Three concepts higher education fundraisers must embrace to succeed

Caryn Stein

Caryn Stein

Vice President at Ruffalo Noel Levtiz
Caryn Stein is the Vice President of Marketing and is dedicated to helping organizations combine data and technology with compelling fundraising experiences to create more effective marketing for their missions. She is a nationally recognized speaker, having helped hundreds of organizations improve their fundraising campaigns and write more effective donor communications.
Caryn Stein

In my previous blog on the three challenges facing higher education fundraisers, I talked about how increased competition for dollars, changes in communication, and shifting donor expectations have made the fundraising landscape more difficult than ever.

While these challenges might feel daunting, there is an incredible and exciting opportunity to modernize fundraising with new tools and tactics that can have a truly revolutionary impact on giving. To meet today’s demands, institutions must shift the way they approach fundraising. Higher education fundraisers need to adopt new strategies that leverage advanced analytics, new engagement models, and insights to be able to scale, connect, and see a greater return on their fundraising investment.

From student philanthropy to planned giving, from alumni engagement to a multi-million-dollar major gift, donors have shifted to expect a new level of interaction and customization.

The good news is that the data, technology, and a compelling impact opportunity already exist to communicate with students, alumni, and other members of the community. The priority now is to weave them together in a more intelligent way to more effectively engage donors and create a rewarding habit of lifetime giving.

Here are three essential concepts that higher education fundraisers must embrace to overcome these common challenges and achieve sustained success:

1. Root your strategy in data

Let’s be clear: traditional segmentation based on old-style heuristics will no longer cut it. Advanced analytics, predictive modeling, and engagement scoring will help you identify the right donors most likely to give, focusing your time and resources in the right ways, making your programs more efficient, and resulting in a higher return on your investment of money, time, and people. These same techniques will also help you fine-tune your methods and messaging to ensure you are sending the message most likely to resonate with any given donor.

2. Modernize your outreach

In addition to leveraging new techniques like targeted digital advertising, marketing automation, and adaptive engagement technology, a modern approach to building a relationship with donors weaves together the right channels for the right donors at the right time. Move beyond a simplistic multichannel view of blasting the same message across all channels, and create a personal journey that tailors your channels and cadence based on the campaign and audience. All channels—including digital, email, social, phone, direct mail, events—working together creates a more compelling donor-directed experience.

3. Personalize the engagement

Donors want to understand how your work is relevant not only to their experience with the institution, but also how it connects to what they care about now. They need to know the specific, tangible impact their gift will have. Use the insights that you gain from your data and a donor’s own actions to move away from a scripted transaction and instead create interactive, dynamic giving experiences that speak to an individual donors’ expectations and why they give. Allow for giving to take place at any time, at any level, and through the giving methods the donor chooses.

Finally, take a holistic view of your donors—from acquisition to transformational giving—and connect these same principles throughout your fundraising operation, tying them together so a donor’s journey with your institution gets more compelling and rewarding with each step. From student philanthropy to planned giving, from alumni engagement to a multi-million-dollar major gift, donors have shifted to expect a new level of interaction and customization—it’s time to shift along with them and reinvent fundraising in order to reinvigorate higher education philanthropy.

Read our white paper for higher education fundraisers and ask for a free strategy consultation

Read our white paper for higher education fundraisers Download our white paper, Why Reinventing Fundraising in Higher Education Is Imperative for Its Survival. It covers the three challenges and three strategies discussed in my blogs.

I also encourage you to ask for a free consultation with our fundraising strategists. Ruffalo Noel Levitz has partnered with hundreds of colleges and universities. Talk to us about how you can increase donor engagement, connect with donors who are ready to give now, and build a lifelong giving relationship with them.

Ask for a free fundraising strategy consultation.

Three core challenges facing higher education fundraising

Caryn Stein

Caryn Stein

Vice President at Ruffalo Noel Levtiz
Caryn Stein is the Vice President of Marketing and is dedicated to helping organizations combine data and technology with compelling fundraising experiences to create more effective marketing for their missions. She is a nationally recognized speaker, having helped hundreds of organizations improve their fundraising campaigns and write more effective donor communications.
Caryn Stein

This is part one of a two-part series on reinventing higher education fundraising. Read part 2 here.

