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.
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.
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.
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.
Having outlined the concept of the model in my previous post, I’d like to offer my thoughts on how you could make this work for your team – big or small.
I’ll cover determining the journeys and involving your team in this process. I’ll also look at maintaining the model,what you can put in place to make this easier and also what to do with ‘super contributor alumni’ who support multiple causes in various ways.
Finally, I’ll add an important warning.
Increasing scrutiny from the media and regulators about the fundraising activities of charities, the sources of their funds and even the pay-packets of their senior staff has made charities and fundraising organisations more and more conscious of the cost of poor reputation and breaching public trust.
The fallout of summer 2015 is still being felt across the HE fundraising sector in the UK, with most institutions reviewing their programmes and if needed, taking measures to ensure their full and demonstrable compliance with regulations and ethical practices. Before that, there was the Woolf Inquiry in 2011, with many universities hurrying to put in place standard procedures for the solicitation and acceptance of philanthropic gifts.
When public confidence falls in charities, so does public willingness to donate, and the good work that many charities do in our communities becomes harder. This is the reason many organisations are opting to fix what’s broken as quickly as possible. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations is already taking this a step further by attempting to equip charities with a “narrative” to help tell the positive and meaningful story of what they do. For the benefit everyone in the UK, particularly the vulnerable who rely on charity supported programmes, it’s important that our industry is well respected and held to high standards.