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March (Alumni Giving) Madness 2018 – Final Results

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is a former annual fund and major gift professional who now focuses on research and benchmarking to drive fundraising strategy. He is also a doctoral student studying higher education giving.
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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

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is a former annual fund and major gift professional who now focuses on research and benchmarking to drive fundraising strategy. He is also a doctoral student studying higher education giving.
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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 RuffaloNL.com 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

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is a former annual fund and major gift professional who now focuses on research and benchmarking to drive fundraising strategy. He is also a doctoral student studying higher education giving.
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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

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is a former annual fund and major gift professional who now focuses on research and benchmarking to drive fundraising strategy. He is also a doctoral student studying higher education giving.
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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

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is a former annual fund and major gift professional who now focuses on research and benchmarking to drive fundraising strategy. He is also a doctoral student studying higher education giving.
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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

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is a former annual fund and major gift professional who now focuses on research and benchmarking to drive fundraising strategy. He is also a doctoral student studying higher education giving.
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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

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is a former annual fund and major gift professional who now focuses on research and benchmarking to drive fundraising strategy. He is also a doctoral student studying higher education giving.
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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.

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Three concepts higher education fundraisers must embrace to succeed

Caryn Stein

Caryn Stein

Vice President at Ruffalo Noel Levtiz
Caryn Stein is the Vice President of Marketing and is dedicated to helping organizations combine data and technology with compelling fundraising experiences to create more effective marketing for their missions. She is a nationally recognized speaker, having helped hundreds of organizations improve their fundraising campaigns and write more effective donor communications.
Caryn Stein

In my previous blog on the three challenges facing higher education fundraisers, I talked about how increased competition for dollars, changes in communication, and shifting donor expectations have made the fundraising landscape more difficult than ever.

While these challenges might feel daunting, there is an incredible and exciting opportunity to modernize fundraising with new tools and tactics that can have a truly revolutionary impact on giving. To meet today’s demands, institutions must shift the way they approach fundraising. Higher education fundraisers need to adopt new strategies that leverage advanced analytics, new engagement models, and insights to be able to scale, connect, and see a greater return on their fundraising investment.

From student philanthropy to planned giving, from alumni engagement to a multi-million-dollar major gift, donors have shifted to expect a new level of interaction and customization.

The good news is that the data, technology, and a compelling impact opportunity already exist to communicate with students, alumni, and other members of the community. The priority now is to weave them together in a more intelligent way to more effectively engage donors and create a rewarding habit of lifetime giving.

Here are three essential concepts that higher education fundraisers must embrace to overcome these common challenges and achieve sustained success:

1. Root your strategy in data

Let’s be clear: traditional segmentation based on old-style heuristics will no longer cut it. Advanced analytics, predictive modeling, and engagement scoring will help you identify the right donors most likely to give, focusing your time and resources in the right ways, making your programs more efficient, and resulting in a higher return on your investment of money, time, and people. These same techniques will also help you fine-tune your methods and messaging to ensure you are sending the message most likely to resonate with any given donor.

2. Modernize your outreach

In addition to leveraging new techniques like targeted digital advertising, marketing automation, and adaptive engagement technology, a modern approach to building a relationship with donors weaves together the right channels for the right donors at the right time. Move beyond a simplistic multichannel view of blasting the same message across all channels, and create a personal journey that tailors your channels and cadence based on the campaign and audience. All channels—including digital, email, social, phone, direct mail, events—working together creates a more compelling donor-directed experience.

3. Personalize the engagement

Donors want to understand how your work is relevant not only to their experience with the institution, but also how it connects to what they care about now. They need to know the specific, tangible impact their gift will have. Use the insights that you gain from your data and a donor’s own actions to move away from a scripted transaction and instead create interactive, dynamic giving experiences that speak to an individual donors’ expectations and why they give. Allow for giving to take place at any time, at any level, and through the giving methods the donor chooses.

Finally, take a holistic view of your donors—from acquisition to transformational giving—and connect these same principles throughout your fundraising operation, tying them together so a donor’s journey with your institution gets more compelling and rewarding with each step. From student philanthropy to planned giving, from alumni engagement to a multi-million-dollar major gift, donors have shifted to expect a new level of interaction and customization—it’s time to shift along with them and reinvent fundraising in order to reinvigorate higher education philanthropy.

Read our white paper for higher education fundraisers and ask for a free strategy consultation

Read our white paper for higher education fundraisers Download our white paper, Why Reinventing Fundraising in Higher Education Is Imperative for Its Survival. It covers the three challenges and three strategies discussed in my blogs.

I also encourage you to ask for a free consultation with our fundraising strategists. Ruffalo Noel Levitz has partnered with hundreds of colleges and universities. Talk to us about how you can increase donor engagement, connect with donors who are ready to give now, and build a lifelong giving relationship with them.

Ask for a free fundraising strategy consultation.

Three core challenges facing higher education fundraising

Caryn Stein

Caryn Stein

Vice President at Ruffalo Noel Levtiz
Caryn Stein is the Vice President of Marketing and is dedicated to helping organizations combine data and technology with compelling fundraising experiences to create more effective marketing for their missions. She is a nationally recognized speaker, having helped hundreds of organizations improve their fundraising campaigns and write more effective donor communications.
Caryn Stein

This is part one of a two-part series on reinventing higher education fundraising. Read part 2 here.

Increased pressures across a more complex and challenging landscape demand a new approach to higher education fundraising. As overall enrollment numbers decline, student retention is stagnant, and traditional revenue sources are no longer predictable, individual philanthropic support for higher education is more important than ever to ensure financial stability and long-term growth.

