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Top Trends in Higher Education Fundraising

Top Trends in Higher Education Fundraising

Higher education fundraising and its ability to support scholarships and research has become an increasingly important aspect of today's academic culture. Although college costs have stabilized in recent years, the average student loan debt is over 29 thousand dollars. For most, if not all, young adults, and potentially their families, those debts can have long-term financial impacts.

Understanding why higher education fundraising is so crucial for colleges and universities as well as students, researchers, and faculty is a first step. From there, we can get a better grasp of how this funding can impact both academia and society as a whole. 

Benefits of Fundraising for Colleges and Universities

In today's educational landscape, fundraising has become a critical component for colleges and universities, and it's easy to see why. There are many benefits of raising funds for higher education. 

These funds not only support scholarships and financial aid programs, making education more accessible to a wider range of students, but they also contribute to the improvement of campus facilities, the advancement of research projects, and the enrichment of student life. Essentially, fundraising efforts play a pivotal role in enhancing the overall quality of education and the educational experience for students.

The main benefits of fundraising for higher education include:

  • Providing financial aid opportunities for students, making college more accessible.
  • Enhancing facilities and infrastructure, creating a better learning environment.
  • Allowing investment in cutting-edge technology, keeping institutions competitive.
  • Attracting top faculty and researchers through competitive salaries and grants.
  • Engaging alumni, fostering a sense of pride and loyalty, leading to further support.
  • Supporting the mission of providing quality education and creating a positive societal impact.
  • Directly contributing to shaping the future generation by investing in student success.

7 Top Trends in Higher Education Fundraising

Given its importance, staying on top of fundraising trends is crucial for any organization reliant upon donations and major gifts. For higher education fundraising, trends evolve fairly quickly as fundraising innovators discover ways to revolutionize and refresh fundraising tactics. In fact, these trends utilize both tried and true fundraising strategies while also leveraging technology to reach donors.

AI Fundraising

Using AI in fundraising has become increasingly popular as it allows organizations to efficiently and effectively reach out to potential donors. With the help of AI, fundraisers can identify and target individuals who are most likely to donate based on their past interactions and behaviors. This not only saves time and resources but also increases the chances of securing donations. 

AI-powered chatbots can also be used to engage with donors, answer their queries, and provide personalized recommendations for future giving opportunities.

Further, AI also enables fundraisers to analyze data in real-time, allowing them to make data-driven decisions and adjust their strategies accordingly. Overall, incorporating AI into fundraising strategy can greatly improve the success rate of campaigns and help organizations make a greater impact on their missions.

Alumni Outreach

Alumni outreach has long been a fundamental component of any successful fundraising strategy. Reaching out to former students enables colleges and universities to engage with individuals who have a strong emotional connection to the institution. This can be a powerful tool in soliciting donations, as alumni are more likely to support causes they feel personally connected to. 

Alumni outreach can also allow for the establishment of long-lasting relationships with donors, which can result in continued support for the institution. Further, it provides an opportunity for schools and universities to showcase their current achievements and future goals, highlighting the impact that donor contributions can make. Overall, incorporating alumni outreach into a fundraising strategy can greatly enhance donor engagement and ultimately lead to increased financial support for the institution.

Donor Retention

Donor retention is an essential aspect of any successful fundraising strategy. While acquiring new donors is important, it is equally important to maintain relationships with existing donors. Donors who have already contributed to your cause are more likely to continue supporting your college or university if they feel appreciated and valued. This is why implementing effective donor retention strategies is essential. 

Engaging with donors through personalized communication, acknowledging their contributions, and keeping them updated on the impact of their donations are just some ways to increase retention rates. Focusing on donor retention, organizations can not only secure a stable source of support but also build a dedicated community that will continue to contribute towards their cause in the long run.

Broaden Support

One way to ensure your fundraising efforts are effective and sustainable is by broadening your support base. This means reaching out to new and diverse groups of people who may not have been previously involved with your cause. 

By expanding your support base, you not only increase the potential for donations but also create a stronger network of advocates for your organization. It's important to think outside the box and explore different avenues for engagement, such as partnering with local businesses or collaborating with other organizations.

Social media is another great way to expand your support base. Engaging on various social media channels like Instagram, Facebook, X, and LinkedIn can prevent your organization from falling behind.

