DonorSearch Helps Higher Education Achieve a Ph.D. in Fundraising

Fundraising can be tough for any type of nonprofit. But in 2023 it’s proving even harder. Uncertain economic conditions and inflation that stubbornly refuses to come under control are especially wreaking havoc. Unfortunately, the challenge is even greater for America’s colleges and universities. Both have become epicenters of divisive turmoil over political tensions, both in the United States and globally.

         October provided a clear example of how current events, and the campus reaction can present challenges to fundraisers working to help all students, regardless of their politics. After multiple protests following the horrific terror attack on Israel on October 7, backlash from prominent donors was swift.

         Apollo Global Management CEO Marc Rowan, unhappy with the University of Pennsylvania’s response, urged alumni to “close their checkbooks” until UPenn’s top leadership stepped down. His letter to fellow alumni states, “Join me and many others who love UPenn by sending UPenn $1 in place of your normal, discretionary contribution so that no one misses the point.”

The situation at UPenn was far from unique. At Harvard, where 31 student groups signed a letter blaming Israel for the terror attack, alumni also cut ties with the university in frustration. The Wexner Foundation, named after billionaire clothing mogul Les Wexner, ended its 30-year relationship with Harvard, saying the university “is no longer a compatible partner.”

         Our purpose isn’t to stake a position on the terrible events of the last month. Rather, it’s to draw your attention to the fact that no university, including even institutions like Ivy League schools, are immune to tensions that can flare up between an alumni community and current students. The best way forward for higher education fundraisers is therefore to build robust connections with as many engaged alumni as possible. This is so that faith in a school is not as shaken in troubled times, but also so that if (and when) political issues and other divisive topics drive a wedge in the donor population, it won’t have a catastrophic fundraising effect.

This is where DonorSearch comes into the picture. Our company helps colleges and universities develop a holistic understanding of their alumni community by bringing together data from systems throughout the entire organization. After all, data that may prove invaluable to fundraisers is often found sitting in disconnected corners of campus operations.

That is precisely the experience of Brittanie E. Kuhr, Executive Director of Institutional Advancement at Defiance College. She explains, “Our picture from the institutional perspective was so limited, and we needed to zoom out. We saw one piece of our donors and their relationship with the college, but we didn’t have the whole picture. We needed to take that step back, and DonorSearch has helped us with that.”

To this point, Kuhr explains that DonorSearch AI has empowered her team to take a “deeper dive”, developing a greater understanding of what drives donor engagement at Defiance College. Pulling together info from both inside the institution and combining it with external data through AI processing resulted in the next major advantage of DonorSearch for higher education: A wealth of new potential donors.

         Roland Palmer, Director of Engagement and Operations at Champlain College in Vermont, also explained the power of DonorSearch in a recent video. After going through the process of gathering and uploading the college’s data, Palmer was first surprised by the speed and accuracy of the DonorSearch team. Then he was stunned by the powerful insights he received back. As Palmer explains, “We immediately had a plethora of people that came onto our radar that we probably wouldn’t have known was even existing in our database based on the initial screening. And, so, we started working as a team to go through those and build a pipeline.”         

         Palmer’s comments were echoed by Sabrina Latham, Director of Prospect Research and Management for the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She told us, “DonorSearch has made a wonderful difference. It’s giving us really wonderful information in terms of what an RFM score looks like for our people, and we are able to sort accordingly. And pretty much drill down to some really interesting prospects that we didn’t have on our radar before.”

         Executive Vice President and Co-Owner of DonorSearch Sarah TeDesco explains why it matters so much for higher education institutions to find prospects they may have never talked to before. “When DonorSearch partners with colleges and universities, one of the most frequent things we hear back is that they’ve located valuable new prospects. This almost always happens because our expert team has combined internal data that fundraisers never had access to, plus external data from our systems using AI to paint a more accurate picture of potential donors. Developing a stronger pipeline of current and potential donors provides added stability, even when politics and geopolitics creates the risk of disruption.”

         Eager to discover how DonorSearch can transform your own fundraising efforts? To learn just how DonorSearch can empower your college or university to create an unparalleled culture of giving within your alumni community, please contact DonorSearch for a demo today. And if you are an experienced non-profit professional interested in helping new nonprofits build for future success every day, consider a career with DonorSearch.

Additional Resources

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