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.
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.
I was interested to read today a guest blog on the Cool Data site by Peter B. Wylie and John Sammis. It is called “Are we missing too many alumni with web surveys?” and is part 2 in a series (part 1 was published in 2012).
In summary, they looked at a North American university’s recent survey data (and presumably the institution’s full constituent data) and compared respondents, non-respondents and email-uncontactable alumni with regard to age, event attendance and giving. They were looking to identify and demonstrate demographic or behavioural differences in the survey respondents as compared with those who were unable to be invited to complete the survey (no email address) or those who chose not to.
A relative latecomer to this industry staple, over the last couple of weeks I ‘took Ken Burnett to bed every night’ (as my partner teased) and read his oft-quoted book. Many of you will know it well – it’s called Relationship Fundraising: A donor-based approach to the business of raising money.
Given the sound advice contained within, the amount of time passed since this book was published (1992!) and its popularity in the industry, you might assume that we’re all ‘relationship fundraising’ by now. I’ve certainly heard many a quote from this book (or from the man himself) at team meetings, conferences and industry events.
Not so! Within the well-thumbed pages of my copy of Relationship Fundraising, Ken had described many of my 2017 frustrations and concerns so accurately, I can only imagine how bittersweet it must be for him that this book is finding a new audience 25 years later. The truth is (references to fax machines and ‘working women’ aside) Ken’s book is still as relevant and revolutionary as ever.
What university doesn’t want to measure the engagement of their alumni? Not many if the latest International CASE Alumni Relations Survey (ICARS) results are anything to go by. But why are we measuring it? And what makes it so challenging? Here’s my take on the subject and some ideas for taking alumni metrics to the next level.
I’d like to propose for discussion a simple model for segmentation that would allow a certain degree of proactive journey planning. This has been tough to crack, and something that still needs refining – but putting this concept together has allowed me to start having conversations with colleagues about how the brave new world might look and feel. Until now, we’ve only been speaking about how ‘segmentation and journey planning’ is the solution to a lot of our communications, workload planning and supporter experience problems.
I believe that it is a solution, and I also think it can be more. I think it’s the beginning of a shift in mindset and culture, treating alumni as individuals capable of both growing and losing interest, and ultimately in need of communications that mean something to them.