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The Future of Philanthropy on Campus

A UNLV development leader explains the role that transparency plays in building university support.

Campus News  |  Oct 6, 2017  |  By UNLV News Center
UNLV campus scene
Editor's Note: 

This year we're celebrating UNLV's 60th anniversary with a full lineup of events and special coverage. This essay is part of a series exploring the future of UNLV and our impact in Southern Nevada and the world. Here, Margo Wolanin, UNLV's senior associate vice president for development, shares insight on the role of fundraisers in planning for the campus' future.


Today we live in an information-saturated world. We’re bombarded with marketing messages and sales pitches from all directions. For nonprofits that rely on support from donors, the competition for their goodwill is constantly intensifying.

At the same time, technology is increasingly allowing people to access metrics: the quantifiable measures of their dollars at work, the data that shows the effects of their investments. In this climate, the successful philanthropic organization of the future will be the one that can demonstrate the results of its work.

Therefore, the future of fundraising lies in transparency and effectiveness. It is in the ability to show donors that their investments are having a direct impact.

In a 2016 report on charitable giving by Fidelity Charitable, 41 percent of 3,200 surveyed donors said they had changed their giving because they “were more aware of nonprofit effectiveness.”  In other words, philanthropists are losing interest in giving blindly to an altruistic idea, and more likely to give to a strategic mission that can show results.

In the world of higher education, this means connecting donors to the specific beneficiaries of their giving. Whether that is scholarship recipients, research programs, faculty positions, new or improved facilities, or athletic programs, donors must see their intended impact. Where once it might have been enough to ask a philanthropist to invest in the idea of higher education, today — and even more so in the future — university fundraisers must understand the specific philanthropic goals of investors and successfully connect them to the university’s specific plans and actions. Individuals and businesses increasingly want to be involved in their giving, play a role in the outcome, and keep abreast of progress.

Part of this is generational. Baby Boomers still hold the bulk of the nation’s wealth and are the largest sector of givers;43-percent of total U.S. giving comes from those born between the years of 1946 and 1964. Millennials, born between 1981 and 2000), however, will be the future of philanthropy, and their giving preferences differ from Boomers in several key ways.

The Fidelity Charitable Report showed that almost half of Millennials say that changes in technology have affected their giving, compared to only a quarter of Boomers. Embracing technology creates several sub-trends: the expectation of selecting and controlling precisely where a gift goes, and the expectation of having the ability to chart the use of, and eventual results of, one’s gift. Additionally, the Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that Millennials are more willing to endorse and publish their giving choices on social media, increasing their power of peer-to-peer fundraising, and increasing the reach of their like-minded philanthropic networks. This can be a particularly effective trend for universities that rely on extensive alumni networking to bolster interest in university investment.

Moreover, they are more likely to believe that universities can make effective change in the world. Forty-one percent of younger investors vs. 23-percent of mature investors see universities as “having the potential to develop solutions and create the necessary change to solve problems in the future,” according to Fidelity. Another trend, perhaps more temporary but indicative of the manner in which political turmoil affects giving, was reported by the Pew Research Center in July.  Fifty-eight percent of Republicans saw higher education as having a “negative effect” on the nation, up from 32-percent in 2010, while 72-percent of Democrats or left-leaning independents said higher education has a positive impact. This, too, reflects the multifaceted effects of an information-saturated world, a culture in which controlling the messages is key to controlling or influencing behavior. For university fundraisers, this increases the need for strategic stewardship that promotes confidence in the role of higher education.

At the UNLV Division of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement, we are mindfully planning for these future trends. We see clearly that when donors are making a philanthropic decisions, they want to see how their investments can make the biggest improvements to society. Our mission is to demonstrate that UNLV has the ability to transform their philanthropic ambitions into reality.

Key to addressing the trend toward transparency is to be louder about return on philanthropic investment, or ROPI. Philanthropic success in the future is in clarifying and communicating the assets, needs, and potential in each school, in each division, with each dean and university leader. It’s in assuring that development professionals are well-equipped to listen to their clients and guide their investments in the wisest, most impactful way. It’s in supporting the development professionals with the information they need to convey the successes achieved because of the donor’s contributions. It’s in marketing the messages that show clear examples of the university’s impact on the community, and the community’s impact on the university, and the win-win nature of the relationship.

All of this, ultimately, is about transparency. When information is everywhere, the most effective nonprofits of the future will be those that harness, manage and clearly present information to their philanthropic investors.