But just as higher education leaders are looking to advancement to close the funding gap, those on the fundraising front line are facing their own set of serious challenges. Alumni participation and individual giving to institutions are declining, and the public has raised questions about the value of higher education. Simultaneously, foundations and gift officers are being asked to raise much more—with either flat or only minimally increased budgets.

Fundraisers need to do much more with the limited resources they have. In this setting, perhaps the harshest reality of all is this: traditional, “tried-and-true” fundraising methods won’t be enough to address new challenges in higher education or the increased demands on advancement professionals.

Higher education fundraising is facing three core challenges—and isn’t adapting quickly enough to overcome them

As pressure mounts to bring in more fundraising dollars more quickly, donors are becoming more difficult to acquire and retain due to 1) increasing competition, 2) a changing communication landscape, and 3) the population’s shifting behaviors and preferences when it comes to giving.

1. Competition for donors and dollars is only growing more fierce

Contrary to popular belief, an institution’s biggest competitor for donors and dollars is not other colleges and universities, nor is it the 1.5 million charities now active in the U.S.  If it were only that simple! The true source of competitive pressure in today’s world are the consumer marketing giants like Amazon who continue to lead the charge in more sophisticated, data-driven, channel-optimized, and highly tuned communication to the same population that colleges and universities are trying to reach. These retailers have set the bar very high and continue to push it skyward with advanced targeting, big data, and continuously tested user experiences.

The true source of competitive pressure in today’s world are the consumer marketing giants like Amazon who continue to lead the charge in more sophisticated, data-driven, channel-optimized, and highly tuned communication to the same population that colleges and universities are trying to reach.

Donors, like the rest of us, now expect this same type of interaction with any type of brand they encounter—even their alma mater. When institutions fall short, their message falls flat, and their attention falls away, taking their discretionary dollars with it. Gone are the days of alumni feeling duty-bound to give back to their institution.

Of course, the competition not only comes in the form of highly-optimized and personalized experiences, but also in the sheer volume of messages and offers.

Some organizations are already catching on to individualized marketing, the attention economy, and high-quality storytelling. We are now at the tip of the iceberg as we see major nonprofits and foundations start to modernize their approach to targeting, engaging, and soliciting for philanthropic support. The reality is that the only way to beat them is to join them. It’s time for higher education fundraising to move more quickly to adopt these modern marketing tactics to remain relevant and produce results—or be left in the dust.

2. The communication landscape is exploding

Compared to just one year ago, Americans are now spending 60 percent more time on smartphones creating and consuming information on websites, email, social media, streaming video, and more. By 2019, 246 billion emails will be sent per day. It’s no surprise that the number of channels and the volume of information being sent has exponentially grown in the last decade. This represents a challenge in a more crowded arena with more fragmentation of ways to connect with donors.

Successful fundraisers will need to meet donors where they are—and on their terms—to make the connection that will lead to engagement and, ultimately, a gift.

Compounding this is the incredible power of choice. Donors now drive their own communication by selecting the modes and filters that suit them.  It’s important to remember your audience is now in control of the message and how you reach them. They decide when they want to be contacted, by whom, through which channels, and on what topics.

With this in mind, successful fundraisers will need to meet donors where they are—and on their terms—to make the connection that will lead to engagement and, ultimately, a gift.

3. The time to meet shifting donor expectations is now

While core motivations for giving have not changed dramatically—donors still give for primarily social, emotional, and personal reasons—donor expectations and giving preferences have evolved. We live in an age of unprecedented personal expression and transparency, and this has transformed higher education fundraising strategies.

To truly connect with donors and inspire them to support the programs that are most meaningful to them, you need to speak directly to them—and then let them talk back. This means getting extremely clear on the message you’re trying to send and personalizing the experience to make it incredibly compelling and relevant to that individual. Now more than ever, the key to more effective communication is relevancy.

To truly connect with donors and inspire them to support the programs that are most meaningful to them, you need to speak directly to them—and then let them talk back.

When your emails and other communications are more personalized and specific, they tap into the identity of the donor and are instantly more relevant, interesting, and authentic.

A fundraiser’s job relies heavily on the ability to definitively answer the question, “Why me?” You can’t do that with blast messaging and generic segmentation. For today’s donors, only a highly personalized, relevant, and interactive experience will break through the competitive noise and hold their attention.

Read part 2 of this blog on the three concepts fundraisers must embrace.

What are the best higher education fundraising strategies? Ask our experts.

Free consultation on higher education fundraising strategiesOur fundraising strategists can help you address your challenges and meet your goals for any areas of higher education, including:

  • Annual giving
  • Major and planned giving
  • Digital fundraising, including crowdfunding and giving days
  • Donor engagement and retention

Ask us for a free consultation.

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

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is a former annual fund and major gift professional who now focuses on research and benchmarking to drive fundraising strategy. He is also a doctoral student studying higher education giving.
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Here are some great stories about year end fundraising

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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 >>>

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Giving Tuesday 2017: Highs and lows

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Josh Robertson

Vice President of Product Strategy at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Josh has over 17 years of experience in the industry, oversees fundraising strategy, analytics and product development and has worked with over 100+ institutions.
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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 »

Friday Update: Giving Tuesday

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is a former annual fund and major gift professional who now focuses on research and benchmarking to drive fundraising strategy. He is also a doctoral student studying higher education giving.
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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 >>

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