The OmniChannel Illusion in Higher Ed Fundraising

Marketing buzzwords in fundraising are like honey to bears, we love them.  Over the past several months I’ve noticed more institutions mentioning their omnichannel outreach as a sort of golden fleece approach to annual giving and alumni engagement.  While I’m a big believer in the effectiveness of omnichannel marketing, once I start investigating it’s seldom omnichannel campaigns that we see institutions executing in higher education fundraising. Instead, it’s multichannel, which brings more channels, more complexity, but not necessarily better results.

So what is omnichannel and how is it different from multichannel? Omnichannel strategy is a focus on the user experience that commonly uses both online and traditional channels in an integrated manner, focusing much more on engagement and interactions and using that data to fuel additional outreach.

Below are 3 examples of how omnichannel is different than what most institutions are doing today:

Focus on the Individual Alumni Donor Experience

This means thinking less about your outreach calendar or when you want to reach donors and more about how you will continue to engage them as they connect with you. It means ensuring that your channels not only speak with a consistent message, but that when a donor takes an action, that it triggers a follow up email or a phone call from a student or a set of retargeting digital ads or all three of those things launch based on the desired outcome.

Omnichannel Example: A donor opens your fiscal year end email clicks on the “give now” button but doesn’t make a gift.  This happens far more times than a donor clicking on the link and making a gift. So how do we re-engage that donor.  The sample flow below shows how that action should trigger automated responses.

An omnichannel flow is based on what your donors do, not your “calendar.”

 Reduce Friction in the Giving Process

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AI Fundraising Chatbots: Meet AL from RNL

RNL has launched AL, our fundraising AI chatbot. If you saw our announcements about AL or have followed the growing interest in the use of AI for fundraising, you may wonder how a fundraising AI chatbot fits within the broader strategic framework of fundraising.

Why AI?

Do you have the budget to add an army of staff members for connecting with alumni? The answer is likely no, which is why artificial intelligence is becoming increasingly important for advancement. AI can deliver personalization at scale, solving challenges across the full student lifecycle. AI can help you engage engage students, parents, alumni, and others in a more personalized manner and act on key pain points/questions they have in real-time. It also allows you to learn more about your audience, enabling you to evolve your marketing messages based on real-data. That makes it easier for you to meet the expectation of personalization that alumni, donors, and frankly all consumers now have.

Why AL?

AL, RNL's fundraising AI chatbot

Engagement and conversion are primary objectives of all outreach with alumni and donors, and much of that engagement now takes place via digital communications: your website, social media, digital advertising, and so on. AL, our fundraising AI chatbot and messaging solution, is the logical progression for how RNL is helping institutions make those connections.

Let me be clear: an AI chatbot is not a magic wand for fundraising (spoiler alert: there is no magic wand for  fundraising). However, it is also very clear that fundraising AI chatbots have enormous potential to create personalized engagement while also freeing up your limited resources for connections that truly require the human touch. We have integrated AL into our full suite of omnichannel solutions, giving you a new channel to connect with your constituents and give them key information in a way that seems personal.

When an alumnus has a question, the AI chatbot is there to help answer questions and to send follow up messages to keep them engaged and informed. The institution can also see the type of questions alumni are asking, which can then inform their marketing communication strategy. When an institution is planning a giving day and wondering how they can keep up with the litany of questions, how to increase conversion, and how to thank donors in a personalized way, Al has built-in integration with RNL Digital Giving that allows for the chatbot to easily be embedded within a giving day or crowdfunding campaign. As for the name AL, it honors the transformative work one of our founders, Al Ruffalo, accomplished in the higher ed market, as well as to mark the continued transformation that RNL is building on our strong foundation of solutions.

Meet AL now to learn more about our fundraising AI chatbot

AL, RNL's fundraising AI chatbot

We have AL all ready to talk with you—stop by for a chat and see what AL can do. And keep in mind that AL is fully customized to your institution, so that your chat avatar and branding reflect your institution and reinforce the connection with donors.

