Co-Author: Quinn McGourty-Holland, Director of Campus Relations
You’ve decided to jump in and conduct a Giving Day. Well, you’ve made the right decision. RNL has found through research that Giving Days are one of the most effective ways of attracting new donors, reengaging previous donors and one of the top channels for increasing average gifts. After multiple conversations with advancement leaders from across the country, we started to hear common themes that are necessary to make giving days successful. Let’s walk through a few of these themes.
Creating a giving day brand
Having the right giving day brand helps you engage your campus and community of donors.
One of the first things to prepare for your giving day is to establish a brand. This includes selecting a name, establishing a message and creating compelling content. Below we’ll cover how to do this to make sure you have a giving day brand that resonates across campus and in your community.
What’s in a name?
Over the past several years, we have noticed that some of our best giving days started with creating a great name. Usually, the naming convention comes from something related to your campus or nonprofit. For example, Oklahoma State went with Give Orange and the University of Texas chose 40 Hours for the 40 Acres. Whatever you choose, it should feel authentic and it should resonate clearly with your target audience.
What’s your real intent? Engagement on their terms
The point of a giving day isn’t to drive participation for your president’s fund or annual fund, it’s to drive participation and dollars no matter what they choose to give.
Giving Days are a great way to drive donor engagement and create enthusiasm within your community. However, as you probably already know, your alumni and community are smart and will see right through a phony campaign. On giving day, you want your donors to choose their path. The point isn’t to drive participation for your president’s fund or annual fund, it’s to drive participation and dollars no matter what they choose to give. Your job is to make it as easy as possible for your community to find a cause that speaks to them. We would advise diving into your data and find compelling stories that your alumni can easily support.
Proactively creating compelling content
The most successful organizations start planning and creating content nine-to-12 months ahead of their giving day.
While we talk a lot about the importance of authenticity and creating organic content in annual giving circles, on your giving day you really want to show off the cool and compelling content your organization is creating every day. Whether it’s a powerful video, exciting brand images, or a giving page that’s built for 2019, this is the time to make your page shine. The most successful organizations start planning and creating content nine-to-12 months ahead of their giving day. You can tell when an organization plans ahead with sharp content, and most often it’s reflected in their results. So please, get buy-in from your university marketing team and pick their brains on what they’d like to do for your giving day. They’re in marketing for a reason so let them work their magic and watch the donations and webpage hits come in.
Giving Day Events
North Dakota State is a good example of how a campus came together to pull off a great giving day (read the case study).
We have found that universities and colleges spend a lot of time planning and investing into matches and challenges—and for good reason. The best way to start obtaining gifts for these events is to collaborate with your major gift officers to seek donors for challenges and matches at least six to 12 months in advance. Offering a role in your giving day can further build relationships with major donors and prospects. For the best results, find individuals across the donor spectrum who will excite your diverse supporter base. This will help you find donors from all over your community and make it easy for them to become involved.
Leaderboards are a great way to drive participation as well. Having different student organizations and alumni chapters competing against one another for a match or challenge gift can create a fun sense of urgency and drive donors and dollars on giving day. Like the content, you will want to start gathering donations for potential matches and challenges at least six to 12 months before your giving day. These events and pre-planning are crucial to a successful giving day.
Strong Ambassador Program
Ambassadors are the key to the biggest giving days. You should have a platform that allows you to engage volunteers across your donor spectrum, from several decades of alumni to faculty, staff, and parents. It should also manage, track, and reward your ambassadors’ impact with smart social and referral tools. Top campaigns incorporate volunteer-driven events across the nation to spotlight giving and connect their alumni communities. Through research, RNL has found that donations generated through ambassador links and social shares have a 12 percent higher average gift than a standard online gift on giving day. Your ambassadors are going to be your giving day influencers and as shown in digital marketing over the past five years, they can make or break your brand.
