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Mission Control / Higher Education and Nonprofit

5 Ways to Engage and Inspire Today’s Donor

The modern donor has modern wants and needs. Here’s how to connect with them — and how to compel them to take action.

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It’s hard to find a public institution that isn’t facing declining public funding. This, in turn, leads to an increased amount of pressure on fundraising.

But it’s not all bad news. Education is one of the top recipients of donations, second only to religion. In fact, a report from the American Council on Education found that Americans gave $58.9 billion dollars to education in 2017 and “nearly half of all donations from the largest 50 donors in the United States went to colleges and universities.”

So how do you connect with these donors and turn that connection into a meaningful gift for your institution? You have to be deliberate about your approach.

1. Start with a strategy.

Everything, and we do mean everything, should start with a plan. Think about who you’re speaking to. What matters to them most? How (and where) do they communicate?

As a relatively young institution, the Institute for Informatics at Washington University in St. Louis was facing this same dilemma: How do we connect with donors who might not even know we exist? C/A worked with them to develop a donor engagement plan that outlined key audiences and goals for each audience, as well as messaging and recommended engagement tactics. This provided a strategic blueprint for the engagement efforts going forward.

2. Give them information they care about.

Once you know who you’re speaking to, you know what types of things will appeal to them. Your alumni and your corporate partners, for instance, probably have different interests — and different motivators for giving to your school. By curating the information that matters to them most and distributing it in the most effective way based on their preferences, you show that you understand them, thereby strengthening their relationship to your organization.

3. Consider the novelty of print.

We all get mountains of emails. But how often do you get a beautifully designed piece of actual mail? The kind you can actually touch and flip through? Today’s donors may be comfortable with technology, but that doesn’t mean the only methods of communication are via 1s and 0s. A publication that offers valuable content and bold design can catch donors’ eyes and remind them of your school’s mission — and how they can be a part of it. Even a special, one-off print piece can call attention to the launch of a capital campaign or get alumni excited about coming back to campus for homecoming in a way that an email can’t.

4. Demonstrate the impact of their gifts.

Across the spectrum, today’s donors expect increased transparency (and input) when it comes to where their gifts are going. Part of your donor cultivation strategy must include reporting on the impact of donations on a regular basis. The numbers are important, of course, but so are the human stories that paint a more compelling picture of what these gifts mean to the students, faculty, staff and researchers at your institution.

5. Think beyond the donation.

To truly connect with donors, you need to cultivate a relationship that is based on more than just the ask. You can’t only reach out when a new campaign begins. Monthly emails with the latest updates is one way to stay top of mind for donors. But there are plenty of other tactics, too. It all comes back to your strategic plan and knowing who you’re trying to reach, so you can reach them where they are.

We never take a one-size-fits-all approach. Let’s chat about a strategy that meets your needs.