March (Alumni Giving) Madness 2018 – Final Results

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is a former annual fund and major gift professional who now focuses on research and benchmarking to drive fundraising strategy. He is also a doctoral student studying higher education giving.
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We have the winners of the 2018 March (Alumni Giving) Madness tournament!

This tournament is our fun way to determine the top alumni giving institutions for higher education fundraising. We took the institutions in this year’s men’s and women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments, analyzed their alumni giving statistics, and determined the two top institutions for alumni giving.

2018 March (Alumni Giving) Madness final brackets

2018 March Alumni Giving MadnessView the final 2018 March (Alumni Giving) Madness bracket

You can read about the methodology we used and about the first two rounds of results in our first blog.

And the winners are…

Men’s Bracket: University of Pennsylvania. Returning after last year’s win in our women’s bracket, Penn continues to have one of the highest alumni participation stats in the tournament.  As we mentioned last year, donor growth and consistency in young alumni giving have been real strengths at Penn.

Women’s Bracket: University of Notre Dame. Another return winner, Notre Dame also took home a win in 2016 in the men’s division of our tournament. Two years of consistent alumni donor growth and a LeBron-level performance for giving-per-living-alumnus made the Fighting Irish unstoppable.

All this year’s tournament participants are winners. As we approached the final bracket stages, we noticed some pretty incredible alumni giving and donor growth at the top institutions. All participants in this year’s tournaments should be congratulated. The generosity of their alumni is incredible, with more than $3.7 billion given by alumni to these institutions in 2017.

Get the E-Book with all the results

Check out all the results, with expanded commentary on the stats, in our March (Alumni Giving) Madness 2018 e-book. Download your copy here.

2018 (Alumni Giving) Madness commentary:

Alumni participation declines again: In most of this year’s match ups, it was more about who had declined the least. We’re on a 20-year downhill spiral for the percent of living alumni who give. While we know that part of the issue is the sheer increase in the number of alumni institutions are trying to engage, with the good economy and real effort, some are building back. Colleges and universities that bucked this trend were also commonly the top alumni giving dollars institutions.

Averages can be deceiving. Less than 1 percent of institutions raise over 28 percent of the funds in higher education, so the stats are skewed toward the top. This caused some real blowouts, especially in early rounds. However, there were some institutions who really posted gains over the past few years, largely due to campaign dollars.

Many institutions still need a training camp for online giving. We saw a wide range of online giving presence at institutions. It was less common for it to be hard to find the giving portal from the main university web page this year. Crowdfunding and giving days continue to grow, but news of these options wasn’t present on most “give now” pages we reviewed. Social media engagement continues to be minimal, but was definitely something more common at the top fundraising institutions. Overall, online giving is improving a bit, with average score from our refs rising to 3.46/5 over last year’s 3.30/5.

How the tournament is evolving: We heard from advancement leaders that immediate dollars are dominating as a concern at most institutions. So we weighted alumni giving dollars a bit higher this year.  Alumni giving dollars are indeed up, rising over 14% this past year. There were also a few match ups that might be considered upsets this year — an institution won because of strong donor count growth in one case but raised about 1/12 from alumni in dollars. We will be doing further polling of advancement professional this year to get a handle on donor counts, growth and the alumni denominator. That may cause changes to next year’s tournament.

Listen to the podcast

I once again break down the results with RNL’s Shad Hanselman, on the latest episode of podcast Fundraising Voices, available on iTunes and Stitcher.

 

Can we compare our results even if our institution wasn’t in the NCAA Tournament?

2018 March Alumni Giving Madness tournament You can find out how your alumni giving compares to your peers by requesting a Donor Comparison Report. Using data from the VSE survey, this report allows you to benchmark your alumni giving statistics and identify alumni giving trends. Request your free report here.

