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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.

Millennial Impact Founder Talks Cause Engagement

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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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Derrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve and founder of The Millennial Impact Report

Hear Derrick Feldmann discuss Millennial engagement in this episode of Fundraising Voices.

Derrick Feldmann is the president of Achieve and founder of The Millennial Impact Report, which has given us some of the best research we have on how young people engage causes, make donations, and express passion for social change. He’ll be the opening keynote at our upcoming Digital Philanthropy and Millennial Engagement Conference in Atlanta, and I got him on the phone to talk about his research and give a preview of what he’ll tell us at the event.

As Derrick describes it, how your organization leverages people, relevancy, and creativity makes a big difference to gaining a group of people who are willing to “belong.” With the right tools and resources, our job is to take those people from simply belonging to “owning” a cause.

There are some of the key point’s from Derrick’s new book: Social Movements for Good. This book is really good. It is an incredible resource for fundraisers or cause professionals to learn about how to engage any generation of supporters.

SMFG_Tour_Header

If you join us at the conference in October, you’ll get a copy of Derrick’s book, hear more great insights, and further your engagement of all your supporters online. You will also hear strategies to engage Millennials, who can really give your cause a boost. Check out the agenda and speaker list. Podcast listeners can receive a 20% discount, using code DIGITAL20.

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New Fundraising Voices Podcast: Millennial Engagement

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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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Katherine Lisciani

Katherine Lisciani has been named a Top Millennial in Marketing by LinkedIn and will be a keynote speaker at the Digital Philanthropy and Millennial Engagement Conference.

Katherine Lisciani is a millennial, and over at Millennovation.com she has been named a top millennial marketer by LinkedIn. She’s helped organize powerful campaigns to engage and energize young supports for causes.

In advance of Katherine’s appearance as a keynote at our upcoming Digital Philanthropy and Millennial Engagement Conference (Oct. 13-14 in Atlanta), I got Katherine on the line to talk about best practices for marketing to a generation that has increasing influence over our results. For many causes, and particularly higher education institutions, young people are the largest part of our constituent base, but we’re engaging them with the same old tactics that we’ve used on their parents and grandparents.

Listen to the podcast to hear a taste of what Katherine will talk about in October.

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One thing we talk about in the podcast is the Global Citizen Festival, Continue Reading »

4 strategies for engaging Gen X and Millennial donors

Brandon Trissler

Brandon Trissler

Director of Communications at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brandon Trissler has more than two decades of experience in marketing and communications, and has produced papers and reports on fundraising and enrollment management for Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Beginning his career at Oxford University Press, he has worked at RNL since 2001.
Brandon Trissler

Latest posts by Brandon Trissler (see all)

Making connections with Millennial donors

How can you connect and cultivate relationships with Millennial donors who have different behaviors and expectations about giving?

Generation X and Millennial donors present a unique challenge and opportunity for engagement. These segments are philanthropic, but with two disparate donor behaviors. On the one hand, we see increased engagement in micro-giving to many causes (via crowdfunding and other mechanisms). On the other, we see a tendency to focus large donations to fewer recipients. These donor segments also demonstrate a strong focus on “causes” (rather than institutions), and a tendency to combine volunteerism with their primary charitable giving. Consider one recent report in which 47 percent of Millennial alumni reported making a donation to their alma mater, while 75 percent noted they would donate to other organizations before their alma mater. Continue Reading »

New podcast: Engaging Students in Philanthropy

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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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Colin Hennessy at Penn and Lori Hurvitz at the University of Chicago discuss student philanthropy

Colin Hennessy of the University of Pennsylvania and Lori Hurvitz of the University of Chicago

Student philanthropy is a hot topic these days, with nearly all higher education institutions organizing  student giving programs. I’m a big proponent of student philanthropy programs, because they are our best chance to establish giving engagement with institutions before students leave.

These programs are so much more than senior giving campaigns, as I found out last year at the CASE Conference on Student Advancement, the oldest and biggest event you could attend to learn about how to better engage students.

In advance of this year’s event, I got in touch with Colin Hennessy at Penn and Lori Hurvitz at the University of Chicago. These two experts are helping organize the Engaging Students in Philanthropy Symposium at this year’s conference.In this new Fundraising Voices podcast, Colin and Lori talk about how to best organize your student philanthropy program, why they are important and what’s next for this crucial endeavor.

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Is donor acquisition worth it?

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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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With giving totals rising, many institutions are wondering if they should continue the difficult and costly work to acquire new doors. We’ve said before that this is a dangerous proposition, a perilous “head fake” that could end up destroying your future donor pipeline.

