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4 Steps to Better Higher Education Donor Engagement

By Guest Author November 17, 2021

By: Catherine Moore, Digital Transformation Practice Lead at Heller Consulting

Today’s higher education leaders are taking a strategic look at how they interact with supporters. They’re thinking beyond individual online interactions, and creating plans to deepen connections with their constituents and transform their advancement strategies in today’s digital world.

The idea of this type of digital transformation could seem lofty and intimidating. It might sound nice, but maybe it’s something you just don’t think you have the expertise to tackle. The truth is, digital transformation doesn’t happen all at once. By leveraging the power of Education Cloud for marketing and engagement, your advancement team can get started with digital transformation with these four steps.

Woman working on a computer
By leveraging the power of Education Cloud for marketing and engagement, your advancement team can get started with digital transformation with four steps.

1. Rethink How You Thank Your Donors and Volunteers

Take generic thank you messages to the next level by including details that make each donor or volunteer feel more appreciated. For example, send a personalized thank you email by pulling in information from the gift record. Create a template once, and build out engagement journeys that include the recipient’s name, amount donated, date, or the year they graduated. This level of detail transforms your data into the personalized experiences today’s constituents expect.

Students smiling while wearing graduation caps and gowns
Your donors expect you to know details about their giving history. Include these details in targeted and highly personalized email journeys to build trust between your institution and your donors.

2. Capture the Supporter’s Connection to Your College or University

Higher education advancement efforts have multiple audience groups, including alumni, students, parents, grandparents, extended families, athletics supporters, and corporate partners. The sooner you can identify and begin tracking which group (or groups) a constituent falls into, the sooner you can begin to transform your relationship with that person with targeted messaging in your communications.

You can do this by adding a custom field to your donation form that allows you to capture the person’s connection to your institution. This could be done as a picklist or a series of checkbox fields that allow you to get a full view of the supporter’s connections. You can then map this information to the contact record, allowing you to begin segmenting based on the audience group.

To take this a step further, you could track a number of different school relationships, such as multiple degrees from different programs at your institution. These data points can be added into a Marketing Cloud data model and used for sophisticated segmentation and personalization.

3. Use Content Builder to Create Dynamic Content That’s Audience-Specific

Now that you’ve thanked your donors and volunteers and learned more about their connections, you can bring in Content Builder to create dynamic content. Based on the person’s profile data, you can alter the content so that the supporter receives messages and images that are relevant to their interests. This builds trust with your institution and changes constituents’ digital interaction from a standard email series to a tailored and eye-catching experience.

4. Create Lifelong Supporters

With Education Cloud, you have the capability to transform one-time donors into lifelong supporters. The ability to segment and communicate based on specific donor data opens opportunities for you to pair your advancement strategies with technology. For example, on the anniversary of their graduation, you can send graduates a single email or series to recognize their graduation anniversary and, if they are not already donors, to bring them into the fold as donors.

As your program evolves, you can automate this to run as an annual email campaign, reminding alumni about their connection to your institution and soliciting anniversary gifts when the time comes. Recurring donations are a gateway to lifetime engagement, not just lifetime giving. Receiving consistent and relevant communications encourages a deep bond with your institution.

With these steps, you can start rethinking how you interact with donors and volunteers. Education Cloud for marketing and engagement will help you as you start implementing these strategies.

Learn more about how higher education institutions are approaching digital transformation: The Higher Education Trailblazer’s Guide to Salesforce and 3 Ways to Deliver Hollywood-like Student Experiences with AI.

About the Author

Catherine Moore, Digital Transformation Practice Lead at Heller Consulting
Catherine Moore
Digital Transformation Practice Lead at Heller Consulting
Catherine is the digital transformation practice lead for Heller Consulting, guiding higher education institutions and nonprofits through digital transformation efforts. Catherine has served the nonprofit sector for over 20 years, previously guiding the strategic pathway for technology, digital transformation, marketing, and fundraising at the Canadian Cancer Society and others.
She is skilled at understanding and addressing the human concerns that arise during a project as well as the technical challenges that any system transition will bring. She is a frequent speaker at nonprofit conferences and a guest on nonprofit-specific podcasts. Outside of her professional life, Catherine is passionate about STEM education for children and enjoys the privilege of mentoring other women and young professionals.