Increased pressures across a more complex and challenging landscape demand a new approach to higher education fundraising. As overall enrollment numbers decline, student retention is stagnant, and traditional revenue sources are no longer predictable, individual philanthropic support for higher education is more important than ever to ensure financial stability and long-term growth.

But just as higher education leaders are looking to advancement to close the funding gap, those on the fundraising front line are facing their own set of serious challenges. Alumni participation and individual giving to institutions are declining, and the public has raised questions about the value of higher education. Simultaneously, foundations and gift officers are being asked to raise much more—with either flat or only minimally increased budgets.

Fundraisers need to do much more with the limited resources they have. In this setting, perhaps the harshest reality of all is this: traditional, “tried-and-true” fundraising methods won’t be enough to address new challenges in higher education or the increased demands on advancement professionals.

Higher education fundraising is facing three core challenges—and isn’t adapting quickly enough to overcome them

As pressure mounts to bring in more fundraising dollars more quickly, donors are becoming more difficult to acquire and retain due to 1) increasing competition, 2) a changing communication landscape, and 3) the population’s shifting behaviors and preferences when it comes to giving.

1. Competition for donors and dollars is only growing more fierce

Contrary to popular belief, an institution’s biggest competitor for donors and dollars is not other colleges and universities, nor is it the 1.5 million charities now active in the U.S.  If it were only that simple! The true source of competitive pressure in today’s world are the consumer marketing giants like Amazon who continue to lead the charge in more sophisticated, data-driven, channel-optimized, and highly tuned communication to the same population that colleges and universities are trying to reach. These retailers have set the bar very high and continue to push it skyward with advanced targeting, big data, and continuously tested user experiences.

The true source of competitive pressure in today’s world are the consumer marketing giants like Amazon who continue to lead the charge in more sophisticated, data-driven, channel-optimized, and highly tuned communication to the same population that colleges and universities are trying to reach.

Donors, like the rest of us, now expect this same type of interaction with any type of brand they encounter—even their alma mater. When institutions fall short, their message falls flat, and their attention falls away, taking their discretionary dollars with it. Gone are the days of alumni feeling duty-bound to give back to their institution.

Of course, the competition not only comes in the form of highly-optimized and personalized experiences, but also in the sheer volume of messages and offers.

Some organizations are already catching on to individualized marketing, the attention economy, and high-quality storytelling. We are now at the tip of the iceberg as we see major nonprofits and foundations start to modernize their approach to targeting, engaging, and soliciting for philanthropic support. The reality is that the only way to beat them is to join them. It’s time for higher education fundraising to move more quickly to adopt these modern marketing tactics to remain relevant and produce results—or be left in the dust.

2. The communication landscape is exploding

Compared to just one year ago, Americans are now spending 60 percent more time on smartphones creating and consuming information on websites, email, social media, streaming video, and more. By 2019, 246 billion emails will be sent per day. It’s no surprise that the number of channels and the volume of information being sent has exponentially grown in the last decade. This represents a challenge in a more crowded arena with more fragmentation of ways to connect with donors.

Successful fundraisers will need to meet donors where they are—and on their terms—to make the connection that will lead to engagement and, ultimately, a gift.

Compounding this is the incredible power of choice. Donors now drive their own communication by selecting the modes and filters that suit them.  It’s important to remember your audience is now in control of the message and how you reach them. They decide when they want to be contacted, by whom, through which channels, and on what topics.

With this in mind, successful fundraisers will need to meet donors where they are—and on their terms—to make the connection that will lead to engagement and, ultimately, a gift.

3. The time to meet shifting donor expectations is now

While core motivations for giving have not changed dramatically—donors still give for primarily social, emotional, and personal reasons—donor expectations and giving preferences have evolved. We live in an age of unprecedented personal expression and transparency, and this has transformed higher education fundraising strategies.

To truly connect with donors and inspire them to support the programs that are most meaningful to them, you need to speak directly to them—and then let them talk back. This means getting extremely clear on the message you’re trying to send and personalizing the experience to make it incredibly compelling and relevant to that individual. Now more than ever, the key to more effective communication is relevancy.

To truly connect with donors and inspire them to support the programs that are most meaningful to them, you need to speak directly to them—and then let them talk back.

When your emails and other communications are more personalized and specific, they tap into the identity of the donor and are instantly more relevant, interesting, and authentic.