Inclusive Messaging

By using inclusive language and messaging, you are signaling to individuals from all backgrounds that their contributions are valued and can make a difference. This not only helps to attract a diverse group of donors, but it also aligns with the values of diversity and inclusion that many organizations strive for. 

Using inclusive messaging can also help build trust and credibility with potential donors by showing that your organization is committed to inclusivity in all aspects of its operations.

Online Donations

As technology advances, so does the way we fundraise. Gone are the days of only relying on traditional methods like traditional mail campaigns or phone banking. Now, with the rise of online donations, non-profit organizations have a powerful tool at their disposal to reach a wider audience and increase their fundraising efforts. 

Online donations provide convenience for donors by allowing them to contribute from the comfort of their own homes or on the go through their mobile devices. This accessibility makes it easier for people to donate, resulting in a higher conversion rate compared to traditional methods. 63% of donors show a preference for online contributions. While this trend might not extend to major gifts or legacy giving—areas of significant interest in higher education—it becomes particularly impactful considering the cumulative effect of recent alumni contributions made online, even if these are in smaller amounts. It also allows organizations to reach a larger pool of potential donors, breaking geographical barriers and expanding their reach globally.

Academic Medicine, Healthcare, and Research Initiatives

Academic medicine, healthcare, and research initiatives are powerful tools that can benefit fundraising strategies. By partnering with these institutions, organizations can tap into a vast network of knowledgeable professionals and cutting-edge resources to advance their cause. Research grants and, in turn, research breakthroughs, new labs, new equipment, etc are powerful motivators for major gifts. Additionally, academic institutions often have a pool of alumni who are passionate about their field and may be more likely to give back through online platforms.

In addition to the potential for major gifts, academic medicine also offers opportunities for collaboration and partnerships. By working together with institutions on research projects or other initiatives, organizations can build strong relationships and leverage each other's resources. This can lead to not only financial contributions but also valuable expertise and support.

Furthermore, healthcare is an area that particularly resonates with donors as it directly impacts people's lives. Organizations can highlight the impact of their work in this field and how donations will make a difference in improving healthcare systems, providing access to care for underserved communities, and developing new treatments and cures.

Academic medicine and healthcare are highly regarded by society, making them attractive for potential donors who want to see their contributions make a significant impact.

Higher Education Fundraising Best Practices

Of course, tapping into new trends doesn’t always guarantee success. If those trends adhere to fundraising best practices, you can help drive the success of your fundraising efforts. 

Invest in Fundraising Software Solutions

Investing in software can significantly benefit higher education fundraising strategies. Fundraising software, like DickersonBakker’s Donor inSight platform, offers a comprehensive and streamlined approach to managing donor information, tracking donations, and facilitating communication with donors.

With the ability to easily create targeted campaigns and track the success of fundraising initiatives, this software allows universities and colleges to efficiently manage their fundraising efforts. Additionally, by automating tasks such as donation receipts and acknowledgments, the workload for staff is reduced, freeing up more time for relationship-building with donors. 

Fundraising software also offers valuable data analysis capabilities, allowing institutions to better understand donor behavior and make informed decisions about future fundraising strategies. Overall, investing in fundraising software is a wise choice for any higher education institution looking to maximize their fundraising potential and build stronger relationships with donors.

Learn More About Your Donors

Learning more about donors' backgrounds, motivations, and interests, can help universities and colleges tailor their fundraising efforts to better resonate with those audiences. As a result, development and fundraising teams can see increased engagement, ultimately resulting in larger donations and, potentially more sustained giving. 

Furthermore, understanding donor trends and patterns can also help higher education institutions identify new potential donors and adjust their approach accordingly. In today's competitive fundraising landscape, taking the time to learn more about your donors can prove to be a high-value element in successfully meeting your institution's financial needs. No matter how much you customize your message, if it's not delivered on the platforms where your audience is active, all that effort goes in vain.

Use a Multichannel Digital Marketing Approach

Colleges and universities are always looking for ways to reach a larger audience and increase their fundraising efforts. One effective strategy is the use of a multichannel digital marketing approach. In other words, those who utilize multiple online platforms such as social media, email marketing, and search engine optimization (SEO) can more effectively communicate with potential donors. In fact, through the use of varied channels, institutions can target different demographics and engage with them in a more personalized manner. 

This not only increases brand awareness but also creates a stronger connection with potential donors. Ultimately, this revolves around crafting content and selecting the optimal channel, timing, and audience for maximum impact. A notable example is the ALS ice bucket challenge, which blew up in 2014 due to leveraging the right social media channels to connect with new audiences. 

