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Fundraising – get the latest tips

19 Feb, 2024

Attendees at the November 2023 MACE National Conference were given access to the strategies of peers at other institutions, as well as expert advice from independent consultants. One of the recurring topics was trends in the fundraising, advancement, and donor space, and some of the speakers’ tips are highlighted here.

Peter Maher, Director of Alumni Relations at the University of the Witwatersrand, made the following key suggestions:

  • Broaden your fundraising constituency (prospect pool): In addition to alumni, maintain a relationship with everyone with an interest in your institution: parents, retired staff, friends, and local and business communities.
  • Build and continuously refine your data and a comprehensive up-to-date shared database.
  • Plan a regular ‘Giving Day’/Annual Fund as a pipeline to larger gifts.
  • Develop and use an engagement grading matrix.
  • There will be a greater focus on wealthy, major gift donors and ‘missing middle’ donors.
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) will play an increasingly important role in alumni relations, thanks to its ability to process large amounts of data and identify patterns and insights related to alumni behaviour.
  • AI can automate key tasks, including the creation of personalised, highly targeted, and more meaningful interactions with individual alumni.
  • Trends show increasing global alumni engagement, with alumni engagement applications such as Gravyty/Graduway, AlmaBase, Evertrue, and Ellucian gaining popularity.

Gary Ndlovu, a media solutions architect and Associate Senior Lecturer in Music Technology at the University of Fort Hare, presented on the topic ‘An in-depth look into the potential applications, benefits, challenges, and considerations of using ChatGPT as a tool in marketing, advancement and communication in education’. Some of his key tips included:

  • In addition to the ability to create personalised messages and emails for various stakeholder groups (or even individuals), AI such as ChatGPT can also be very helpful in grant proposal-writing, helping to articulate the institution’s needs and goals.
  • ChatGPT can also assist in event planning and coordination, by helping to create promotional materials, drafting speeches, and preparing event-related communications.

Shelagh Gastrow, advisor to the higher education, non-profit and philanthropy sectors, presented on the topic ‘University systems and policies to enhance and support advancement’. Some of her key tips included:

  • The Advancement/ Development Office should be positioned in the institution’s structure in a way that promotes maximum effectiveness (for example, consider a direct reporting line to the Vice-Chancellor/ Rector).
  • Ensure effective communication between faculties, communications, marketing, and alumni relations departments to enable alignment on prioritised projects.
  • Collaboration is needed to ensure accurate measuring of all third-stream income.
  • Specific policies are required, such as donor recognition, gift acceptance, and fundraising ethics.
  • A system for managing prioritisation of projects is key – consider a ‘prioritisation committee’ under VC leadership.
  • The Advancement/ Development Office cannot do all the fundraising a higher education institution needs. Universities should consider fundraising training for faculty and staff (possibly at induction).


Access Peter Maher’s full presentation here

Access Gary Ndlovu’s full presentation here.

Access Shelagh Gastrow’s full presentation here.