Industry Expertise · July 21, 2020

Best Practices and Creative Strategies for University Fundraising

University fundraising strategies enable schools to continue their missions devoted to educational and research excellence. Funds raised today fuel the projects and initiatives of tomorrow, allowing universities and their various departments not just to keep pace with industry trends but help their students set them.

Successful fundraising has two key components: a commitment to best practices and an investment in creative strategies. Your university can perform a check-in on current fundraising efforts and see how well they align with current best practices. From there, explore creative strategies to help you connect with more donors to bolster your fundraising base.

University fundraising best practices

Diversifying your donor sources can help ensure a consistent flow of funds for a range of initiatives. Given that many donors don't necessarily see universities as causes in the same class as their favorite nonprofits, it's up to universities to define the work a donor's dollars will enable. Use the best practices below as a guidepost for your current fundraising efforts and help shore up any of the essentials you might have missed in developing and evolving your programs.

Donor communication

Fundraising communications should always be donor-centric and clearly explain how dollars previously donated have been put to work. For example:

Your generous donation to the School of Engineering empowered us to underwrite 10 new scholarships this year, ensuring that students can attend regardless of their financial need or background.

When communicating with alumni, it's essential that you analyze your alumni donor base and make your communications specific to their experiences and affiliations.

Effective campaigns

Building on donor communication, the campaigns you use to reach current and prospective donors should use a multi-channel approach. The consistent decline in phone donations means that development strategies have to meet donors where they are instead of where you used to find them. Today's most effective fundraising efforts include phone, text, email and direct mail to ensure that donors will have multiple touchpoints with the campaign, increasing the likelihood of securing a donation.

To increase campaign efficacy, consider targeting communications coordinated with important dates from a student's experience at your university. Depending on their social activity and major, those dates could include homecoming, a donation anniversary or the date where they received a major award for a research project or sporting event.

Leveraging digital tools

With the need for multi-channel campaigns comes the need for digital tools to aid those multi-channel efforts. Make sure you're leveraging digital tools like mobile and social media fundraising within your campaigns. This will help make donations easy on the go, consumers the type of frictionless transaction they appreciate.

Both digital and paper donor forms can incorporate a PayPal link. You can launch fundraising campaigns on social media sites like Facebook to target specific alumni networks on that platform. Whatever digital tools you use, make sure you have human components working alongside them. Ambassadors can be alumni who are excited to help promote your fundraiser and use their networks to share the university's campaign far and wide.

Tapping into creative fundraising initiatives

When you've assessed your current communication strategies to improve your campaigns across multiple channels, you can begin to explore more creative ways to cultivate your donor base.

Matching gift programs may offer an untapped resource for cultivating new dollars from existing donor bases. As most matching gift programs are use-it-or-lose-it annual benefits with most employers, you can create specialty fundraising campaigns designed to reach existing donors who might be able to give more with little effort on their part.

To help cultivate large donors in the community, consider going beyond your existing donor database and reaching out to the community. For example, an art school could create an outreach program to philanthropists who have a proven track record in supporting the arts. Finding ways to create a connection between the work of the school and a philanthropist's work in the community can help bring in new donors who previously had no affiliation with your school.

Peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns can put recent alumni to work for a good cause. You can create goals like funding a single scholarship, and then your digitally-savvy alumni can use their social media connections to drive donations. Peer campaigns are powerful tools that can help recent grads who might not have the means to donate themselves raise funds from their peer and alumni groups.

University fundraising doesn't have to be stale. It could just take a quick review of your commitment to best practices and revisiting some more creative strategies to increase gifts and fuel the future.


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