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Higher Ed Presidents' Game Plan: Identify New Donor Bases and Launch Capital Campaigns

As we begin to emerge from the pandemic, a survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed and Hanover Research, released in March, demonstrates the extent to which Advancement will play an important role in higher education presidents' plans. The survey, full results of which may be downloaded here, shows that after a challenging year, nearly eight in ten presidents are confident their institutions will be financially secure over the next decade – an increase of more than 20 percent - perhaps buoyed by the flexibility and team response that the pandemic has engendered. Key for Advancement professionals: The no. 1 response that presidents identified in order to respond to the financial constraints that many colleges are facing is to cultivate new donor bases. In fact, 91% of presidents identified this as a primary strategy going forward.

How can institutions cultivate new donor bases? Three important steps define the process:

  1. Examine your data closely to identify areas of strength to build upon.
  2. Define a strategy targeted specifically to donors within those categories.
  3. Create an omni-channel communication plan to ensure you reach donors through channels appropriate to demographics such as their age, background and preferences.

Examine Your Data Closely

A thorough examination of your strengths will help you to consider where your donor groups may align with areas of growth nationally or within your draw area or states where your constituents live. Groups to consider, according to fundraising platform Qgiv and others, may include:

  • Female donors, particularly within groups affiliated with the school
  • Hispanic givers, especially in regard to private church-related institutions
  • Young male donors, ages 18-34, who like to give online
  • Millennials as a whole, who give to causes that touch their hearts

The pandemic has attuned the American public to the need for giving in a way unlike any other recent event, and as has been for years, education remains second only to religious giving in terms of percentage of the giving pie.

Smaller institutions in particular may not have the capability and background knowledge for a thorough data assessment, and Cathedral can assist with this process. As Renée Underwood, CFRE, Chief Development Officer of the Diocese of Fort Worth Advancement Foundation, said, “Cathedral analyzed our data over a three-year period, and shared with me insights I had not gleaned from looking at the same data.” It is worth investing in a partner that can assist with this key step.

Define Your Strategy

Outlining an engagement strategy is nearly as important as targeting your outreach. Highlighting different aspects of the institution and its student body may assist in explaining the college’s direction and initiatives, as well as its students’ needs for support. Experienced strategists who are able to remain current with giving populations may be able to assist with bi- or tri-lingual plans, for instance, depending on the make-up of your outreach groups.

Create an Omni-Channel Communications Plan

Generating response from new donors requires multiple touches to educate them about your institution, your initiatives and needs. Those touches should include multiple channels of communication, including direct mail, web, email and social media – all depending on relevant data including age, educational background and preference of the target population.

For instance, young givers are among the fastest-growing segments of the population – but as Qgiv says, your website and giving pages absolutely must be updated and mobile-optimized if you target them; 75% of young donors are turned off by outdated websites.

In addition to cultivating new donor bases, 64% of college presidents plan to embark on a new capital campaign or expand an existing one, according to the Inside Higher Ed study. Advancement professionals, your work can help your institution to not only stabilize its future, but to achieve new heights. We stand ready to assist.