June 10, 2020

Digital marketing tips for higher education fundraising

At Statwax, we’ve been monitoring and working through the massive impact that COVID-19 has had on higher education. But while much focus has been on the effects on enrollment and retention, another serious issue for schools has been brewing: a loss of fundraising dollars.

Many college and university fundraising leaders are anticipating big long-term drops in donation dollars, according to a survey by EAB. This stems from a number of quarantine-related outcomes from the financial impact on donors to an inability of schools to host team-based events like “Day of Giving” campaigns.

Fortunately, successful education fundraising has been rapidly moving to a digital-first mode that has it well-positioned to continue during a time of uncertainty. Even with so many factors working against a successful fundraising effort, there are ways that digital strategies can be leveraged to do more with less and help close the gap on any projected deficits. Here are a few tactics that you can deploy right now to keep your school’s fundraising outreach, and donations, going.

Engage your stakeholders without asking for money

Alumni often feel less connected to and valued by their alma mater and more like a resource the college uses. And with the financial impact from coronavirus causing everyone to get smarter with their spending, it’ll be increasingly important to forge emotional loyalty in your current and potential donors. Keeping these people engaged with resources they can benefit from and content about your institution can build a fruitful relationship. 

This can be done through social media and blogging but is most effective when supplemented by digital ads to drive users to this content. Only your most enthused stakeholders will frequently visit your social media page or website to view content, but top-of-funnel online ads reach more potential donors by directing them to compelling content they wouldn’t see otherwise. Effective platforms for this strategy include promoted posts on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. Google Display remarketing campaigns can also be used to bring back users that don’t donate after the first touchpoint.

Stay top of mind as a cause worth supporting

While not all communications should ask for donations, your outreach should include periodic gift requests. The messaging for these requests can vary from straight donation asks to demonstrating how your institution depends on the support of those giving. You can also emphasize that your institution is a cause worth supporting. Having a more constant digital marketing and content strategy gives you the opportunity to say more and remind your stakeholders of all the good your institution does and all of the progress you contribute to.

We’ve seen that spreading campaigns and campaign budgets over longer time frames – as opposed to isolated campaigns in short sprints – results in higher donation rates and donation values. In our own analysis of year-over-year data, we’ve seen increases of up to 50% in donation rates and an increase of over 3% in donation value when comparing campaigns with various touchpoints. One that had had one or two touchpoints over the course of a week versus a campaign that had several touchpoints over the course of an entire month was less successful. Combine that with so much post-COVID-19 uncertainty surrounding higher ed, and it becomes even more important to build fundraising awareness early and often before making the final donation ask.

Keep the content and creative of your solicitations interesting

People don’t engage with everything that crosses their screens – they only read it if they believe it’ll provide them with something valuable or new. That’s why varied images and messaging in your digital fundraising campaigns is important. Having a few different versions of your messaging can help you continually deliver something of interest to your prospective donor. If your content appears stale, prospective donors become desensitized toward your brand and stop “receiving” your message. 

We’ve seen the best results from campaigns that have at least 10 high-quality images to rotate between. In addition, we’ve seen success with messaging that uses a variety of appeals for people with different personalities, backgrounds, and interests. Calling out specific programs and funds that will be contributed to in an effort to find what best resonates for individuals is also a winning tactic. Some prospective donors might be more interested in the school’s contributions to academia while others might resonate with the student’s outcomes. Realizing this means avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach and having digital messaging that speaks to all of your different audiences.

Let your stakeholders choose

Your donors contribute to your college because they care about it and want it to thrive for the ongoing future. However, it’s possible they care about certain goals or causes at the school more than others. Maybe they’re much more excited about the idea of donating to the engineering program they participated in versus the entire college. Or perhaps the idea of donating to a particular scholarship fund or outreach program resonates better with some users that already care about the people that would be helped by those initiatives. Letting stakeholders choose the goal they’re donating towards increases personal involvement and investment, which leads to more donations for the institution. We’ve seen donation rates increase by over 50% when using brief periods of crowdfunding as opposed to general donations. 

If there is one key takeaway from all of this, it’s to remember that the way people interact with higher ed institutions was already shifting more to the digital world. COVID-19 has had far-reaching impacts, and its implications for fundraising efforts are already being felt. It will be important for colleges and universities to expand how they interact with stakeholders in the digital space and how they weave donation requests into those routine communications.

Want to learn how digital advertising can help boost your fundraising efforts in a COVID-19 world? Reach out to our marketing experts today.

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