The St. Louis Planned Giving Council was a terrific setting to discuss changes (and continuations) in prospect development. The group discussed what’s the same, what’s new, what’s working and what’s on the horizon.
Thanks to all who attended the Blackbaud Higher Ed Forum. We covered one of the most vexing aspects of higher ed philanthropy–getting and keeping investment in our hard work. Check out the session here.
Good luck with dialing up the investment in the months to come!
Many in our industry have been pointing to the declining alumni participation rates. This isn’t new; since the 1980’s, the rate has dipped 10%! The alarm that these rates should generate, however, has been muted. The malaise toward this decline is likely due to the increasing average gifts education institutions are concurrently experiencing. Even for engaged or elite institutions, this downward trend is, well, alarming. The CNN Money article highlighting this decline points to multiple degrees across multiple institutions as a cause, as well as overall indebtedness experienced by recent alumni. If this were the case, I wouldn’t be so worried for our long-term health. But, I am. And, you should be, too. Here’s why:
Now or never. If you don’t reach your grads from the last 10 years (often called GOLD—Graduates of the Last Decade), they tend not to be reclaimed. Life and other philanthropic interests just get in the way.
Competition is fierce. As the hyper-successful ALS ice bucket challenge is proving (and Kickstarter, fundme, and other “give-right-now” opportunities reinforce) there are only so many disposable income dollars. Giving is typically 2% of GDP each year; it doesn’t rise or fall much, and, in 2013, Warren Buffett was about 1% all giving in the U.S.! If you wait to engage donors on your timetable, other nonprofits may slide in ahead of you.
Education is changing. The days of “the best four years of your life” as a case for support are changing. Campus-based higher education will not be replaced, but many alums did not and will not really imprint with their alma mater.
Many institutions are trying mightily to change the trend. The costs can be great and the return can be fleeting. A few benefit from tightly knit alumni bases with a culture of philanthropy But if yours doesn’t, you need to act. Given the three reasons for alarm, your annual giving effort must change, potentially radically.
Direct mail? Sure, but no longer on your calendar…move mailings to gain preemptive gifts from those who will be poached by other causes. This point cannot be emphasized enough. Your competition isn’t just the crush of holiday mailings which may drown your year-end mailing; the real competition started yesterday, doesn’t care what your mail house schedule is or how long it takes to get an appeal letter approved, and–by today–may have siphoned hundreds of your donors’ disposable income away through crowdfunding, self-funding sites, slick Facebook apps, and other tools that higher ed has been slower to adopt.
Phonathon? Yep, except work harder to get cell phones and build a texting-based strategy.
Social media? Of course, but don’t expect “ice bucket” results. Instead, start with data and analysis, identify and engage well-networked alumni and ask them to tweet, like, and post on your behalf.
Peer-to-Peer? Many in higher ed have great success with “class agent” models. These need more sophisticated tools to support more wired alumni groups. Excel files emailed on an occasional basis are not going to do it for most alums who want to help.
Email? Yep. But, as with cell phone and direct mail, data quality and targeting must be improved.
If you don’t have the budget or the base to tackle the issue, there is a less palatable option—change your focus. We all know US News & World Report is a beast that must be fed. However, only sizable percentage gains will likely affect your institution’s positioning. With your data, annual giving avenues, and donor behaviors, is a 20% gain at all feasible? How much will that pull up your ranking? Most will find that this is a stretch goal, at best. So, dive headlong into retention and upgrades as parallel measures of success. Bring up average gifts…literally by generating larger averages and tactically in board presentations and as metrics.
The future of education may be so different than anticipated that any predictions will be way off. However, this doesn’t mean that preparation and reinvention should be postponed. In fact, because we don’t know what’s coming, we must immediately tackle the sliding participation of our young alumni while working diligently to retain or reclaim more seasoned alumni.
Hope is not a strategy so get going in changing your approach to changing alumni behaviors.
….You should have your talented team move your WordPress site into the 21st century. That’s what I did.
Thanks to my colleague Geof Landgraf for his excellent work in combining my WordPress site with my fundraisingoperations.com site. You can expect some fresh blogging in the next few weeks on: alumni participation; mergers and acquisitions, nonprofit-style; and, triggers to change your ERP.
In the meantime, consider whether you’re doing all you can with your digital real estate and assets. A consolidation like Geof provided or other refreshes might be just the trick to get your onsite profile noticed by more constituents and donors.
