receiving from causes they support.

You can check out the survey overview here.

Fundraising personalization study

From Accenture’s 2017 study.

Digital expert Caryn Stein from RNL recently gave a webinar on how fundraising personalization is the key to engaging 21st century donors. You can view a recording here:

If you’re ready to take your fundraising in a more personal and digitally connected direction, set up a meeting with our fundraising strategists. We can discuss how you can create in with donors in ways that engage their passions and retain their interest.

Major Gifts + Giving Days = Win, even on #GivingTuesday

#GivingTuesday can be a catalyst for major givingHappy #GivingTuesday, fellow fundraisers! This year seems like it will be another record-setting event, with charities around the world receiving a ton of support as we move further into the holiday season.

A whole lot of this giving is boosted and amplified by major giving. In fact, in our recent study of 47 giving days totaling $37M in donations, we found that online giving drives the bulk of individual donations, but offline giving such as major gifts, challenges and matches made up over two-thirds of the total funds.

Why does this work? The first reason is that matches and challenges are a time-tested way to get people on the “bandwagon” and give them a sense that even though their gift is smaller, they are part of something bigger. Secondly, competitions between academic areas, groups of alumni, even states and regions “gamify” giving and just make it more exciting. Here are just a few examples from today’s #GivingTuesday of institutions using the RNL Giving Day Platform:

It takes two key things to make this effective donor motivation strategy work on a giving day:

  1. The right technology to offer the incentives and show donors a growing total.
  2. Strong relationships with your major and planned giving team who are most likely to find the big donors who can showcase a gift on your giving day.

As you plan for next year’s #GivingTuesday, or your special giving day, make both a priority.

We’ll be covering these key tactics, and how you can use giving days as a 365-day, full-team strategy, in our upcoming webinar on December 5. Register now to find out how to bring your giving day to the next level.


#GivingTuesday and giving days: free webinar

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