A fundraiser’s job relies heavily on the ability to definitively answer the question, “Why me?” You can’t do that with blast messaging and generic segmentation. For today’s donors, only a highly personalized, relevant, and interactive experience will break through the competitive noise and hold their attention.

Read part 2 of this blog on the three concepts fundraisers must embrace.

What are the best higher education fundraising strategies? Ask our experts.

Free consultation on higher education fundraising strategiesOur fundraising strategists can help you address your challenges and meet your goals for any areas of higher education, including:

  • Annual giving
  • Major and planned giving
  • Digital fundraising, including crowdfunding and giving days
  • Donor engagement and retention

Ask us for a free consultation.

Friday Update: Emerging fundraising trends

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 on emerging fundraising trends such as using digital fundraising tactics and hacking your organization for growth.

From around the web:

  -
-
-
-

Spotlight: Explore emerging fundraising trends at our conference

The Digital Philanthropy and Millennial Engagement Conference will feature sessions on the latest digital fundraising tactics

We’re gearing up for another great Digital Philanthropy and Millennial Engagement Conference to help you amplify your digital engagement and young alumni outreach efforts. Join us in Denver to bring your fundraising program to the next level. Register today and learn new ways to engage your donor base.

Recent posts

Friday Update: Data-driven fundraising

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 on using data-driven fundraising to propel results.

From around the web:

-
-
-
-

Spotlight: Data-driven fundraising

Webinar on data-driven fundraising

Join us for a webinar with RNL’s Josh Robertson and Caryn Stein to find out how understanding your donor data can help you dramatically improve your fundraising results. We’ll discuss key ways to use data-driven fundraising to optimize your campaigns. Register today for this action-oriented tactical webinar.

 

Recent posts

New study highlights advancement leader priorities, budget shifts

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
Ruffalo Noel Levitz recently commissioned a major research project to better understand advancement leader priorities, challenges, and strategies. Through 40 in-depth interviews with higher education leaders across the country, we uncovered what chief advancement officers are really thinking about the future.
The interviewees were chief advancement officers and leaders with a 360 degree view of their organizations, including budgets, performance metrics, and where the resources are going. More than just a survey, these interviews got to the heart of the top priorities.  We listened to the leaders talk and captured a wealth of powerful quotes and insights.

What’s keeping advancement leaders up at night?

Some key insights include:

  • 90 percent of advancement leaders say booking big dollars is their number-one priority and the metric they are judged on.
  • Leaders are shifting resources to direct solicitation in major, planned and annual giving. Productivity and efficiency are a big focus.
  • New digital channels like crowdfunding, giving days, and targeted digital advertising are getting greater funding over the next few years.

Get the full report

Read our report on advancement leader prioritiesDownload this report to find out where higher education advancement is today, and where it’s headed. You’ll learn:
  • 5 key insights into today’s challenges
  • Top advancement leader priorities and where they plan to spend their time and budget in the next few years
  • Actionable takeaways for increasing productivity and thriving in the current higher education fundraising landscape

Download Advancement Leaders Speak to see the full results.

 

Listen to the podcast

Friday Update: Opportunities and fundraising myths

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 we have some links to posts by a few provocative contributors who ask questions about our assumptions and challenge us to take advantage of fundraising opportunities before it’s too late.

From around the web:

Continue Reading »

Friday Update: Fundraising sages share 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 we have some links to posts by a few of the best fundraising sages out there on how to build relationships, retain donors, and consider volunteer opportunities.

From around the web:

      -
What is the Special Ingredient that Leads to #Fundraising Success?
Michael Rosen Says… (Feb 24 2017)

Do you know the special ingredient for creating fundraising success? You’ll notice I didn’t say “secret ingredient.” That’s because it’s not a secret. It’s actually common sense….

-
The 5 Immutable Laws of Great Non-Profit Fundraising
thefundraisingauthority.com (Feb 23 2017)

Much of fundraising is an art, not a science. Knowing when a prospect is ripe for an ask, or how to craft a case for support that really tugs on the heartstrings, takes experience and practice. There are, however, several immutable, undeniable laws of great fundraising that are so very essential to the process that they can’t be overstated…

-
5 Steps to Build Steadfast Donor Loyalty & Retention in 2017
Gail Perry (Feb 23 2017)

We’re having some fun with donor retention today. We do know that donor retention = donor loyalty, right? So donor retention is the name of the game for 2017 and beyond. And your ultimate goal as a fundraiser is to build up a cadre of high value, high commitment donors, right? To help you, here are 5 simple, doable, practical, and wildly important tips that can help you increase YOUR donor loyalty…

-
So, You Are Thinking of Becoming a Volunteer? Here Are Some Things to Consider
NonProfit PRO (Feb 24 2017)

Duke offers some great advice as you consider becoming a volunteer and as we work with volunteers…

Spotlight: Consult our fundraising sages

Recent posts

Friday Update: donors big, small, and happy

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 we have some features on big and small donors, and how to have more happy donors.

