10 fundraising insights from our 2017 research

Follow Me

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.
Follow Me

To help provide more fundraising insights for campuses and nonprofits, Ruffalo Noel Levitz surveyed and interviewed more than 3,000 fundraisers in 2017, and also reviewed data from millions of student records from our partners. We translated this research into the popular Advancement Leaders Speak (ALS) series of research reports, groundbreaking indexes of crowdfunding and giving day results, and action-oriented tactical white papers.

As we head into 2018, here are 10 fundraising insights from this research that can help guide your efforts.

Fundraisers need to raise more with a (little) more

In our first ALS report, we interviewed 40 chief advancement officers, and 90 percent told us that raising big dollars is the top goal at their institutions. And while budgets might be increasing a bit in the coming few years, fundraising expectations are increasing at a much higher rate. This central finding drives many of the other things we heard about through the year.

Investments are going to direct solicitation channels

It is likely that institutions will be placing more resources into major giving, planned giving, and annual giving in the next 2-3 years. Alumni outreach, marketing, and events were most likely to receive cuts. This fits the aggressive dollar goals we’re seeing in campaigns and annual metrics.

Fundraising insights: Budget shre to change

Productivity is key for major and planned giving work

Nine out of ten gift officers want to spend their time differently. And they feel like only about one-third of their assigned prospects are truly qualified to make a major or planned gift. It’s time to re-invent prospect discovery and qualification. We need to create a more productive system for gift officers and a better experience for donors.

Data-driven decision making is the new norm

More than half of the advancement leaders we surveyed indicated increased investment in data and analytics in the coming few years. Institutions have mountains of data on their donors, but many are not getting the fundraising insights out of that data that they need. Chief advancement officers told us they want to get more from these systems. Only one in four said that wealth scoring and predictive scoring they currently receive are really helpful.

It’s time to optimize traditional channels like mail and phone

“How to justify ROI” and “reaching new audiences with mail and phonathon” were common responses we heard in our surveys. In order to meet goals and preserve budget dollars, fundraisers are looking to get more from traditional channels, the way one of our campus partners did.

The digital revolution is complete, now it’s about evolution

Social media, online giving portals, and digital ads are reaching near-universal adoption. About half of fundraisers indicate that they have used targeted digital advertising in the past year, and most fundraisers say their digital tactics are successful. But few are doing advanced tracking of impact, listening to what donors do online to personalized appeals, and we heard consistently that multichannel integration is a top priority.

Giving days and crowdfunding answer “why give now.”

We published two groundbreaking new indexes this year—the RNL Crowdfunding Index and the RNL Giving Day Index— based on over $65 million in donations through our platforms. These two time-sensitive channels show why giving “right now” can make a difference, through the use of deadlines, challenges, matches, and social ambassadors. Check out the crowdfunding and giving day research to see average product and campaign totals, key best practices, and find out how these 21st century donor engagement tactics can transform your program.

“How we’ve always done it” is a losing strategy

The definition of insanity in fundraising is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. What we heard as we talked to fundraisers this year, however, is that doing the same thing over and over is starting to lead to lower results, which is even worse. We have an extraordinary opportunity in a strong economy to capture new donors, re-engage lapsed donors and ask more from loyal supporters. But it’s going to require the re-invention of fundraising.

Perpetual campaigns are the new reality

Our survey of nearly 700 fundraisers told us that 81 percent of institutions were either in or about to go into a structured fundraising campaign. How institutions capture donor interest, meet goals, and thank donors in the face of significant solicitation fatigue are going to be important.

It’s time to take donors on a personal journey

A lot of these factors add up to a key strategic leap for fundraisers. It’s time to use the data, technology and new digital tools now available to let donors take the lead. This involves engaging new tactics like marketing automation, and optimized major and planned giving support services to reach the right donor at the right time with the right message. And it means not adopting a “spray and pray” strategy with appeals in the future.

Looking for more fundraising insights? Talk with our strategists.

Take a look at our major research releases from 2017,Ask our experts for fundraising insights with a free consultation and if you’re interested in taking your fundraising program to the next level, ask for a free consultation with our fundraising strategists.

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

Follow Me

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.
Follow Me

#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

Friday update: speak, advancement leaders!

Follow Me

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.
Follow Me

Here are some great stories about how fundraisers are doing — and thinking about, their jobs.

From around the web:

Spotlight: What Advancement Leaders Really Think

What is the real future of fundraising? How can colleges and universities meet the current challenges and future opportunities to increase participation, retain donors, and raise more money—all while increasing productivity, efficiency, and return on investment?

Join us for this free webinar on Tuesday, October 17 to discover the top goals for today’s advancement leaders and the best strategies for reaching them.

Friday update: Annual giving advice

Follow Me

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.
Follow Me

The Friday Fundraising Update collects fundraising industry insights and success stories and delivers them to you each Friday from Ruffalo Noel Levitz.

