long-term short-termLast in a 5-Part Series: Great Opportunities at Universities

I’m tired of colleges and universities using campaigns as a crutch to bring in cash, rather than building long-term relationships with donors and alumni. Campaigns aren’t necessarily bad, but Higher Education leadership uses them way too much as a way to create enthusiasm in their donor and alumni base.
Instead, Richard and I believe that if universities were to change their fundraising culture, they’d focus on donors and alumni, truly understand their passions and interests, report on the impact their gifts are making, and serve them well. They’d take this approach instead of creating one campaign after another and focusing so heavily on the money; the new relationship-centered approach would raise more money than the university ever imagined would be given by their donors and alumni.
However, instead of building relationships, universities are creating campaigns focused on big dollars, trying to excite a few big donors to get their names on buildings or on a wall somewhere. I mean, it all sounds exciting to university leaders to launch a five-billion-dollar campaign. But how does it sound to an alum who can “only” contribute $10,000?
Pretty deflating. A little drop in a big bucket. That’s why most donors like that never get cultivated by anyone.
One of the great things I love about Higher Ed is that they think big. They want to reach more students, do important research, create a better experience for faculty, etc. But unfortunately, it can easily become all about them.
Richard and I never see that kind of thinking about the donor and the alumni.
Let’s change that. If you take anything away from this series on Higher Education fundraising, let it be this: from the moment a student walks on campus for the very first time until they have passed on to the Great Beyond, you should be creating an ongoing, engaging experience for that person which will continue to ignite passion and joy in their giving. (Tweet it!)
This means walking with them at every stage of their life from the moment they get their acceptance letter from your university. Richard and I have heard from too many alumni who lament how, once they graduated, all they ever heard from their university was someone asking them to give to a yearly appeal.
It makes me want to scream! No wonder alumni engagement and participation levels continue to slide downward.
We’ve been at this a long time, so we know that if you focus on the long-term, building those relationships and serving those donors well, that hard work will pay off. Likewise, if your focus is only on the short-term campaign or just meeting a metric that you can check off, you may have some limited success, but you’ll forgo hundreds of thousands (and in many cases millions) of dollars to other non-profits who are truly engaging those donors.
Too many institutions of higher learning squander the great experience their alumni have had in the most formative years of their lives by arrogantly thinking that they’ll just want to give back, without development officers doing the hard work of continuing to build that relationship.
However, if you employ the five areas of opportunity that we’ve highlighted for your university in this blog series, you’ll see a dramatic difference in giving and engagement that your Higher Ed peers could only envy.
Remember, you are the bridge between the donor and all the good things your university is doing to change the world. How strong and sturdy of a bridge are you?
Read the whole series “Great Opportunities at Universities”

  1. The Donors That Aren’t Good Enough for University Fundraising
  2. Focus on Building Relationships, Not Reaching Metrics
  3. Build the University Fundraising Pipeline Immediately
  4. Use the Power of University Research and Data Departments Wisely
  5. Think and Act Long-Term in University Fundraising (This Post)