Friday Update: Emerging fundraising trends

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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 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:

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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.

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Friday Update: Fundraising trends

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

This week’s articles cover new reports on fundraising trends.

From around the web:

Spotlight: Advancement Leaders Speak

We’ve recently released a new report outlining what chief advancement officers in higher education are thinking about current fundraising trends. Download the report today to find out the results of 40 in-depth interviews, covering topics like budgets, key metrics, and where leaders are shifting resources.

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Friday Update: Fundraising infographics

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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 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 fundraising infographics and reports with great visual representation of fundraising trends and tactics.

From around the web:

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AFP Fundraising Effectiveness Project Reports
Fundraising Effectiveness Project

The groundbreaking annual Fundraising Effectiveness Survey, piloted in November 2006, offers great statistics you can use to benchmark your program. Check out the 2016 report for the latest trends.

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How Nonprofit Communicators Spend Their Time (Infographic) #NPCOMM2017
Nonprofit Marketing Guide

Do you wonder if other nonprofit communicators are spending as much time on certain tasks as you? Check out the results from the 2017 Nonprofit Communications Trends Report and see for yourself.

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Measuring Gift Impact
Annual Giving Network

Today’s donors seem to care less about hearing stories that describe why other donors give or seeing their own name listed on a roster. Instead, they want to know what, in measurable terms, their past support has helped to achieve.

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The most important words of your email?
FundraisingCoach.com

Is your inbox filled with holiday sales, year end reminders, and charity appeals? It can be challenging to make your own nonprofit’s emails standout!

Spotlight: Major and planned giving productivity

You can’t book big gifts if your team isn’t productive. We’ve heard from hundreds of major and planned giving professionals over the past year about key hurdles to reaching the best and most ready donors.

Fundraising infographics: what major and planned giving officers told us

RNL consultants recently sounded off on our plan to help institutions double their results, and you can check out these features on major giving team productivity:

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$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

 

Friday Update: To the fundraising future

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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 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 about our fundraising future, from harnessing marketing automation, to predicting what’s next for annual giving.

From around the web:

  
Marketing Automation: It’s Not Going Away
NonProfit PRO

Last week, this piece on marketing automation ran in the Huffington Post pushing nonprofits to invest in marketing automation. I am here to beat the drum again, as it may be one of our most important conversations…

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Email Marketing: Busting Myths, Offering Insights
NonProfit PRO

Are you confused between “opinions” and “facts” when it comes to email marketing? Here’s a list of 104 answers for you…

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4 Schools That Create BuzzFeed-Inspired Content for Alumni and Students
EverTrue

BuzzFeed has flipped the journalism world on its head. From humorous top-10 lists to high-level news reporting, the tech company excels on both ends of the spectrum—and has done a great job of drawing in a younger audience because of it. Here are  4 schools that have harnessed this tactic.

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7 Predictions for 2017
Annual Giving Network

Dan Allenby offers predictions for annual giving professions in the coming year.

Spotlight: VSE survey records $41 billion in higher education support

VSE results 2017: what they mean for our fundraising future

  • Giving of $41 billion sets another record (before inflation), and the majority of giving was to current operations over endowments.
  • Gifts recorded by individuals seem to have declined following several big years of increases. However, when you consider significant growth in family foundations, closely held organizations and donor-advised fund gifts, gifts primarily directed by individuals could be growing.
  • Alumni participation continues to decline, and the top 1% of institutions continue to raise a very large portion of the total funds.

Read the VSE Press Release here and stay tuned for our analysis of this year’s results. Mark your calendar for 2:00 p.m. on March 1 when Ann Kaplan, VSE director, will join us for a live webinar to discuss the results and what they mean for fundraisers.

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

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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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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

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.

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