This is also just the beginning for our foray into AI for enrollment and fundraising. The applications for this technology, and we will share more use cases over the next few weeks. So say hi to AL, and connect with us on AL’s page to discuss how AI chatbots can amplify your multichannel outreach.

Giving Tuesday 2017: Highs and lows

For Giving Tuesday 2017, more than $270 million was raised from an estimated 1.64 million gifts. That’s an impressive total, but now what? How do institutions continue to raise the bar next year and the year after that?  The answer is to continue to infuse innovation in your fundraising strategy to more effectively engage and inspire your donors.

For the past several years I’ve given to a variety of nonprofits and institutions on Giving Tuesday to see just how institutions are evolving their strategy and technology to attract and convert donors. Here are some innovative approaches and lost opportunities that I saw for Giving Tuesday 2017 which you can use to inform your 2018 strategy.

All aboard the recurring giving train

We all know by now that recurring giving donors create more value for an organization with higher renewal rates and a stronger longer term value than a single gift donor. The good news this year is recurring giving was a consistent giving option at higher-education institutions I supported. However, nonprofits continued to innovate the most. Below are a couple examples of best-in-class recurring giving strategies.

  • A giving page pop-up box that asked me to switch my one time gift to a recurring gift before my gift was processed. Two nonprofits I supported used this strategy.

Giving Tuesday 2017: pop-up box

Giving Tuesday 2017: Pop-up box

  • A thank you landing page with another ask for a recurring gift. We all know that the best donor is the one who just gave. For one international nonprofit, they took that to heart by using the thank you page to ask me to become a recurring giving donor.Giving Tuesday 2017: landing page

Gift/array ask levels

While most giving pages provide suggested ask amounts, one nonprofit took it to another level by highlighting a level and including text that “most people are giving $125 right now.”  This is a simple but effective tactic at encouraging donors to support at a higher level than they might otherwise consider.Giving Tuesday 2017: Recommended donation

Higher education institutions imitating nonprofits

For Giving Tuesday 2017, we saw more higher-ed institutions highlighting causes such as food insecurity to make their message more compelling and competitive with nonprofits. It’s a smart shift as micro-causes on a campus can tangibly benefit from the attention, and it’s easy for donors to understand the impact.

“Digital light”

While I made my gifts online, there was a noticeable void with higher-ed institutions not using digital advertising to target past donors, and none of the ones I supported utilized retargeting as a means to bring me back to the giving page if I abandoned it without making a gift. These represent significant opportunities to utilize digital advertising to improve the online gift conversion. Nonprofits continue to invest heavily in these two digital strategies. Notice the “Be a hero for animals” appearing on a news page.

Giving Tuesday 2017: Digital strategy

Giving Tuesday 2017: Digital Strategy

Lack of personalization

Personalization is the new buzz word in philanthropy, but this year leads me to believe we have a long way to go. From personalized landing pages and ask amounts to simply acknowledging I supported last Giving Tuesday, there is room for improvement in an ever-crowded fundraising market.

Giving Tuesday is here to stay

Organizations that push the envelope by testing, innovating, and measuring their success will see their giving totals climb. It’s important to remember that what works on Giving Tuesday also has relevance to the entire fiscal year.

Read our report on successful giving days

Giving Tuesday 2017: Giving Day IndexWe just released our 2017 Giving Day Index, a study of more than $37 million in giving through the RNL Giving Day platform. You can read the full study here.

Our RNL Giving Day platform powers giving days on Giving Tuesday as well as throughout the year. Contact us today to learn how we can combine strategy and the best technology to take your giving day to the next level.

Ask for your RNL Giving Day tour »

Donor warming: major and planned giving for the modern advancement team

The second in a four-part series on how institutions and nonprofit organizations can re-imagine how to identify, warm, and qualify major giving and planned giving prospects, along with how to analyze the success from those efforts. Read part 1 here.