Putting on a great giving day truly takes an
army. Even with the best software and the most well designed page imaginable, your
giving day will not reach the stars without buy in from key groups and leaders
in your alumni community and on campus. The first place to start is within your
foundation or advancement office because that is going to be the core group
that is focused on your event from start to finish. A well run giving day
begins with the people you know best. We hear stories all the time of
advancement offices creating ‘war rooms’ for the big day to ensure they are
able to reach their goals. It’s easy to be in a room all day with your
coworkers when everyone in the room is as dedicated as you are to reaching a
Your advancement services team is also a crucial part of this puzzle. We all know how important this team is, and successful giving days are reliant on advancement services. One way to make sure they have bought in is to have a plan in place to provide the reporting and data they need to keep their database up to date throughout the day. Part of this solution is having a CRM that is capable of this work. Ensuring this group have the tools in place will be another important step toward a successful day of giving. The perfect way to do this is to involve them throughout the process of selecting a software and planning your strategy. Having an open dialogue about what you’d like to accomplish will lead to more productive conversations and a more successful giving day.
Next you’ll want to engage student affairs,
major gift officers, and other campus leaders to get behind the day and boost
your engagement. This will help you spread the word across campus and on social
media. The goal is to make sure your alumni base knows this event is happening
and where they can go to make a gift. Think back to the purpose of your giving
day and why you are doing it in the first place. Again, giving day helps build
a culture of philanthropy on your campus. This is also the best day to educate
your campus and donors about the impact of giving, and for students and faculty
to thank donors.
On your giving day you want to make sure you have an efficient and effective system in place and that all of your fundraising channels are running like a well-oiled machine, which is how RNL can help. By partnering with RNL for the best and most innovative giving day solution in the market, your giving day will be a huge success. Here is what Tori Follett, director of annual giving at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, says about her experience:
We weren’t sure what to expect heading into Giving Tuesday this year, we’ve participated in years past but never at the level that we did this year. For the first time, we had an interactive Giving Day page through ScaleFunder’s Giving Day platform that allowed us to coordinate matching challenges and social media outreach that helped us take our Giving Day efforts to a much higher level.
We went from raising around $12,500 from 86 gifts in 2017 to $96,185 with 417 gifts in 2018. I think the effectiveness of ScaleFunder’s Giving Day platform speaks for itself. We couldn’t be happier with the platform and the service we received from the Scalefunder staff leading up to and on our Giving Day!
I’ve heard the phrase alumni engagement more in the past 18 months than I have in the previous 18 years in higher education. It’s not that alumni engagement is a new thing—institutions have always engaged alumni with a goal of building a lifelong relationships—but it’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind because a lack of alumni engagement is the likely culprit in the declining alumni participation that institutions continue to face.
The Real Problem: Focusing on Who Your Alumni Were
While alumni engagement is a real problem and is negatively
impacting alumni giving, the bigger issue centers on how to accomplish real 1-to-1
If your institution is like most, you likely have large numbers of alumni who have many interests that don’t relate to the fact that they graduated from your institution or from a particular school or college. Unfortunately most institutions continue to focus their efforts on personalizing outreach by creating more nuanced alumni segments that focus on who those alumni were when they graduated, instead of who they are today. That approach simply increases the complexity of alumni engagement without really engaging alumni in a personal way that maximizes their propensity to give.
Institutions must embrace the fact that alumni interests
evolve over time and the things they are most passionate about today may be
very different from their interests at graduation. Furthermore, uncovering
those interests at an individual level can’t be done manually. Advancement
offices cannot hire enough people to reach out to alumni on a personal level
and fix the engagement problem. You have to know who is engaging and what they
want to engage with to be truly successful.
So if we need to tap into the current interests of alumni,
but hiring more people and creating a more complex program isn’t the answer,
then what is the solution?
