Fundraising in Higher Education: Back to School

I know, I know. Summer just started right?! But as we all know, summer is coming to a close and that means fall is about to hit. It also means that school’s back in session. Heading back to school is a great opportunity to refocus, plan, and look ahead to a great year. And for those of you working in the higher education nonprofit space, it’s a chance to meet a whole new set of people and align your fundraising goals.

Maybe you’ve been doing this for a long time, or maybe you’re brand new to your advancement team. As you can imagine, higher education is no stranger to change. Schools have had to adapt and change quickly to keep up with technology, new student expectations, and of course figuring out how to pay the bills!

If you are struggling with any of these changes, have no fear. The great thing about this space is the number of people willing to help and offer advice. Are you thinking, “Hey, advice sounds great”. Then keep on reading!

Trends in Education


Giving to education institutions increased about 6% in 2017 with a surge in giving by alumni. However, in 2018 there was a dip in giving by about 1%. There were a number of factors that contributed to the dip as we discuss in this blog post here. However, the sentiment is the same. A commitment to powerful fundraising strategies and research tools is what will set institutions apart when it comes to fundraising goals.


Nine out of ten top universities in the USA use iWave to make sure they are best positioned to find major gift donors by researching alumni, parents, and donors. Not only are these institutions using a research tool, but they are improving their overall research efforts by inspiring better collaboration between fundraising teams. As an example, at the University of Toronto, they were struggling to get ahead of time-consuming research requests between the advancement team. With the help of iWave, a gift officer was able to ask for more information on a prospect, and a researcher was able to deliver that information promptly and confidently. For more on this, check out the case study on the University of Toronto here.


As you can tell even by the trending apps that are cool one day, and gone the next; technology is changing the way we do everything. In the nonprofit world there is a steady increase in the use of online fundraising platforms. There are fundraising platforms for peer-to-peer fundraising, hosting events, collecting donations, managing constituents, you name it – it’s out there. For nonprofits, and especially for higher education institutions who are serving the next generation on an annual basis, technology is key. It doesn’t have to be the enemy. It can actually make our lives easier! But we all need to ask the right questions. Ask your other nonprofit pros what they use for technology. Seek out companies that care about your vision and the work that you do. And get comfortable – we’ll be working with technology for many years to come.


There are so many ways to ask for donations. These are typically rolled up into different campaigns depending on the time of year, the nonprofit size, and fundraising goals. Whether they are capital campaigns, annual campaigns, major gift fundraising campaigns, or peer-to-peer campaigns – make sure that you’re choosing the best campaign for your nonprofit at the best time. There is a definite trend towards online fundraising and campaigns that hover around that, so to our last point – get comfortable with technology and ask questions!

To best prepare for any campaign, we recommend ensuring your contact information for your prospects is up to date. If you are using iWave, be sure to generate or refresh iWave Scores for any list you may be working on. Similarly, set your affinity and major gift starting point and you’ll be on your way to a successful campaign. If you don’t know how to do that, please reach out!

Standing Out

A new school year is the perfect opportunity to make sure you’re standing out above the crowd. Make sure your community knows what your school is all about. A great way to do that is to engage that community. Whether they are parents, alumni, current or future students, or well-connected individuals who care about education – they all have something to offer your school. Get them involved through school events, regular newsletters, and open houses.

Your Student’s Parents Could be Your Next Donor

There is a brief window of opportunity to target parents as donors. In many post secondary colleges it’s just a short 4 years. (To all the parents out there especially, you know how fast this time will fly!) So, a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t going to work here. But don’t be discouraged, in the last few decades parents giving to higher education has increased by almost 50%. Here are some steps you can take to start the process:

  • Don’t waste any time, making sure you are asking for a gift while their children are enrolled in school.
  • Find out who the parents of new students are. Usually you can get a list from your admissions department for this. Also, a quick little tip – don’t forget about grandparents! They are in a different stage in life than parents typically are, and they may have more capacity and be better prepared to give.
  • Segment your list. To start, you can filter out individuals who are enrolled without financial aid or merit-based aid only. You can also find out educational background on parents themselves to find out if they are a previous graduate. Parents may be more apt to give to their own alma mater.
  • Have a plan to get information from parents directly. If you start with that information, you can then screen the top prospects from your pool, so make sure you’re tracking things like contact and career information.
  • Perform a wealth screening. This is an incredible tool to use for targeting parents as you’ll be able to prioritize and understand your potential donors within a few minutes/hours.
  • Include as much information as possible for yourself or your gift officer. Here are a few key features to include (that you can conveniently find in iWave): biographical and education information, professional or business info, philanthropic and political giving history, and wealth information.
  • Go, ask! Now that you are poised with the right information, you or someone on your team is ready to make that gift ask.

For more tips on turning parents into donors, check out this great blog post here.

More Than a Check

Fundraising is more than simply asking for a check – it is definitely about engagement too! Always be sure to thank your donors, and regularly update them on your school’s progress. This is a big part of sharing your story and making sure a donor knows their gift is making an impact.

About the author: Liz Corney is iWave’s Content Marketing Manager. She has a degree in Journalism, is a fiercely positive team-player and a creative self-starter. She has experience working in software technology, video/mobile games, learning & development, social & traditional media, and communications. Liz is also the co-founder of a local nonprofit organization working to better the lives of homeless women in her community.

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