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How to Make 2024 Your Best Fundraising Year Ever

Episode 184

February 20, 2024 25 minutes


EAB’s Jenny Jones and Mark Shreve offer advice to help advancement professionals fine-tune fundraising budgets and strategies for 2024. The two share tips on how to prepare for discussions with your CFO, energize staff, and analyze the right data to stay on track. They also suggest ways to keep your fundraising messages focused on the good work being done by your institution and alumni amidst election-year attacks on the value of higher education.



0:00:14.5 Speaker 1: Hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB, our guests today share tips for advancement leaders on how to focus your efforts around making 2024 the best fundraising year you’ve ever had. They offer tips on how to prepare for planning discussions with your CFO and how to energize your team, which may be understaffed and feeling the pressure. They also urge fundraising professionals to avoid getting distracted by attacks on higher ed that are certain to rise to our fever pitch during this presidential election year, and instead, communicate with potential donors about all the great work being done by your institution, your students, and your alumni. So, give these folks a listen and enjoy.

0:01:00.5 Mark Shreve: Well, hello and welcome to Office Hours with EAB. I’m Mark Shreve, managing Director of partner Development within EABs Advancement Divisions. And today we’re here to talk about perhaps one of everyone’s favorite topics, planning and budgeting for the next fiscal year. I’m joined by my friend and colleague, Jenny Jones. Jenny, perhaps you can introduce yourself to our listeners.

0:01:23.2 Jenny Jones: Hi everyone. Jenny Jones. I am a subject matter expert here at EAB. So what does that mean? It means I keep close tabs on what’s going on in the world of advancement. I worked in higher education advancement for over 20 years, and so know a lot about the industry, but also do a lot of research on what’s going on out there and how it will impact the world of higher education and specifically in advancement as we move forward with our fundraising goals and our campaigns and all of our engagement goals and metrics each year. So, looking forward to a conversation. Mark.

0:01:58.0 MS: So glad you’re here, Jenny. You’ve got so many years of experience. I wanna draw from here now, day to day, you and I get to meet with advancement leaders and talk about their wins, their challenges, propose some new strategies for raising more dollars for their institutions. But looking back on your experience, this year seems to feel a little bit different. So as we’re thinking about the next year ahead, why can’t our advancement partners just copy and paste what they’ve always done into the next year?

0:02:29.7 JJ: Yeah, that’s a really interesting question. So yeah, as we start to think about what we’ve seen in the past several years, A let’s put the big, the elephant in the room out there, which is COVID, which we have all talked about and heard about, and which really threw us off our games for several years. And so now we are coming back to a time that is more normal in the sense that we are not battling a disease where we are all always on Zoom or on phone calls, not in the office, not on campus. However, we are working differently. As you know the partners we talk to all the time, there is a debate. Are we having our staff come on campus to work? Are they working remotely? Which positions can work remotely full time? How does that affect our teams, our team spirit, team building, working together on projects, all of that.

0:03:30.0 JJ: And so as we start to think about A, how are we working, and B, what are people interested in who are giving back to their alma maters or community members giving to institutions? Because that’s also changing. And oh, by the way, we have an election coming up. So this is an election year, and looking at a presidential election, how is that going to impact advancement in higher education? And then let’s just layer on top of that, just because we can, let’s layer on top of that, the view people have of higher education right now. Some folks don’t think that higher education is worth the spend. And if they have that thought point, then why would they give back to support higher education? So I just think there are a lot of themes coming out post Covid around staffing, around philanthropy, and around the importance of higher education in general that are really going to impact what we see in the next year.

0:04:34.7 MS: I love that you sort of outlined those headwinds that our partners face day in, day out. Some of those things we can’t control. Some of those things we can control, right? Part of the responsibilities of our advancement partners is to share the impact of what higher education can create for individuals and for communities. So as we’re thinking about that, I know you put together a blog recently with some ideas as to how you might guide or how you might help these advancement leaders, which is applicable to all campus leaders, really think differently about the work ahead. We’ll make sure that folks have the link to that blog, but maybe you can give us a couple top points from that blog and get people started.

0:05:14.9 JJ: Sure. Well, first off, obviously, and anyone who’s worked in higher ed for any length of time may laugh at me at this, but we don’t think about it. But you really need to schedule a meeting with your budget person or your CFO and help them understand what you’re going to need in the upcoming year in terms of budgeting, especially if you are short staffed. And Mark we talk to people every day and they don’t have enough staff, they can’t find them and are always asking us for recommendations or to help push out a job description. And so go to your CFO or whoever your chief budget person is. Maybe it’s if you’re at an independent foundation, it could be the the budget person for your foundation. And really talk to them about the challenges that we’re gonna describe here, and that I also described in the blog, so that you can plan to budget those monies that you’re gonna need over the next year.

