New Report from Ruffalo Noel Levitz Reviews Emerging Trends in Higher Education Fundraising and Strategies Leading Institutions are taking to Increase Donor Engagement

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New analysis from Ruffalo Noel Levitz helps higher education leaders and trustees understand the trends and strategies required to counter donor decline in a rapidly changing fundraising landscape.

There’s a looming challenge for college fundraising: how to keep donations up when alumni participation is on a 20-year decline.

A new senior executive analysis from Ruffalo Noel Levitz, the leading firm for higher education fundraising management, looks at the current trends underpinning this challenge and the strategies that successful institutions are already using to counter donor decline.

The High Stakes Development Dilemma in Higher Education examines how five emerging trends have altered the “rules” of higher education fundraising:

1. The demise of “one-size-fits-all” fundraising programs and the move toward segmented donor communications.
2. The explosion of solicitations and how they have crowded out appeals from colleges and universities.
3. The shift of philanthropic power to younger donors, who have a vastly different set of behaviors, expectations, and attitudes toward giving.
4. The impact of the rapid growth of mobility and data on fundraising.
5. The rise of personalized and peer-to-peer giving.

“In the current higher education environment, fundraising is going to play an increasingly vital role in the institutional health of colleges and universities,” says Stephen J. Meyer, president and CEO of Ruffalo Noel Levitz. “However, these trends have caused fundamental shifts in how institutions engage donors and build a pipeline for philanthropic support. If higher education leaders and trustees do not adjust their fundraising approaches to account for these trends, they will find it more and more difficult to achieve their goals.”

Engaging donors and addressing alumni participation are especially crucial. While charitable giving to colleges and universities set a record in 2015, the percentage of alumni who give is at historic lows. This sets up a potential problem for future fundraising, because the vast majority of major donors (making gifts over $25,000) start out as smaller donors who give for a decade or more before escalating to major donor levels. Institutions therefore have to build a pipeline of smaller donors now to cultivate major gifts later.

The good news is that some institutions are already deploying strategies to adapt to these trends. The High Stakes Development Dilemma in Higher Education outlines six strategies:

  • Taking steps to increase donor participation.
  • Organizing outreach efforts around the donor, rather than around campus silos.
  • Engaging Generation X and Millennial donors on their terms.
  • Establishing affinity and recurring giving earlier.
  • Elevating data to the heart of fundraising operations and strategy.
  • Evolving the higher education “supply chain” so that institutions have the resources they need to build a modern fundraising operation.

“This trend analysis provides a way forward by outlining what the best colleges and universities do,” says Brian Gawor, CFRE and vice president for research at Ruffalo Noel Levitz. “They are practices that any institution can use to meet these challenges. These strategies will help institutions carry out two of the prime goals of fundraising: engaging donors to show the impact of giving and building a strong pipeline that secures the gifts an institution needs to thrive and fulfill its mission.”

The High Stakes Development Dilemma in Higher Education is available at

About Ruffalo Noel Levitz
Ruffalo Noel Levitz is the leading provider of technology-enabled services, software, and consulting for higher education enrollment management and fundraising. Each year, more than 1,800 colleges, universities, and nonprofit organizations rely on the company’s solutions to help achieve their mission. In addition, Ruffalo Noel Levitz conferences, research reports, papers, and articles help clients stay on top of current trends. For the latest insights, visit

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Pam Jennings
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