March (Alumni Giving) Madness 2018 – Part 1

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is a former annual fund and major gift professional who now focuses on research and benchmarking to drive fundraising strategy. He is also a doctoral student studying higher education giving.
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We have been treated to some exciting results during the 2018 NCAA tournaments for men’s and women’s college basketball. And once again we have conducted our third March (Alumni Giving) Madness bracket—where teams fight for the championship title in our alumni giving tournament! This is the first part of our results. We’ll publish the final results at the conclusion of the men’s and women’s tournaments next week.

How does this alumni giving tournament work?

Using the 2018 Men’s and Women’s NCAA brackets, we apply a six-part methodology to determine the winner in each match-up:

  • (20%) Overall team strength: the 2017 alumni participation figure reported to the Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) Survey.
  • (20%) Upward momentum going into the tournament: the increase or decline in alumni donor count from 2016 to 2017.
  • (20%) Recruiting strength and past tournament performance: The total increase or decline in alumni donors between 2008 and 2017.
  • (25%) A strong bench of dedicated team members: The total alumni giving in dollars divided by the alumni of record over the last three fiscal years (2015-17).
  • (10%) Getting a shot (gift) off: Our team of six expert referees compare the two institutions’ online giving presence, including ease of online giving, giving day portal (if any), and crowdfunding. They grade how easy it was for an alumnus to “get a shot off” and make a gift.
  • (5%) Pure luck: Our simulator assigns a small portion of each team’s score to a random factor.

Results are based on publicly available data. The 2017 VSE Survey serves as our primary data source, with annual donor reports from school websites and alumni participation numbers submitted for the U.S. News & World Report rankings used for institutions that did not submit data to the VSE. These numbers and ratings go into our simulator, which calculates a “score” for each team and the winner of each match up.

Watch here at RuffaloNL.com for the results. We’re releasing the first part of our results today and will release the final winners as the NCAA tournaments conclude next week.

From 64 to 16: First Results

2018 March Alumni Giving Tournament MadnessView the current 2018 March (Alumni Giving) Madness bracket

Some things we noticed in the first round of results:

  • There are a few upsets based on recent donor growth. While alumni participation has declined nationally, some institutions have been able to grow alumni total donors with hard work, great messaging, and coordinated communications. This allowed them to beat bigger and more established fundraising programs in the early rounds.
  • Ease of giving makes a difference. A few of our early round matches were so close that the ease of getting a gift off determined the winner . Make sure you’re looking at how easy it is to give on your online giving portal and use effective, socially-engaged giving technologies like crowdfunding and giving day portals.
  • We’re already seeing some big alumni giving. Total alumni giving dollars rose by 14.5 percent across the US last year, and some of the first-round winners won big in both giving and our tournament.

My school isn’t in the NCAA basketball tournament—can I still participate?

2018 March Alumni Giving Tournament MadnessYou can find out how your alumni giving compares to your peers by requesting a Donor Comparison Report. Using data from the VSE survey, this report allows you to benchmark your fundraising results and identify alumni giving trends. Request your free report here.

What happened in the last alumni giving tournament?

Check out the results of the 2017 March (Alumni Giving) Tournament here.

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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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.

March (Alumni Giving) Madness – Final Results

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is a former annual fund and major gift professional who now focuses on research and benchmarking to drive fundraising strategy. He is also a doctoral student studying higher education giving.
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We have the winners of the 2017 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 the Men’s and Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournaments, analyzed their alumni giving statistics, and determined the two top institutions for alumni giving.

2017 March (Alumni Giving) Madness final bracket

2017 top alumni giving institutions

Click to expand

You can read about the methodology we’re using to answer the question this year in our first post.  You can also check the early round action as we got down to the final eight teams:

And the winners are…

Men’s Bracket: Northwestern University. Knocking out competitors with a combination of strong donor growth and very generous alumni, NU was a powerhouse in this year’s tournament. Our refs also rated Northwestern’s giving portals very highly. You can check out some of the best student campaigns in the nation at Catalyzer, NU’s crowdfunding portal: catalyzer.northwestern.edu.

