Advancement Blog

Ensure your fundraisers thrive in the attention economy

by Jeff Martin

Modern life is busy. Every day, people deal with a constant barrage of emails, calls, text messages, and other asks for their time and money. Their attention is spread thin. They make split-second decisions about where they will engage.

A growing number of commentators have begun to realize that the scarcest commodity in the 21st century may not be money—rather, it’s attention. We live in a world where a growing number of organizations compete for a fixed pool of awareness and engagement—a situation that many are calling the attention economy.

In the attention economy, whoever is best at elbowing their way to the front of an audience and staying at the top of their inbox wins. Yet relevance matters, too. If you aren’t talking to your constituents about something that they care about, they’ll tune out remarkably quickly.

Mindshare

What does this mean for fundraising? It means that raising philanthropic support is a lot harder. There are three times as many nonprofits competing for donations than there were 30 years ago. The frequency with which they solicit donors has accelerated, too.

However, we believe there are three key strategies that college and university fundraisers can use to successfully win donor mindshare, even in the attention economy:

1. Make it easy to give: Donors are easily distracted, and a clunky, poorly designed giving page can be the deciding factor between a gift and a mere good intention. Streamlining the giving page, following up with drop-off donors, and funneling donors toward automatically recurring gifts minimize unnecessary attrition.

2. Cut through the noise: It takes a lot to surpass the modern donor’s “inspiration threshold”—the point at which an appeal motivates them to give. Advancement professionals have recently begun to experiment with digital micro-campaigns, deadline-driven solicitations, and donation incentives to effectively compete for awareness.

3. Connect alumni to a cause: 46% of young alumni fear that gifts to their alma mater will disappear into a budgetary black hole. Best-practice institutions reframe the ask for skeptical audiences around discrete causes and projects on campus that small gifts can still have an outsized impact on.

Next, make sure you stay up to date with all advancement news

Subscribe to our bi-weekly blog alerts for the latest best-practice research from the Advancement Forum and our colleagues at Royall & Company.

Sign up today


  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague