Fundraising Voices from Ruffalo Noel Levitz

This podcast features thought provoking conversations with fundraisers, researchers and thought leaders to help propel your fundraising results.
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Thanks for listening to Fundraising Voices. To hear more about solutions and strategies featured on our podcast, contact us at

Apr 12, 2019

Over 30 years ago, Al Ruffalo wanted to help colleges and universities, and he gave it a try. What came of his efforts, and the efforts of the people who were part of those initial experiments, was the modern college and university phone outreach program, which has raised billions of dollars.

It's also been a lifeline of real, honest to goodness conversations between students and alumni for the past three decades. This work is obviously changing, and the company that Al and company built has changed, now encompassing a whole suite of tech-enabled data driven programs that serve both fundraising and enrollment goals.

But the mission to make a personal connection and to make every college and university part of the family hasn't changed as the company transformed into the modern Ruffalo Noel Levitz. I got my friend Al on the line to talk about his journey and what he thinks is next for higher education donor and student engagement.

Mar 29, 2019

What would you do if you were lucky enough to come into a bit of money? Buy an expensive car? A big house? Or would you do something more people are considering -- start a family foundation and try to make a difference in the world? Well, that's what Suzanne Skees and the Skees Family Foundation have done. But they're doing it differently. With over 40 family members involved (some younger than 8 years old) and unrestricted grants to charities across the globe, they have something different and special. Suzanne's just released My Job #2, a book that spotlights the stories of people whose lives are changing all over the world, and I got her on the line to talk about the Foundation, how the family works together, and the power of storytelling.

You can get your copy of My Job (both editions) at:

And find out more about the Skees Family Foundation, including their blog at:

Mar 19, 2019

Recurring giving is a big topic these days, particularly among our higher education partners. Everyone's watching the massive increase in subscription services, and particularly how young alumni or donors use them. Also, we're just really excited about the idea of people buying into consistent, regular giving. But most of us haven't really figured out how to give for monthly gifts real well, how to thank recurring donors, or even in some cases how to receive the gifts correctly.

It's a tremendous opportunity to build a base of committed, regular donors who have bought into your cause. So when NextAfter, the great fundraising research outfit, published their recent recurrent giving study where they actually made gifts to a couple hundred charities and saw how recurrent giving was marketed, we gobbled it up. The same day it came out, I called Brady Josephson and got him on the line to talk about how to optimize the donor experience, to tell us what they heard in the study, and how he thinks in his words we can unlock the most generous generation in history. Here's our chat.

Check out the full report at:

And Brady's NextAfter podcast at:

Mar 4, 2019

Having a good relationship between your marketing department, and your advancement division is absolutely crucial. Michael Stoner, co-founder, and president of mStoner Incorporated knows this, and he's completed some research recently showing how this relationship can really propel the results of an advancement division’s ability to engage donors. I got on the line with Michael to talk a little bit about his history in higher education marketing and what he sees next for the integration of communications to donors.

Check out this article on Michael's research here at Inside Higher Education

Find out more about mStoner at:


Mar 4, 2019

For a long time now, annual giving programs have utilized matching gift programs from corporate sponsors as a great way to increase their fundraising totals. You can, generally speaking, increase your results by about 10% just by engaging corporate partners who have matching gift programs available to your alumni and other supporters. I got on the phone with Teddy Callow at HEPData, one of the premier providers of matching gift data and resources to talk about how you can best engage donors in corporations so that you're the one who gets chosen for this important philanthropic opportunity.

Find out more great info from HEPData at:

And Contact Us at RNL for HEP-integrated services like those that support you phonathon and student philanthropy centers through CAMPUSCALL integration.

Feb 1, 2019

Alumni participation: It's a key statistic that we all know is very important. It helps drive rankings and it's also evidence to suggest that we're really getting through to donors.

Participation something that we all think about, but we're not really great in talking about. That's because it's been declining over the last 30 years at American higher education. Overall, generally speaking, alumni are just less likely to give to their alma maters.