0:06:10.9 JJ: And you’re not coming in at the 11th hour saying, oh my gosh, I haven’t raised what I thought I was gonna raise. I need extra funds. I don’t have the staff. You don’t wanna have those arguments. Along with that, it’s looking at really focusing your time. So if you’re short on staff, if you’re short on budget, which we all are, it feels like every year, what are those ROI activities that really are, that really pan out for you? So what does that look like? Is it a day of giving? Is it your reunion activities? Is it homecoming? And don’t just think of this as bringing in funds, but from an engagement standpoint, do you have alumni, volunteers and a mentoring program for current students, for instance, that could be a very low-cost program, but could really give you a lot of benefit.

0:07:00.6 JJ: So where is your staff spending their time? Where are you spending your money and what’s the ROI? And really looking at data, using your data, I have said for years, we all have data not only in our databases, but on our campuses that we just are not using. So what do I, what am I talking about? Okay, so how many alumni have attended an event and then after that event they have given to your institution, can you track that? So is that event worth doing or were the goals of that event engagement? So how many constituents attended that event and then they were engaged with your institution because they answered an email call to volunteer, or they acted as a social media ambassador, or they came and ran a 5K. So thinking about how are you using data so you can show ROI so you can fight for that budgeting and for the staffing that you need to have a successful program.

0:08:02.9 MS: Jenny, I love those thoughts and looking at it at individual efforts that make up the annual program our partners will oftentimes ask us about how we’re measuring ROI. And I think where so many folks forget to consider is the amount of time their staff is investing in some of these efforts, right? And as you mentioned, everyone that we talk to seems to say that they have a lean team and they’re being tasked to do more with less. We hear that all the time, every day, several times a day. Part of our recommendations is that we have now an invitation to perhaps do less with less. Maybe we don’t need to be doing all the initiatives that we’ve added to our plates over the previous few years, but focusing on what are the right activities and the right investments of both resources and staff time to create better results. So…

0:09:00.2 JJ: Yeah, and also it’s thinking about too though the technology. So you I’m a tech nerd, Mark, anybody, if you guys don’t know me or you haven’t met me, I’ve also worked at Ellucian previously and at, GG&A and at both of those, firms, I worked on technology selection. So Mark, to your point, also thinking about your staff, they don’t have to do everything. So if it’s not a hard, if it’s not a high ROI for your staff members to spend their time combing through data and figuring out segmentation so that they can send effective emails, get technology or a partner to do it for you. I’m a huge proponent, and didn’t mean to cut you off, but I had forgotten my technology, right? My technology background, I’m a huge proponent for looking, don’t just spend money on technology to buy technology.

0:09:55.9 JJ: How can it help you? And Mark, to your point you just made, what are your staff doing that they just do not need to spend their time doing? So if for instance, you work with us at EAB and we are providing those, that digital outreach for you, those social media ads for you, so that your annual giving folks can really concentrate on those leadership gifts, that’s a whole different conversation around the budget and what you need during the year and looking at your goals for that year, because you’re using EAB and our technology to help you do things that should be done every day, they’re commonplace so that you can then concentrate on strategy. Does that make sense? Mark?

0:10:38.2 MS: Makes complete sense. And I remember that from my own experience on campus that we are oftentimes not growing out the workforce that we need to achieve this. We’ll need other partners, other tools, and that’s true now more than ever. So Jenny, let’s get back to this sort of idea of what are the tangible steps that our listeners can take here. Let’s assume that we are approaching that meeting with our CFO. Not always are the goals that are set for our advancement partners set in tandem with, a CFO and a Chief Advancement Officer. So what would be your recommendation about how they should be prepared to approach that initial meeting?

0:11:18.6 JJ: First, first things first. If you have not looked at your institution’s strategic plan and advancement strategic plan, you need to go look at them. Make sure you have in your head how, what you want to do and what you are proposing to spend money on aligns with those two strategic plans. You’ve got to know. So you’ve gotta be able to outline that this will support this pillar in our campaign or in our strategic plan, or this strategic goal, whatever that may be. A lot of times right now we see strategic goals around engagement. There may not be dollar figures, but there are, always is language and a strategic plan around we want to engage more constituents, parents, alumni, friends and colleagues, right? So they’re talking faculty and staff, giving campaigns, community members around your institution, alumni students to a certain degree. Obviously we need to educate them about philanthropy.

