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Improving Fundraising Efforts: Leveraging PR and Advertising Strategies for Success

Over the past year, AccessU has been repeatedly approached by varied organizations, from nonprofits to higher education institutions, all facing the same challenge: the need for a better strategy to engage donors and raise funds. Fundraising is a complex and ongoing process that requires strategic planning and benefits greatly from effective relationship-building. Here, we explore insights regarding fundraising and themes we see emerging in 2024 and beyond.  

Friendraising Before Fundraising 

One of the most common mistakes in fundraising is underestimating the power of brand equity and relationships with target audiences. The Chinese concept of Guanxi involves creating strong personal connections based on trust and mutual obligations before making any financial asks. Consider the organizations you’ve chosen to personally support. Likely, you felt a connection and benefitted from some form of relationship and consistent communication before you decided to open your proverbial wallet. 

This is also the ideal approach for fundraising and one that we call “friendraising before fundraising.” Prioritizing donor relationships over donor amounts will improve your fundraising campaign by empowering your donors as key communicators who do more than donate, they encourage participation from others.  

Friendraising is a relational behavior based in systems. Nowhere is this truer than at the start of a fundraising campaign. If the relationships aren’t nurtured, the funds won’t grow. 

In 2024, AccessU helped launch two multi-million-dollar campaigns in the same month. Before looking at the overall goals for each campaign , we focused on the systems to establish in order to ensure success. These systems are tried and true throughout the history of fundraising and include:  

  • Feasibility study and major donor list 
  • One-on-one fact finding and individual interviews to determine interest groups 
  • Refine case statement 
  • Create campaign cabinet 
  • Create donor list with ask levels 
  • Make asks 
  • Be ready for the public phase at the 50% mark 

Successfully transitioning to a campaign’s public phase requires strong structures, including a comprehensive engagement strategy. Systems create a sustainable process with clear expectations and accountability. Consider this example of bringing in an agency like ours with the following goal:  

“We need to increase donor giving by 20% this year to meet demand. Can you create a landing page with a donation button on the website?”  

There is no system here to address the increase in demand. What if, instead, the ask was:  

“We need a system to make our donors care about us and know the value of their gift.”  

This mission lends itself to supportive structures, including:  

  • Hosting monthly regional events to showcase needs and acknowledge donors. 
  • Gathering and sharing donor testimonials and success stories. 
  • Leveraging social media to reach a broader audience. 
  • Securing PR coverage for your achievements. 
  • Ensuring all content drives traffic to your website. 

This is a system that creates stewardship, which enables the goal. When given the proper timeframe for implementation and growth, it is very likely that this system creates the structure needed to achieve, and even surpass, a donor giving goal. Reliance on systems can also ensure continued growth even after a campaign goal is accomplished. 

Trends in Fundraising for 2024 

We want to provide our own take on the higher education fundraising trends identified by The Giving Institute. Fundraising requires resilience, and forecasting trends can help in preparing for a giving campaign. As we evaluate potential change factors for campaigns, it’s important to remember that donors continue to give to causes they are passionate about, and online giving continues to make gains.  

Economic Uncertainty 

Election years wreak havoc with the paid media landscape and create stock market volatility. This will undoubtedly impact giving in 2024 and may lead to a “wait and see” attitude among donors considering significant gifts. Reminding donors of the immediate impact that gifts made in 2024 will make can instill a sense of urgency to overcome this hurdle. Also, be aware that ad prices are at a premium now. Consider your spending allocations and whether to refocus budget on engagement strategies instead of trying to compete with a crowded advertising market between now and November. 

Decline in Public Opinion of Higher Education 

The reasons for this trend are myriad, and we see challenges for colleges and universities across the board as large amounts of student debt continue to haunt a generation of younger Americans.  

Recent campus protests and calls for divestment are also impacting advancement departments as they strive to address competing concerns from donors. More than ever, universities will need to show the immediate and long-term impact and benefit of philanthropy, the moral return on philanthropic investment and the value of a college degree in today’s global society. Authentic storytelling remains a key component of any successful campaign.  

Shifting Demographics 

With a record number of aging donors — what AARP calls the “silver tsunami” —long-time donors are simply going away. Now more than ever, organizations need to engage younger donors to step up — both as donors and volunteers. In our market, we are seeing many key donors make large, named legacy gifts that may signal an end to their giving. The challenge to colleges and universities is to engage Gen X and Millennial donors, who are lagging behind Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation in philanthropic trends. The pragmatism of Gen X combined with the social consciousness of Millennials requires a nuanced approach to a campaign in order to increase the number of donors and the average gift amounts. Online giving is on the rise, but concerns of saturation are heard across the field. Connecting the giving to tangible results through authentic storytelling will make your mission relevant to all. 

Potential Tax Law Changes 

There is anticipation of the long-awaited change in tax law related to The Charitable Act. This bill allows individual taxpayers to deduct charitable contributions without itemizing their entire tax form. Estimates indicate that making it easier for donors to claim their tax breaks has the potential to generate an additional $17 billion in charitable giving each year. Friendraising, and becoming a trusted source for information regarding tax breaks for new donors, will help incentivize donation to your campaign.  

The Importance of a Cohesive Brand Strategy 

In today’s competitive landscape, a cohesive brand strategy with an omnichannel approach is vital. Consistency across all social media and PR channels helps engage potential donors by showcasing success stories, connecting with audiences and demonstrating need. This is a proven strategy with multi-channel donors giving three times more, on average, than single-channel donors.  

A full-service agency like AccessU can optimize your website for giving, fine-tune your digital marketing plan, and align your case statement and marketing strategies for maximum impact. By leveraging our expertise, you can create effective systems, build strong donor relationships, and ultimately reach your fundraising goals in 2024. 

About the Author

Tony Pearman

Tony began his advertising career with his first graphic design job before he even graduated VCU and has worked since then to refine his craft and learn from amazing mentors and clients. Founding AccessU in 1996, he built an award-winning agency that delivers exceptional client service, strategy, and creative work...

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