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

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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 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

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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

$41 Billion in higher education giving recorded by VSE survey for 2016

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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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I’m a big fan of the Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) survey. For 50 years, it’s been the survey of record for higher education giving, both from individuals and grant makers. We just received the 2016 results from the Council for Aid to Education.

Here are a few highlights from this year’s VSE results and what I think they mean for us as fundraisers:

  • Donors once again set a record for higher education support at $41 billion. But since this is only a bit higher than the $40.3 billion raised in 2015, the increase is almost completely erased when you consider inflation.
  • One of the big factors here is a soft 2016 stock market, and the fact that we’re coming off successive years of big increases as well as some big art and property gifts that blew up the totals. The election and delays by donors as they watched what would happen could have also contributed. With the stock surges we’ve seen early this year, we could see some big movement in 2017 results. Two big contributors—tax policy and our fundraising strategies, will matter.
  • Less than 1% of institutions continue to raise more than 27% of the funds. This “Matthew Effect” is a continuing trend in higher education giving. That doesn’t mean that the other 99% of schools aren’t raising money, we just see mega-giving really concentrated in this elite group.
  • Individual giving, at first glance, seems down. But there has been a massive increase in the impact of family foundations and donor-advised funds that we’ve all been hearing about. These really are gifts driven by individuals. When we look at institutions that itemized these sources, we find that personal giving would actually be up substantially for yet another year. Be sure that you are correctly accounting these gifts and tying stewardship to the individuals who drove them.

Higher education giving by source, 2016

  • Alumni participation is down once again. This is definitely impacted by larger donor rolls and our ability to stay in touch with alumni, but donor counts are also down at many institutions.
  • Giving to current operations has really pulled away from capital support over the past 20 years. This is good news for fundraisers looking to address current needs.

Higher education giving as a percentage of total support

  • The survey data show a real diversification of donor sources at top institutions. Parents and non-alumni friends of institutions are an increasing part of higher education giving.

It’s important to recognize that the VSE survey primarily tracks actual receipts by institutions, not overall commitments. We’re in the middle of a giant wealth transfer right now, and many institutions are also booking significant legacy commitments which are not covered in this survey and will be shown decades from now as those gifts come to bear.

With the VSE’s annual publication (and even better, a VSE Data Miner account), you can benchmark your institution and see how you compare to peers. I’ve also found that the standardized data collected by the VSE can be a great way to look at your own institution’s trends. Giving staff rosters and database systems change, but the VSE’s reporting definitions remain steady—so if someone at your institution is consistently reporting your results, the data they store on your institution can be very helpful to track trends.

Read the full VSE press release at the Council for Aid to Education.

Join us for a webinar on higher education giving

We’ll be going in depth with Ann Kaplan, director of the VSE survey and data miner, in our webinar on March 1 at 2:00 ET. Join us as we explore the results and what they mean for your fundraising strategy. Ann will also take your questions. We’ll see you there.

Webinar on higher education giving

 

Phonathon Average Pledge Matters for Gift Retention and ROI

Sean Shaikun

Sean Shaikun

Director of Market Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Sean has 20 years experience in fundraising and works with hundreds of programs each year. He drives strategy related to current industry trends, benchmarking and new fundraising products at RNL.
Sean Shaikun

When it comes to fundraising on the phone, phonathon average pledge is an important metric.  We use it in program planning and forecasting, we use it to determine suggested ask levels or gift arrays, and we know it can really affect dollars raised and ROI.  In some cases, universities have even focused on lowering the phonathon average pledge in order to increase response rate and increase donors: all to drive the important institutional metric of alumni participation.

But if you really want to increase participation, you also need to retain donors in the second year and beyond. As we consider suggested donations levels, an interesting question comes up:  What do average pledge numbers actually tell fundraisers about donor retention? This could be important especially for those first-time donors we have worked so hard to acquire. As it turns out, average pledge sheds a lot of light on the retention question.