The Real Solution: Automating Personalized Engagement
To truly engage alumni 1 to 1 at scale, you need to leverage the power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. AI and machine learning-powered platforms can determine individual interests and curate outreach to those individuals so that your alumni explore stories, events, and giving opportunities that align with their passions. This isn’t technology of the future, it is technology that currently exists and is being used by many organizations outside of higher ed fundraising.
RNL and QuadWrangle use AI and machine learning to both analyze alumni preferences and deliver hyper-personalized content to alumni (learn more in a demo).
This combined approach can help your institution increase alumni engagement and giving by:
Focusing and optimizing resources on alumni who are most engaged and likely to be philanthropic supporters to your institution.
Delivering a hyper-personalized omnichannel experience that aligns your digital and traditional channels to create an engaging donor experience.
Using insights from the platform to target less-engaged prospects with more cost-effective channels.
Dive Into AI for Alumni Engagement in Our Webinar
Check out this webinar in the Elevating the Donor Experience series to see how AI-powered alumni engagement can make all of the alumni in your database feel like you are speaking directly to them. And when they feel that you are connecting with the interests they have now as opposed to when they graduated, they will be more engaged and much more likely to give.
As more and more colleges and universities are looking for new and
innovative ways to grow, there is increasing pressure to adapt their business models.
Campus leaders also can no longer assume that reputation alone can drive the
budget. One good year doesn’t equate to future success and points to the fact
that development of a sustainable approach is not only smart but critical to
Oftentimes those who have been in higher education for years can confuse the terms institutional strategic planning (ISP) and strategic enrollment planning (SEP); however it’s through ISP that institutions can address competitive and fiscal challenges effectively. ISP is a research-driven, data-informed method of vision development, mission fulfillment, realistic revenue planning, and fiscal management and sustainability.
Why is this distinction important? As with any type of structure, their needs to be a strong foundation it’s built upon and for any college or university, its foundation is its Institutional Strategic Plan. The next blocks added to this foundation include financial, enrollment, advancement, academic, and facilities planning. Not only does the ISP include enrollment but all of the other elements that make an institution viable and ultimately sustainable.
Differences between Institutional Strategic Planning and Strategic Enrollment Planning
ISP incorporates the whole whereas SEP links academic and fiscal planning to recruitment and marketing planning; therefore, by design ISP has a broader scope. Both planning processes incorporate a similar action and approach with each being data-driven at the very beginning.
Institutional Strategic Planning: The pathway toward sustainable fiscal health (click for larger image)
Building the foundation with firm footing happens by creating a meaningful link to an institution’s financial needs, academic mission, enrollment management, and fundraising processes, systems and communications to formulate a campuswide planning process. There is a need to develop an accurate assessment of the readiness of the institution to begin the planning process, and this is best accomplished with a comprehensive review of all of these areas. It has been our experience this is best accomplished with the combination of data review, discovery with a cross-section of campus constituents in each of these areas all the while marrying RNL deep understanding of building a successful college and university framework for success.
The purpose of this assessment process is to identify key performance indicators in each of the areas and to establish a clear situational analysis that will guide both short-term and long-term initiatives in order to achieve the institution’s desired state. This process both insures broad institutional preparedness as well as establishes the campus readiness to participate in the planning process.
How can Institutional
Strategic Planning lead to sustainability for your campus? Ask for an RNL
Assessing readiness to make sure you have a sound foundation to reach your overall institutional goals is the first step to sustainability. That’s why so many colleges and universities ask for an RNL Campus Opportunity Analysis.
Student satisfaction is an important part of the college student experience. The more satisfied students are, the better their experience. But how do campuses take the necessary, systematic steps to measure student satisfaction and use their data to strengthen the student experience?
Having a process to turn satisfaction data into strategic actions is critical to improving the college student experience.
Tabor College, assessment, and the college student experience
Emir Ruiz Esparza, dean of student life, learning, and formation at Tabor was our “rookie speaker,” meaning this was the first time both he and Tabor administered the SSI. Emir embraced his role of a first time SSI user; he recognized Tabor’s desire for improving the college student experience, the need for retention strategies, and the importance of data-driven decision making.
