Institutional Advancement is important for most schools especially private institutions that rely heavily on tuition and support from alumni outside donors and their endowment. It's not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination and if not done properly can really cripple an institutions ability to grow offer programs and supplies to it's current students and attract new students semester after semester. Make no mistake institutional advancement is a part of student recruitment and vice versa. So how does an institution bolster it's fundraising and make it beneficial year in and year out creating an environment for growth at the school? A large part of the answer is you need to have an iron clad system in place that builds a pipeline where you're introducing new potential donors on one end nurturing them through a journey to where they not only donate on the other end of that pipeline but also become advocates bringing others into the pipeline as well. By building out proper personas, engaging content with call to actions, a dedicated conversion path, and follow up to close delighting those supporters turning them into advocates.
The first step in this systematic approach is defining a persona. The will be based on the person(s) that will support the school when called to do so at a level that helps advance the institution. You may have several personas because after all fundraising isn't a monolithic effort. Best practices dictate anytime you have more than 3 personas the strategy starts to be spread a bit thin and eventually becomes unmanageable and eventually will fail. Not an actual person but based on individuals that have supported in the past personas become the compass for your efforts moving forward. Every decision you make and conversion path (which we'll discuss a little later ) that you build is going to be done with this persona in mind. Not doing a good job of identifying the persona(s) will lead to a system that will not see the necessary return needed to support the institution and see it flourish.
After defining your target persona a systematic approach to institutional advancement is going to require that engaging content for that persona is developed. What keywords does your persona use in search when researching institutions to support? Does your persona prefer blogs, maybe video, or an audio format like pod-casting? When these questions are answered you can begin to develop the necessary content that is going to attract your persona and also position you as an authority on the subject and ultimately build affinity to a point where supporting the school is the automatic choice for that persona.
The key to great content is having call to actions strategically placed in the content that allow the persona to take the next step in the journey. More importantly each one of these CTA's is going to allow you to receive even more info about the persona enabling you to craft appeals and follow up content that is personalized. When it comes to fundraising a well crafted personal appeal always works better than poorly drafted general appeals.
A defined persona and great content only work if you have a dedicated conversion path attached to it. In the beginning of this piece we mentioned the pipeline you need to develop for a systematic approach the conversion path is that pipeline. Every step of the way as you provide compelling content to your personas the goal is to convert and move them along that path. Attract, Convert, Close, Delight is the elements of any pipeline you have to make sure that path is built and sealed tight. Often times institutions have issues at one or multiple points with taking their personas through this journey. Maybe your attracting personas interest initially but lackluster content and limited calls to action hurt conversions. Or perhaps you have compelling content and are able to convert your persona but don't have the staff or mechanisms in place to actually close get their support and delight turning them into advocates who help bring like minded personas into your pipeline. Focusing on building this path is an essential component of this systematic approach.
The last part of this system is the follow up to close. Often refereed to as the bottom of the funnel the importance of this element cannot be overstated. When your persona has been cultivated an nurtured through the buyers journey engaged with compelling content and has given information through calls to action converting at each phase part of your system must include someone preferably from the school if not perhaps a 3rd party that reaches out directly and personally to that individual and secures there support. Much of what we spoke about up until this point can happen in a digital space, this part is different. This is where the human voice to voice or face to face element comes in. Especially for high level supporters who not only are going to write large checks in support of the institution but have a large network and sphere of influence once delighted can leverage that into additional personas to enter your pipeline. You must have closer's in place to support this BOF activity.
A systematic approach to institutional advancement is a great way to build a pipeline of continued support to help a school thrive and grow. People in place that can follow up and close, a well thought out buyer persona, compelling content, conversion paths with CTA's are elements that can make your system run like clockwork. Are there other systems that you've witnessed or implemented? Feel free to share with us in the comment section below. We have a subscriber base with a wealth of experience and are always pleased when they share with us.