What Advancement Leaders Told Us About Their FY21 Fundraising and Donor Engagement Strategies

Brian Gawor

Vice President of Research

October 8, 2020

Over the past few years, our Advancement Leaders Speak survey series has received more than 6,000 fundraiser responses. We’ve covered topics from the future of campaigns, to annual giving shifts, to major gift officer productivity.

When the pandemic hit, we decided to do something different. Starting this summer, we launched quick, tactical surveys about fundraising resources, goals, key challenges, and insights during this challenging time.

You can hear us unpack the results of the most recent survey with this expert panel in our recorded webinar.

The third survey is live now, focused on fundraiser outlook as we move further into FY21 donor engagement strategies. We’ve also included questions about calendar year-end strategy. Please jump in and offer your insights today.

Here’s what we heard in August from 225 advancement leaders as we moved into FY 21 donor engagement.

Resources are tight at most institutions

Almost two-thirds of higher education fundraisers say they’re facing budget decreases, with most anticipating a decrease of 10-20 percent. Approximately the same number will see fewer staff, mostly from not filling open positions. This resource tightening means that concerns over ROI and optimizing tactics will be top of mind.

Goals area as high as ever

We’re not getting a break on goals, which fits because philanthropy is needed to meet the pressing needs of students and programs as we face pandemic-related challenges and tight finances. Most fundraisers will see similar or larger donor and dollar goals this year.

FY21 donor engagement strategies: Goals
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The results didn’t change much from our first survey in June. We’re not getting much of a pass on goals. This, combined with tight budgets, means that “business as usual” won’t work for FY21.

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The shift is to digital donor engagement strategies

The primary way that fundraisers are shifting to meet these increased goals with tight budgets is to shift to digital tactics. Working and engaging donors remotely, utilizing digital advertising, texting, and analytics are all key areas seeing increased investment this year.

FY21 solicitation plans
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Immediate impact is the message

While large campaigns continue, most fundraisers say that immediate impact is ruling the messaging, with more immediate contact methods as well. We asked several open-ended questions about how messaging will change and what will be the most effective. Along with investment in technology, communicating immediate impact both in solicitations and stewardship is a top priority.

FY21 donor engagement: how messaging has changed.
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FY21 strategies: Most effective tactics for capturing donors.
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As one fundraiser put it, we need to, “Demonstrate impact in a more immediate and visceral way. Social service organizations are rightly seeing growing support. We need to frame educational impact as urgent and compelling, as well.” That’s right on, and fits with our research on what donors want to support right now.

Go digital, remote, and personal in your donor engagement and fundraising for FY21

The technology to boost your appeals digitally and to take full advantage of mobile and remote engagement has never been more cost-effective. To put it simply, we’ve all had to adapt, and providers like RNL are no exception. Our innovation during this challenging time has been swift, data-driven, and we’re ready to show you how it’s working.

Please contribute to our third ALS survey today, and look for results here on the RNL blog and in an upcoming webinar.

And contact us right now and we’ll share some of the new, cost-effective and germ-free donor engagement strategies that are working for your peers.

About the Author

Brian Gawor

Brian Gawor’s focus is research and strategy to help propel both alumni engagement and fundraising results of RNL clients. Brian has 20 years of higher education experience in student affairs, enrollment management, alumni engagement and...

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