10 fundraising insights from our 2017 research

Brian Gawor

Vice President of Research

December 19, 2017

To help provide more fundraising insights for campuses and nonprofits, Ruffalo Noel Levitz surveyed and interviewed more than 3,000 fundraisers in 2017, and also reviewed data from millions of student records from our partners. We translated this research into the popular Advancement Leaders Speak (ALS) series of research reports, groundbreaking indexes of crowdfunding and giving day results, and action-oriented tactical white papers.

As we head into 2018, here are 10 fundraising insights from this research that can help guide your efforts.

Fundraisers need to raise more with a (little) more

In our first ALS report, we interviewed 40 chief advancement officers, and 90 percent told us that raising big dollars is the top goal at their institutions. And while budgets might be increasing a bit in the coming few years, fundraising expectations are increasing at a much higher rate. This central finding drives many of the other things we heard about through the year.

Investments are going to direct solicitation channels

It is likely that institutions will be placing more resources into major giving, planned giving, and annual giving in the next 2-3 years. Alumni outreach, marketing, and events were most likely to receive cuts. This fits the aggressive dollar goals we’re seeing in campaigns and annual metrics.

Fundraising insights: Budget shre to change

Productivity is key for major and planned giving work

Nine out of ten gift officers want to spend their time differently. And they feel like only about one-third of their assigned prospects are truly qualified to make a major or planned gift. It’s time to re-invent prospect discovery and qualification. We need to create a more productive system for gift officers and a better experience for donors.

Data-driven decision making is the new norm

More than half of the advancement leaders we surveyed indicated increased investment in data and analytics in the coming few years. Institutions have mountains of data on their donors, but many are not getting the fundraising insights out of that data that they need. Chief advancement officers told us they want to get more from these systems. Only one in four said that wealth scoring and predictive scoring they currently receive are really helpful.

It’s time to optimize traditional channels like mail and phone

“How to justify ROI” and “reaching new audiences with mail and phonathon” were common responses we heard in our surveys. In order to meet goals and preserve budget dollars, fundraisers are looking to get more from traditional channels, the way one of our campus partners did.

The digital revolution is complete, now it’s about evolution

Social media, online giving portals, and digital ads are reaching near-universal adoption. About half of fundraisers indicate that they have used targeted digital advertising in the past year, and most fundraisers say their digital tactics are successful. But few are doing advanced tracking of impact, listening to what donors do online to personalized appeals, and we heard consistently that multichannel integration is a top priority.

Giving days and crowdfunding answer “why give now.”

We published two groundbreaking new indexes this year—the RNL Crowdfunding Index and the RNL Giving Day Index— based on over $65 million in donations through our platforms. These two time-sensitive channels show why giving “right now” can make a difference, through the use of deadlines, challenges, matches, and social ambassadors. Check out the crowdfunding and giving day research to see average product and campaign totals, key best practices, and find out how these 21st century donor engagement tactics can transform your program.

“How we’ve always done it” is a losing strategy

The definition of insanity in fundraising is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. What we heard as we talked to fundraisers this year, however, is that doing the same thing over and over is starting to lead to lower results, which is even worse. We have an extraordinary opportunity in a strong economy to capture new donors, re-engage lapsed donors and ask more from loyal supporters. But it’s going to require the re-invention of fundraising.

Perpetual campaigns are the new reality

Our survey of nearly 700 fundraisers told us that 81 percent of institutions were either in or about to go into a structured fundraising campaign. How institutions capture donor interest, meet goals, and thank donors in the face of significant solicitation fatigue are going to be important.

It’s time to take donors on a personal journey

A lot of these factors add up to a key strategic leap for fundraisers. It’s time to use the data, technology and new digital tools now available to let donors take the lead. This involves engaging new tactics like marketing automation, and optimized major and planned giving support services to reach the right donor at the right time with the right message. And it means not adopting a “spray and pray” strategy with appeals in the future.

Looking for more fundraising insights? Talk with our strategists.

Take a look at our major research releases from 2017,Ask our experts for fundraising insights with a free consultation and if you’re interested in taking your fundraising program to the next level, ask for a free consultation with our fundraising strategists.

About the Author

Brian Gawor serves as vice president and is a member of the RNL Fundraising Consulting team. Brian’s focus is research and strategy to help propel the results of RNL clients. He also hosts the popular...

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