What Can Nonprofit Fundraisers Learn From Higher Ed?

Nathan Wirebaugh, Philanthropic Research and Database Associate

Alumni giving is the lifeblood of colleges and universities, making donor and prospect research an important activity for higher education fundraisers.

Higher education institutions sift through thousands of names to identify alumni with the potential to make major gifts over time. Here are some strategies they employ to leverage research time and locate donors worthy of personalized cultivation efforts:

1) Focus on donors with a high level of engagement. Universities host a variety of alumni events year-round, particularly as part of homecoming festivities. These events are more than fundraising cultivation tools; universities use them to gauge alumni affinity for their alma mater. They also use other metrics to gauge donor interest: email open rates, petition responses (through direct mail pieces), and a consistent (even if modest) giving history. Consider monitoring similar indicators among your donors.

2) Match the right donors with the right fundraising campaigns. University researchers are in close contact with other departments to understand their projects and priorities. That way, they can target the right donors when looking for fresh sources of revenue. For example, a university in the midst of a capital drive for a new engineering building might look outside the typical donor pool and take a closer look at high net worth alums working in STEM-related jobs. In the same spirit, nonprofits should carefully consider their donors’ interests to match them with ideal projects.

3) Keep an eye out for donors on the move. Higher ed researchers constantly watch LinkedIn and news updates for young and not-so-young alumni who get job promotions. Paying attention to a donor’s career moves may literally pay off, especially if that career move comes with a higher paycheck and expanded funding interests.

4) Develop a rigorous screening technique to hone your prospecting. Researchers employ a ranking system to identify the best prospects based on capability, interest, and affinity to the school. The specifics of the screening method vary by institution, but developing a standardized format helps researchers focus on researching, finding, and cultivating the right prospects.

Follow these steps to ensure that your organization makes the most of its research efforts and flourishes as a result.

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