Dan Frezza at William & Mary is looking at things a little differently. He's accepted a challenge to grow alumni participation over the next few years and break this trend. I got on the line with Dan to talk about alumni participation, what the strategy at William & Mary involves and how he's going to change things and how they plan to engage more alumni to give every year.

Nov 2, 2018

Working with major donors to ignite their passion to give is the #1 to transform your organization. Richard Perry and Jeff Schreifels know this, and talk in this episode about what's changing with major giving, and how to provide gift officers the tools to connect with the best major and planned giving donors.

Check out Veritus Group at

Oct 12, 2018

Crowdfunding is a great way to capture new donors. This socially-connected and optimized online giving platform is now in use by over half of higher education institutions for fundraising in one form or another. We’ve released our 2018 Crowdfunding Index, which reviews over 5,000 charitable crowdfunding campaigns on the RNL ScaleFunder platform, with combined giving of $73 Million. I got on the line with RNL crowdfunding expert Mary Grace Baldo to review the data, and talk about key trends and what’s next for this great way to engage donors.

Download the full Index here

Crowdfunding now has wide adoption, and we’re seeing some great things as institutions further include crowdfunding into their overall giving strategy. The technology has come a long way, and can integrate directly into your current gift processing and stewardship plans. And when you look at the stats for first-year crowdfunding programs, the ROI can be really great.

You’re going to want a partner who understands how to implement the technology across all your channels, so your crowdfunding program becomes an integrated part of how you talk with donors for annual giving, special projects, and even major gift campaigns. We were the early adopters of charitable crowdfunding here at RNL, and we have years of experience to help you be successful. Give us call and get a demo of what RNL crowdfunding, powered by ScaleFunder, can do for you.

Oct 12, 2018

Your high end donor prospects invest in experiences. This is true both in how they give to charities and how they spend their leisure time. Adam Capes knows this and he's pioneered a new way to engage high end donors with luxury experiences that also make a difference.

Check out Getaway2Give here.

In the 21st century your top donors are much more willing to invest in experiences than stuff. What Adam's figured out is that having a memorable experience as part of a donation is really crucial to engaging a longterm interest of your donors. This donor experience is crucial to everything that we do here at Ruffalo Noel Levitz. If you're ready to take your donor experience to the next level, get in touch with us. We're ready to help.

Oct 12, 2018

Making sure that your major and planned giving fundraisers are productive is a key part of raising transformational gifts for your organization. In the second year of our major and planned giving productivity survey, we explore these issues, find out what major and gift officers think about predictive analytics, wealth ratings, and how they're able to qualify donors at scale. I got on the line with Josh Robertson to talk about the results of our second survey on major and planned giving productivity.

You can download the full report here.

So, if you're trying to have success in your major and planned giving program, who you're talking to is only part of the issue. The systems you use to help your gift officers really connect, to listen, and to engage donors are crucial in reaching your aspirational fundraising goals. If you'd like to take your major and planned giving program to the next level, drop us a line here at RNL. We're ready to help.

Oct 10, 2018

Looking into your database of supporters and searching for those people who are ready and able to make a major or planned gift is crucial to any organization's success. But how do you find the right people and ask them in the right way at the right time?

Well, Greg Warner at MarketSmart has some ideas. In fact, he's built a name for himself by directly challenging our assumptions and the generally dated tactics we use to engage donors. I got him on the line to talk a little bit about how we can find new ways to engage major and planned giving donors.

Check out MarketSmart at

Making sure that you're approaching the best, most ready and most able prospects for major and planned giving is absolutely crucial to meeting your fundraising goals. If you're doing the same old thing, your gift officers probably aren't having a high level of success. It might be time to look at things differently.

We agree with Greg that it's time to look at things differently. If you'd like to take your major and planned giving program to the next level, give us a call here at Ruffalo Noel Levitz. We've pioneered new technologies using your data and 21st century engagement tools to help you better engage the best major and planned giving prospects. We're ready to help.

