Over the past decade, fundraising performance via phone has ebbed, leaving a gaping hole in acquisition in the plans of college and university advancement leaders. The traditional lineup of promotion channels have stopped working. What’s changed? A number of trends, including the dominance of digital media, are disrupting conventional methods of promoting giving and transforming how we fundraise in a multitude of ways—and the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated many of these changes.
1. Donors spend more time at home and therefore online
With COVID-19, the use of digital media has become increasingly important. With donors spending more time at home as a result of the pandemic, clicks and conversions are surging in away we haven’t seen before. Throughout the spring and into fall, we continue to monitor the jump in the number of people who engage with fundraising campaigns online and help our partners interpret what this means for their programs. Over the past five years, we’ve already observed that the revenues of web giving have grown at a rapid pace. Whether this COVID-19 surge in digital activity helps maintain or grow that pace even further will help inform our long-term digital strategies.
2. Digital donations can be used to boost donors’ online image or personal brand
The visibility of digital engagement and giving is another driver toward a more digital approach to advancement. Many emerging donors, particularly millennial and Gen Z alumni, care about their image and give philanthropically as a means of self-expression. These self-conscious donors seek giving opportunities that are ethical, sustainable, and make a positive difference in the world. To stay relevant, alma maters need to imbue their brands with purpose and impact—especially for those alumni who feel their relationship with their alma mater was more transactional in its nature, and perhaps did not live up to its brand over the course of their use, as the “consumer” of this higher education “product."
3. Social media enables giving to timely causes
Another trend continuing to upend the small world of higher education advancement is the explosion of growth in the nonprofit sector. There are many nonprofits and other worthy causes alumni can support on any given day via their social media and personal network. Social networks have usurped traditional alumni network models, despite the fact that colleges and universities have developed institutional social media handles and a presence across all the major platforms.
To thrive in this new era, advancement leaders need a new approach. For starters, fundraising leaders should fully embrace social media strategies and online channels. In addition, they will need to invest in relevance-led marketing, which must include a sharper targeting of prospective donors. Finally, colleges and universities should evolve their own operating models by digitizing wherever possible—enabling use of data from the full span of a student’s relationship to the institution, from inquiry to alumnihood. This will help advancement teams measure and inform the student experience and develop a better understanding of the undergraduate experiences that drive donorship today.
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