0:12:13.0 JJ: They all think that the dollars they pay totally cover the cost to run an institution, and that’s just not true. So thinking about that, and then their parents. Their parents are a valuable audience. So look at your strategic plan. Look at where you are spending your money and where your staff are spending their time. Align those, align all of that. Look at the data in your system, CRM or database, either one, look at where you’re spending your time and your money and how it relates to those strategic priorities. But because I can almost guarantee you having been in this seat, if you go in and you cannot speak to why and how this will help support those strategic priorities and goals, you’re not going to be funded. That’s just reality. Because you also have to remember that when you have this conversation, you’ve got six other ABPs or VPs or directors also having that same conversation and fighting for their areas. And it can be very much a fight, I’ve been in that seat. You’ve gotta fight for those dollars. So give them the what and the why. This is what I wanna spend, this is why I wanna spend it, and this is how it relates to supporting the strategic plan for the institution and for advancement.

0:13:28.2 MS: So Jenny, what are some of those metrics that an advancement leader or any campus leader can bring to that conversation to help make that case right? To cut through the noise of all the other requests? Do we assume that our campus partners have readily available that data that they need to make this case?

0:13:46.2 JJ: Go in with data. Like how many event attendees have you had at your reunion, your whatever your signature events are on campus, whatever you’re looking at, how many of those people, how many attendees have you had? How many were engaged that have never attended before? So those folks that are new attendees, not the people we see at every event that bring their baggies and take home a little treat, right? Not those folks. But who are you seeing that are the new folks that you have attracted to events? If you are doing online events, webinars, faculty, symposium, anything along those line, who are those individuals that have registered for that event that have not attended something before? You need all those kind of metrics and then giving, how many folks have you had that have given over a long period of time?

0:14:38.6 JJ: So let’s not forget your five and 10 year donors. It may be small amounts, but those are the folks that you are going to build into mid-level donors and major gift donors. So go in talking about we have x individuals who have given over the last 10 years at this level, at this level, at this level, break it down under a thousand, a thousand to 2000, two to 5,000, have those numbers ready, and then show the engagement as well. And if you have networks, chapters or clubs, and I know we’re talking about annual giving, alumni affairs, major giving you all should all be playing in the same sandbox. Okay, if you are not working together, this will never work. So you need to be able to pull data from all those different resources and say we had all of these alumni at these different networking events for our giving a day.

0:15:29.8 JJ: And not only did they attend the event, they also gave during that day, and by the way, bringing donor relations and stewardship here because we need to steward them and show the impact of their giving. This is all interrelated. And also you can look and show where people are interested. So what are they interested in? What are they giving to? So are they giving to research? Are they giving to the arts? Are they giving to students scholarships? Okay, CFOs. So we understand that our alumni and donors are really interested in supporting low income minority students. That’s why we are focusing our asks in that direction this year. And here’s the data to prove that they have given to those areas. And like I said, that’s just an example. That’s not for everybody, but look and really dig into your data and understand where your donors giving, what are their backgrounds? What are they attending and how are they engaged?

0:16:26.0 MS: I love that advice as we’re thinking about what’s working, what’s not working. But then there’s this other question too of what’s missing, right? And so often I, what I love about EABs approach to some of these conversations is that we are not throwing out some of the foundational efforts that have always been most effective, but that’s also not keeping us from innovation and thinking forward. So when you’re thinking about new initiatives that you need funding for, how do you position those with some of the things that your campus partners expect you to continue to deliver year after year?

0:17:01.9 JJ: Yeah, so that’s, that’s a great question. So you need to look A look at your strategic plans, of course, look at your campaign priorities, but then look and see what’s going on. So one of the best examples, honestly, that we’ve seen was during covid. So during covid what happened, we were, all of our campuses shut down. How many of your students did not have access to wifi? Did not have a mobile hotspot, right? Could not go to the library to get on wifi so they could… So it was great that we were all doing online courses. Our students sometimes could not connect to get to the online courses. I know we remember the stories of folks sitting out in McDonald’s parking lots hoping the wifi was still on. And so what happened was we shifted on a whim and said, okay, we’ve got to then start raising funds for technology so that we can give students a hotspot.

0:17:52.1 JJ: We can help them buy a tablet or a laptop because perhaps they didn’t have one. So it’s really looking at what’s going on on your campus. If, for instance, you’ve started a new program, maybe you have started a new data science program, or you’ve started a new nursing program, I mentioned those two because we see a lot of of programs starting in those areas because of the need right now in the industries. And students want to come into those programs. But what you know from your friends and enrollment is they have a lot of students who financially cannot afford to come to your institution for data science or for nursing. So let’s start scholarships there. So that’s where I would go in and say, look, we know that we want these two programs to be successful. We wanna help our partners across campus. We wanna help the enrollment team, let us raise some funding for scholarships for students in those two areas. And those are, those are just examples. It depends. You’ve gotta know what’s going on across your campus and really have a deep understanding of where the need is. Then you can pivot and take that in and say, see, look, CFO or VP or Vice Chancellor or president, if you’re at that level, I’m listening. I’ve heard in cabinet meetings what you’re talking about. Here’s my idea for how advancement and annual giving or major giving can support those initiatives.