Women’s Bracket: University of Pennsylvania. With one of the highest alumni participation stats in the tournament, Penn boosted wins with great donor growth and incredibly high giving per living alumnus. Donor growth and consistency in young alumni giving have been real strengths at Penn. A quick review of their alumni web portal shows that Penn is offering an incredible array of engaging opportunities for alumni to stay involved and give easily, and it showed in this year’s tournament.

All this year’s tournament participants are winners. As we approached the final bracket stages we were just amazed at some of the accomplishments of these institutions in alumni engagement and donor growth. All participants in this year’s tournaments should be congratulated. The generosity of their alumni is simply mind-blowing, with over $50 million given by alumni to these institutions in 2016.

Get the E-Book

Check out all the results, with expanded commentary on the stats, in our March (Alumni Giving) Madness e-book. Download your copy here.

2017 (Alumni Giving) Madness commentary:

Alumni participation continues to decline: 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 (increasing the denominator in the alumni participation equation), 68% of institutions saw reduced alumni donor counts during the recession. Colleges and universities that bucked this trend were the top alumni giving institutions, with some schools with great alumni engagement programs posting recent gains.

Higher education fundraising doesn’t run on averages: With less than 1 percent of institutions raising about 28 percent of the funds in higher education, the stats are skewed toward the top. There were real blowouts, especially in early rounds. However, there are a number of institutions with modest endowments and resources that have had success with alumni giving in the past few years, and I know from working with some of them that they’ve accomplished this with careful strategy and use of their budgets.

Many institutions need a training camp for online giving. We saw a wide range of online giving presence at institutions. It was not uncommon for it to be hard to find the giving portal from the main university web page. Crowdfunding continues to grow, but is often hard to find in connection to the giving portal. Social media engagement was minimal at best, a real problem and lost opportunity. We encourage everyone to think about how easy and fun it is to give online—because that’s where your donors will be giving as we move forward.

Potential tournament changes for next year: As you’ll hear in our podcast covering the results,our tournament is weighted about 70 percent toward donor count and alumni participation. From our recent conversations with advancement leaders, we’re hearing that dollars are dominating as a concern at most institutions. We’ll be looking at this over the course of the next year, and our methodology may evolve for next year’s tournament as we determine the top alumni giving institutions.

Listen to the podcast

I break down the results with RNL Vice President Josh Robertson, one of this year’s referees, 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?

2017 March Alumni Giving Madness tournament top alumni giving institutionsYou 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.

2017 March (Alumni Giving) Madness – The Final Eight

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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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UPDATE: The winners have been announced, click here to see who won

People are talking after our first two rounds of the 2017 March (Alumni Giving) Madness tournament. This week, we’ll get down to eight teams—four from the men’s bracket and four from the women’s.

In case you didn’t know, this alumni giving tournament is our fun way to look at higher education fundraising and dive into the data of alumni giving statistics. It started last year when one member of our team asked the question:

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

You can read about the methodology we’re using to answer the question this year in our first post. The data comes from public sources, the Voluntary Support of Education Survey and the U.S. News and World Report college ranking data.

Here is an updated bracket with the results of rounds 3 and 4, which take us to the final eight institutions. UPDATE: Final winners are announced!

Check out the final results here.

2017 alumni giving statistics tournament

Click to expand

Round 3 and 4 insights:

Trends from the first two rounds continued, but a few insights this round:

  • The battles were intense: As you would expect as you do anything with progressively narrowing alumni giving statistics, the scores are very close. There were wins of within .0025 points (out of a max 64), representing the best buzzer-beater final scores you’d see in basketball.
  • The final shot can make a difference: We saw a very wide range of giving portals and online giving presence from this year’s tournament institutions. While our refs rating of online giving presence (the only subjective score in this year’s tournament) was worth only 10%, it made a difference for a number of wins.

