Can Optimizing Fundraising Channels Increase ROI by 33%? Here’s How You Can Do It.

Brian GaworVice President of ResearchNovember 5, 2020
Optimizing fundraising channels
With so many ways to reach donors today, optimizing fundraising channels is critical to increase your ROI from donor engagement.

It’s a challenging time to engage donors. Most of us are in the middle of resource crunches, with budgets or staff pretty tight. But fundraising goals aren’t decreasing. While we’ve seen some enormous response this year for emergency efforts, a lot what we used to do is either hard or impossible. There are no in-person events. Student ambassador engagement is remote. And the mail is, well…challenging.

The most common conversation we’re having with RNL partners these days is, “How do I shift channels to make the most of my resources?” And those lead to follow-ups such as

  • What if I cut some direct mail and put the money into texting?
  • What would more crowdfunding or a second giving day do?
  • What’s the potential ROI on giving some of these things a try?

To help answer these questions, we just put out the RNL Channel Optimizer Toolkit, which includes key questions for you and your team to ask, key strategic plays you can make, and a super cool interactive tool that lets you create potential scenarios with various channel mix changes.

Optimizing fundraising channels optimization: Maximizing donor engagement and fundraising ROI

Here’s a walkthrough of how the our toolkit can pinpoint ways to optimize your fundraising channels. This is precisely the the kind of strategic adjustments our campus partners have been making in 2020 to shift their efforts toward donor engagement opportunities that will pay off.

I created a sample program with a universe of 100,000 alumni. My program has a successful Giving Day, crowdfunding, a phone outreach program with student ambassadors, and of course uses email. We raise a little over $1M from the group I’m including. Here’s the stats, which are based on industry averages we’ve seen.

Before channel optimization: $1M dollars raised, $726k ROI (click for larger image).

Shifting to optimizing for online and digital giving

In my sample program (and at many institutions), the mail is not getting out very quickly, and with limited on-site staff to process checks, we want to drive more donors to online giving. We’ve implemented remote student engagement (the thing we used to call phonathon), but we’re pretty sure that we won’t be able to do the same level of contacts as last year. Instead, I plotted a decrease in phone contacts and direct mail in the Channel Optimization Tool.

Then, because our campus partners have had pretty great responses for crowdfunding, I increased the number of crowdfunding campaigns. In addition, we think we can engage students and campus partners to respond to texts and make personalized video. I added a modest cost for these channels, for both platforms and a small amount of student wages. Here’s the projection of these efforts:

Fundraising channels: Optimizer Results
Maintaining dollars and increasing ROI through digital channels (click for larger view).

Remarkably, with these strategic shifts, we’re able to stay very close to our previous year’s total dollars raised, and actually increase ROI by over $75,000.

Think creatively about how optimizing donor outreach channels can maximize ROI

One thing my sample program is wondering is whether our giving day, held this year in the height of the pandemic, might have been lost on some donors. We’re actually wondering if we can manage two giving days—one with a broad group of priorities, and then a second giving day with very specific needs. That second giving day could address immediate student needs, like emergency funds, mental health, or food insecurity. We’ve also considered a multi-day push for athletics, because with limited seasons, we’d like to give long-time donors a chance to return to giving and get excited.

So, I added a second giving day, and increased the texting budget a little bit to support that. The projection is an increase to $1.2M and even better ROI.

Fundraising channels: Optimizer Results
ROI increased 33%, from $726k in the first chart to $967k here (click for larger view).

Use the channel optimizer to think critically about your investment in donor outreach

Just because we can’t do some things we’re used to—like call centers, plenty of face-to-face donor meetings, and homecoming doesn’t mean our results with donor engagement have to decline. And it’s not smart to write off entire channels in a budget cut without thinking critically about how we can replace that engagement with different channels.

The Channel Optimizer Toolkit encourages you to ask key questions, consider tested strategic plays with your program, and model out how you can maximize both your results and ROI. Yes, it’s theoretical, but using a data-driven tool like this can advance the questions in your shop beyond “we have to do this” to “what can we accomplish?” I encourage you to download the toolkit, ask the questions, and create scenarios to optimize your fundraising channels. For giving geeks like me, this is fun. For your team, it may just take the conversation to the next level.

Free Channel Optimizer Toolkit

Download the RNL Channel Optimizer Toolkit and see where you can increase donor engagement, maximize ROI, and find opportunities to optimize your fundraising efforts.

Request your free toolkit now

Watch our discussion about optimizing fundraising channels and talk to us about your strategies

Watch RNL’s Josh Robertson and Sean Shaikun discuss optimizing channels for donor outreach in this episode of RNL@Home.

The toolkit is a great way to look at the many ways you can optimize your channel strategy, but you also don’t have to do this alone. We’re having strategic discussions like this with hundreds of RNL partners, and we’d love to hear about your goals, resources, and craft a plan.

Contact us today, and we’ll schedule a discussion based on your results and goals, plus share more insights about what your peers are doing in this challenging time for donor engagement.

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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