Part 2:  Keeping your major gift prospects warm

You have donors with propensity to give and you have donors with predicted wealth. As we discussed in the first blog in this series, when those two attributes combine you have what many consider to be the perfect major giving prospect.  For those entering or in a campaign, you likely have identified a large new cadre of major gift prospects that you hope and expect are primed for making a transformational gift.

So now it’s time to assign a major gift officer and begin qualifying this large pool of new major giving prospects through personal outreach…or is it?  There are two roadblocks that we have to overcome before we embark upon the engagement and qualification calls that are part of donor warming:

  1. Donor education about major giving: Most major giving prospects will have a long history of giving and may be inclined to continue giving. That said, past communication from your organization may not be conveying your transformational gift opportunities. Educating these loyal donors is key before any qualification call.
  2. Major gift officer portfolio size: While having a large group of identified prospects can seem like a great problem to have, the reality is a large group of new prospects with no history of making major gifts can very easily fall under your gift officer radar. These new opportunities aren’t likely going to rise to the top of a major gift officer list of donors to engage, especially when they are trying to close gifts from proven major donors. Commonly, these prospects are also removed from at least some of the annual giving appeals, which means a group of proven donors can begin to languish, ignored, without the same level of outreach that they have come to expect from your organization. Big gift officer portfolios, instead of opportunity, can spell disaster.

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Major and planned giving for the modern advancement team

The first in a four-part series on how institutions and nonprofit organizations can re-imagine how to identify, warm, and qualify major giving and planned giving prospects, along with how to analyze the success from those efforts. Read part 2 on donor warming.

Part 1: Going beyond wealth ratings to find your best major giving and planned giving prospects

Just about every major giving and planned giving program uses wealth ratings to look for qualified donors. While these services are far from perfect, they have been helpful in focusing the efforts of giving teams and ensuring that they are not flying blind and guessing about donor capacity. From conversations with hundreds of giving professionals, we’ve learned that the reduction of time between campaigns is now causing institutions to take a hard look at how they are identifying major giving and planned giving prospects; now questioning if wealth ratings alone are truly the golden fleece institutions need.

While wealth research can uncover capacity, it often misses on determining propensity. Propensity is more than just the giving history of your donors; it’s the level of engagement with your cause and how a donor is attached to your giving organization. To increase major gift productivity, you have to apply a more sophisticated level of analytics and modeling to uncover donors who have the right combination of capacity and propensity.

The new propensity model

  • Affinity: Wealthy givers are as diverse in their giving interests as they are in how they came to wealth. Pointing to a list of wealthy people in your town or in your database does very little toward determining if they really care deeply about your cause and are interested in investing. New fundraising mediums such as giving days and crowdfunding now allow you to understand the specific philanthropic passions of your donors.
  • Real-Time Engagement: Marketing automation provides a complete view of the donor journey, allowing you to see in real-time how a donor is engaging with the institution. Being able to understand everything from event attendance and engagement in other activities like athletics, arts, and community to how donors are interacting with all your channels is key. If you’re not tracking which of your high capacity donors are clicking on emails, attending events, talking to student callers, and responding on social media, you could be missing donors ready to give “right now.”
  • Involvement:

    Volunteers are up to four times more likely to donate in most organizations.

    Volunteers are up to four times more likely to donate in most organizations. Making sure you consider involvement, like serving on boards, attending volunteer events and even providing mentorship to students and charity recipients is crucial in separating “sort of” interested givers from those who are already showing deep investment.
  • Life Stage Giving: It’s just not true that donors who stop or change their giving are dropping you. Based on the donor’s situation, life stage and wealth profile, this could actually signal that they are moving into the next stage of their philanthropic engagement. It could be time to distribute wealth, and they now look at annual giving differently. Dropping previous givers who change their behavior off your radar without investigating further is just bad fundraising.
  • Capacity Profile: Total net worth is more than a score. Assets can be hidden from view, or be part of complicated joint ownership. Looking deeper into the wealth profile itself is crucial in crafting the best approach for donors and their families. Do you know how many of your high wealth donors have a family foundation? How many regularly contribute to a donor advised fund? These philanthropic engines are now as powerful as major charities and you should be paying attention to them.