While donor acquisition is costly, does the return on boosting donor participation outweigh the cost? What are the average total giving values for new donors over the long term? Is it really worth finding brand new donors in an age of mega-gifts?

To answer the question, we looked at the full donation data for all giving methods from 16 higher education institutions that participated in our RNL 360 benchmarking program. There were 10 public and 6 private institutions with a mix of donor totals, retention, and acquisition results.

We focused all donors that these institutions had acquired as new givers, 20 years ago in 1995. We restricted the study to donors who made a first gift of less than $10,000, where most annual giving programs cut off.

20-year value of new fundraising donors

Average 20-year donor value: $1,829
(RNL Analysis of 16 higher education institutions, 6 private, 10 public)

The average first gift for these 35,079 donors in 1995 was $98. Continue Reading »

5 ways to boost your annual giving performance

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Josh Robertson

Vice President of Analytics and 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 70+ institutions.
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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.

Addressing 5 key fundraising trends in an era of more alumni and fewer donors

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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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At the start of this year, the Ruffalo Noel Levitz team confronted two truths:

  • Higher education received a record $40.3 billion in charitable support in 2015.
  • Alumni participation in giving has declined massively for over two decades, and over two thirds of institutions showed a decline in alumni donors from 2007 to 2015.

The first truth is certainly worth celebrating, but when we realized that most of these massive contributions have come to institutions that already have a great amount of resources, and that three quarters of major givers have given annually before they give big, the dilemma of donor decline means that the future looks quite uncertain. At a time when we have more alumni than ever, we also have fewer donors.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]At a time when we have more alumni than ever, we also have fewer donors.[/pullquote]

Over 400 professionals attended two webinars we held on this topic earlier this year, and we know it’s a hot topic. We’ve seen great passion by fundraisers to turn their donor numbers around, both for immediate return on investment and building their major and planned gift pools. We wanted to rack our collective brains, address the donor decline issue, and answer the question: “Why is this happening, and what can we do about it?”—before it’s too late.

Tackling emerging fundraising trends in a new analysis

We have done that in our new executive analysis, The High Stakes Development Dilemma in Higher Education. The paper outlines five key fundraising trends that are behind donor decline:

  1. The demise of “one size fits all” fundraising programs
  2. An explosion in solicitations crowding out appeals
  3. The shift of philanthropic power to younger donors
  4. The rapid growth of mobility and donor data
  5. The rise of personalized and peer-to-peer giving

The hard truth is that many other charities and the commercial world are addressing these fundraising trends better than higher education. We offer solutions that we all need to consider to get back on course.

In the paper, we also propose six strategies that are working right now for our campus partners and other institutions. These include working as one organization to engage donors, expanding strategies to increase donor participation, engaging Millennials on their own terms, and using data strategically to target donors and make communications more personalized. There’s not enough space to list all the solutions here, but I’ll tell you that we’re not being shy in offering suggestions.

There was plenty of discussion here at RNL about what exactly to put in this paper, and over the next few months, you’ll see us unpacking the implications and proposed solutions here at RuffaloNL.com and in webinars, case studies, and additional papers. We’ll be providing examples of institutions that are doing it right.

Check out the paper today, and let us know what you think. The clock is ticking to bring more loyal donors to higher education into our donor pools. We need to think carefully about how to do this, or one day we will wake up and have very few prospects to approach for even bigger giving.

Download the infographic on the fundraising trends discussed in the paper

How technology enables better fundraising conversations with donors

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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 do you need to know to ask a donor for a gift? Certainly their last gift amount. Probably some information about their history with your organization. In higher education, this includes a class year, major, and school when having fundraising conversations with donors.

A good phonathon caller can take this information and turn it into a conversation like this:

Thank you Mrs. X, for supporting the University fund last year as a member of the class of 1986. Can we ask you to continue your support this year with a gift of X?”

But what information do you need to take a good conversation and elevate to a level that really engages the donor? You can really transform those conversations when you have relevant data such as:

  • An expanded giving history of several years
  • How donors gave before and what they donated to
  • Information about their involvement when they were in school and after graduation, including volunteer experiences
  • Full contact and employment information

The fundraising conversations that come from this information, from a great phonathon caller, might sound like this:

“Thank you, Mrs. X for giving every year for the past five years. And for increasing your gift. Can you tell me about your time in the Physics program at the university? I see you’re a VP at an engineering firm. What do you most value about your experience in school that helps you do your work? Thanks for sharing that. As I said, your loyal donations really make a difference so students like me can receive a great education today. I’d like to ask if you would be willing to once again increase your giving and join the Dean’s Club with a gift of X…”

Now you have a conversation that has the best chance of engaging the donor and showing them that you are seeing them as an individual.

