Role of Research in Fundraising Communications

Posted on Jun 4, 2015 in Blog, Fundamentals

A surge in market research has been helpful in getting independent schools to see themselves from the outside in. A whole range of information is available—from collaborative studies by groups of schools and school associations to self-conducted surveys to informal focus groups to individual discussion and commissioned research—opening schools administrators’ eyes to how they are really viewed and what the audiences’ priorities are. Schools should regularly collect and analyze information on demographics and market trends and what people know about and want in an independent school. Also useful are knowing how the school compares with competitors, the school’s visibility and name recognition, parent satisfaction, alumni engagement levels and other information that may affect enrollment and philanthropy.

Penelope Burk of Cygnus Applied Research reported on the 2014 annual philanthropy survey results in a webinar in August 2014. My big takeaway was the influence of good communications on generosity. Her findings clearly demonstrate that donors give more when they know:

  • What your school stands for and how well it is achieving its mission and goals
  • They have the ability to designate their gift—no more unrestricted, vague annual fund appeals to close the tuition gap or pay for electricity
  • The impact of their gift and how it was used
  • That you are grateful; you can’t thank donors too many times.

Burk’s research admonishes organizations to do more research about their donors and prospects before crafting the language around their fundraising and choosing their delivery vehicles. Donors want to know what your school will do with their gift and what the school’s philanthropic support track record is.

Interestingly, direct mail is still incredibly powerful because it starts people thinking about making a gift. But the function of direct mail is shifting as more people give online. Use your direct mail to drive people to the giving pages of your school’s website, where you can really make your case. If they see what they like, they will click through and donate. Once you get them to the website, half the battle is won. Then you have to win them over with great content. The research shows that you will have greater participation and larger gifts when donors give online.

Thanking people is a critical component in building donor loyalty. While expressing your gratitude should still come via snail mail, new media is making possible a greater degree of personalization (to add a cherry on top).