The Ross-CASE 2018 Report: are we reaching our potential?

 

The results of the latest Ross-CASE survey of charitable giving to UK universities were released on Friday, and here at Holly Palmer Consulting we’ve been reviewing the numbers with interest. This is the first of two posts on the subject, and it looks at some of the results of the latest survey in the context of our ongoing higher education donor experience research project. The second part will look more broadly at the purpose of the Ross-CASE survey and raises some questions about its continuing role in the industry.

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Overheads or investment? A new perspective on nonprofit “admin” costs

Guest blog post by Lee Durbin (@lddurbin)

In February this year a story broke about the appalling conduct of some of Oxfam’s staff in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, and there was understandable outcry. Channel 4 news spoke at the time with Sir Stephen Bubb, the former head of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo), and although it is worth watching the interview in full Sir Stephen begins by highlighting a challenge for donors in light of the Oxfam scandal: “Administrative overheads are completely crucial for delivering effectively on the front line”. Without such investment, he argues, charities cannot develop proper processes, procedures, systems, and checks that would more successfully guard against the behaviour that Oxfam was rightly criticised for.

This is a compelling argument, but what about the argument for investing in fundraising specifically? How do we convince donors that a charity’s fundraising “overheads” aren’t a necessary evil which detract from the causes they care about, but are instead crucial forms of investment enabling charities to perform greater good?

This is more difficult to sell to donors than the idea that effective safeguarding needs to be financed, but in the video I’ve embedded below the great Ken Burnett is quite right when he states that “we won’t achieve the revolution we need unless we’re prepared to invest”. Ken spends the previous 6 minutes demonstrating why this form of investment provides tremendous returns over the long term (I do recommend watching it, together with the other “lightbulb moments”). So why aren’t charities heeding this call?

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Alumni research study magic

Use magic to plan your next alumni or supporter research project

If you’ve been following along from December’s blog, you’ll know that last month’s challenge was to make a list of things you’d like to know from (or about) your alumni and supporters. In this blog, I’ll share my magic formula with you and show you how to use it to plan a successful research project.

Two of the biggest enemies of research are unreasonable expectations and scope creep. The magic formula, while simple, forces you to consider the data you need and any limitations to this data at the project outset. It also helps you keep an open mind, so you don’t constrain yourself to one methodology too soon in the planning phase.

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Ask a donor this December

The bustle of social events, shopping trips and family visits can make December pass by in a flash. Fundraisers are busy winding up their Christmas appeals and are perhaps even looking ahead to Valentines appeals, Spring newsletters and New Year supporter events. That feeling of relaxation once the holidays start (or the relatives head home) can seem like a distant memory once you’re back behind the desk in January. Time to do it all over again…

This perpetual busyness and churn is overwhelming and unhelpful. But equally, the intention of coming into 2018 refreshed and ready to shake things up doesn’t always work when you’re cold, miserable and your trousers are too tight.

If you’re anything like me, the best way to combat the January blues is to make a plan in December. This preparation allows you to completely switch off from work over the holidays, safe in the knowledge that you’ve got your list ready to work through when you return.

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University fundraising’s moment of truth?

Here on the Holly Palmer Consulting blog we’ve written extensively about the importance of bringing relationship fundraising into higher education, we’ve examined why it struggles to take root and what it can achieve where it does. We’ve also studied the quality of donor care at a number of UK universities, and we’ve taken a critical look at the default model of both alumni relations and fundraising campaigns in UK higher education. In our view there are huge opportunities open to the sector, but our sense is that improvements to how universities seek to understand, support and communicate with their audiences are in some cases urgently required. Today’s front-page splash in the Daily Mail could provide the catalyst for that change – it all depends on the industry, the alumni, and the public’s response over the next week.

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Is your university fundraising campaign out of touch?

My friend recently received a fantastic example of institutionally-focused communication from his university. This leading institution, to which he is a donor, was writing to inform him of a milestone in their current fundraising ‘campaign’.

I’ve put ‘campaign’ in inverted commas here because I feel it needs defining, especially for those reading this blog from a non-profit or charity background. You’re probably wondering what the big deal is – ‘Campaign milestones are good stewardship opportunities,’ you say, ‘what a great way to update everyone on progress towards something they care about!’

Let me tell you our UK university campaigns are very different.

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Happy birthday to us!

Year one of starting my own business is done and dusted! What did I get myself into? I have never read so many books, blogs, articles and research papers, nor drunk so much coffee and wine in any other year in my career.

I have also never spent so much time listening to alumni, donors and volunteers share their thoughts on what they enjoy about giving and what needs to change. There is plenty to celebrate in our industry, but also lots to be done if we want more of our audiences to become proud advocates. The good news is they are more than willing to help us.

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Elephant in the Room

From transactional to authentic relationships with alumni: the business case for alumni relations

Throughout the years I have worked in higher education advancement, I have never felt the need for a strong business case for alumni relations more acutely than now. Universities have been getting a bad rap in the media, along with charities and fundraising practices in general. I’m also hearing more from colleagues that alumni are complaining their universities are only interested in them for their money.

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The future of university fundraising: How a little love from Loughborough is going a long way

As a fundraiser, how do you know you’re doing a good job? The answer used to be simple, but you might have noticed that the tides are slowly turning in university fundraising. Where the achievement of an ambitious multi-year campaign target may have been the barometer 5 or 10 years ago, success in 2017 is being defined by a growing tribe of fundraisers as something less headline-grabbing but altogether more exciting.

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Barriers to relationship fundraising in Higher Education

By virtue of my specialism in alumni and supporter experience research, I have the great pleasure of working with universities who either practice relationship fundraising or are well on their way. This is because one of the common behaviours of a relationship fundraiser, as I wrote earlier this year, is seeking to understand audiences through research and regular dialogue.

I have also experienced the darker side of higher education fundraising having undertaken a mystery shopping exercise with 15 UK universities. I was dismayed that so few attempted to welcome me and get to know me – and how many actually managed to cause offence.

It’s fair to say that while some universities are doing great things, several are still struggling to turn the tide of transactional fundraising – or aren’t interested in doing so.

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