Oct 10, 2018

Annual giving is the lifeblood of most fundraising programs, and we’re interested in keeping a pulse on current trends and fundraiser challenges. We’ve published the second version of our Advancement Leaders Speak series, where over 250 annual giving leaders told us about where they’re focusing their energy to connect with donors. Included this year is a special focus on both parents and leadership givers, two important groups. I got on the line with annual giving career veteran Shad Hanselman to go through the survey results and hear from him about the future of annual giving.

You can download the full report here.

Engaging parents and leadership donors will also be a top priority for most institutions in the coming years. These two groups, which might actually be the same people in many cases, require a different approach from your overall alumni and supporter base. Again, personalization, and engaging donors with a live feedback look will be key.

May 25, 2018

Every year, the Nonprofit Research Collaborative puts out two big surveys to track trends in giving. Organized around 15 different fundraising methods, it’s one of the most comprehensive surveys around. The Winter 2018  Nonprofit Fundraising study report is just out, and shows that most charities are doing better through the end of the calendar year. I got on the line with Melissa Brown from the Non Profit Research Collaborative and Aggie Sweeney from Giving USA to go over the results and talk about what they think is next for nonprofit fundraising.


Download the latest report here

The Nonprofit Research Collaborative and Giving USA are great resources to track trends in fundraising. Melissa and Aggie had great insights about how wealth demographics and donor engagement are changing our work. Head on over to to download the most recent research. And stay tuned in June for the always important Giving USA annual report.

Tracking trends is a key part of fundraising strategy. And we’re doing this every day at RNL. If you’d like to apply the latest trends to your fundraising strategy, drop us a line. We’re ready to help.

Find out more:

May 16, 2018

Student philanthropy programs are an important part of the advancement efforts. We know from research that almost 90 percent of colleges and universities do some type of student philanthropy program, whether it’s a philanthropy day, a student phonathon, a student organization, or even involving students in thanking donors.

The Engaging Students in Philanthropy Symposium, offered by CASE as part of the Student Advancement conference coming up in just a few months, is a great place to find out about the best practices in starting and improving a student philanthropy program. I’m proud to be on the faculty once again this year. I got the great group of symposium faculty on the line to talk about what we’ll be covering this year, and what’s hot in student philanthropy work right now.

Register for the Symposium here!

Engaging your student body in philanthropy is a key best practice to grow future givers and provide a great experience for all your donors. Join us at the symposium to find out about how to start or expand your program, interact with other passionate student philanthropy missionaries. You can find out more at We’ll see you there.

Apr 17, 2018

Over three quarters of higher education institutions use the phone in some way to reach out to donors each year. At the biggest programs, this amounts to a student caller phonathon, which contacts thousands of alumni, parents and friends.

These phonathons or telefunds can generate millions in support, not to mention great conversations which build the relationship with a donor.

We’ve just released the RNL Phonathon index, looking at 93 phonathon programs from 2014 to 2017, with over $300M in pledges.

We uncover some of the key trends and best practices in phonathon programs and make suggestions about how to take your phonathon to the next level. You can download the full index at today. I got on the line with podcast pal Josh Robertson, a fellow phonathon veteran, to break down the results and talk about what’s next for this key donor contact channel.


Chances are, if you’re doing the same thing you’ve been doing with your phonathon for years, you’re probably not getting what you could out of the channel. This channel deserves the best you can offer in terms of strategy and technology.  As the only truly scalable personal conversation channel in higher education fundraising, phonathons can have a lot of value. But only if you do them smartly, in a data-driven and focused manner. As Josh mentions, it depends on your goals, but you can craft a solid 21st century phone strategy, as these 93 institutions show.

So, if you want to take your phonathon to the next level, drop us a line here at RNL. We have a team of experts ready to help.

Apr 9, 2018

Strong use of data is the cornerstone of any great fundraising program. The best programs take this to the next level, moving from descriptive to predictive – actually guiding gift officers and annual giving appeals to the donors who seem the most ready. Making this transition can be daunting. So today, we’ll talk with one of the authors of a new book, Data Science for Fundraising, building data-driven solutions using R. Ashutosh Nandeshwar is a fundraising data veteran, and a thought leader in this important emerging field. The book is part introduction to new data techniques and an in depth hands on manual to get started. Whether you’re the geek who will be manipulating the data or just interested in how this new way of thinking can transform your fundraising, he’s a great source of insight.

