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Welcome to our Fundraising Management Blog! Be sure to visit us often for the latest information on fundraising news, trends, and best practices.

Is charitable giving up, down or sideways? Maybe we are.

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is 20-year higher education veteran and a former annual fund and major gift professional. As a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team, Brian now focuses on donor behavior, industry trends and benchmarking to drive the fundraising strategy of RNL partners. You can also hear Brian as the host of RNL's Fundraising Voices podcast.
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Recent headlines report that giving grew sluggishly in 2018. AFP’s Fundraising Effectiveness Report says that growth was about 1.6 percent. Blackbaud estimated about 1.5 percent growth. That is potentially below inflation—depending on how you look at it, giving went down.

Well, actually, the charitable giving story is a bit more complicated than that:

  • Higher education giving is up. We saw a substantial increase of over 7 percent in cash receipts at the end of fiscal year 2018 (usually July) per the VSE survey. Giving is also changing. A large part of that increase was in alternate giving vehicles like donor advised funds and individually-directed but “other organization” receipted funds like family foundations, etc.
  • Campaigns continue to set records. One reason for this is something all the giving reports have pointed to, a massive growth in really big givers. Many charities are setting records for mega-donations at a time when their donor retention, overall participation, and total number of donors are declining. If your organization has the fundraising infrastructure and giving opportunities in place to court these big donors, you are going to see the impact of this historic wealth transfer.
  • Broad giving statistics require context. Overall, giving is likely to be sluggish when considered in comparison to things like GDP and inflation in a slow growth economy. Income inequality is getting worse and the student loan debt crisis is an actual crisis that we know is impacting alumni willingness to give.

In fact, as a few of my favorite industry pundits have put it, most of the doom and gloom about fundraising results is overblown, tax policy didn’t really have that much impact and most of the problem is how we’re engaging donors.

  • Younger donors are giving differently. Millennials make up a huge portion of our potential donor base. They are responding to different types of appeals, are more burdened by debt, and may be just as likely to give to a compelling GoFundMe campaign directly supporting a friend in need (or a compelling social media case). We ultimately will all start to behave like the young people. So, if you’re not adapting to these new, digital first and socially networked giving tactics, you are going to have trouble attracting and keeping all types of donors.
  • Reports from fundraising CRMs and fundraiser surveys are only one part of the picture. If people are giving differently, donor advised funds, Facebook giving, and other methods are changing the game, our impressions and data are going to lag donor behavior. I would suggest that we can talk to the donors directly and ask them how they are giving and how they plan to give.

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Can a Donor-Advised Fund Be Used to Pay Off a Donor’s Pledge?

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is 20-year higher education veteran and a former annual fund and major gift professional. As a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team, Brian now focuses on donor behavior, industry trends and benchmarking to drive the fundraising strategy of RNL partners. You can also hear Brian as the host of RNL's Fundraising Voices podcast.
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In our recent webinar with Ann Kaplan at CASE, “What $47 Billion in Higher Education Giving Means for You,” we talked about another record year in donation receipts recorded by the Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) survey, our annual record of giving to colleges and universities. Highlights include:

  • A 7.2 percent increase in gifts (cash) received by higher education institutions.
  • A jump in mega gifts over $100 million, which help fuel those record-breaking higher education campaigns we’re all reading about.
  • Increases in both current operations (6.2 percent) and capital giving (8.6 percent).
  • An increase from every type of donor, including a big jump in the “other organization” category, which includes donor-advised funds. We’re watching this category as it grows, likely affected by both tax policy and the growing popularity of this giving method.

But the biggest question I’ve gotten since the webinar is one we answered late in the webinar about those donor-advised funds (well, I tried, but Ann actually succeeded, which is why I invite her genius to present every year).

Since donor-advised fund contributions are just growing and growing, they could collide with our campaigns and reunion pushes. Can a donor-advised fund be used to pay off a pledge?

As Ann explained, the IRS has provided guidance on this, and the door is open for donor-advised fund grants to be applied to pledges:

In fact, Fidelity (the biggest fund) even provides a guide, with screenshots, on how a donor can execute a “non-binding pledge” and even set up a recurring grant direction from their fund.

The key seems to be that the pledges must not be “legally binding,” and of course we all know about the requirement that donor-advised funds provide nothing more than an “incidental” benefit to a donor. For the most part, our run-of-the-mill reunion and campaign pledges are likely not to be legally binding, especially if the donor ensures they aren’t using the guidance like Fidelity and other funds have provided. And as always, the tax documentation goes to the fund, not the donor, who receives any applicable tax benefits at the time of their initial contribution to their donor-advised fund.

a solid plan to steward donors who direct donor-advised fund grants will be absolutely crucial to your fundraising success.


It’s time to get to know donor-advised funds and the flexibility they provide donors, if for no other reason than they are just growing like crazy. We think there’s a chance that recent tax policy, and the influence of both savvy financial advisors and the incredible marketing of these donor-advised funds, will cause this type of giving to accelerate. More and more donors—and not just the richest—will be likely to “bundle” giving at a time that it is advantageous, and then direct grants over time.