Based off these factors, the SSI was the logical choice for Tabor. Emir continued to work feverishly, creating a Retention Task Force that included teams of professors, staff, and athletic coaches that would have a role in working directly with their SSI results.
One of the unique qualities about the SSI, is the actionable data; RNL does all the analysis, delivering the results in a timely manner (two weeks after the survey is closed), which gives clients the ability to immediately impact change on their campuses.
Understanding the importance of the student voice, Emir took Tabor’s list of challenges from the SSI data and gave the students a vote as to how they wanted to see change. He was able to immediately impact and implement new policy related to residence hall open hours as well as make updates to the cafeteria as a direct result of the student-reported, data-driven results.
Southwest Wisconsin Technical College and turning assessment into action
Mandy Henkel, Research Analyst, Department of College Effectiveness at Southwest Wisconsin Technical College (SWTC) is the survey champion we all want to have on our campuses.
Mandy has successfully implemented and cultivated the SSI at SWTC for over 10 years. Her secret for maintaining interest and value from the survey results year after year has been to continuously look at new and different ways to report the data.
Most recently, Mandy has focused on the ease of making changes with the SSI results, aligning the data with their HLC accreditation work, and the inclusion of a new annual Instructional/Institutional Vitality Process (IVP).
Having faculty buy-in was not always a given for SWTC. In fact in 2013 the college decided to implement the Institutional Priorities Survey (IPS) from RNL and it paid off in more ways than anticipated. Not only were they able to see the student perceptions (SSI) against the faculty/staff perceptions (IPS), but administering the IPS helped to shift the perspective of the faculty/staff to better understand why the SSI was so critically important to the college’s success and the overall college student experience. Faculty were now more supportive of future SSI administrations.
With everyone now on board, SWTC has annual IVP days which consist of each department, (either instructional-faculty, or institutional-service departments), committing themselves to a one-day intensive review of their SSI data at both the program and overall college level. From IVP days, faculty and staff create their Team Action Plan (TAPs) which include their areas of opportunities and focus for that academic year.
In addition to sharing their SSI data with faculty and staff, SWTC went even broader and took the data to their marketing department. As a result, the college was able to use their identified strengths to attract potential students who value what SWTC does well. Further-more, they created parking lot banners that said “Where you belong,” as a result of a campus strength, “Students are made to feel welcome here.” The parking lot banners not only welcome new students to campus, but each day re-recruit their current students by reminding them that SWTC is where they belong.
Co-Author: Peter Christian, Director, Campus Relations, RNL
Give! 1,800 Minutes to Give! Give Red!
If you are in the philanthropy community you have probably seen something like this in your email or LinkedIn feed over the last several months. As the phenomenon of Giving Tuesday continues to grow in international philanthropy and more organizations host a Giving Day throughout the year, this premise of a daylong giving event is making its mark in higher education. A Giving Day can be a great opportunity to promote enthusiasm and bring constituents together for a common cause. It gives your institution an excellent opportunity to celebrate what makes you special to the audiences you are trying to reach: alumni, donors, current students, parents, faculty, and staff.
Giving Tuesday has spurred interest in Giving Days for colleges and universities.
So how can you make the most of your Giving Day event?
Between now and the RNL National Conference on July 26-28, RNL will share how we are going to run a Giving Day that will occur during our conference (with all proceeds going to charity). We will post additional blogs and insights to discuss what we will do before, during, and after our giving day. Our recommendations will be based on what we are seeing across the higher education landscape, our industry leading research, and the feedback we are receiving from our clients using RNL Giving Day Powered by ScaleFunder.
First, we’ll start with a strategic overview of the Giving Day concept and why it has caught on with higher education.