The study: Over 59,000 first-time gifts

To really dive into the numbers, I collected non-donor data from a variety of university phonathons. Data came from 72 RNL higher education phonathon programs, with 95,899 first time pledges in fiscal year 2015. I included a mix of small, medium, and large public and private institutions from all over the US.  I then narrowed the group to only those records where we attempted to contact the individuals again in FY 2016. This left me with 59,782 making a pledge in 2015 that were solicited by phone again in fiscal year 2016.  I used this data to see how average pledge in 2015 might impact the retention of those prospects in the 2016 fiscal year.

Phonathon average pledge matters for retention

To help visualize the data in this study I decided to break the pledges into ranges. The distribution of gifts was predictable. The first-time pledges from fiscal year 2015 came in all sizes, with a majority of the gifts clustered into the $50-$99.99 range.  As we would expect, the smallest number of pledges came in at the extreme low and high values. Here is a quick look at the distribution of both the 2015 acquisition pledges and the 2016 renewal pledges, showing a similar spread in the groups:

phonathon average pledge distribution

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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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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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Higher education sets another giving record, but alumni participation once again down

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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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The results of the fiscal year 2015 Voluntary Support of Education survey (VSE) have been announced, and once again, higher education has received record support of $40.3 billion—the largest total since the survey started in 1957. However, alumni participation continues to drop. The highlights:

  • Mega-gifts, and particularly those of more than $100 million, helped drive the increase. Whether you believe the estimates of “The Great Wealth Transfer” or not, there are certainly a large number of big gifts being given in the past few years.
  • Alumni contributed a whopping $10.85 billion, and personal giving drove the increase. It’s important to note that these numbers might undershoot the impact because we’re seeing donors increase their use of donor-advised funds, which might be captured in the other categories but are definitely driven from an individual relationship.
  • Endowment earnings moderated substantially from their 2014 postings. This is not surprising given the market trends we’re seeing.
  • Alumni giving is up, but alumni participation is once again down. We’re able to stay in touch with more alumni, but we’re just not getting them to take action as donors at the same rate. Alumni of record rose by 3.4%, but alumni donors increased by just 0.7%.

Since we know that 70-80% of major givers have been annual fund contributors over the years, this is a worrying trend. Building a strong group of loyal, annually participating donors is a crucial part of any higher education advancement plan.

Find out more about this year’s results and how to submit to the VSE Survey at the Council for Aid to Education’s 2015 press release site.

And if you are interested in finding out how your results compare, and how you can increase donor and dollar counts along with building your pipeline for major gifts, contact us and tell us what you would like to discuss with our fundraising strategists.

Friday Update – Maximize Results – 8-14-15

The Friday Fundraising Update
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The Friday Fundraising Update

A weekly collection of fundraising industry insights and success stories, delivering them each Friday to your inbox. Have a suggestion for a future edition? Email Brian at Brian.Gawor@RuffaloNL.com
The Friday Fundraising Update
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Friday-Fundraising-UpdateThe Friday Fundraising Update collects fundraising industry insights and success stories and delivers them to you each Friday from Ruffalo Noel Levitz.

Links included this week are aimed at maximizing your results by calculating participation, identifying additional prospects via popular social media platforms, and enhancing direct marketing appeals.

Numerator, Denominator, What?

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Friday Update – Show Me The . . . Participation – 7-31-15

The Friday Fundraising Update
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The Friday Fundraising Update

A weekly collection of fundraising industry insights and success stories, delivering them each Friday to your inbox. Have a suggestion for a future edition? Email Brian at Brian.Gawor@RuffaloNL.com
The Friday Fundraising Update
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Friday-Fundraising-UpdateThe Friday Fundraising Update collects fundraising industry insights and success stories and delivers them to you each Friday from Ruffalo Noel Levitz.

Many of us are moving into a new fiscal year and for higher education fundraisers, the alumni donors are being counted. With participation on the decline across higher education in recent years, here is what some experts are saying about how we can reverse the trend.

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