A strategy for how to inform donors that you are ready to accept donor-advised fund disbursements, an internal strategy to identify and code donors that use them, and a solid plan to steward donors who direct donor-advised fund grants will be absolutely crucial to your fundraising success.

These gift vehicles (and similar vehicles like family foundations and closely-held corporation gifts) are indeed gifts that flow from individual philanthropic direction. As the VSE data shows, they are growing in higher education, and we all need to get smarter about how to encourage and embrace them.

Disclaimer: This opinion piece by RNL consulting is not intended to offer legal advice. In all cases, charities and organizations should consult legal counsel before adopting gift acceptance and accounting practices.

Talk with our experts about you fundraising strategies

RNL offers an array of data-driven fundraising consulting solutions to help you take your donor engagement strategy to the next level. Each consulting engagement is tailored to your goals and institution–no cookie cutters allowed. Contact us to find out how RNL can help amplify your fundraising results today.

 

The OmniChannel Illusion in Higher Ed Fundraising

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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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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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Digital Giving With RNL

Linda Hoopes

Linda Hoopes

Vice President for Campus Relations at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Dr. Linda Hoopes assists the team of seasoned experts who conduct the RNL Campus Opportunity Analysis on college and university campuses year-round and also leads the team of enrollment and fundraising business development strategists.
Linda Hoopes

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I have always thought of myself as a young and hip professional even though I’ve been in the higher education sector for nearly 25 years. It was not until I myself learned more about the power and ease of digital giving with RNL that I realized I had some catching up to do regarding how we help institutions have great giving days and crowdfunding campaigns.

My son was the vice president for communications at one of his university’s fraternities, and they held an annual fundraising campaign. Although it was extremely successful, when I looked more closely at how it was conducted, I realized how much more effective it could have been using our digital giving solutions that are powered by the ScaleFunder platform.

Why? First and foremost, the ease of implementing a campaign came to mind. Secondly, the ease to which an institution or organization can capture its own unique brand and message is quite powerful. And lastly, the multiple campaigns that can take place utilizing the RNL Digital Giving platform are amazing.

“We went from raising around $12,500 from 86 gifts in 2017 to $96,185 with 417 gifts in 2018.”

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AI Fundraising Chatbots: Meet AL from RNL

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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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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.

Passive/Aggressive: The Art of Creating a Successful Fundraising Email Subject Line

Shad Hanselman

Shad Hanselman

Associate Vice President at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Shad has over fifteen years of experience in higher education fundraising, serving as a senior leader in complex annual giving programsfor top tier universities. He now pioneers new products to propel the success of RNL clients as a member of our leadership team.
Shad Hanselman

What is the best subject line for a fundraising email solicitation? Is it an aggressive call to action? How about a warm and fuzzy message that may not mention giving? Ask anyone in the industry and they have an opinion on this, mostly based on something they were told early in their career or their personal preference.

Like so many things in fundraising, this is an excellent example of the phrase: “your opinion, while interesting, is irrelevant.”

Fundraising email subject line results

Which subject lines get donors to open a fundraising email? Here are our findings from a test of nearly 340,000 emails.

At Ruffalo Noel Levitz we seek to shatter myths in fundraising and use data to inform our strategy. So, we partnered with four institutions to test subject lines across 24 emails during their calendar year-end efforts in 2018 and the results were eye-opening.

The fundraising email subject line tests

We sent more than 339,000 emails to 12 audience segments across 6 universities. Each audience segment was split evenly with half receiving a passive message subject line and half receiving an aggressive call to action subject line.

So, what works better, a “passive” or “aggressive” subject line?

The reality is: it doesn’t matter…much. Here are the results of the 24 tests.

Subject Line Type Passive Aggressive
Open-Rate wins 7 5
 Open Rate 11.7% 11.4%
Click-to-Open Wins 6 6
Click-to-Open Rate 2.7% 2.7%

In 58% of head-to-head tests, the “friendly” subject line had a higher open rate than the more “direct” counterpart. However, there was no statistical difference in the click-to-open rate, which means that the subject line helps get the email opened, but the content and call to action seem to get the click.

The subject line themes that worked best

There were a few items in our tests that showed promise for positively impacting the effectiveness of the subject line. A few of the themes we observed were:

  • Family Comes First: 100% of subject lines that referenced being part of the institutional family outperformed their non-family-oriented counterparts.
  • Cast a Vision: From changing lives to strengthening the institution, subject lines that gave the recipient an opportunity to insert themselves as the hero outperformed those that were more institutionally-oriented.

Our advice for the best year-end fundraising email subject lines

Based on this test, our best advice for crafting a successful fundraising email subject line is to remember who you are writing to and why your message would matter to them. Instead of going back and forth over a passive or aggressive subject line, use your time wisely and craft a concise message to your recipients that connects them to their passion, casts them as part of your community, and provides them with an opportunity to make themselves the hero of their philanthropic journey.

