By Brad Shafer
As advancement leaders, we need to be good market watchers and even better communicators. Over the past few years—since 2020 in particular—the methods we use to make connections with potential donors have changed. My colleagues recently shared hot takes influencing today’s annual giving, and as a new member of the team, I want to add what I’ve noticed on my own journey. From one advancement leader to the next, here are my thoughts on what’s changed.
New Tech Provides New Giving Opportunities
Schools are reprioritizing their marketing channels. It takes will, determination, and a deep understanding of communication preferences to reach more of your prospects and retain your current donors. Though phone outreach may have performed well for years, for many offices, its hay day is behind us. Eight in ten adults don’t answer calls from unknown numbers, so unless you have an established connection with a particular donor, it is unlikely that you’ll have a conversation with them. A smarter use of your time is outreach through digital channels, like paid search, paid social media, email, and text. You can derive meaningful insights from these platforms’ reporting dashboards in real time. While the phone may never be obsolete and should stay on your radar, its relevance and effectiveness are waning.
Digital payment options are here to stay. After bringing donors to the table, the last thing you want to do is turn them off with outdated payment systems. Digital payments are not only here to stay; they are gaining traction every day across all age groups. Services like PayPal, Zelle, Venmo, Apple Pay, and Cash App simplify the payment process for consumers. Further, despite recent headwinds, advancement leaders shouldn’t sleep on accepting Cryptocurrency.
Virtual meetings help you reach donors at a distance. Maximize your use of Zoom to create meaningful connections with donors at a distance. Virtual meetings make it convenient for you to get in front of people and learn more about them. Explore the possibility of hosting webinars or one-on-one Zoom meetings with key segments of your donor base. Remember to follow up on these as you would with any in-person meeting.
As a student, I experienced twists in my path that were unexpected. My parents couldn’t afford to pay for any of my college education, so I worked to pay for it on my own using a combination of scholarships, grants, and a work-study. The summer after my sophomore year, I was surprised to learn that, according to the university's formula, I had worked too much; as a result, they declared me ineligible for work-study entering my junior year. All of a sudden, my path forward was slipping out of reach.
Just as I began to accept not returning to school, I was saved by a scholarship. Someone had put a scholarship for the university in their estate plan through the University Foundation—and because of them, I could continue my education.
From that moment forward, I wanted to learn everything I could about university advancement. I spent years in advancement offices with the goal of helping students rise above experiences like my own. I completed a master's in Higher Education Administration and a Juris Doctor with the goal of helping donors put universities in their estate plans. After serving in advancement for 26 years and in leadership roles for 17 of those, I joined EAB to help schools make these important donor connections and provide relief to students feeling the financial crunch.
Rethinking "the way we’ve always done it"
Personalization is expected. Personalization isn’t limited to adding first names to subject lines—you need to personalize your messages, too. Rather than sending the same message to your entire donor base, utilize donor data to craft meaningful messages for specific segments. You can use factors like location data, age, life milestones, and even hobbies to narrow down your segments.
Schools receive donations outside of student “major” interests. For the sake of segmentation, labels are easy. It seems obvious to reach out to business grads for donations to business programs. But in doing that, you may be missing unique opportunities to earn donations outside of alumni majors. Often, graduates’ interests may have changed since they were students. That means that you may be spending valuable time contacting graduates about the wrong giving opportunities. Tracking donor interests in your CRM can provide talking points for your next conversation and explore new areas of support.
Advancement teams aren’t limited to new hires. Higher ed is feeling the staffing crunch of the past few years. Instead of spending endless hours on hiring a position with historically high turnover, schools are hiring industry experts to help with annual giving campaigns. It may even be a more cost-effective option. By working with a trusted industry expert, you can reduce the strain on your team and enjoy additional benefits like more meaningful data and insights. Plus, the peace of mind that we’re consistently available.
It’s difficult to predict the next big thing in advancement, but with a knowledgeable partner, you can get pretty close. Over the past few years, as other industries and schools have evolved their approaches to incorporate the innovations above, your donor base has grown to expect them. It has never been so important to build connections, and I hope some of these insights have helped you examine your own annual giving strategy.
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If you’d like to take the first step in assessing your team’s current strategy, download this diagnostic and then reach out to us here.