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Insights from our Digital Philanthropy and Millennial Engagement Conference

More than100 giving and engagement professionals joined us in Atlanta for #RuffaloCON16, a summit on digital fundraising strategies and tactics to engage Millennials and use emerging digital solutions. We had a blast, and here are few things we learned:

The Millennials are rising

This important group will soon make up half of most higher education institution alumni bases, and institutions want to increase engagement with this influential and passionate group of young donors. It’s a hot topic that we received a lot of questions from all types of attendees at the conference, from vice presidents of advancement, to directors of annual giving, to direct digital appeal professionals and leaders of non-profit organizations.

The time for digital is now

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5 ways to boost your annual giving performance

Phonathon Score Card

Evaluate your phonathon with our scorecard Take our short survey and receive a scorecard that compares your program to other phonathon programs and shows how you can increase your results. Click to start.

In a time when budgets are tight and it’s increasingly tough to capture donors, making good solicitations isn’t enough to increase your annual giving results. It takes great solicitations. Phonathon is a perfect example: Putting skilled callers on the phone with a compelling message alone won’t generate the results you want. The work you do before and after the call is crucial.

After consulting and helping hundreds of institutions that are managing their own phonathon program, we noticed a pattern. We saw consistent gaps in call preparation and follow up after calls were made. So we developed RNL Accelerator, which uses a combination of data enrichment, donor warming, and stewardship to fill these communication gaps and boost phonathon performance. The strategy comes from years of experience with small and large programs, as well as research into our database of more than $1 billion in successful phonathon solicitations.

5 steps for increasing your annual giving results

The RNL Accelerator approach uses five steps that pave the way for a successful call and increase fulfillment of pledges from donors.

5 ways to boost annual giving results using RNL Accelerator

The idea behind the RNL Accelerator method for boosting a phone program’s results is to enhance each phase prior to and following a call. First, you can complete calls to and actually speak with more prospective donors because you have more accurate contact information for a greater number of your records. Then adding mail and e-mail engagement before the call offers a substantial boost as donors are “warmed” to the idea of giving. And for those who do not give a credit card right on the phone, you need to get the gift in. Providing prompt, direct and easy-to-complete fulfillment materials is crucial. Finally, we experimented with thanking donors and found that contact and response results were significantly increased the next year.

Here’s how this might play out in one segment of a phone program, with 10,000 completed calls:

Historic Results Potential – After Accelerator
Completed Calls 10,000 11,175
Contact Rate (actually reaching donors) 52% 55%
Pledge/Gift Rate 20% 24%
Fulfillment Rate 65% 76%
Total Donors 676 1,121
Average Pledge $90 $98
Total Dollars $60,840 $109,865
Stewardship Effect in Year 2 +10%
Expected Dollars Year 2 $120,852


[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Too often, programs decline or lose growth opportunity not because the institution, callers, and scripts aren’t great, but because the work hasn’t been done before and after the call to put together a great solicitation.[/pullquote]

Under this model, the donation dollars have doubled by the second year. Not to mention a great increase in donors, which could help this institution meet participation goals.

Your results could be very different based on the quality of your data, who you are calling, other communications you are sending and other factors, but what I’m trying to show here is that the results increase very quickly because of the combined effect of multiple “boosts” to the preparation, engagement, and follow up with donors.

When you consider how many people per hour your callers are likely to speak to, and the significant investment you are already making, it’s absolutely crucial that you get the highest possible return. Too often, we find that programs decline or lose growth opportunity not because the institution, callers, and scripts aren’t great, but because the work hasn’t been done before and after the call to put together a great solicitation.

It’s the difference between “phoning it in” and “phoning it great.”

And perhaps the most important thing: calls that come with great context, personalization, follow up and stewardship provide more joy to donors. Which means that in the long run, you will have more of them.