Request a fundraising consultationEven better, talk with our fundraising experts about how you can optimize your fundraising email communications as part of a broader omnichannel strategy. We have helped hundreds of institutions connect with millions of donors, and we can discuss the optimal steps you can take to better engage your donors. Request a consultation now.

VSE Reports Record $47B in Higher Education Giving for 2018

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is 20-year higher education veteran and a former annual fund and major gift professional. As a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team, Brian now focuses on donor behavior, industry trends and benchmarking to drive the fundraising strategy of RNL partners. You can also hear Brian as the host of RNL's Fundraising Voices podcast.
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The Voluntary Support of Education survey, considered the definitive record of higher education fundraising, has once again recorded a record year for fundraising in 2018. Institutions received $46.73 billion in gift, a 7.2 percent increase over 2017. Results included:

  • An increase from every type of donor, including a big jump in the “other organization” category, which includes donor advised funds. We’re watching this category as it grows, likely affected by both tax policy and the growing popularity of this giving method.
  • A jump in mega gifts over $100 million, which help fuel those record-breaking higher education campaigns we’re all reading about.
  • Increases in both current operations (6.2 percent) and capital giving (8.6 percent).

As part of the AMAtlas Effort, CASE is providing expanded insights, including a first research brief with graphs from the survey. Read the full VSE press release and insights at CASE here.

Ann Kaplan, director of the VSE, will once again join us for a webinar to go through the results and talk about what the data means for our fundraising and donor engagement strategy:

What $47 Billion in Giving to Higher Education Means for You

Wednesday, February 27 at 2:00 p.m. ET

With Ann Kaplan,

Director of the Voluntary Support of Education Survey

Register Now For this Free Webinar

CASE VI Live Polling Results

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is 20-year higher education veteran and a former annual fund and major gift professional. As a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team, Brian now focuses on donor behavior, industry trends and benchmarking to drive the fundraising strategy of RNL partners. You can also hear Brian as the host of RNL's Fundraising Voices podcast.
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Greetings CASE VI Conference friends!

Throughout this year’s conference RNL sponsored live polling of conference attendees on questions that matter for the future of Advancement. We offered new questions on the hour during the conference, and our live polling portal was a hit!

What’s an advancement professional?

Here’s the word cloud from our question about what described someone in the Advancement profession:

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Keeping the #GivingTuesday Momentum Going

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is 20-year higher education veteran and a former annual fund and major gift professional. As a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team, Brian now focuses on donor behavior, industry trends and benchmarking to drive the fundraising strategy of RNL partners. You can also hear Brian as the host of RNL's Fundraising Voices podcast.
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As a multichannel fundraising company, giving days are a big part of how we help organizations engage donors with excitement and urgency. #GivingTuesday is an important day for many organizations, and a big day for us. Here’s how we spent our #GivingTuesday at RNL:

RNL Crowdfunding and RNL Giving Day powered by ScaleFunder

  • Total raised on platform: $2,581,008
  • Total gifts on platform: 18,665

On-Campus and Off-Campus Phonathons

  • 5,103 pledges  (47% on credit cards!)
  • $714,296 total pledged dollars
  • 7,828 calling hours

E-mail

  • 199,137 e-mails delivered

Digital Engagement

  • 1,571,722 digital ad impressions delivered

Direct Mail

  • 135,719 solicitation/stewardship pieces sent in two weeks leading up to Giving Tuesday

Voicemails

  • 101,500 phone numbers provided for automated voicemail stewardship messages in week prior to Giving Tuesday.

Keep the #GivingTuesday momentum going all year

Giving Tuesday is a great way to engage donors, but how can you keep donors engaged, excited, and giving all year round?

Ruffalo Noel Levitz has helped many institutions do just that. Here’s what Tori Follett, director of annual giving, had to say about University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire’s successful partnership with RNL:

“We weren’t sure what to expect heading into Giving Tuesday this year…For the first time, we had an interactive Giving Day page through RNL’s Giving Day platform that allowed us to coordinate matching challenges and social media outreach. We went from raising around $12,500 from 86 gifts in 2017 to $96,185 with 417 gifts in 2018…We couldn’t be happier with the platform and the service we received!”

We are happy to talk with you about connecting with your donors and amplify your results.

Now that #GivingTuesday is over, keep the momentum going—discover how RNL can help you design a multichannel engagement program to take your fundraising to the next level.

Charitable giving tops $400 billion

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is 20-year higher education veteran and a former annual fund and major gift professional. As a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team, Brian now focuses on donor behavior, industry trends and benchmarking to drive the fundraising strategy of RNL partners. You can also hear Brian as the host of RNL's Fundraising Voices podcast.
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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

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is 20-year higher education veteran and a former annual fund and major gift professional. As a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team, Brian now focuses on donor behavior, industry trends and benchmarking to drive the fundraising strategy of RNL partners. You can also hear Brian as the host of RNL's Fundraising Voices podcast.
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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 20-year higher education veteran and a former annual fund and major gift professional. As a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team, Brian now focuses on donor behavior, industry trends and benchmarking to drive the fundraising strategy of RNL partners. You can also hear Brian as the host of RNL's Fundraising Voices podcast.
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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.

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