Higher Education Fundraising: 6 Key Findings to Boost Online Revenue
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Higher Education Fundraising: 6 Key Findings to Boost Online Revenue

Published by Nathan Hill

Online giving continues to grow year-over-year across almost every vertical, including higher education fundraising.

With a growing shift towards online giving, higher education institutions have an increasing need to focus on improving their online fundraising strategies.

And our analysis of 109 higher education institutions revealed 7 key finding that can help grow online fundraising for higher education:

  1. The online giving experience to higher ed organizations has significantly more friction than other nonprofits
  2. The majority of higher ed organizations aren’t providing a strong reason to give on their donation page
  3. Few higher ed organizations are prioritizing and focusing on recurring giving
  4. Higher education organizations are not using their thank you page strategically.
  5. Higher education organizations send very few emails compared to other nonprofits in the first 45 days after a donation
  6. Higher education organizations can improve their email fundraising strategy and solicitations

Analyzing the giving experience of 109 higher education institutions

In partnership with iDonate, we conducted a study into higher education online fundraising, with the goal of better understanding the online giving experience to higher education organizations.

To do this, we made donations of $20 to 105 higher education organizations. 51% of those were large universities, 28% were small or liberal arts colleges, and 21% were community colleges. We captured 44 pieces of data throughout this process, and then tracked, classified, and analyzed the email communications we received from each organization for 45 days.

In our study, 82% of higher education organizations scored less than 50%. The average online giving experience score was 40%. Other nonprofits, by comparison, scored an average of 59%.

All 3 organization types scored similarly:

  • Large universities — 38%
  • Small/liberal arts colleges — 42%
  • Community colleges — 42%

Based on this, it’s clear that higher education organizations need to improve their processes when it comes to online giving. We’ll look at the reasons for this low score in the following points.

1 – The online giving experience to higher ed organizations has significantly more friction than other nonprofits

Higher education organizations were 2.5 times more likely to have 3 or more clear steps in the giving process and 2 times more likely to require non-essential information to complete a gift compared to other nonprofits.

This throws obstacles in the way of people giving the organization money. The process should be as simple and pain-free as possible, eliminating friction wherever it can be done.

2 – The majority of higher ed organizations aren’t providing a strong reason to give on their donation page

Only 2 out of 10 higher education organizations provided a strong reason to give on their donation page. 

One of the main reasons for this is over half of higher education organizations used less than one sentence of copy to communicate to donors why they should give. 

They should focus on providing clear and compelling reasons why people should consider giving them money. Use a short manifesto page or link to important work they have done. Simply providing a clear reason puts them ahead of 80% of others.

3 – Few higher ed organizations are prioritizing and focusing on recurring giving 

Recurring donations are an excellent source of revenue. Instead of having to attract new donors every single time, organizations can rely on regular, reliable payments from the same people.

However, we found that 9 out of 10 higher education organizations didn’t provide a reason why someone should make a monthly gift, and only 3% defaulted to a monthly gift on their donation page. 1 out of 10 didn’t even provide an option to make a recurring gift.

If organizations want to get recurring donations, they need to focus on making this as easy as possible and emphasizing why their visitors should consider it.

4 – Higher education organizations are not using their thank you page strategically.

More than half of higher education organizations did not expand on the impact or importance of the donation on their thank you page. What’s more, 44% provided no next step or action of any kind.

This is a problem because the thank you page is a great opportunity to connect with your donors and suggest future actions. This could be the option to make a recurring donation, access more information, or sign up to a mailing list for targeted communications. 

Failing to provide a next step means organizations are throwing away a valuable opportunity to interact and build a relationship with donors.

5 – Higher education organizations send very few emails compared to other nonprofits in the first 45 days after a donation

76% of higher education organizations sent less than 3 emails and the median number of emails sent was 1, compared to 50% and a median of 3 for other nonprofits.

Emails are a highly effective channel for connecting with followers on an ongoing basis. They’re a great way to share relevant information about how donations are being used, build relationships with donors, and ask for more donations in the future.

6 – Higher education organizations can improve their email fundraising strategy and solicitations

8 out of 10 Higher Ed organizations did not send a solicitation email within 45 days. This is a missed opportunity to gain more donations from people who have already shown their willingness to give money.

Of those that did ask for more donations, there were common mistakes:

  • 6 out of 10 had 2 or more calls to action, which confuses readers. The call to action should be clear and compelling, with minimal risk of confusion.
  • 4 out of 10 pointed to a donation page that wasn’t congruent with the message in the email. This is another source of confusion and can drive potential donors away. The donation page should flow on from the email.

Overall, we found that higher education organizations have a lot to learn and a lot of scope for improvement when it comes to the way they collect money and interact with their donors.

The good news is that most of the problems we identified are easy to fix. With just a few relatively small tweaks, higher education organizations should be able to significantly improve their processes and increase their donation revenue.

To find out more about what we learned by analyzing the giving experience of 109 higher education organizations, you can get the free research study here.

Published by Nathan Hill

Nathan Hill is Marketing Director at NextAfter.

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