You can find the book here:

Ashutosh's website:


In our recent surveys of over 3,000 fundraisers, fully three quarters told us that they don’t feel like they are using data in the best way possible. This extends to annual giving, major and planned giving, as we try to harness our massive databases to provide better, more personalized appeals.

As Ashutosh and I discussed, this isn’t just the best way to fundraise—it’s better for donors, and uses their time and attention efficiently and with the highest impact. If you’re ready to roll up your sleeves and get into the data, Ashutosh and Roger’s book is a great tool.

Data-driven fundraising is a big focus here at RNL, and we’ve launched new products which do what we’ve discussed in this podcast –taking fundraising into the 21st century. If you’re ready to provide a more personal experience to donors and transform your fundraising, drop us a line. We’re ready to help.

Apr 8, 2018

How do we get more people interested in fundraising as a profession? It’s a key question we’re trying to answer, as we struggle to fill positions, engage donors, and take advantage of the tremendous interpersonal talents of a rising millennial generation. I came across a book that is quite different than anything we’re used to reading about fundraisers.

What happens when you go from rocker to fundraiser, and go all in on philanthropy? Mitch linker, author of No One Dreams of Being a Fundraiser: My Unexpected Journey from Music to Major Gifts can tell us. I got Mitch on the line to talk about his book, his journey, and how we can get more unlikely candidates interested in our profession.

You can find the book on Amazon.


Getting over the fear of asking by just doing it, finding coaches, and staying with an organization long enough to learn about the donors are all great steps on your path to becoming a better fundraiser. Mitch’s passion and insights for our profession are incredible, even if he came to the job in a bit of a non-traditional way.

Well, come to think of it, who does dream of being a fundraiser? Probably no one. But for those of us who stick with it, and as Mitch says, go all in, find out that our jobs are a dream. We get to work with great people, see transformational giving, and the impact of our work on the people our charities serve. So I say, dream on fundraisers, and if you see someone you think might be great, take them in and give them a shot. It’s time for us to look in different places for the next generation of fundraisers.

Apr 2, 2018

We have the winners of the 2018 March (Alumni Giving) Madness tournament!

This tournament is our fun way to determine the top alumni giving institutions for higher education fundraising. We took the institutions in this year's men's and women's NCAA Basketball Tournaments, analyzed their alumni giving statistics, and determined the two top institutions for alumni giving.

In this podcast, we break down the results, methodology and talk about how to amplify alumni giving for your institution.

2018 March (Alumni Giving) Madness final brackets

2018 March Alumni Giving MadnessView the final 2018 March (Alumni Giving) Madness bracket

You can read about the methodology we used and about the first two rounds of results in our first blog.

And the winners are...

Men’s Bracket: University of Pennsylvania. Returning after last year's win in our women's bracket, Penn continues to have one of the highest alumni participation stats in the tournament.  As we mentioned last year, donor growth and consistency in young alumni giving have been real strengths at Penn.

Women’s Bracket: University of Notre Dame. Another return winner, Notre Dame also took home a win in 2016 in the men's division of our tournament. Two years of consistent alumni donor growth and a LeBron-level performance for giving-per-living-alumnus made the Fighting Irish unstoppable.

All this year’s tournament participants are winners. As we approached the final bracket stages, we noticed some pretty incredible alumni giving and donor growth at the top institutions. All participants in this year’s tournaments should be congratulated. The generosity of their alumni is incredible, with more than $3.7 billion given by alumni to these institutions in 2017.

Get the E-Book with all the results

Check out all the results, with expanded commentary on the stats, in our March (Alumni Giving) Madness 2018 e-book. Download your copy here.