Additionally, with the ability to track and analyze data from each channel, institutions can better understand the effectiveness of their fundraising efforts and make necessary adjustments for future campaigns. 

Define Your Personas

Defining personas is a crucial step in developing an effective higher education fundraising strategy. Personas are fictional representations of your ideal donors, based on real data and research. By creating these personas, you gain a deeper understanding of your target audience’s motivations, behaviors, and preferences. 

Dedicating time to developing these personas will benefit your organization by:

  • Crafting super-targeted messages and fundraising drives
  • Attracting potential donors to your site
  • Figuring out where your perfect donor goes for information
  • Creating consistent messaging that really clicks with your audience

Personas can help you identify new donor segments that may have previously been overlooked and develop strategies to engage with them more effectively. In an increasingly competitive higher education landscape, defining personas can give your fundraising strategy a competitive edge by helping you better understand and connect with potential donors on a personal level.

Show the Impact of Donations

When donors can see the tangible results of their contributions, it creates a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, encouraging them to continue supporting the cause. Additionally, showcasing donor impact can attract new donors by highlighting the meaningful and lasting effects of their potential contributions. 

Nonprofits traditionally publish annual reports for this very reason. Similarly, higher education institutions can benefit from producing yearly alumni reports. This not only strengthens relationships with current donors but also expands the reach of the institution's fundraising efforts.

UT Austin, for example, has produced the Gallup Alumni Survey every year since 2014. This survey measures metrics such as well-being, alumni attachment, and collegiate experiences. 

Offer Various Giving Options

When it comes to fundraising in higher education, offering various giving options can greatly benefit your strategy. This is because not everyone may be able to donate large sums of money at once, but they may still want to contribute in some way. 

By providing different giving options such as recurring donations, matching gift programs, or even volunteering opportunities, you are making it easier for a wider range of individuals to support your cause.

Arizona State University (ASU) is known for its fun volunteering opportunities. In 2023, its students got the opportunity to volunteer at the Super Bowl

Create a Donor Appreciation Plan

One of the key factors in successful fundraising for higher education institutions is building and maintaining strong relationships with donors. This is where a donor appreciation plan comes into play. 

By creating a structured and intentional plan to show gratitude and recognition to donors, higher education institutions can foster a sense of loyalty and trust among their supporters. Donor appreciation can be shown in various ways like a donor wall and benches around campus. This, in turn, can lead to increased levels of giving and a greater likelihood of continued support in the future.

At DickersonBakker, we believe in Treating Every Donor Like a Major Donor™, regardless of the size of their gift. This means showing appreciation and recognition to every donor, no matter how big or small their contribution may be.

Plan an Amazing University Giving Day

Annual Giving Days focus on inspiring alumni, parents, students, and the community to come together and support their university through donations. By dedicating a specific day to giving, it creates a sense of urgency and excitement which can lead to increased donor participation and ultimately, higher fundraising success. 

You can see the success of this type of day by looking at Giving Tuesday, which is an annual holiday devoted to giving back that garnered the participation of 35 million Americans. 

Having a well-planned Giving Day allows the university to showcase its impact on society and highlight specific areas of need that donors can help support. This not only helps raise funds but also promotes a culture of philanthropy within the university community.

Contact a Trusted Fundraising Partner

Having a trusted fundraising partner can greatly benefit higher education institutions when it comes to raising funds. This is because fundraising requires a combination of resources, connections, and expertise, all of which can be provided by a reliable partner. 

With the support of a trusted fundraising partner, colleges and universities can tap into their extensive network of donors and sponsors, access valuable insights and strategies for successful campaigns, and receive professional guidance on how to effectively use available resources for maximum impact. 

At DickersonBakker, we have a proven track record in higher education fundraising and can help your fundraising efforts succeed, making potential donors more likely to contribute. We want to work with you and your institution to achieve its financial goals and ultimately provide greater opportunities for student's academic success.

Ready to Kickstart Your Higher Ed Fundraising Strategy?

We hope you take these insights and tips to heart as you map out your future fundraising plans. This way, you'll make sure your approach is not just up-to-date, but also effective in hitting your targets.

If you’re looking for a way to maximize your higher education fundraising efforts, but aren’t sure where to start, give us a call today. We’re here to help!


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