The Referees speak: online giving portal ratings

Our referee team is made up of online giving experts, marketing experts, and fundraising geeks at RNL. Below are a few things the refs said with their ratings.

“The giving site was not mobile responsive, and it was hard to even find the giving page from the University web site. They’re also asking for too much information. I am sure this means many people don’t complete a gift.” (below average score)

“A great, responsive design on this giving portal with an easy search function. They could have pre-populated some fields, but overall, very strong.” (above average score)

“It wasn’t really clear where I needed to click to give. Their giving page is a really rough and it took at least 3 clicks to give. Not very mobile friendly. They do have a crowdfunding site but you can’t find it with google search and they don’t link to it from giving pages.” (below average score)

“It only took 2 clicks to give and the site was mobile-enabled. Lots of giving options with a great site design. They have crowdfunding but the only link from the giving page was tiny bottom left corner of page.” (above average score)

“What a stellar website. I can easily make a donation of my choice from one landing page. I loved that that they are offering a match for every dollar you donate to the scholarship fund.”  (perfect score)

“The alumni option is a whole screen down, and the major call to action is to get a membership to the alumni society. The option to make a gift gets lost on the alumni page. Couldn’t find it at all on mobile.” (below average score)

“The web site was just overwhelming and difficult to navigate” (below average score)

“Scrolling donor wall, social media sharing, a crowdfunding platform—all really great. But still, over 6 clicks just to get to a donation page!” (average score)

“Clicking on ‘Give’ from the University home page took me to a mobile-optimized page where I was immediately prompted to enter my information and gift purpose. It’s surprising how many places don’t take you immediately to this page. Why make donors hunt?” (above average score)

 

My school isn’t in the NCAA baseketball tournament—can I still participate?

2017 March Alumni Giving Madness tournamentYou 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.

2017 March (Alumni Giving) Madness – The Sweet (Alumni) 16

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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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UPDATE: The final winners have been chosen—see which institutions won

We’ve had a great response to our first round of the 2017 March (Alumni Giving) Madness tournament. It’s time for Round 2, which names the top 16 of our alumni giving tournament winners.

This alumni giving tournament is our fun way to look at higher education fundraising and dive into the stats. It started last year when one member of our team asked the question:

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

You can read about the methodology we’re using to answer the question this year in our first post. The data comes from public sources, the Voluntary Support of Education Survey and the U.S. News and World Report college ranking data.

After narrowing to a field of 32 in our last round, there ware some great match ups for this round. Here are the round 2 results: (UPDATE: Final Winners Released!)

Click to expand

Second round insights:

I saw some similar things with the wins I commented on for the first round, but a few insights this round, focusing on alumni giving dollars:

  • Big gifts made a difference. While a significant portion of our methodology is on donor participation, several institutions just blew opponents out of the water with generous alumni major gifts or recently realized planned gifts. This “strong bench” factor, the total alumni giving over the past three years divided by the alumni of record, was weighted at 20 percent of the game. But there are extreme differences on the stat across higher education.This year’s teams ranged from $6 per living alumnus to $2,230 per alumnus annually. I’d call that a bit of a range. There was one match up where this stat was within $1, but that was a rarity.
  • Big giving is concentrated. Fewer than 1 percent of institutions raise 28 percent of higher education contributions, and that showed in this year’s alumni giving tournament. We covered this phenomenon in a webinar with Ann Kaplan, VSE director, a few weeks back.
  • Recent alumni wins swayed the results: For a few institutions, a relatively recent campaign or a few very large alumni gifts boosted this giving stat. One institution had a year that was 6x their average year, making a big difference in their overall score.

When we talked to hundreds of giving professionals last year, boosting major and planned giving was a top concern. Every institution wants the right strategy in place to help gift officers quickly identify, qualify and engage the most likely big donors.