From around the web:

happy donors
7 Strategies to Create Happier, More Generous Donors
NonProfit PRO

Nonprofits need to tell a compelling story the donor wants to enter into. Make what you say relevant to people’s experiences… Read more »

major donors happy donors
The 30 Million Dollar Donor
Veritus Group

Several weeks ago we received some not-so-surprising news from a client in the western U.S. I say “not so surprising” because we see the very same thing with other clients all the time. But it was surprising to this client. Here’s what happened… Read more »

happy donors are loyal donors
Why Your Smaller-Dollar Donors Should Matter
allaboutcharity

The Agitator ran an article about changes in giving that ought to concern us all. While overall giving was up last year, more of the money came from wealthy donors. Smaller dollar gifts declined. Do read the article, and the study, Gilded Giving, it references. In the article, Roger Craver points out some disturbing ways this trend can hurt the sector – and the world. One of the most dangerous is that having fewer, larger donors leads to skewed priorities… Read more »

easy giving options create more happy donors
What About Including a Text Box on Your Donate Form, Like SolarAid?
ifundraiser blog

Once you adopt a mindset of “how can we get people to spread our story?” obvious ideas seem to drop out. So how about simply asking your donors to rate and review you and sharing this on your website? So simple, yet I can’t find a single charity that does this. Whilst there are third party review sites like GuideStar and Charity Navigator in the U.S., that’s not the same thing. Maybe this is because it needs a bit of effort to add reviews to your website?… Read more »

Spotlight: Get your conference on!

The 2017 conference season is in full swing. We’re excited to be presenting sessions with successful institutions at these upcoming CASE Conferences:

We’ll see you on the road!

Recent posts

Insights from our Digital Philanthropy and Millennial Engagement Conference

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:

More than100 giving and engagement professionals joined us in Atlanta for #RuffaloCON16, a summit on digital fundraising strategies and tactics to engage Millennials and use emerging digital solutions. We had a blast, and here are few things we learned:

The Millennials are rising

This important group will soon make up half of most higher education institution alumni bases, and institutions want to increase engagement with this influential and passionate group of young donors. It’s a hot topic that we received a lot of questions from all types of attendees at the conference, from vice presidents of advancement, to directors of annual giving, to direct digital appeal professionals and leaders of non-profit organizations.

The time for digital is now

Continue Reading »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tackling emerging fundraising trends in a new analysis

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

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

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

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

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

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

Download the infographic on the fundraising trends discussed in the paper

Achieving success in today’s higher education fundraising environment

Chris Bingley

Chris Bingley

Senior Vice President and Senior Consultant at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Chris Bingley offers 15 years of experience in higher education fundraising. He has served in advancement positions at Gonzaga University, Washington State University, and the University of Idaho.
Chris Bingley

Latest posts by Chris Bingley (see all)

I have spent my career in higher education fundraising in both on-campus leadership positions as well as serving as an external fundraising strategist working with many different kinds of colleges and universities—a role which I have returned to with Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Having been in both worlds, I know the challenges colleges and universities face in meeting their fundraising goals in this competitive and changing environment.

Starting my new role with Ruffalo Noel Levitz provided an opportunity to reach out to my colleagues in higher education—presidents, vice presidents (advancement, enrollment, alumni), principal gift officers, and others, to discuss the challenges they face. In those discussions I’ve asked key questions around their perceptions of advancement today and the most pressing issues they need to solve. Summarizing those reflections, I heard a need for solutions for:

  • Major gift pipeline development and gift officer performance.
  • Countering declining alumni donor counts.
  • Connecting with and engaging Millennials.
  • Competing in a busy philanthropic market.
  • Using data insights and market research effectively.
  • Engaging alumni and the community in an individually appealing way.
  • Managing the outreach channels with a focus on digital.

Continue Reading »

Follow us