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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.

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

From around the web:

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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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New survey: Global donors want fundraising personalization

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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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Latest posts by Brian Gawor (see all)

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

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

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

You can check out the survey overview here.

Fundraising personalization study

From Accenture’s 2017 study.

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

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

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

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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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Latest posts by Brian Gawor (see all)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

#GivingTuesday and giving days: free webinar

What if college football was decided by alumni giving?

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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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Latest posts by Brian Gawor (see all)

What if college football rankings were determined by alumni giving?The first College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings of 2017 were released recently, and we’ve already had some crazy weekends that stirred up the standings. Because we are both sports fans and alumni giving geeks, we are once again using fundraising data to answer a sports question: what if college football was all decided by alumni giving?

We applied the same methodology as our 2017 March (Alumni Giving Madness) tournament, using the first 25 ranked football programs from the initial CFP rankings as the group. The teams were ranked based on these criteria in a weighted simulator:

  • (25%) Overall team strength: the 2016 alumni participation figure reported to the VSE Survey.
  • (20%) Upward momentum: the increase or decline in alumni donor count from 2015 to 2016.
  • (20%) Recruiting strength and past performance: The total increase or decline in alumni donors between 2007 and 2016.
  • (20%) 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 (2014-16).
  • (10%) Getting a touchdown pass (gift) off: Our team of expert referees weighed in on a comparison between the institutions’ online giving presence, including ease of online giving, giving day portal (if any), and crowdfunding. They graded how easy it was for an alumnus to “make a pass”/make a gift.
  • (5%) Pure luck: Our simulator assigns a small portion of each team’s score to a random factor.

When I fed the data into the simulator for these 25 schools, I saw many of the same things we noticed during our March (Alumni Giving Madness) tournament: a few close calls and several institutions moving up because of recent successes. And the subjective components and random number did affect a few institutions’ ranks. Institutions that raise a very high amount of money per living alumnus continue to dominate, especially if they have had recent alumni donor growth.

College Football Playoff rankings (initial 25 teams) as decided by alumni giving

1. University of Southern California

2. Ohio State University

3. University of Notre Dame

4. Stanford University

5. University of Washington

6. Auburn University

7. University of Georgia

8. Clemson University

9. Washington State University

10. Mississippi State University

11. Texas Christian University

12. Louisiana State University

13. University of Memphis

14. University of Miami

15. University of Wisconsin

16. Michigan State University

17. University of Oklahoma

18. University of Alabama

19. Oklahoma State University

20. University of Arizona

21. Penn State University

22. University of Central Florida

23. North Carolina State University

24. Virginia Tech

25. Iowa State University

These 25 institutions all have a lot to be proud of. Alumni combined to give more than $3.7 billion to these institutions from 2014-2016. And not surprisingly, these institutions have alumni giving participation percentages higher than the national average.

A huge portion of philanthropy to colleges and universities comes from alumni. And because about three quarters of big donors give multiple times to the annual giving program before making their first big gift, your alumni giving pipeline could greatly impact your future success. Good coaches know the importance of recruiting.

How can you put together a great alumni giving strategy?

Talk with us about how you can take your alumni giving to the next level. We’ve got a great win record, and we’ll work with you to put together the right strategy.

Thanks to RNL contributor Brandon Trissler for help on this post.

Media Coverage of our Digital and Millennial Fundraising Report

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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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Latest posts by Brian Gawor (see all)

Our recently released Advancement Leaders Speak survey report on digital engagement tactics and young alumni trends is getting attention. Check out these articles:

In the report, we outline who’s using what to connect with donors digitally, as well as common successes and frustrations of fundraisers.

Download the full report today to find out how fundraising programs are using emerging digital technologies and how they feel about their connection to young alumni and donors.

Check out the podcast to get the highlights of the report:

And, check out this Inside Higher Ed piece about mega-campaigns and our insights:

If you’d like to take your digital engagement to the next level, drop us a line. We’re ready to help.

Friday update: major gift officers

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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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Latest posts by Brian Gawor (see all)

Here are some great stories about maximizing results for major gift officers.

From around the web:

Spotlight: The best major gift officers

Tuesday, November 14th | 3pm ET

Colleges and universities are relying on their gift officer teams more than ever to fund their institution’s operation and growth. What are the best ways to navigate a more challenging fundraising environment to build relationships with major donors and planned giving prospects to book more big gifts?

The experts from Advancement Resources share the secrets of the most successful major gift officers and which skills they have in common in this upcoming webinar. Register today >>

Infographic: Digital 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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Latest posts by Brian Gawor (see all)

How are you engaging donors digitally? Interested in how your young alumni/young donor program compares? Check out our recently released survey report. It includes information about how many of your peers are using emerging tactics like crowdfunding, giving days, and targeted digital advertising to engage all of their donors.

Here are some highlights:

The survey tells us that digital engagement is highly valued by fundraisers for engaging new donors in particular–but we haven’t yet tapped its full potential.

Download the full report now to find out more.

We’re out to reinvent fundraising here at RNL, and if you would like to take your digital engagement to the next level with a platform of highly personalized engagement tools, drop us a line.

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