This week, some great articles about engaging and keeping annual givers.

From around the web:

Spotlight: Annual Giving Leaders SpeakRead our latest report on how fundraising leaders want to connect with annual givers

Have you read the second report in our Advancement Leaders Speak series? We combine insights from chief advancement officers and hundreds of annual giving professionals to talk about the key priorities and challenges that leaders are facing today. Read how they want to connect with more annual givers and boost their results. Download your copy today.

Recent posts

2017 March (Alumni Giving) Madness

Follow Me

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.
Follow Me
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

5 ways to boost your annual giving performance

Follow Me:

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.
Follow Me:

Phonathon Score Card

Evaluate your phonathon with our scorecard Take our short survey and receive a scorecard that compares your program to other phonathon programs and shows how you can increase your results. Click to start.

In a time when budgets are tight and it’s increasingly tough to capture donors, making good solicitations isn’t enough to increase your annual giving results. It takes great solicitations. Phonathon is a perfect example: Putting skilled callers on the phone with a compelling message alone won’t generate the results you want. The work you do before and after the call is crucial.

After consulting and helping hundreds of institutions that are managing their own phonathon program, we noticed a pattern. We saw consistent gaps in call preparation and follow up after calls were made. So we developed RNL Accelerator, which uses a combination of data enrichment, donor warming, and stewardship to fill these communication gaps and boost phonathon performance. The strategy comes from years of experience with small and large programs, as well as research into our database of more than $1 billion in successful phonathon solicitations.

5 steps for increasing your annual giving results

The RNL Accelerator approach uses five steps that pave the way for a successful call and increase fulfillment of pledges from donors.

5 ways to boost annual giving results using RNL Accelerator

The idea behind the RNL Accelerator method for boosting a phone program’s results is to enhance each phase prior to and following a call. First, you can complete calls to and actually speak with more prospective donors because you have more accurate contact information for a greater number of your records. Then adding mail and e-mail engagement before the call offers a substantial boost as donors are “warmed” to the idea of giving. And for those who do not give a credit card right on the phone, you need to get the gift in. Providing prompt, direct and easy-to-complete fulfillment materials is crucial. Finally, we experimented with thanking donors and found that contact and response results were significantly increased the next year.

Here’s how this might play out in one segment of a phone program, with 10,000 completed calls:

Historic Results Potential – After Accelerator
Completed Calls 10,000 11,175
Contact Rate (actually reaching donors) 52% 55%
Pledge/Gift Rate 20% 24%
Fulfillment Rate 65% 76%
Total Donors 676 1,121
Average Pledge $90 $98
Total Dollars $60,840 $109,865
Stewardship Effect in Year 2 +10%
Expected Dollars Year 2 $120,852

 

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Too often, programs decline or lose growth opportunity not because the institution, callers, and scripts aren’t great, but because the work hasn’t been done before and after the call to put together a great solicitation.[/pullquote]

Under this model, the donation dollars have doubled by the second year. Not to mention a great increase in donors, which could help this institution meet participation goals.

Your results could be very different based on the quality of your data, who you are calling, other communications you are sending and other factors, but what I’m trying to show here is that the results increase very quickly because of the combined effect of multiple “boosts” to the preparation, engagement, and follow up with donors.

When you consider how many people per hour your callers are likely to speak to, and the significant investment you are already making, it’s absolutely crucial that you get the highest possible return. Too often, we find that programs decline or lose growth opportunity not because the institution, callers, and scripts aren’t great, but because the work hasn’t been done before and after the call to put together a great solicitation.

It’s the difference between “phoning it in” and “phoning it great.”

And perhaps the most important thing: calls that come with great context, personalization, follow up and stewardship provide more joy to donors. Which means that in the long run, you will have more of them.

Accelerator_score_cardAssess your phonathon with our free scorecard

Take our short survey and receive a phonathon scorecard. You’ll see how your program compares to other phonathon programs, based on our database of $1 billion in successful solicitations.  Click to start.

Six fundraising takeaways from a year of blogs and podcasts

Follow Me

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.
Follow Me

In 2015, with over 150 posts, the Ruffalo Noel Levitz and ScaleFunder blogs were hopping, and we also started a new podcast. I took a look back at the last year, and here are few big themes that repeated throughout the year:

money_tree

Big donors don’t grow on trees: This year, we released important research about the annual gift to major and planned gift pipeline. In a study of eight higher education institutions, we found that 75 percent of donors who have $25,000 or more made smaller gifts for at least 11 years before making their major gift. Loyalty and consistency have a big impact on your annual revenue—and they absolutely amplify future big donations. Check out this blog post, and read the white paper to find out more. Continue Reading »

What I learned from 2 days in Congress – Report from the Canadian Annual Giving Congress 2015

Follow Me:

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.
Follow Me:

Last week I had the opportunity to speak in front of Congress and learn from some of the brightest minds in North America.  I’m referring to the Canadian Annual Giving Congress and in this post I’ll share some of the annual giving insights and ideas gleaned from the sessions in Toronto that will hopefully inspire you to achieve more this fall.

