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3 advancement challenges solved by digital marketing

Why your fundraising initiatives must incorporate digital marketing

April 17, 2024, By Mark Shreve, Managing Director, Partner Development

I read that US adults engage with digital media for 485 minutes each day.

That is 8 hours per day of your alumni, parents, and friends spending time online engaging with other brands, organizations, and content. Compare those daily hours to the few seconds your donors focus on a direct mail appeal – several times per year, at best.

It is no longer a question of whether to adopt digital strategies, but rather how to use them effectively. In this blog, we’ll define digital marketing and explore three ways digital marketing can strengthen your fundraising initiatives.

Before you dive in: How well are you currently using digital marketing?

Use this resource to assess your institution’s current digital marketing efforts and discover ways to improve and optimize.

What do we mean by “digital marketing”?

Digital marketing encompasses any activity that occurs on digital channels – and may include familiar tactics such as social media posts, website content, and email campaigns. EAB utilizes digital marketing as a paid approach with specific audience goals, targeting tactics, and intended outcomes.

Think of digital content as your campus and paid digital marketing as the wayfinding guided tour to get you to the right place.

We all encounter digital marketing strategies (for 8 hours per day) though it is often controlled by retail accounts. EAB utilizes these e-commerce best practices to influence advancement campaigns. Here are three examples:

Lead generation:

Think of the digital “learn more” forms you fill out when you want more information about a product or service. Lead generation campaigns identify and attract individuals and collect their contact information, such as email addresses, to use in future engagements.

  • In advancement: Most universities struggle to maintain a database of valid contact records; lead generation efforts can reach upwards of 85% of your alumni base. Use these ads to begin engagement with unlisted alumni, attract a new pool of prospective donors, and even identify local community members who may become donors in future fundraising campaigns.


You know this practice as it likely applies to your daily browsing habits. When you browse a website for a product or service but do not make a purchase, you will later notice ads from that same company reminding you of the product you were interested in. After seeing the ads multiple times, you return to the website and make the purchase.

  • In advancement: We know more than 50% of those who land on your giving page do not make a gift. With digital re-targeting, we can track those who showed interest in making a gift and provide them targeted ads reminding them of the impact their gift will make. EAB tests have shown that donors give when they are most engaged – and that occurs consistently throughout the year (and not only when mail lands in front of them).


Imagine browsing a YouTube video and a brief video advertisement pops up from a familiar retailer showcasing their new products. While you are not ready to buy more now, it does pique your interest and keeps that retailer top of mind.

  • In advancement: As donors prefer greater personalization that recognizes their affiliation, you can target affinity groups and previous donors to keep them engaged between standard campaign cycles. This ensures your institution remains top-of-mind, making them more likely to donate in future campaigns. For your recent graduates, we’ve also deployed remarketing strategies to educate them on the impact of giving before making an ask.

These examples show the core concept of digital marketing—using digital channels to engage a specific audience with a specific targeting tactic based on certain behaviors—and how these tactics can be used in fundraising.

3 advancement challenges solved by digital marketing

We continue to hear evergreen challenges among our partners – advancement teams of all sizes are under pressure to raise more revenue, nurture a less engaged alumni pool, retain donors, and navigate these challenges with limited resources and budgets. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, digital marketing is a remarkably valuable tool to address some of the challenges we are all facing. Let’s explore three:

1. Reach a broader donor base – including the alumni you’re currently missing.

With growing pressure to increase revenue, you need to find new donors and broaden your support. However, advancement teams often struggle to reach and engage their entire donor and alumni network due to outdated contact information or limited targeting strategies. Through lead generation campaigns on digital channels, you can strategically target potential donors based on criteria such as demographics, psychographics, known alumni and donor profiles, etc. and introduce them to your institution. This approach expands your reach and lays the groundwork for future fundraising initiatives.

Digital marketing can expand your reach to alumni and donors who:

  • Are not currently in your institution’s database
  • Are not engaging with your emails
  • Have outdated or inaccurate contact information
  • May be local community members not known to you

2. Keep up with changing donor behaviors.

As more donors move online, relying solely on traditional engagement methods like print mail pieces, appeals, and giving events may no longer suffice. Many advancement teams have reacted to this behavior shift and heavily invested time and money into email marketing strategies, but donors are engaging with emails less frequently. Adopting a year-long re-targeting digital strategy lets you maintain a consistent presence across online platforms. This ensures that when donors are engaged and ready to give, your institution remains top-of-mind and easily accessible, creating a seamless giving experience.

Why incorporate digital?

Digital is your cost-effective key to staying flexible and nimble while meeting your donors where they are. Explore this infographic to visualize the real value and benefits of digital marketing in your advancement program.

3. Engage and retain your key donor groups.

Maintaining donor engagement between major campaigns and ask cycles is often a challenge for advancement teams. However, it’s crucial for long-term success and growth. Re-marketing digital tactics enables you to consistently engage key donor groups with relevant and compelling content. Digital marketing can nurture ongoing relationships with donors, ensuring sustained engagement between campaign cycles.

Digital marketing plays a key role in achieving success in today’s advancement landscape. Though advancement leaders likely agree, few have deployed a robust digital strategy to ensure they are meeting their supporters where they spend the most time. Let us help you take that first step.

EAB’s Advancement Marketing Services is a comprehensive partner to develop an advancement strategy that is donor-centric, digital-first, and positions your institution for future success. Learn more.

Mark Shreve

Managing Director, Partner Development

Read Bio

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