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Articles: Fundraising

Texas A&M University’s campaign to raise $4 billion for research, facilities and scholarships represents the largest-ever fundraising effort in a state known for going big. It’s also the second largest effort announced by a higher education institution.

Mike Sapienza

The variety of challenges facing enrollment leaders are well documented: changing demographics, increased competition for students, scarce outcome data— and the list goes on. Resources are also limited, and so it is critically important for enrollment managers to measure the ROI of the initiatives they take and then adjust as necessary.

A majority of higher ed leaders expect modest to significant increases in tuition revenue in 2015. (Click to enlarge chart)

Multiple forces are pushing institutions to change from the financial status quo. Institutions are feeling more pressure to advocate for state higher ed funding, prove their value to students and support the simplification of debt repayment. Yet some campus leaders might just be fine with the opportunities that scrutiny can bring, and in many cases, administrators are meeting those challenges.

Happy trails: Community members who have walked, jogged or biked the trails that crisscross the campus of Brookhaven College in Texas have given back to the institution through donations, even when they have no other ties to the school.

Supporting local economic and civic projects is a central part of the mission for community colleges that rely on voter approval for funding.

In Kansas, for example, voters elect the six members of their community college’s board of trustees, which levies taxes to pay for the school’s operating expenses. Residents, however, can challenge the board’s decisions and force a referendum on any tax increase.

It was Capital University against Wittenberg University, neighboring Ohio schools. Purple against red. Crusaders against Tigers.

In spring 2014, officials at each of the institutions engaged with young alumni through the Gold Cup Challenge. And when the competition ended in June, Capital won bragging rights, with 2,037 points—one for each new young alumni donor compared to the previous fiscal year.

Here's how colleges and universities are using social media to connect with alumni.

If you build it, they will come. Your alumni are already Facebooking, tweeting and linking in, in ever-increasing numbers. Colleges and universities are taking advantage of this activity to launch and grow robust social networks of graduates that strengthen alumni engagement, boost volunteerism and stimulate giving.

Michael Silton is the executive director of the UCLA Venture Capital Fund.

Over the last 30 years, the number of college courses teaching entrepreneurship has increased by 95 percent, reflecting an intense demand by U.S. college students.

However, in a survey by Entrepreneur magazine, half of students polled reported that lack of resources was their main reason for not creating startups. And the Young Entrepreneur Council found that nearly three-fourths of college students claim they have no access to on-campus entrepreneurial resources.

A single transformational gift can spark unprecedented momentum and result in record-shattering donations to a college or university—as officials at Baylor University in Texas know well.

In early 2012, alumnus Drayton McLane Jr. and his family kicked off donor support for an ambitious $260 million on-campus football stadium. At the time it was the largest capital gift in university history (amount undisclosed).

The University of Puget Sound has received a series of bitcoin donations.

The University of Puget Sound in February became the first higher ed institution to accept a gift of digital currency, when alumnus Nicolas Cary gave the Washington school 14.5 bitcoins—equal to $10,000.

Bringing a shopping cart experience to online donors so they can give to multiple areas but only check out once is a big step for institutional advancement offices to make. Yet, as involved a project as that is, there are always enhancements that can be made to the shopping cart itself and to other areas of the giving website. Here are 15 ideas and actions worth modeling:

The idea was simple: Let online donors make multiple gifts with a single checkout. Not long after Randy Brown joined the Michigan State University advancement team as webmaster in 1999, he got assigned this task, which was anything but simple to execute.

“That was sort of his night job,” says Bob Thomas, assistant vice president for advancement marketing and communications. “It was kind of a running joke. We’d talk about it at annual planning meetings.” One year, someone even presented a mini shopping cart at the meeting to Brown as a tangible reminder.

If you still watch TV with commercials, you may have seen an ad recently talking about using data to improve your business—the bakery that mined its sales data to discover that people buy more cake on rainy days, for example. Everybody’s talking about “big data” and “data science,” basically applying sophisticated analytic techniques to large datasets. And one of the things they’re doing is predictive modeling—using historical data to make predictions about the future.

It’s no trade secret that there is a growing trend of colleges using developers to construct student housing. A number of universities, particularly public institutions, are finding it advantageous to work with large real estate developers.

However, based on my years of experience, the advantages of working with private developers go well beyond public universities and construction of student housing.

Americans are increasingly choosing donor-advised funds (DAFs) as their preferred charitable giving vehicle. They have become the fastest growing vehicle in philanthropy, outnumbering private foundations by more than two-to-one. In 2010 (the most recent available data), grantmaking from DAFs totaled more than $6.1 billion.

Whether it’s facing a modest or mega fundraising campaign, or an institution is between campaigns, having the most effective person leading the advancement effort is important for success. But, until now, there’s been little research on the characteristics of an effective chief advancement officer.