From small departments to separate 501(c)3 foundations, most fundraising operations associated with colleges and universities have three things in common: they are driven by major gifts, manage robust annual giving programs and conduct periodic wealth screenings.

But these bustling operations are usually so busy executing fundraising tactics that few resources are available to look at the overall communications picture. Also many university development professionals aren’t as well versed in marketing communications strategies as they are in personal relationship building and other key development skill sets. This often means that overlooked but lucrative fundraising opportunities, sometimes considered impractical to address, lurk in prospect databases.

Zehno is developing a communications flow generator to help colleges and universities look at their development touch points through a big-picture lens. This helps identify new communications strategies that can really bolster fundraising goals.

What does this comm flow generator do for a school? It captures the big picture — an overview of all communications to all contacts over a full year. Once you have this captured, you can analyze different aspects of your operation such as:

  • Use of multiple communication channels — How much print are you still sending vs. email vs. social media? Is it the right mix for your database?
  • Communication by giving level — Are you sending the same materials to someone who wrote a $50 check last year as you are to someone who wrote a $50,000 check?
  • Communication by affiliation — Parents, alumni, friends, students, trustees, etc. How do your communications to these different groups compare?
  • Balancing the intent of communications over time — Do you spend enough time engaging and informing your prospects or are 80 percent of your materials asking for money?
  • Communication by department — Do you have multiple departments in your operation that are likely communicating with the same prospects over the course of the year? Are the timing and messages of those communications coordinated with the recipients’ perspective in mind?
  • Consistency of brand — Are development materials building on your school’s identity or watering it down? Are you telling impact-driven brand stories that create strong emotional connections with your school?

When you combine this type of analysis with a review of your donor database and wealth screening information, you can uncover more opportunities to bolster fundraising.

Want to work with Zehno on the comm flow generator? Contact us. We’re looking for a few good schools to partner with to fine tune this tool.

In the meantime, start uncovering your database’s untapped potential with these three tips.

TIP 1

Use wealth screenings for more than major gifts

Wealth screenings, typically conducted by outside firms, use data such as real estate holdings, stock ownership in public companies, political giving history and business affiliations to determine potential giving capacity estimates of prospective donors. As you can imagine, this type of data is extremely valuable for major gift and planned giving officers to develop top prospect lists, align fundraising areas to prospect interests and tailor asks to ideal gift amounts.

Inevitably, wealth screenings identify many — if not most — prospects as having potential giving capacities lower than the threshold for major gift officers, which typically start at $100K giving capacity for a larger university but may be less for a smaller school. The often-overlooked fact is that many of these prospects that fall below major gift capacity have the potential to give much more than the typical annual fund gift of under $500. This “middle of the funnel” potential often remains untapped because there is no staff available to take on people who can’t give big.

As a result, this middle often receives a misfiring mix of annual fund communications targeted to first-time donors, young alumni, current students and other lower-threshold friends. Typical annual fund communications understandably focus on increasing the number of donors participating at any level, and less on whether the value of each gift is maximizing the donors’ potential.

Use your current donor and wealth screening data to uncover whether you have more potential in your database than annual fund communications can deliver on.

TIP 2

Customize communications for the middle

What if you find new prospects in your database with higher giving capacities, but you don’t have a small army of new gift officers to cultivate them? Well, nobody does.

But what if you could connect with those prospects in a more efficient way than all that personal attention?

You can — by developing custom communication programs based on potential giving capacity.

Custom programs leverage efficient communication channels such as email, direct mail and social media, just like annual fund programs. But they strategically make the case for a bigger commitment than annual fund — a commitment more aligned with these prospects’ giving capacity — using tailored production values, reframed messages, intentional editorial voice and distinctive content just for this audience.

Customizing communications to prospects in between annual fund and major gifts could really add to your bottom line.

TIP 3

Think more targeted and less targeted

First, try sending less that goes to everyone. If you analyze your communications flow, you might find that your current strategy is more shotgun than precision instrument.

This next step could be harder: Consider making all-important major-gift thank you pieces a little less custom. It’s the pride of every major gifts operation to produce one-of-a-kind thank you creations that showcase the invaluable impact of such high level gifts. But analyzing your communications might reveal that spending fewer resources here could free up resources to pursue other opportunities that can make an impact.

Fear not, there’s room to bring down the customization level a bit, and still retain the masterpiece quality and heartfelt appreciation that underlies such important contributions.

Learn more

Want to analyze your development communications and bolster your fundraising outcomes? Speak with a strategist to learn about Zehno’s comm flow generator.