Eliciting excitement to boost participation is one of the most important factors for a successful Giving Day. Communication is critical to bring awareness to the event in advance and to find ways for people to get involved by volunteering and sharing the message. Your alumni and current students are some of the best advocates you can find, and their passion for your institution can mean much more than an institutional plea for funds. Recruit ambassadors from your community to give the event a much needed personal touch!
Ambassadors can add their passion to engage more donors and urge them to give.
Giving Day ambassadors will help encourage a broader network to become involved,
but you also need to establish fun incentives to spur your donors’ sense of
urgency. Gamify your Giving Day with matches and challenges, to provide alumni
with a chance to help their areas of affinity hit their milestones and pull
ahead of the pack. Everyone wants the school as a whole to succeed, but the
clubs, teams, and departments that were integral your alumni’s personal
experiences will stand out. With a variety of fund designations to choose from,
and a steady stream of smaller bite-size goals to strive toward, your target
audience will be empowered to make a difference to the things that matter most
Of course, we can’t forget about what happens after the deadline has passed and the Giving Day window has closed. The work doesn’t stop after the event is over, and your alumni don’t stop caring about you afterwards either. Show them your appreciation, whether that is through thank-you notes, updates about the areas they supported, or through social media shout-outs. A Giving Day may only be 24 hours, but your alumni engagement should be year-round—don’t let your only interactions be when you ask them for money!
We know this can be a big undertaking in order to dedicate the time and resources necessary to host a successful Giving Day, but you likely already have a lot of the tools necessary. Wherever you can, encourage groups outside your advancement office to chip in with activities and content. Ask your students and faculty to help craft appeals as well. Ultimately, if there is a part of your institution that is affected by your Giving Day, then get them involved! This is a team effort, and you will achieve the most when you encourage collaboration. Reach out with phone calls, text messages, social media alerts, and digital ads; everything and everyone who is at your disposal can be a component of your plan. In a rapidly changing fundraising environment, an omnichannel strategy is your best bet for maximizing results.
As I was preparing the data and draft for our 2019 National Motivation to Complete Report (showcasing national college freshman motivations results from the College Student Inventory), I was reflecting on the fact that the beginning of March, I celebrated my fifth anniversary working full-time with Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL). This inspired me to think not just of the 2018 data before me, but also about what the 2013 data looked like when I joined RNL in March 2014. So, we went back to the 2013 College Student Inventory data to take a look and found some very interesting trends.
Here are key five-year college freshman motivations trends from 2013-2018:
A decrease in the students’ value of college
Increased confusion over career decision making
An increase in the percentage of students who feel pressure to earn extra money will interfere with their studies
A growing demand for help to improve reading skills
These observations, lend themselves to questions to ask
on your campuses:
How are you communicating the value of earning a degree from your institution to your prospective AND current students? How intentional are you being in “re-enrolling” the students you have to improve retention and graduation rates?
In what ways can you create a career development “eco-system” so the career decision making process is embedded in classroom as well as co-curricular experiences from the 1st day of the student experience?
How can you identify the students who are working more hours, knowing this may jeopardize their academic success? How can your on-campus employment program be part of the student success solution?
Most campuses have a writing center and a math center—what about a reading center? Or resources to help students improve their college-level reading abilities?
What other changes in motivation and non-cognitive factors that influence student success in your student body are occurring over time? Are your programs, policies and services in line with today’s college freshman (of all ages)?
The College Student Inventory measures non-cognitive and motivational factors that contribute to college success. First introduced in the mid 1980’s, the CSI remains the longest standing, continuously used motivational assessment in higher education.
Download our full report on college freshman motivations
Would you like to discuss these findings as well as trends you are observing on campus and ways in which our clients are addressing the motivational needs of their students—both traditional aged, transfer and adult? Please email me and I will be happy to discuss your opportunities.
We have the winners of the 2019 RNL March (Alumni Giving) Madness , our annual alumni giving tournament among colleges and universities in the NCAA basketball tournament.