Mar 8, 2018

There is no denying that higher education campaigns have been transformative. These comprehensive efforts help us build buildings, fund scholarships and even boost current use support. And they are growing. It’s more and more common for us to see campaign totals exceeding 1 billion. Almost every institution is either in or thinking about a campaign.

So we wanted to know what fundraisers feel about the future of campaigns in higher education. We surveyed almost 600 fundraisers and got their opinions about what is working and they key challenges to campaign success. I got on the line with RNL expert Caryn Stein to break down the results of this latest edition in our Advancement Leaders Speak series.

Download the full report here

We know from the survey that you are either in a campaign or working on starting one soon. A few things we learned from this survey: fundraisers do expect campaigns to increase their advancement budgets. But they are under big pressure for big totals, and unless we can think a bit differently, those resources may not be enough. It’s time to reinvent fundraising, and how you organize your campaign, using the best tools and data-driven technology, will make all the difference. That’s what we’re focused on here at RNL, so if you’re ready to take you campaign to the next level give us a call. We’re ready to help.

Jan 3, 2018

We’ve just released our seventh chapter in the RNL Advancement Leaders Speak series, where we ask you, the fundraisers about your challenges, successes and best practices. This release is focuses on annual giving multichannel strategy – or how we contact annual giving donors through all the various fundraising channels. The report revealed some interesting things about how annual giving is judged and evaluated by institutions, how fundraisers are timing appeals, and what we feel are the best ways to capture, retain and upgrade donors. You can download the full survey at I got on the like with Shad Hanselman, RNL’s annual giving guru, to talk about the survey and what it means for fundraising strategy.

Download the full study at

Looking at the results of this survey of 300 fundraisers, it does look like there are some opportunities to optimize our multi-channel outreach to donors. As Shad mentioned, making your appeals work together like a symphony will really help engage donors. This takes technology, and careful analysis of your results, two things that fundraisers wanted to be utilizing more.

Nov 27, 2017

Giving Days – Campaigns that focus a groundswell of donations to a specific day, have really made a splash in the fundraising world. Using online portals that track donations as they come in, as well as offering challenges, match donations and real excitement for donors, giving days have been a game changer.

We’ve just published a new study on how giving days can transform your fundraising. The RNL Giving Day Index looks at over $32 million in giving to answer key questions about average donations, campaign totals and donor counts, as well as the impact of volunteer ambassadors. You can download the full study at right now to see how your giving day stacks up.

I got on the line with my podcast pal Josh Robertson to unpack the results and talk about what they mean for your giving day success.

As Josh explains, giving days are one of the best opportunities to get donors excited and to build a sense of urgency around giving. Outside of calendar or fiscal year end, they’re really the only other option to answer the key question “why give now.” And giving days do this simply, with the answer – because everyone else is doing it.

In order to have a successful giving day, you need the right technology and a provider who knows how these complex campaigns work. With RNL Giving Days, powered by the ScaleFunder platform, we’ve integrated the best technology to make donors feel comfortable giving to YOUR institution, and make it easy. It’s important to integrate giving from all channels in your platform. We’ve also implemented key donor engagement tools like heat maps, challenges, matches, and leader boards to make it fun. Contact us today to see how RNL Giving Days can help take your special event to the next level.

Oct 16, 2017

Digital Engagement – it’s important for any fundraiser, especially those of us who want to engage younger donors. Whether it’s targeted digital advertising, social media, or great new methods like crowdfunding and online giving days, we have a great menu of options. But we hear from fundraisers that they haven’t always been able to really optimize their digital outreach. So we wanted to know more...

We are about to release part four of our series Advancement Leaders Speak, and this edition is the results of a survey and conversations with advancement professionals about how they are doing digital outreach, and how they feel they connecting to young alumni and young donors.

I got on the line with Caryn Stein, one of our top digital experts, to go through the results.

You can download the full report here.

It’s great to hear that ¾ of fundraisers feel that digital communications are effective. But with only one fifth of fundraisers using these communications as part of a defined young alumni campaign, it’s not surprising that we’ve seen giving participation really lag with Millennials. As Caryn suggests, the solution is to get more personal, and harness the power of digital.

