At 11:59 pm on New Year’s Eve in 2019, we hoped for a prosperous year. Sure, we knew there’d be ups and downs, but not even a crystal ball could have warned us about the… Well, you know.
The chaos. The uncertainty. The job loss – and when people lose their jobs, that makes your job as a higher education fundraiser incredibly difficult.
With that said, many schools, universities, and non-profits have experienced a record-breaking year of fundraising, so it’s time to start thinking about how fundraising in 2020 will shape your strategies for 2021.
The first thing to remember? You’ll still be able to fundraise in 2021.
Stay positive (people still want to support!)
If you find yourself still wondering whether it’s a bad time to ask for money right now, you’re not alone.
We’re in the middle of a global pandemic. It’s only natural to hesitate to ask for a donation, especially when a good number of the people you contact probably need a bit of help themselves.
It’s no surprise that fundraising activity slowed down when COVID-19 first showed up in March and April. But Inside Higher Ed reports that since the end of April, community colleges raised 47% more in the first nine months of 2020 than they did in all of 2019.
Portland Community College in Oregon outraised its goal for a one-day giving campaign by nearly $70,000. And Wake Technical Community College in North Carolina raised $7.1 million, which is $800,000 more than it did in 2019.
Even where donation sizes may have decreased, the number of donors (participation rate) may well have increased this year.
It’s important to remember that people in a crisis want to help other people in a crisis.
What to expect for higher education fundraising beyond 2020
The game has changed. Telefundraising still reigns supreme – and it always will – but can you imagine how much more powerful it can be to attract donors when you pair it with more outreach channels?
If you want to be successful, it’s time to welcome new approaches for higher education fundraising.
1. Fundraise by phone – but not without a multichannel approach
Multiply the engagement you foster through phonathons and use a multichannel approach that takes the onus off just one strategy to bring in donor dollars.
Especially during a pandemic, it’d be a mistake not to leverage all the channels available to you to engage potential donors through their preferred methods of communication.
For instance, donors who prefer social media won’t miss the content in your newsletter because you also post it on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. That means you can occupy multiple spaces and not miss a single beat.
(Psst… if you add our VoIP telephony to your software, you can enjoy all-in-one VoIP and SMS functionality that drives even more engagement. Just sayin’!)
Take video, for example. Previously the exception and now the rule, video-based communications will long be a part of fundraising because of its inherently engaging, personal nature.
There’s no doubt phone touches are critical to your higher education fundraising strategy, but your donors still value trust. Without in-person alumni events to bet on, video is a great tool to thank, update, and engage donors and potential donors alike.
They don’t even have to leave their house to see how much they’re valued and how you use their contributions – you can bring all that and more to their doorstep via a wide variety of outreach channels.
Going into 2021, focus on honest interactions and how to cultivate genuine relationships with donors through multichannel outreach that lets you provide varied and meaningful communications.
Plus, with a more effective cadence to reach out, you can really get to know your donors and strengthen their desire to engage and donate.
2. Tell (even more) authentic stories
As a fundraiser, part of your job is to be a translator. Typically, you translate the needs of your university to potential donors over drinks at dinners and events.
But since that option is out of the question, where does that leave you?
Well, it leaves you to write meaningful content to translate why contributions will help solve the new challenges experienced by your students and institution.
Personalized outreach was important before, but post COVID-19, it’s everything. Take it from the universities that Jackson highlighted in her article:
- The president of the University of Wisconsin Foundation started an online series at the onset of the pandemic — compared to alumni events that drew in maybe 150 donors, he says the series has had 48,000 views.
- Marquette University’s webinar series for donors has been so popular that the team wants to implement it permanently.
- When scholarship dinners were canceled on campuses across the country, fundraisers used ThankView to send donors thousands of thank-you videos and express the students’ gratitude.
During its last fundraising campaign, Case Western Reserve University’s top donors said they wanted more meaningful interactions, like hearing about research and discoveries and having more opportunities to mentor students.
With a ton of worthy causes competing for donations, you have to tell human stories unique to your institution and demonstrate the impact your donors can have.
Even if you’re fundraising by phone, donors will feel connected to your community and inspired to contribute to it.
But, remember: “The best way to make a compelling case is by being informed about what appeals to each individual donor, how much they can contribute, and other background information,” writes Raj Khera, EVP and Chief Marketing Officer of WealthEngine.
3. Lock in integration with a user-friendly giving page
Another important element in your multi-channel approach is where you direct your potential donors to donate or fulfill their pledge.
It’s plain old smart to have an appealing and easily navigable giving page, but it’s not wise to only direct donors to it through one channel. You might as well throw money away.
When people across the country experienced massive mail delays throughout COVID-19, for example, you could easily implement phonathons, emails, personalized texts, and video channels alongside direct mail to increase ROI. It’s that simple.
Integration is key to align the donor experience, folks. And on your end, who has time to track metrics on multiple platforms that don’t connect?
Plus, giving pages create more opportunities to be proactive and go the extra mile. When you see a donation come in, you can immediately thank your donor personally through the outreach channels they most respond to.
The best part? You can customize your giving page to coordinate automatic follow-ups after donations or incorporate guided donations (i.e. $50, $100, $250) to encourage donors to complete a gift.
You also want to share tons of case studies, statistics, and photos of students to remind your donors why you need them in the first place.
Lead the way with integration
Still think one channel can pull all the weight? Get this: “Social media spurs many young Americans to donate. Roughly 52% of Gen Z and 45% of millennials have donated to a cause this year after hearing about it on social media.”
That is huge!
It’s also the power of integrating a multichannel approach that creates a seamless donor experience – one that’s both cost-effective and high-yielding.Phonathons over the next decade will look a lot different than they do now — check out this webinar about higher education fundraising to look at the past challenges of phonathons as well as future opportunities!