School’s In For Fundraising Intelligence

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” – John Dewey

Academic institutions face several challenges.  Perhaps the greatest challenge is staying afloat in the troubled waters of shrinking government support, declining enrollment, and rapidly changing demand for graduates with skills unknown to previous generations.

Beyond these challenges, schools must continue to provide quality education to students, host more research opportunities for faculty, launch community and global development initiatives, and develop state-of-the-art infrastructure.  All these goals are ambitious and expensive – they cannot be achieved without funding.

The task of fundraising for private schools, colleges, and universities can be as complex as the challenges facing the schools themselves.  To approach the right prospects with the right “ask” amount, fundraisers need context.  Prospect research is the process. Fundraising intelligence (such as comprehensive prospect scores) is the result.  Armed with sufficient fundraising intel, a fundraiser’s chances of securing a major gift increase exponentially.

Here’s how you can develop fundraising intelligence for your school.


The vast majority of students won’t be major gift prospects – and certainly not if they’re also paying tuition.  But if you have an active student population working at various places on campus (like a Starbucks, for example), you could explore the opportunity of major gift matching.

Check out this post to learn more, especially as it relates to student employment on campus.  If you can connect with students while they are in school and demonstrate the importance of giving back, you could establish lifelong relationships with alumni who are highly engaged and motivated to contribute major gifts to their alma mater later in their careers.


New alumni, especially these days, face unique challenges of their own – namely, overwhelming student debt.  But even while an alumnus may not be in major gift territory yet, it’s important to stay up to date as they progress in their career.  Someday these alumni will be managing businesses, governments, and other nonprofits.

Before every fundraising campaign, generate or refresh iWave scores for your alumni prospects.  First, remember to set your affinity (such as Higher Education) and major gift threshold.  You have several options when gathering records to generate an iWave score – you could perform a 360 Search, consult the Alumni tabs in datasets like Thomson Reuters, create an automatic profile with customized settings, or a combination of any of these steps.

If you are looking to update records on all your alumni, or if you’re beginning a major campaign, we recommend wealth screening.  It’s never been easier to segment and research alumni in batches.  You can easily generate scores from the results and even review summary pages that reveal insight about your alumni as a group – their top sources of wealth, the causes most supported, and the percentage of strong major gift prospects who stand out among the rest.


As we covered in a previous post, parents require less cultivation time than alumni.  When their child is enrolled in a private school, university, or college, a parent has a proven affinity to that institution.  If the parent is an alumnus, they may already know about the philanthropic opportunities the school offers.

However, few schools employ standard qualifications and solicitation strategies for parents.  In this case, a one-size-fits-all approach is not a good strategy.  As Tara Patel puts it, “When fundraising staff focus on these broad efforts, they can’t effectively cultivate the small handful of parents who might actually be able to give those five-, six-, or seven-figure gifts.”

As Patel explains, “Senior capstone gifts are only likely if the idea of such a gift has been introduced in their child’s first year and explored with a development officer in subsequent years.”

So take a look at next year’s incoming parents, or the parents of students just about to graduate.  Segment these parents into different groups – which parents have children enrolled without financial aid, and which have children attending the school on scholarship?  From here, run several screening projects for the segmented parent lists.  Which parents look most promising?

“Outside the Box” Fundraising Intelligence

iWave’s wealth screening customization options allow you to screen outside the box.  Sometimes, alumni and parents won’t be enough to maintain a sustainable donor pool.  In a previous case study, a researcher at a Midwest university suggested the school’s donor base use to be people of a certain affinity.  But now that group is aging.  With iWave screening, he can now look in different geographic regions and score prospects based on different affinities.

So what options are available to you?  Take some time to plan with your colleagues. Maybe your school is developing a nursing program.  Try setting your affinity to Health Care.  Is your school partnering with other universities as part of an exchange program? You could research prospects connected to those institutions.  Remember that the key is aligning the passions of new or atypical prospects with the mission of your school.  What new connections and relationships can you create?

Other Resources

There are several resources available to prospect development professionals at education organizations.

Apra (“Association of Professional Researchers for Advancement”)

AFP (“Association of Fundraising Professionals”)

CASE (“Council for Advancement and Support of Education”)

CCAE (“Canadian Council for the Advancement of Education”)

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