The problem with participation rates among fundraising shops in higher education

Greg Warner is CEO and Founder of MarketSmart, a revolutionary marketing software and services firm that helps nonprofits raise more for less. In 2012 Greg coined the phrase “Engagement Fundraising” to encapsulate his breakthrough fundraising formula for achieving extraordinary results. Using their own innovative strategies and technologies, MarketSmart helps fundraisers around the world zero in on the donors most ready to support their organizations and institutions with major and legacy gifts.

I think colleges and universities should STOP worrying so much about DONOR PARTICIPATION RATES and become much more concerned about QUALIFICATION RATES.

Just think about how much time and money gets invested in driving up participation. And, how many crass solicitations result from that investment (which drive plenty of donors away).

Sure, it might drive the vanity metrics up at first. But so what? If donation revenue isn’t increasing too, what’s the point? Is comparing favorably with your peer institutions that important?

Plus, according to my free Fundraising Report Card app, new low dollar donors (under $100) only retain at 13.7% while new high dollar donors (+$5,000) retain at 44.15%. That’s about 3.25 times better retention!

Donor Retention Rates for Colleges and Universities

I’ve seen the best fundraisers and most successful operations concern themselves with QUALIFICATION instead of taking a populist approach.

They invest more in finding people who are pre-qualified for outreach because they have a reason to give big, they have capacity to give big, and the timing is right.

This kind of qualitative data can only be collected from a properly engaged supporter, not from wealth screening and predictive analytics or traditional prospect research.

Of course, qualitative information is what my company supplies (in addition to helping highly qualified major donor prospects arrange meetings with gift officers when the timing is right for them).

The traditional populist approach costs a lot, generates very little, harms the environment and drives donors to disengage as a result of its overly-solicitous nature.

After all, the fundraising pyramid is a myth. Every day I see major donor prospects self-qualify even though they’ve never given to a particular organization or institution, and these folks never show up on wealth screenings.

Think of it this way: You can’t get people to buy Ferrari’s by starting off trying to sell them Matchbox toys. It just doesn’t work that way these days. Plus you don’t have time to drive them up the pyramid.

You can skip all that with a hyper-focus on donor SELF-QUALIFICATION.

Agree or disagree? What are your thoughts?


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