Four strategies to enhance fundraiser efficiency in higher education during COVID-19

Expert Insight

Four strategies to enhance fundraiser efficiency in higher education during COVID-19

As development officers continue to work remotely during COVID-19, many advancement leaders are looking for innovative ways to help their teams collaborate, think creatively, and continue to “move the needle” on their institutions’ fundraising goals. Four key strategies can increase fundraiser efficiency and productivity, both during COVID and beyond.

1. Compile successful donor-engagement strategies to help development officers easily crowdsource new ideas.

Higher-ed. development officers – regardless of travel or tenure levels – can benefit from having access to specific donor-engagement ideas that have proven successful in the past. Advancement leaders at Villanova University worked with an in-house Salesforce expert and a small group of its own seasoned development officers to create a strategy “dashboard” that allowed gift officers to input and manage cultivation steps for all of their prospects. With the ability to track the success of these crowdsourced cultivation steps in their CRM, Villanova was then able to flag the particularly successful ones and create a cultivation toolbox with proven, very specific steps (including, for example, how to use a basketball game to propel a giving conversation) that advancement staff can now essentially “drag and drop” into their own plans, customizing them for each donor. In today’s remote-work environment, these kinds of resources are perhaps even more valuable as a replacement for the in-person “What’s working for you right now?” conversations that would typically take place in the office.

2. Assemble updated cultivation resources in a single, easy-to-access location to save development officers time.

Fundraisers often spend countless hours tracking down updated collateral from various academic departments and centers to use in their donor meetings. For many individuals, the move to remote work has made finding these documents especially difficult. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, Marquette University compiled a document called the “Activate Your Prospects” guide. This document, which is updated regularly by staff members, contains all upcoming (currently virtual) donor- and alumni-engagement opportunities pulled from events databases across the university, as well as contact information for various councils, boards, alumni clubs, and individual schools and departments. With a wealth of readily available information and ideas, this resource has proven invaluable as a quick-access brainstorming tool to overcome the “writer’s block” that so often delays the cultivation-planning process, particularly as gift officers search for those key “next steps” to propel cultivation forward.

3. Create structured donor journey maps, so development officers can avoid starting from scratch for each prospect.

Today’s donors – whom we often call “donor investors” – seek personalized outreach and specific causes to support, both of which require development officers to create much more customized cultivation plans for their prospects. To aid in this increasingly complex process, Clemson University created a “plug-and-play” cultivation journey that includes a roadmap, clear steps, visit guidelines, talking points, templates, and collateral for each phase of the journey. With these resources at hand, fundraisers at Clemson are able to spend more time focusing on their particular area of talent:  their own delivery of these materials in a personalized, compelling way for each donor. Missy Ryan Penland, Clemson’s Associate Vice-President for Development, said that creating plug-and-play resources is “about creating a framework so gift officers don’t have to re-create the wheel every time”.

4. Make it easier for development officers to connect high-priority prospects with engagement opportunities.

Recently, Furman University asked its development officers to provide the names of key prospects with whom they were struggling to engage, and this compiled list has now become a shared responsibility for their entire advancement shop. As new engagement opportunities arise, all staff members peruse this list to connect high-priority prospects with these new events, tying information on the prospects’ interests to event themes.  Advancement staff are not required to plan these events – which now include many newly launched virtual-engagement and online-learning opportunities for alumni – but simply to collaborate through this streamlined process to match prospects with these already-scheduled virtual events.

As higher-ed. institutions face ongoing uncertainty in the coming months, advancement shops will be under additional pressure as well. Finding innovative ways to inspire your teams – while increasing their efficiency, collaboration, creativity, and productivity during this remote-work period – will be critical to ensuring that advancement continues to thrive and to serve as a central pillar of college and university success. 

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