This screen from our CAMPUSCALL software illustrates how having donor data available for student ambassadors can personalize a call and greatly increase donor engagement.

This screen from our CAMPUSCALL software illustrates how having donor data available for student ambassadors can personalize a call and greatly increase donor engagement (click to enlarge)

The next step is to conclude these powerful fundraising conversations with an instant transaction—the ability to process a pledge with a donor’s credit or debit card to make giving easy— and then sending a follow up email to thank the donor while also sharing  stories about the impact of gifts at your institution. That’s how your donor engagement—and your results—move to the next level.

Investing in the right technology allows a shift to powerful, donor-centered personalization.And when your technology allows this to happen efficiently and in a way that callers can put into action call after call, your response level from donors can go up exponentially. This requires investment on your part to seek and assemble the data for callers, and a good system that allows callers to see information and put it into action instantly.

You wouldn’t fly out to meet with a donor prospect without fully reviewing their giving history, involvement and background with your institution.You wouldn’t open the conversation after making the trip with a generic question. You would do your homework and show that you value the donor by personalizing the interaction as much as possible. Personalization is what good gift officers do.

Your student telefund ambassadors are gift officers. They connect with hundreds of prospective and loyal supporters each night. They need the tools to have quality, personalized conversations and follow through to the gift. And the great thing is that a personalization system like this allows callers to capture more information, which feeds back into your database and increases the effectiveness of future conversations and solicitations.

To find out how CAMPUSCALL, the industry standard in phonathon enablement, makes this all happen, attend a webinar illustrating how phonathon platform effects engagement, and afterward, we’ll talk with you how your program can grow to the next level.

Fundraising donor decline: Top takeaways from our webinar

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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 recently conducted a webinar on the issue of alumni participation and fundraising donor decline in higher education. We knew it was a hot topic, but we were simply blown away when over 400 people attended the two webinar sessions. Clearly the issue of donor numbers is very important to higher education giving professionals.

Here are some of the key points we covered (click here to listen to the webinar recording).

  • Higher education alumni donor participation is declining. Sure, we have big alumni pools and we can reach many people, which throws the denominator of living alumni up to historic levels, but a majority of institutions have lost donors since 2007, and the decline in participation is fueled by significant decline in annual donor count at many institutions.
Fundraising donor decline trends

The downward trend in donor participation could create major problems for higher education fundraising. (click to enlarge)

  • The money in higher education is very good right now. Many large donors are distributing their wealth. But more than three quarters of these donors have given annually before making a big gift. We’re trading on the success from decades of annual engagement. This is a “head fake,” and if we don’t get our heads around fundraising donor decline, pretty soon we’ll run out of engaged givers to build our major gift programs.
  • Young alumni can be a key part of growing your pipeline. We shared that young alumni are making instant credit card gifts at a very high rate, and we can now reach young alumni on the phone at a higher rate than some older alumni because of the mobile revolution.
  • Each giving channel has its own signature and reach. Highly personalized channels like phonathon and gift officer visits have very high contact rates and response. Other channels might reach different groups, and all of them work in concert at the best institutions.
Attacking fundraising donor decline through multichannel approaches

Institutions not only need a multichannel approach to donor engagement, but also to understand the most strategic ways to use those channels. (click to enlarge)

  • Time-based giving options like crowdfunding and giving days are having a real impact, and many webinar participants indicated that they are using these options to answer the question, “Why give now?” The answer is building donor excitement around deadlines, which spur action.
  • There are numerous examples of institutions that have seen big increases in donors. We talked about the University of Maryland, UCLA, and Ole Miss as institutions that have made significant investment and been very smart about growing alumni response. The primary tools that have been successful are integrated, multichannel solutions, personalized giving, and breaking down internal silos to give donors the best possible experience.

Since the webinars, we’ve been busy, and the Ruffalo Noel Levitz consultant team has met with more than 100 giving professionals to offer a donor comparison report and strategies to grow the donor pipeline. A very common thing we’re hearing is that giving professionals don’t feel like they truly know their donor numbers and important statistics like participation, acquisition and retention. This concern is all the more urgent when an institution is facing donor decline. Even slow growth is cause for concern, because you only have so much time to make giving part of the alumni experience before donors move on to other causes.