This annual alumni giving tournament is our fun way to determine the top alumni giving institutions for higher education fundraising. We once again took the institutions in the men’s and women’s Division I NCAA Basketball Tournaments, analyzed their alumni giving statistics, and asked: “What if the tournament was decided by alumni giving, instead of basketball?”
2019 alumni giving tournament final brackets
Our seven-part methodology looks at key statistics like alumni participation, donor counts, changes over time, along with our “referees” judgments of online giving portals and young alumni engagement.
The full March (Alumni Giving) Madness 2019 Brackets
Women’s Bracket: The University of Notre Dame. A return winner for our tournament, the Fighting Irish alumni donors continue their generosity (and growth in numbers!). Notre Dame continues to have consistent alumni participation, and excitement with the Boldly Notre Dame campaign. They are also just really great at showcasing mission, impact and purpose throughought their online presence. For top performers in our “tournament” this was important.
Men’s Bracket: Duke University. Consistency was the name of the game for this year’s new tournament winner. A top performer on all six of our criteria, growing donors, solid participation, and very generous alumni. Key messages on the Duke giving site include “find your passion” and “see the impact.” These are key messaging areas for engaging 21st century donors. And I’m not going to lie, the fact that “Giving to Duke” appeared literally in the middle of my screen when I hit Duke.edu impressed me. Congrats on the win!
All this year’s tournament participants are winners.
As we approached the final bracket stages, we noticed some pretty incredible
alumni giving and donor growth at the top institutions. All participants in
this year’s tournaments should be congratulated, with than $4 billion given by
alumni to these institutions in 2018.
Get the E-Book with the full alumni giving tournament results
Check out all the results, with expanded commentary on the stats, in our March (Alumni Giving) Madness 2019 e-book. Download your copy here.
(Alumni Giving) Madness commentary from the refs:
Alumni participation, down again:
“There were some wild swings here, and even at name brand institutions. I get that people are focused on big gifts, but what are they going to do in 20 years when there is no pool to draw from?”
-Anonymous Tournament Ref
It’s about more than participation:
“Alumni participation is a key metric. But it’s not the only metric. At some institutions where alumni participation is flat or declining we actually saw a decent increase in donor counts. And a substantial increase in alumni total giving dollars. The question for these schools will be, can this be sustained over time? Fewer donors as a percent of the total means fewer major and planned gift prospects down the road. With enrollment growing and state support down, these schools will need to balance their engagement efforts and keep an eye on the long game.”
-Brian Gawor, RNL Fundraising Consulting
Young alumni engagement is mixed:
“This school had one of the best young alumni engagement programs I saw – special events for alumni, a robust social media presence, and plenty of volunteer opportunities. I have to imagine that it’s increasing their young alumni giving.”
– Anonymous tournament ref
“I’m looking at these photos and wondering, will the alumni event end at 6pm? A lot of gray hair!”
-Anonymous tournament ref
Online giving portals improving but still not great:
“This school had a pretty slick giving portal, just a few clicks to make a gift. I can see why their numbers are up.”
– Anonymous tournament ref
“Wow–required login to make a gift? Fail.”
-Anonymous tournament ref (and probably a few donors)
Coaches Corner: How can my school “win” the alumni giving tournament?
Here are four pro tips to keep your alumni giving team competitive:
donor acquisition, retention, engagement and ramp efforts. Some
institutions had recent alumni donor gains. Some had long term growth. In most
cases, the metrics were pretty mixed, with participation and donor counts up
and down over time. The most stable institutions, however, did seem to post the
best total dollars.
giving easy. We know that online giving is growing at
three times the rate of overall giving, so spend some time optimizing your
portal to make it easy to give.
and delight donors with your gratitude and engagement programs. Sure,
you need to thank donors. But what are you doing to make giving “special?” With
thousands of other charities competing for your alumni time, attention, and
money, you need to make giving mean something. Start thinking out of the box.
young alumni exciting opportunities to get involved, and give to their
passions. We know that alumni who volunteer are more likely to
donate. So, whether it’s traditional options like the reunion committee, or
emerging opportunities like online mentorship and career connections or
becoming a social media ambassador, you want to give alumni good options to get
involved along with giving.
