10 fundraising insights from our 2017 research

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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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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.

A new way to find major and planned giving donors (VIDEO)

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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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Major and planned giving donors are the key to the future of your organization. But gift officers tell us that they don’t have the tools to spend maximum time with the best donors.

We think there’s a better way to find big givers, which is why our new suite of major and planned giving solutions focus on:

  • Going beyond wealth screening with a customized, predictive model using up to 30 variables to determine which donors in your pool are ready to give.
  • Warming up donors with communications that thank them and lay out the giving needs of your institution or organization.
  • A personalized conversation with a trained giving professional before your gift officer visits to discover the donor’s passion and readiness for your visit.
  • Immediate scheduling: you get appointments with these identified, ready and excited donors.

It’s a new way to identify major and planned giving donors, and it could more than double your results.

This 3-minute video lays out the donor identification and engagement challenge and the new RNL strategy to maximize your gift officer success:

Connect with more major and planned giving donors

Contact us today to talk about how this game-changing solution can take your engagement of major and  planned giving donors to the next level. One of our major and planned giving experts can discuss how you can identify donors who are ready to give now and streamline your major and planned giving process. Continue Reading »

Key insights from our major and planned giving survey

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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’ve just released the results of one the largest surveys ever of major and planned gift officers. We asked these fundraisers—who are responsible for working with the biggest donors to higher education and other charities—about their challenges and opportunities. The results paint a difficult scenario for top fundraisers:

  • 92% of gift officers want to spend their time differently.
  • 55% want to spend more time on solicitation—meeting directly with donors.
  • The average gift officer has 142 identified prospects assigned, but only makes 74 visits a year.
  • Less than a third say that they find wealth and propensity ratings “highly effective” in helping them determine which donors to approach.
  • On average, gift officers only feel that 37% of their assigned prospects are truly qualified to make a gift.

This is a time when big gifts are needed to make up budget shortfalls and economic challenges, especially in education. Major and planned gift officers don’t seem to have the tools they need to connect to the best donors. And it’s made worse by the fact that gift officers are more likely to be judged by activity (number of visits) rather than effectiveness.
Survey of major gift and planned gift officers

Helping fundraisers be more productive is more than just a way to increase giving. It also serves donors and increases their satisfaction with giving. Productive fundraisers also use a donor’s time wisely, as well as the resources of the organization—which have come from contributions.

How do we increase productivity for major and planned gift officers?

Two key shifts will help. First, prospect research needs to move from passive to active. Right now, fundraisers generally send a ton of communications to potential givers, but don’t necessarily listen as closely as they should to those donors. This requires truly interactive tactics like surveying donors and having good conversations before a meeting.

We can also now watch how donors respond digitally—if they open, if they read, and where they click—so we are connecting them to the opportunities they really care about. This means that when you meet with a donor, you’ll connect them to their giving passion more quickly.

The second big leap is moving from descriptive to predictive in using donor data. Wealth ratings certainly help describe the potential donors in your pool with the highest capacity. But they do little to predict who is ready to give now. That takes advanced multi-variable predictive modelling, and most organizations need help with that.

Respondents to the survey told us that they see significant opportunity to work with transformational donors. But time and resource pressure are the primary barrier to success. It’s time for some game-changing solutions.

Download the full study today, which includes quotes from major and planned gift officers along with our take on the results.

And if you’d like to take your major and planned donor identification program to the next level in a cost-effective and donor-centric way, drop me a line.

Friday Update: Major major gifts

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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 from the major gifts and campaign world.

From around the web:

Spotlight: What gift officers say about productivity

With growing expectations and rising costs, big dollar major gifts are being seen as a key to long-term funding success. How can your institution discover more major gifts and planned gifts when resources are tight and turnover is a growing concern? Join us for the release of one of the largest surveys ever of major and planned gift officers. You’ll be one of the first to hear the results!

Register for this first-of-its-kind look at the major opportunities—and obstacles—gift officers face when working to secure transformational gifts.

Major gifts webinar

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Friday Update: Planned giving

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Brian Gawor

Vice President for Research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Brian Gawor, CFRE, is a former annual fund and major gift professional who now focuses on research and benchmarking to drive fundraising strategy. He is also a doctoral student studying higher education giving.
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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 planned giving programs.

