Why Training is Critical for Higher Education Fundraising

As a higher education institution, you already have a steep fundraising challenge ahead of you with resistant Millennial alumni.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. And while you may be sending students back to school in person, families are wary of risking their children’s safety, and alumni don’t look kindly on unnecessary health risks. Above all, the changing landscape of higher education means donors of all stripes are reconsidering the value of their money relative to the college experience.

You can’t control the future, but you can control how your board meets those challenges. Here’s why training is critical to taking control of your fundraising future.

Challenges Facing Fundraisers Today

According to the 2020 NonProfit PRO Leadership Impact Study, there are four critical areas of concern facing nonprofits today:

  1. Insufficient resources
  2. Lack of strategy
  3. Major gifts and direct mail remain the top revenue streams
  4. Most organizations are unable to afford new technology

Taken together, these four challenges present tough obstacles. Nonprofits don’t have the luxury of for-profit companies, often facing far tighter resource budgets with less staff to handle it gracefully. In fact, more than two-thirds of nonprofits bring in less than $1 million annually.

The collective picture is one of limited resources and a demand for remarkable dexterity.

For higher education, in particular, the challenge is greater than ever. The competition for donors is growing like never before, and the most recent young alumni – Millennials – are notoriously disengaged from their alma maters.

Why Training Your Board Makes All the Difference

This is when training your board makes the world of difference.

The field facing higher education fundraising is daunting, but boards can certainly overcome it with commitment and creativity. However, the challenges built into the field mean it is also highly unforgiving of a scattershot approach.

When it’s your institution’s future, you can’t afford to settle for anything less than your A-game. Training is what gets you there.

Working with Limited Resources

Let’s be honest: nonprofits and higher education institutions have long faced an uphill battle against limited resources. That reality is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

What you can change, however, is how you work with your resources.

Unlike for-profit corporations, which often rely on preexisting revenue and profit margins to support new ventures, nonprofits and higher education institutions don’t have that luxury. This translates to a very different mindset than a business – a more financially aware methodology that accounts for future windfalls and how to turn nothing into something.

This is where training makes a difference. The key to doing more with less is having the right mindset and skills to work without much to go on. Training helps you develop the creativity to stop thinking about what you don’t have and instead think about how to make use of what’s available.

Building a Strategy

Training also helps your board learn how to build an effective strategy, one of the most critical elements involved in navigating a landscape of limited resources.

For one thing, a strategy helps set direction and establish priorities. If you clearly articulate where you’re heading and why, it will be easier to outline how you’re going to get there with the resources you have.

In doing so, you can get the whole board on the same page. If everyone knows what you’re aiming for, you can articulate everyone’s role in achieving those goals. That way, everyone knows what’s expected of them. This is a bigger challenge than you might think – 46% of respondents to the NonProfit PRO Leadership Impact study reported that establishing clear expectations was their greatest challenge to board member effectiveness.

Most importantly, it bolsters your self-awareness, especially with regards to your available resources. If you know what you have and how you’re going to use it, it’s that much easier to ensure you don’t waste essential resources.

Reaching Your Donors More Effectively

According to the 2020 NonProfit PRO Leadership Impact Study, the second biggest challenge nonprofits report is difficulty acquiring donors, with 38% of respondents reporting this was their biggest challenge. This is especially prevalent for higher education, which faces a notoriously disengaged class of Millennial alumni.

Here’s the thing: despite a bad reputation, Millennials are actually a generous generation. While most of the population donates at a rate of 70%, Millennials give at a rate of 85%. And while they give smaller individual gifts than their parents or grandparents, their size as a generation makes them a valuable donor base.

Training your board will make it easier to reach those all-important Millennial alumni. Remember, Millennials interact (and donate) differently than their parents and grandparents. They prefer texting, for example, which means they’re more likely to respond to donation appeals via text. They’re also social media savvy and respond well to personalized multi-channel marketing.

But if your board isn’t trained to use these techniques effectively, they won’t know how to get your institution on board – and you’ll fight an uphill battle to attract Millennial alumni.

Making the Most of Available Technology

According to the NonProfit PRO Leadership Impact study, 89% of organizations are interested in new technology, but 64% say they cannot afford to make the investment due to budget constraints.

Unfortunately, you’re unlikely to find a genie in a bottle anytime soon. This means that instead of dreaming of the technology you don’t have, you have to learn to make the most of what you do have.

Here’s the good news: you’re certainly capable of reaching donors. The key is teaching your board to be more effective with the available resources. But in order to do that, you’re going to need training.

Level the Playing Field

Above all, training allows you to level the playing field.

The reality for higher education is that you’re in a highly competitive arena. Your institution has to offer more than ever in order to stay on the radar, but you have limited resources to do it.

By training your board, you’re giving them the tools they need to keep your institution competitive, whether you’re in a year of bounty or shoestring giving.

Let’s Connect the Dots for Your Fundraisers

At BrightDot, we know that fundraising is about connecting the dots. It’s not about numbers, but about leveraging connections into real results. Our job is to help you use your relationships more effectively.

Ready to take a smarter approach to fundraising this year? Let us set your board up for success. Get in touch to learn how we can give your board the tools they need to help your institution thrive.

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