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Today’s fundraising environment is unprecedented for higher ed.

In the past, the pattern for college and university fundraising went something like this: fundraisers conducted a feasibility study, set a few important goals, and began quietly raising money. After a few years, the institution entered the “public phase” of the campaign: having raised most of their goal, announcing the campaign allowed them to create additional energy and conduct fundraising to meet or exceed it. The whole process took about five years or so, after which the institution paused major fundraising for a number of years before gearing up for the next campaign.

Those days are over. So over.

Today the pressure on fundraisers in higher ed is greater than ever. Institutions are in perpetual campaign mode. Not only that: goals are bigger than ever and so is the need for more. More major gifts, more unrestricte gifts, more planned gifts, more annual gifts, more new annual gifts. More alumni who give annual gifts. More mid-level donors who have the potential to become major donors. And finally, more ways to give, including new initiatives such as Giving Days.

Giving Days, once considered to be fringe activities, can yield major rewards — more money, more donors, and more engagement — when well-planned, publicized and conducted, as Columbia University continues to demonstrate. This year, Columbia’s Giving Day raised $15.6 million — part of a $5 billion campaign, the Columbia Commitment.

Ruffalo Noel Levitz’s report, “Advancement Leaders Speak 2018,” lays out these and other challenges higher ed fundraisers face. What’s more, I noticed that one important challenge it doesn’t mention is the fact that higher ed competes with many other worthy organizations and institutions for dollars and mindshare among those who are able to give.

How marketing can contribute

The report’s findings indicate many ways in which marketing teams can provide substantial assistance to their colleagues in fundraising and materially enhance their institution’s interests.

For example, fundraisers told Ruffalo Noel Levitz that some of their most important needs for the next campaign included campaign branding, helping their internal community understand campaign priorities, creating a multi-channel donor engagement plan, monitoring results, and stewarding donors.

When asked, “If you had unlimited resources, where would you most like to invest with your next campaign?,” fundraisers indicated that key areas would be “amazing print and social media campaigns” and a new CRM system.

Many of these activities are ones in  which marketers should already be leading on their campuses.

For example: a strong institutional brand is essential to a successful campaign. What's more, the Ruffalo Noel Levitz survey noted “an increase in brand marketing” as one of the key expenditures fundraisers anticipated for the next campaign.

One senior advancement officer I spoke to recently talked about how grateful he was for a strong CMO and marketing team on campus. He added, “We are so dependent upon having great positioning in place that if it wasn’t happening at my institution, advancement would be out here figuring out how to do it.”

Furthermore, marketers should lead the exploration of the best way to repurpose or develop the brand for fundraising. This isn’t necessarily straightforward since many higher ed brands are focused on student recruitment and don’t necessarily translate well for fundraising purposes.

At most institutions, marketing is responsible for the overall management of the institutional website and social media accounts. And fundraisers told Ruffalo Noel Levitz that “web and social media presence enhancements” are a necessary investment for fundraising success. So, marketers, if your website isn’t built using sustainable and extensible technology and supported by plans for ongoing evolution, a well-considered governance plan, and a robust content strategy, now is the time to make sure it is. And, while you’re at it, ensure that social media is an integral part of those plans.

Finally, marketing should be a leader in bringing together key stakeholders for discussions about an institution-wide CRM. This is challenging because it usually requires a significant investment in making the case for why such a system is important to your institution and then finding the money to implement it.

On the other hand, many other leaders across campus are beginning to grasp how important the insights a CRM can offer will be to the institution’s future. An institution-wide CRM tool — replacing an admissions database, the student information system, and an alumni and development system — can offer insights about the institution’s stakeholders that will become valuable as institutions operate in a more integrated fashion. To succeed, institutions need to use insights that CRM generates about these stakeholders to better meet their needs across the lifecycle of their relationship to the institution.

Making sure that the campus marketing team is prepared to step in as a partner in these key areas, as well as others, will help to ensure success across the institution as fundraising, too, becomes a 24/7 endeavor.

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