0:19:17.5 MS: I love the examples you shared there too, Jenny, because in the past few years we’ve seen that some of the agility that our partners have been forced to deliver have also brought in new levels of support, right? We’ve been able to do things differently, but have also found new donors to ensure that we can support students and these institutions. I have one big question as we wrap up perhaps this podcast today. And it’s something that I think is on the mind of every leader. As we’re thinking about that same concept of doing more with less, we also have a lot of vice presidents that work with us that say, how do I keep my team energized right? Year after year, we are battling big goals. We are doing extra duties. We feel a little stretched thin. I even had a VP say to me other day, we need to take the elevator and not the stairs. So there still is this need to ignite and accelerate. What’s your advice as, as our partners are, are looking at the next fiscal year ahead? How do they keep their top talent energized and and focused?

0:20:24.2 JJ: You’ve gotta recognize the small wins. So really celebrate what’s going on with your team. Be positive. And I know that can be really hard. I know we tend to focus on, oh, I don’t have the budget, I don’t have the staff. When I had staff, I did fun things like picked up Krispy Kreme and took it in into the office, or we had make your own Sunday day and I would just do surprises or I’d take little bags of candy and drop ’em on people’s desks, right? And yes, does it take time? Yeah, it does take time. But guess what? Then people feel heard and they feel like they’re not just coming in to do a job. You know them, you see them, give them professional development opportunities. I did Strengths Finder. I’m a strengths finder coach. But I did strengths finder with my team.

0:21:14.5 JJ: And then we would all post and I would regularly go and say, Scott, I know you are Mr. Responsibility, so I need you to take over this project because I need to know that that checklist will happen and that all those check boxes will be marked off. Can you do that for me? He’s much more likely to say yes to that type of appeal than if I go in and say, oh my gosh, we’ve been saddled with another project. I need you to lead it. Because we always get everything handed to us. No. So I really do think you, you’ve gotta be positive. We can’t give bonuses, but maybe you can order some T-shirts, maybe. I mean, we used to do this if athletics did a big order of athletic gear for their staff, I asked if I could add on and purchase some jackets for my staff.

0:22:04.8 JJ: And that was our little present for them, for all the good work that they’d been doing. And it was a surprise. And guess what? It didn’t cost me a ton because I’m ordering on an order that’s already being submitted and I’m, I don’t have to pay for any of the design fees or anything else. So you get what you get. But I can tell you now that our staff absolutely loved it. So the big thing here is just be positive. Give some little kudos. Recognize when your staff do good work. Recognize them in all staff. Please give shout-outs to folks. It doesn’t mean you do a rundown every, all staff, but if somebody really knocked it outta the park, say, Hey, mark did a great job. He really ran the day of giving this year. It was awesome. Our numbers were up. Just do that type of celebration and, try and keep things optimistic and positive even when things get really tough.

0:23:00.1 S1: Simple advice. But it’s great advice to reiterate here. I mean, those delighter moments can go a very long way. And I know that the two of us, we’ve spent the past few weeks on the conference circuit going to different regional conferences, conference with presidents, and we’re hearing about those stories, maybe small in gesture, but have a huge impact to keep people moving forward. This has been really helpful. Jenny, let me give you an opportunity here. I know we’re gonna make sure that our listeners have the details that we talked about earlier in your blog, but any parting advice for those who are joining us today and thinking about the year ahead?

0:23:33.8 JJ: Don’t be scared about the year ahead. Try and look at this as an opportunity to think about the way that you may have to change the way you do business or the way that you wanna work. Or maybe it’s the goals that you’re focused on. So instead of going into the year thinking, oh my gosh, we have a presidential election, everything’s gonna be up in the air, donors aren’t as excited about higher education. Okay, throw that out the window because that will only set you back. Think more about, oh my gosh, it’s a presidential election year. How can we help, train our students or educate our students about what that means, in terms of philanthropy? And maybe you could do some interesting things with folks alumni who work on Capitol Hill. Okay? So that’s one part of it. The other part is thinking about talking about the value of your institution and a higher education degree. So instead of being negative and feeding into the negativity and all of the drama that’s going on on our campuses right now, go back to what is your campus known for? Because it’s still known for whatever that is. Is it research? Is it graduating teachers to go out into the workforce? Are you graduating nurses? Are you providing the best liberal arts education there is? So focus on that and talk about it and get your alumni and your donors to talk about it. It’s still true no matter what the environment is today.

0:25:00.4 MS: Jenny, thanks as always. These are such great ideas you’re sharing. Also, you have great energy to share and add in this conversation. I’m so glad you joined us today.

0:25:11.3 JJ: Yeah, thanks Mark. And thanks for asking me such great questions. I look forward to another conversation with you soon.


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