RNL March (Alumni Giving) Madness tournament methodology
The tournament begins with each institution who was part of the round of 64 in each of the Women’s and Men’s NCAA Division I tournament. We then use seven criteria to decide each bracket matchup:
(20%) Upward momentum going into the tournament: the increase or decline in alumni donor count per the VSE from 2017 to 2018.
(20%) Recruiting strength and past tournament performance: The total increase or decline in alumni donors per the VSE between 2009 and 2018.
(15%) A strong bench of dedicated team members: The total alumni giving in dollars divided by the alumni of record per the VSE over the last three fiscal years (2016-18).
(10%) Getting a shot (gift) off: Our team of nine expert referees compare 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.
(10%) The incoming recruiting class: Our “designated millennials” compare the institutions’ young alumni engagement presence via web and mobile, including young alumni events, stewardship, value proposition for giving, social media, and young alumni giving features.
(5%) Pure luck: Our simulator assigns a small portion of each team’s score to a random factor.
the VSE are handled on a case by case basis, in some cases reverting to US News
participation, and comparing similar stats wherever available. Non-reporting
institutions operate a disadvantage in the tournament.
These statistics and ratings are
placed into a simulator, with each institution scoring between 1 and 64 points
for each of the seven items. Weighting is applied, and a winner for each
matchup determined from the final tournament ranking score. Read more about the
methodology in the e-book and
or comments for the next tournament.
Campaigns continue to set records. One reason for this is something all the giving reports have pointed to, a massive growth in really big givers. Many charities are setting records for mega-donations at a time when their donor retention, overall participation, and total number of donors are declining. If your organization has the fundraising infrastructure and giving opportunities in place to court these big donors, you are going to see the impact of this historic wealth transfer.
Broad giving statistics require context. Overall, giving is likely to be sluggish when considered in comparison to things like GDP and inflation in a slow growth economy. Income inequality is getting worse and the student loan debt crisis is an actual crisis that we know is impacting alumni willingness to give.
Younger donors are giving differently. Millennials make up a huge portion of our potential donor base. They are responding to different types of appeals, are more burdened by debt, and may be just as likely to give to a compelling GoFundMe campaign directly supporting a friend in need (or a compelling social media case). We ultimately will all start to behave like the young people. So, if you’re not adapting to these new, digital first and socially networked giving tactics, you are going to have trouble attracting and keeping all types of donors.
Reports from fundraising CRMs and fundraiser surveys are only one part of the picture. If people are giving differently, donor advised funds, Facebook giving, and other methods are changing the game, our impressions and data are going to lag donor behavior. I would suggest that we can talk to the donors directly and ask them how they are giving and how they plan to give.
…if you’re not adapting to these new, digital first and socially networked giving tactics, you are going to have trouble attracting and keeping all types of donors.
In just a few months, we will have some more tools like the Non-Profit Research Collaborative winter survey and Giving USA to give us a bit more insight. I bet we are going to hear a similar story—that organizations report pretty mixed results. We will probably hear that once again, giving fell within 1.5-2 percent of GDP and disposable income. We will also hear once again that a larger share of that giving was accounted for by top-end donors.
So, what does this mean for fundraising strategy in 2019 and beyond?
The first thing to do is make sure you have vehicles in place to attract, engage, and steward top-end donors and mega donors. That’s just smart.
Second, really think about the way in which you are building a pipeline to get people to that greater investment. One suggestion: raise the bar on new donor retention and overall donor retention in general. I am embarrassed that most institutions have new donor retention below 30 percent. Why spend so much time convincing people to give for the first time when we can’t thank, cultivate, involve, and engage them to stay with us at least a 50 percent + rate? Stop accepting mediocrity from your stewardship.