This confirms a key point that veteran fundraiser Chris Bingley made in the presentation. Annual giving professionals are no longer simply content or solicitation creators. We need to be data scientists, relationship managers and marketing experts–and we may need help to get there.

If you are interested in exploring your donor trends, looking at a custom comparison group and talking about solutions to move your annual donor count up, contact us today. We have worked with small and large public and private institutions, helping them increase address fundraising donor decline, increase donor engagement, and build pipelines for major gifts.

The March (Alumni Giving) Madness Brackets

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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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Which colleges and universities had the highest alumni giving and alumni participation rate results? The March (Alumni Giving) Madness bracket revals it. Updated: April 6 to include results for the men’s and women’s brackets.

March Madness is upon us, and Ruffalo Noel Levitz is enjoying all the excitement. We have quite a few client partners who have been part of the men’s and women’s tournaments, and it’s been great to see all the excitement on campus and with alumni supporters and fans.

Last week, I got a call from RNL pal Jason Finney, asking an interesting question:

What if the NCAA brackets were decided based on alumni giving statistics?

I thought this was a fun question, and since I spend a lot of time doing research from giving statistics in the Voluntary Support of Education Survey and other great sources, I decided to take a look.

First, I had to determine how each matchup would be decided. One way to do the brackets would have been to decide winners among the 64 institutions on just one stat: alumni participation. With incredible contenders in this year’s men’s and women’s tournaments like Princeton, College of the Holy Cross, Yale, The University of Notre Dame and Duke—institutions that enjoy some of the highest annual alumni giving participation rates in higher education—the results would have been a foregone conclusion.

Then I noticed Villanova, USC, and others nipping at their heels with incredible alumni donor growth over the past decade. All of these institutions mentioned so far have a lot to be proud of, having established a real culture of philanthropy with alumni. In fact, alumni from all the institutions in the men’s and women’s brackets gave nearly 3 billion last year.

So, while these institutions all have a lot to be proud of, I still had to devise a way to determine winners by considering both long-term and recent alumni giving success.

The game plan: Scoring alumni participation rates and other factors

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Metrics and goal-setting for leadership annual giving officers

Dawn Stever
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Dawn Stever

Vice President and Consultant at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Dawn Stever joined Ruffalo Noel Levitz as a Vice President and Senior Consultant in Fundraising Management in August 2014. She brings 11 years of experience in higher education annual giving. Dawn works with nonprofit organizations in the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada to design and implement successful annual giving programs. Her experience includes in-depth strategic planning, new program development, frontline fundraising, collaboration with high-level volunteers, crowdfunding, giving days, and phonathon management.
Dawn Stever
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We’ve been booking major and planned gifts with donors for many years at most of our institutions, and various metrics have risen to the top to track the activities and productivity of major gift officers. We track everything from visits to proposals given to donors, rate at which proposals are accepted, and the number of gifts documented.

Many organizations now have leadership annual giving programs that include annual giving officers heading out on the road or directly contacting donors to seek larger annual commitments. This is a great idea to help build your leadership group, get to know your donors better, and help build your pipeline of future major gift donors. But annual giving is a different animal, and the metrics you use to measure productivity and success for a major gift officer might not work for leadership annual giving officers. What’s the best way to set goals and evaluate a leadership annual giving team?

I asked three experts who are running leadership annual giving programs how they are evaluating their progress when it comes to metrics and goal-setting, and they’ll serve as a panel of sorts on today’s blog.

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Fundraising best practices: Treat fiscal year end like calendar year-end

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Chris Hughes

Director of Fundraising Strategy at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Chris Hughes is a former Director of Annual Giving who has more than two decades of experience in fundraising, marketing, public relations and organizational success in higher education and nonprofit fundraising.
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Engaging donors at fundraising fiscal year end connects with them at the second-best month for giving.

June is the second-best month for giving, so be sure to have a fundraising fiscal year-end plan to engage donors.

A common misperception in fundraising is that donors aren’t as motivated to give at fundraising fiscal year-end (FYE) like they are at calendar year-end (CYE). Nothing could be further from the truth.

According to Blackbaud’s 2015 charitable giving report, December is clearly the best time for charitable giving with 17.4 percent of gifts arriving that month—17.7 percent if you’re in the higher education sector.

What may surprise you is only one other month brings in at least 10 percent of gifts: June. Overall, 10.2 percent of charitable gifts are made in June, with higher education picking up 11.2 percent of gifts.

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