5 insights from the 2017-2018 national meeting series

By Tierney Keller

The only constant is change—and that’s especially true for university advancement. Over the past 10 years, advancement leaders have found that the old playbook they’ve long relied on for cultivation, volunteer recruitment, and alumni engagement is no longer as reliable as it once was.

This year’s Advancement Forum national meeting theme, “Building a Sustainable Future,” explores how to tackle these challenges by cultivating and engaging a diverse portfolio of donors and alumni. Our latest research provides data and best practices to drive success now and into the future.

At this year’s national meeting, we will discuss scalable solutions to the issues keeping advancement leaders up-at-night, including:

1. Competition for the next generation of principal gift donors requires a new approach to donor relations and stewardship.
Today’s younger major and principal gift prospects feel little urgency about making philanthropic decisions right now. To drive giving today, some advancement shops are working to create a renewed sense of urgency and inspire immediate action. Through the creation of impact-focused giving opportunities with limited windows of time for donors to act, development officers secure gifts before the campaign has even begun. Donors react to the specific, urgent need and invest in the institution.

2. Advancement staff struggle to connect diverse alumni to right-fit engagement opportunities.
Although student diversity has increased in recent years, the number of diverse alumni volunteers has remained stagnant. Advancement staff must engage diverse alumni through targeted outreach that connects with alumni through shared experiences and provides meaningful volunteer opportunities.

Related insight: How to communicate about diverse alumni across campus

3. Big Data has not been used in a productive way and MGO pipelines are the first to feel the negative effects.
In recent years, there has been a massive uptick in the number of advancement shops using big data and predictive analytics to identify good prospects, but these investments have not always led to better pipeline development. Contrary to popular belief, the key doesn’t lie in finding even newer, better data tools—rather, advancement leaders need to rethink how to manage and incentivize major gift officers to cultivate the prospects that the data surfaces.

Related blog post: 4 strategies to collect alumni affinity data

4. Advancement leaders must look beyond their MGOs to reach the uncultivated parts of their pipelines.
Not every pipeline prospect merits a spot in an MGO’s portfolio today. Some are still developing capacity. Others have too little inclination right now. Yet ignoring them isn’t an option. Advancement leaders must work to leverage other resources in our advancement shops to cultivate tomorrow’s prospects.

Marketing/communications, alumni relations, and annual giving can all be utilized to cultivate the parts of the pipeline we don’t have time to get to, creating lasting connections with donors that lead to enhanced giving.

5. Advancement offices must be prepared for potential student unrest on campus.
As activism spreads on college and university campuses, advancement leaders need to be prepared for potential alumni and donor backlash. From tracking alumni comments about controversial campus events to aggregating trends to inform communication strategies, planning now ensures that you are prepared whenever student unrest occurs.

Want to learn more about the changing student population?

As colleges become more culturally, racially, and ethnically diverse, the student experience is also beginning to change. As a result, leading advancement shops are broadening their fundraising practices to appeal to increasingly diverse alumni populations. Download our excerpt to learn more about how your school can lay the groundwork for future alumni giving engagement while still meeting the fundraising demands of the present. Get the excerpt.

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