From around the web:

Spotlight: Major and Planned Giving Success Kit

We’ve recently released a Major and Planned Giving Success Kit, which collects some of our recent webinar, white paper, and podcast material on major and planned gifts. Download the success kit today to explore how you can amplify your fundraising results from your major and planned giving programs.

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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:

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.

Friday Update: Opportunities and fundraising myths

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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 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 »

Podcast: Major and planned giving productivity

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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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Podcast on major and planned giving productivityYou just can’t book big gifts if your fundraising team isn’t productive. This is a top concern for fundraisers who are being asked to book bigger and bigger giving totals each year. Ruffalo Noel Levitz talked to hundreds of major and planned giving fundraisers in 2016 and heard some common roadblocks that are holding teams back: finding the right donors to talk to, supporting gift officers with good information and training, and preparing donors and fundraisers for great visits. Add in gift officer turnover, and many organizations are struggling to reach their fundraising potential.

So we embarked on the creation of a solution that’s great for both donors and fundraisers. This podcast features 7 RNL leaders providing a look “under the hood” to show how the solution came together.  They discuss what increasing productivity can mean for your aspirational fundraising goals.

Included are:

Ready to ramp up major and planned giving productivity?

Making Major Giving and Planned Giving More Productive

Click to get the paper

Start with our white paper, Making Major and Planned Giving More Productive, which illustrates how increases in efficiency and productivity can have a dramatic impact on your big gift results.

Find our more about RNL major and planned giving solutions, including case studies and testimonials at advance.ruffalonl.com.

And read more about our take on major and planned giving productivity at blogfm.ruffalonl.com.

Donor warming: major and planned giving for the modern advancement team

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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.
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The second in a four-part series on how institutions and nonprofit organizations can re-imagine how to identify, warm, and qualify major giving and planned giving prospects, along with how to analyze the success from those efforts. Read part 1 here.

Part 2:  Keeping your major gift prospects warm

You have donors with propensity to give and you have donors with predicted wealth. As we discussed in the first blog in this series, when those two attributes combine you have what many consider to be the perfect major giving prospect.  For those entering or in a campaign, you likely have identified a large new cadre of major gift prospects that you hope and expect are primed for making a transformational gift.

So now it’s time to assign a major gift officer and begin qualifying this large pool of new major giving prospects through personal outreach…or is it?  There are two roadblocks that we have to overcome before we embark upon the engagement and qualification calls that are part of donor warming:

  1. Donor education about major giving: Most major giving prospects will have a long history of giving and may be inclined to continue giving. That said, past communication from your organization may not be conveying your transformational gift opportunities. Educating these loyal donors is key before any qualification call.
  2. Major gift officer portfolio size: While having a large group of identified prospects can seem like a great problem to have, the reality is a large group of new prospects with no history of making major gifts can very easily fall under your gift officer radar. These new opportunities aren’t likely going to rise to the top of a major gift officer list of donors to engage, especially when they are trying to close gifts from proven major donors. Commonly, these prospects are also removed from at least some of the annual giving appeals, which means a group of proven donors can begin to languish, ignored, without the same level of outreach that they have come to expect from your organization. Big gift officer portfolios, instead of opportunity, can spell disaster.

Continue Reading »

Major and planned giving for the modern advancement team

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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.
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The first in a four-part series on how institutions and nonprofit organizations can re-imagine how to identify, warm, and qualify major giving and planned giving prospects, along with how to analyze the success from those efforts. Read part 2 on donor warming.

Part 1: Going beyond wealth ratings to find your best major giving and planned giving prospects

Just about every major giving and planned giving program uses wealth ratings to look for qualified donors. While these services are far from perfect, they have been helpful in focusing the efforts of giving teams and ensuring that they are not flying blind and guessing about donor capacity. From conversations with hundreds of giving professionals, we’ve learned that the reduction of time between campaigns is now causing institutions to take a hard look at how they are identifying major giving and planned giving prospects; now questioning if wealth ratings alone are truly the golden fleece institutions need.

While wealth research can uncover capacity, it often misses on determining propensity. Propensity is more than just the giving history of your donors; it’s the level of engagement with your cause and how a donor is attached to your giving organization. To increase major gift productivity, you have to apply a more sophisticated level of analytics and modeling to uncover donors who have the right combination of capacity and propensity.

The new propensity model

Continue Reading »

Take Control of Your Annual Fund

Dawn Stever
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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
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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 »

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