As a coach, you wouldn’t go into a recruiting season without a plan. You also wouldn’t just do the same thing every year without making adjustments based on the prospect pool. Unfortunately, a lot of programs are just flying blind on major gift identification strategy. We’re in the midst of a historic wealth transfer, and the time is now to engage your biggest givers. Or another team (charity) is going to recruit them.

How do you win with major and planed giving productivity?

Does your team have what you need for a major and planned giving program with high productivity? You can’t engage big donors at scale without the right tools. Request our free calculator to see how you could improve your program immediately.

Stay tuned, next week we’ll release the results of round 3 which will take us to the Elite (Alumni) 8 of this year’s alumni giving winners.

2017 March (Alumni Giving) Madness – Round 1 Results

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is a former annual fund and major gift professional who now focuses on research and benchmarking to drive fundraising strategy. He is also a doctoral student studying higher education giving.
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UPDATE: See who won the 2017 Alumni Giving tournament

While many of you were watching the start of the NCAA basketball tournament, I was deep in fundraising statistics computing our March (Alumni Giving) Madness competition. This alumni giving tournament is a fun way to look at fundraising trends. It started last year when one member of our team asked the question:

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

You can read about the methodology we’re using to answer the question this year in our first post. This alumni giving tournament looks at alumni participation, two different looks at alumni donor counts, total giving per alumnus and the institution’s online giving portals. The data comes from the Voluntary Support of Education Survey and the U.S. News and World Report college ranking data. There is also a small random factor to keep it interesting. (UPDATE: Final Results Released!)

Click to expand

First round insights

  • There were some VERY close games. Our simulator assigned a score of up to 64 points to each institution, and one first round Men’s bracket match up was within 25 thousandths (.025) of a point. One Women’s bracket matchup was within .03 of a point.
  • Some great teams have missed shots with online giving vs. peers since our last tournament. One major player fared pretty poorly vs. opponents after being a star in our 2016 tournament. They declined significantly in ease of online giving and their overall online donor portal. Because they were very close in score to their opponents, it cost them a win. Mobile optimization is absolutely crucial given that a majority of online donors will now be using a device to make a gift. Your online giving portal is a solicitation. Think critically about how easy and how engaging it is for donors to complete a gift.

How do you score with digital engagement?

One of the most important ways you can grow your donor base is through optimized online giving experiences. Soon, over half our alumni databases will be Millennials, who have grown up interacting online and in social-media rich environments.

If you’d like to see how you can improve your digital engagement, ask us for a Digital Engagement scorecard. Click here to request your free scorecard and one of our Fundraising Strategists will contact you.

And stay tuned, next week we’ll release the results of round 2 which will take us to the “Sweet 16” of this year’s alumni giving winners.

2017 March (Alumni Giving) Madness

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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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March Madness is here, and we’re excited to kick off the second March (Alumni Giving) Madness bracket—the tournament where teams fight for the championship title based on their annual giving performance! As we wait for the final results: you might have a few questions.

How does it work?

Using the 2017 Men’s and Women’s NCAA brackets, we’ll apply a six-part methodology to determine the winner in each match up:
  • (25%) Overall team strength: the 2016 alumni participation figure reported to the VSE Survey.
  • (20%) Upward momentum going into the tournament: the increase or decline in alumni donor count from 2015 to 2016.
  • (20%) Recruiting strength and past tournament 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 shot (gift) off: Our team of expert referees weigh in on a comparison between 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.
Statistics are publicly available data, and the 2016 VSE Survey will be primarily utilized along with annual donor reports from school websites and alumni participation numbers submitted for the U.S. News & World Report rankings. These numbers and ratings go into our simulator, and a winner is determined for each match up.

Where can I find the results?

All bracket updates will be posted here on our blog, with this tentative schedule:

My school isn’t in the NCAA baseketball tournament—can I still participate?

2017 March Alumni Giving Madness tournamentYou 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 March (Alumni Giving) Madness tournament?

Check out the results of last year’s tournament here.

Hear the Podcast

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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