The right message to the right donor at the right time, that’s what we’re shooting for. And if we can get our multichannel game in gear, we can really transform fundraising.

We’d love to tell you about how we’re having success with RNL partners doing just that. If you’re ready to transform your digital donor outreach, give us a call. We’re ready to talk.

Sep 21, 2017

Crowdfunding has become very popular over the past few years. Following success in the commercial world, funding new products, artistic endeavors and other projects, we’ve seen hundreds of charities create crowdfunding campaigns and full portals with multiple campaigns to attract donors to specific needs.

Higher education, with a wealth of student, faculty and athletics opportunities, has really benefited from this optimized, online and socially integrated technology.

We’ve just released a comprehensive index of results from over 4,000 campaigns Ruffalo Noel Levitz charitable crowdfunding powered by the Scalefunder platform. And the results show that crowdfunding has really made a difference with our partners—over 22 million dollars actually. You can download the 2017 RNL crowdfunding index at

Today on the podcast, I talk with Josh Robertson about what we discovered as we looked a these great campaigns.

If you are looking to attract new donors, particularly younger donors, and give your long time supporters something exciting with active feedback they can support, crowdfunding is a great tool. We’ve seen millions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of donors engaged through RNL crowdfunding. You can offer campaigns that support new initiatives, student and faculty needs, and even market your traditional annual giving program through crowdfunding.

We’d love to help you get started or accelerate your existing crowdfunding program. Drop us a line and we’ll help you take your donor engagement to the next level.

Jun 28, 2017

We’ve just released part two of our major research series Advancement Leaders Speak here at Ruffalo Noel Levitz. This time, we surveyed and spoke with 270 major and planned giving officers to find out how they do their jobs and how they feel about productivity.

You can download the study at—we included questions about average prospect pool sizes, number of visits with donors, key frustrations and challenges for gift officers, as well as what they think would make their jobs easier.

I got on the line with Caryn Stein, Vice President here at RNL, to go through the results and talk a bit about what we are hearing from gift officers about their important work with donors.


Download the Report here

Productivity—it’s not always the first topic that major and planned giving programs jump on. For a profession primarily focused on personal relationships with donors, we’re not really drawn to metrics and deep data on our solicitation effectiveness. But given the increase pressure all charitable organizations are facing, and definitely for higher education, putting the right tools in place so your major and planned giving team can have success is crucial. And as Caryn and I mention, focusing on the right contact to the right donors at the right time is a key donor-centric practice that will keep your top supporters happy and increase their joy in giving. You can download the full study at We’d also love to hear from you about your major and planned giving program. Drop us a line, and we’ll talk about how you can improve your team’s productivity and book more gifts, immediately.

Jun 11, 2017

Student philanthropy continues to be a hot topic in higher education. Just about every institution hosts some form of student philanthropic engagement. The goal is to engage students in causes that they are passionate about, help students thank current donors, and if we do it right, help students understand the importance of giving back as future alumni.

Josh Harraman and Felicity Meu are experts with years of experience with successful student philanthropy programs. I’m proud to serve as faculty with them in the upcoming Engaging Students in Philanthropy Symposium, put together by CASE this coming August. I got Josh and Felicity on the line to talk about the state of student philanthropy, what we’re talking about this year, and what the future holds for this crucial higher education effort.

Josh and Felicity offer great insights on how to engage students in philanthropy. We’re talking about a lifetime relationship with your alma mater here, and increasingly, institutions are working to start that deep philanthropic relationship before students graduate. Engaging students with the causes they care about, and inviting them to thank current donors can go a long way to making that happen.


Join us at the 2017 Engaging Students in Philanthropy Symposium, August 3-5, as part of the CASE Conference for Student Advancement in Columbus. It’s the biggest event of the year for student philanthropy programs.

And if you are hearing this podcast after the symposium, head over to to find resources on accelerating your student philanthropy program, including the CASE ASAP network, the premier network for student philanthropy.

Check out the Symposium program and registration at:

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