Accelerator_score_cardAssess your phonathon with our free scorecard

Take our short survey and receive a phonathon scorecard. You’ll see how your program compares to other phonathon programs, based on our database of $1 billion in successful solicitations.  Click to start.

Are thank you calls worth the effort?


At a time when being “thankful” is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, my team and I set out to determine the power of a thank you, more specifically a thank you call.

Why make a thank you call when you could be making another ask and potentially receiving another gift? It’s a fair question, but it assumes the trade-off is simple; doing what feels right versus bringing in more donors and dollars.  While I’ve always advocated to organizations I’ve worked with the need to conduct thank you calls, I wanted to better understand the ripple effect thank you calls can have in the following year.


We analyzed data from four of our on-campus managed phonathon programs that conducted thank you calls in FY14 and tracked the results for all constituents that received a thank you call versus those that did not.  We specifically looked at those loaded in current donor (aka lybunt) segments the following year.

Scope of Analysis

  • 30,133 Records (4,098 thanked in previous year)
  • 13,933 Completed Calls
  • 3,902 Specified Pledges

Direct Impact on Phonathon Performance

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What I learned from 2 days in Congress – Report from the Canadian Annual Giving Congress 2015

Last week I had the opportunity to speak in front of Congress and learn from some of the brightest minds in North America.  I’m referring to the Canadian Annual Giving Congress and in this post I’ll share some of the annual giving insights and ideas gleaned from the sessions in Toronto that will hopefully inspire you to achieve more this fall.

Are you social enough?

Are you engaging with your donors on social media and having a conversation? Perhaps the thought of that is a bit scary, as they might tell you something publicly you don’t want the masses to hear.  For a lot of institutions this fear prevents us from using social media to enhance the relationship with donors and create a group of engaged listeners.  During a session on Digital/Social Media in Annual Giving, the speakers shared some great examples like the Instagram one above that was used during a giving day to post personalized social media messages on Instagram accounts of their donors. Continue Reading »

Are Matching Gifts a Waste of Time?

Focusing on matching gifts for your phonathon is a waste of time, unless you are concerned with the following:



I’m going to assume I now have your attention. Read on to learn more about some of the latest strategies and tactics I shared during my webinar today hosted by HEPData on Using Phonathon to Positively Influence Matching Gifts.

Target Audience

The use of segmentation and calling pools in phonathons is nothing new. It gives you the ability to target the right constituents with a relevant message to improve results. However, are you using calling pools to increase the volume of matching gifts and, ultimately, dollars? Continue Reading »

Are Your Fundraising Channels Deceiving You?

dataquestionsmallAre your channels lying to you? Perhaps they are. If you only sent direct mail and never used another channel all year, then the channel and your results will be “truthful”. The second you add email, phone, crowdfunding, or social media to the mix, it becomes a lot more complicated and a little more deceptive.
For those who wonder how your channels can be deceptive, think about our tendency to look at how channels perform in a vacuum. It’s easy to praise or discount a channel based on percentages, averages, donors, dollars, but deep down we all know that channels don’t operate in a silo, even if that’s how we analyze the results.

If you are skeptical on how your channels might be influencing each other, take a look at the following scenarios from research we’ve conducted with our clients over the past 18 months.

Postcards Enhancing Acquisition Rates

On the surface, postcards don’t have a positive ROI, because it’s tough to measure direct mail results if there is no reply device. However, we know that postcards have the highest read rate (2015 DMA Statistical Fact Book) at 48% compared to other types of mail. So in FY15 we tested the impact that a series of engagement postcards Continue Reading »

Lessons Learned from the RuffaloCON15 Fundraising Conference


Last week attendees from 100+ organizations joined us from the US, Canada, Australia and even Saudi Arabia to discuss the hottest topics and latest trends in annual giving at RuffaloCON15. For those of you not able to attend, I’d be remiss if I didn’t provide you with a few of the topics that had the conference abuzz.

Annual Giving Is Ripe for Testing and Experimentation

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