For example, where are you at on monthly giving? Recent benchmark reports tell us that monthly giving grew at almost 3x the rate of overall online giving. And programs with strong “sustainer” programs were the most likely to see overall growth. With 92 percent of Americans on some form of online subscription consumer service, if you’re not asking for monthly gifts, you’re missing out on a key economic and philanthropic trend. I bet in a few years we’ll be publishing reports about how many of these monthly givers became major and planned givers.
Third, invest in listening to your donor base and adapt your marketing accordingly.We’ve found that when you go out and engage in actionable market research (essentially donor surveys that you can tie back to the data in your CRM), you can quickly find what donors really care about. Then, adapt your messages to match. For example, if you are hearing that many of your donors are attuned to social justice, take that group and make sure to highlight what students, faculty and the impact of philanthropy are doing to address change in the world. You will see higher response from that group.
We are not going to grow the number of passionate, engaged, and loyal givers if we continue to send dull messages that are the same old thing to everyone because we can’t take the time or find the systems to listen and personalize for donors. The same old tactics are likely to land you in that 1.5-1.6 percent growth range. The economic hurdles of mass donor acquisition are against us, so it’s time to counter with some exciting, data-driven individual donor engagement.
In our recent webinar with Ann Kaplan at CASE, “What $47 Billion in Higher Education Giving Means for You,” we talked about another record year in donation receipts recorded by the Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) survey, our annual record of giving to colleges and universities. Highlights include:
A 7.2 percent increase in gifts (cash) received by higher education institutions.
A jump in mega gifts over $100 million, which help fuel those record-breaking higher education campaigns we’re all reading about.
Increases in both current operations (6.2 percent) and capital giving (8.6 percent).
An increase from every type of donor, including a big jump in the “other organization” category, which includes donor-advised funds. We’re watching this category as it grows, likely affected by both tax policy and the growing popularity of this giving method.
But the biggest question I’ve gotten since the webinar is one we answered late in the webinar about those donor-advised funds (well, I tried, but Ann actually succeeded, which is why I invite her genius to present every year).
Since donor-advised fund contributions are just growing and growing, they could collide with our campaigns and reunion pushes. Can a donor-advised fund be used to pay off a pledge?
As Ann explained, the IRS has provided guidance on this, and the door is open for donor-advised fund grants to be applied to pledges:
The key seems to be that the pledges must not be “legally binding,” and of course we all know about the requirement that donor-advised funds provide nothing more than an “incidental” benefit to a donor. For the most part, our run-of-the-mill reunion and campaign pledges are likely not to be legally binding, especially if the donor ensures they aren’t using the guidance like Fidelity and other funds have provided. And as always, the tax documentation goes to the fund, not the donor, who receives any applicable tax benefits at the time of their initial contribution to their donor-advised fund.
a solid plan to steward donors who direct donor-advised fund grants will be absolutely crucial to your fundraising success.
It’s time to get to know donor-advised funds and the flexibility they provide donors, if for no other reason than they are just growing like crazy. We think there’s a chance that recent tax policy, and the influence of both savvy financial advisors and the incredible marketing of these donor-advised funds, will cause this type of giving to accelerate. More and more donors—and not just the richest—will be likely to “bundle” giving at a time that it is advantageous, and then direct grants over time.
A strategy for how to inform donors that you are ready to accept donor-advised fund disbursements, an internal strategy to identify and code donors that use them, and a solid plan to steward donors who direct donor-advised fund grants will be absolutely crucial to your fundraising success.
These gift vehicles (and similar vehicles like family foundations and closely-held corporation gifts) are indeed gifts that flow from individual philanthropic direction. As the VSE data shows, they are growing in higher education, and we all need to get smarter about how to encourage and embrace them.
Disclaimer: This opinion piece by RNL consulting is not intended to offer legal advice. In all cases, charities and organizations should consult legal counsel before adopting gift acceptance and accounting practices.
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