Are you social enough?

Are you engaging with your donors on social media and having a conversation? Perhaps the thought of that is a bit scary, as they might tell you something publicly you don’t want the masses to hear.  For a lot of institutions this fear prevents us from using social media to enhance the relationship with donors and create a group of engaged listeners.  During a session on Digital/Social Media in Annual Giving, the speakers shared some great examples like the Instagram one above that was used during a giving day to post personalized social media messages on Instagram accounts of their donors. Continue Reading »

Five Ways You Can Impact CYE Giving

Follow me:

Chris Hughes

Director of Fundraising Strategy at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Chris Hughes is a former Director of Annual Giving who has more than two decades of experience in fundraising, marketing, public relations and organizational success in higher education and nonprofit fundraising.
Follow me:

fivewaysthumbOctober marks the time on the calendar when nonprofit giving really begins to ramp up. According to Blackbaud, the three-month period from October through December represents 31% of all annual charitable giving in the U.S.

Having a calendar year end fundraising plan that maximizes every second of the donor’s attention and every possible opportunity to secure a gift is critical. A poor calendar year end giving season can make growth for the full fiscal year difficult (although certainly not impossible).

Here are five things you can still add to your calendar year end giving plan:

  1. Implement an aggressive email solicitation schedule
  2. Mid-December postcards
  3. Daily social media posts
  4. Increased usage of phone and broadcast voice messaging
  5. Maximize opportunities for Giving Tuesday

Implement an aggressive email solicitation schedule

Continue Reading »

Take Control of Your Annual Fund

Dawn Stever
Follow me:

Dawn Stever

Vice President and Consultant at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Dawn Stever joined Ruffalo Noel Levitz as a Vice President and Senior Consultant in Fundraising Management in August 2014. She brings 11 years of experience in higher education annual giving. Dawn works with nonprofit organizations in the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada to design and implement successful annual giving programs. Her experience includes in-depth strategic planning, new program development, frontline fundraising, collaboration with high-level volunteers, crowdfunding, giving days, and phonathon management.
Dawn Stever
Follow me:

tug of war phone cordsmallAre you calling rated prospects through phonathon?  What about donors of $1,000 or more?  Does the annual giving team solicit donors of $2,500, or do you rely on a major gift officer to close those gifts?  These questions about high end donors often elicit sighs from directors of annual giving.  “We’d love to, but … ”

No more sighing. It’s time to take control!

Blackbaud’s Target Analytics Higher Education Benchmarking data shows the importance of focusing on these prospects.  Their research over a broad range of higher education institutions tells us that donor retention rates increase with the size of the gift.  On average, institutions retain 53% of donors giving $25-$49, but that number shoots up to 83% for donors giving $1,500-$2,499.  And that’s where it gets interesting.  For many colleges and universities, retention rates flatten out or decline after that.

Why?  The decline often occurs at the point where prospects are “handed off” to major gifts. Continue Reading »

Are Your Fundraising Channels Deceiving You?

Follow Me:

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.
Follow Me:

dataquestionsmallAre your channels lying to you? Perhaps they are. If you only sent direct mail and never used another channel all year, then the channel and your results will be “truthful”. The second you add email, phone, crowdfunding, or social media to the mix, it becomes a lot more complicated and a little more deceptive.
For those who wonder how your channels can be deceptive, think about our tendency to look at how channels perform in a vacuum. It’s easy to praise or discount a channel based on percentages, averages, donors, dollars, but deep down we all know that channels don’t operate in a silo, even if that’s how we analyze the results.

If you are skeptical on how your channels might be influencing each other, take a look at the following scenarios from research we’ve conducted with our clients over the past 18 months.

Postcards Enhancing Acquisition Rates

On the surface, postcards don’t have a positive ROI, because it’s tough to measure direct mail results if there is no reply device. However, we know that postcards have the highest read rate (2015 DMA Statistical Fact Book) at 48% compared to other types of mail. So in FY15 we tested the impact that a series of engagement postcards Continue Reading »

Phonathon and Football: RNL Rewind

RNL Rewind
Follow Us:

RNL Rewind

A periodic look back at some of our best posts here at the RNL blog.
RNL Rewind
Follow Us:

Latest posts by RNL Rewind (see all)

 

rnlrewindcroppedIn the Spirit of “Throwback Thursday” posts everywhere, RNL Rewind brings back one of our favorite blog posts.

This post by Chris Hughes originally appeared on the RNL blog in September 2014 and was co-authored by Josh Robertson and Mike Brucek.


 

Labor Day weekend marks the opening of the 2014 college football season. For many colleges and universities in the United States, football Saturdays are some of the most visible days of the entire year and can provide a common rallying opportunity for all alumni, regardless of whether he or she is a big sports fan.

Continue Reading »

Follow us