Every team needs great reports. Successful and effective reporting is essential to advancement efforts. Your team’s report framework may be different than others, but you should have some set principles. I’ve written about the critical importance of great reporting for operations efforts.
A simple way to determine if your team’s reporting environment works is to determine if it is FACTual. In this approach, reports should be:
Formatted. Users trust data (and experiences overall) that are consistently delivered. Just as a brand promise helps ensure that, say, every Coca-Cola will taste the same as the next (and apparently make the consumer happy), the report consumer should trust the facts and understand the familiar formatting.
Accurate. Users must receive accurate reports. In addition to reports relying on tested programming to yield consistent results, “accurate” reporting also requires that all users share common definitions and understanding.
Complete. Reports (and the reporting environment) must contain all records and details expected by the user and defined in the parameters of the report. This principle requires that data be reported from a central, comprehensive source.
Timely. The ideal reporting environment requires that information be readily available. In the absence of timely reporting, many offices will resort to highly inefficient, hybrid reporting solutions that increase room for error and inconsistent formatting.
Want to see how your reporting environment stacks up? Check out my “confidence calculator” to test whether your reporting environment is FACTual.
The trend toward online, and more specifically, mobile direct response fundraising continues. My colleague and mobile strategist, Molly Kelly, blogged about this very point recently (click here for Molly Kelly’s Mobile Donation Form Blog). Of course, big campaigns are still won with the biggest of gifts. However, if you’re strategies aren’t engaging 20- and 30-somethings who are immersed in mobile access and apps, your current participation rates and future campaigns will suffer.
If you’re having a challenge getting investment into mobile technology, take a look at Molly’s piece. Mobile donations: no longer a fad; they’re a fact!
An interesting visual depiction of spurious correlation (check it out here) reminded me of my grad school days and the rigor with which I would build hypotheses. Rather than let R, SPSS, or Excel correlate away and then proclaim some amazing finding, I started from the reasons and results I expected to validate with data. The difference is, all too often, that the former approach tells you very little due to endogeneity, spurious results, and the lack of context.
Some organizations–Google is known for this–will say “don’t worry about the why”. Some have referred to this approach as “theory-free“, a nice euphemism to indicate how little long-term value we might find in these correlations. Now, for consumer behavior where Big Data is truly present perhaps this works. But, data points are rarely available for nonprofit analytics in the same way as, say, Target and Wal-Mart have data…although there are new options underway, like David Lawson’s newsci.co.
And, if you talk with a gift officer who’s been disappointed with predictive modeling results, you see a different picture. From that vantage point, the analytics results are frequently devoid of context. The result confirm what we already knew (“these prospects look rich! they live in a nice neighborhood!”) or reflect a pattern we already see (“they gave last year! let’s ask them again!”). Yet, modeling doesn’t typically improve relationships with prospects.
A big culprit: Context. Donor context is critical in building relationships. And, context is quite challenging to incorporate into modeling. The following are real examples of discussions about potential prospects surfaced by a context-free model:
“Sure, Jane looks promising, but we don’t have a phone number to reach her and no volunteer connection, so how likely is it she’s approachable?”
“Absolutely, Ed looks great, but did you know he just filed for divorce?”
The solution to this issue isn’t to cast off analytics. It’s to improve it. Start with and add in theory. Guard against spurious results. Don’t elevate an endogenous variable as meaningful. And, most of all, our industry needs resources that can actually add context to results. As a student of philanthropy, I am anxiously awaiting the time when our new science of analytics better delivers on the hype and improves our understanding of donor behaviors, while avoiding endogeneity and spurious results.
In the last few weeks, I’ve been interviewed regarding trends in our industry’s technology sector and how this will affect the future of fundraising. We have a challenge: we don’t have the funding for the technology we want to use for fundraising. It’s a market issue. At the same time, we are faced with changing trends among 20- and 30-something donors, new, innovative, and possibly disruptive technologies, and a concentration and transfer of wealth that’s nearly unique in human history.
Have a look at this article in TechTarget to get a sense of how our industry is shaping up. And, be on the lookout for additional posts on these vitally important topics.
Check out this fun session here. We covered a number of nuanced situations that affect our ability to handle data more securely. Those little computers people carry around in their pockets–with access to, more or less, the entirety of human knowledge via tools like Google–create some unexpected issues. Breaches and data sharing complicate matters. It’s a fast-moving world we are trying to control, and this session pin-pointed a few tricks to put in place.