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6 min read

Transforming to Digital First

Campus Outreach

As nonprofits and ministries enter the COVID era of fundraising, where digital has moved from the “we’ll get to it at some point” pile right to the top, some organizations have a clear advantage.

In 2017, Campus Outreach surveyed its fundraising landscape and made an early commitment to move to a donor-first, digital-first mindset. At the time, more than 83 percent of their missions’ funds were raised through traditional techniques; only 17 percent came digitally.

They also recognized that their audience was young, mobile, and more digitally inclined. That’s when Campus Outreach prioritized implementation of an easy, seamless giving experience that offered more opportunities for a variety of giving preferences. The results have been impressive. Today, the funding percentages have flipped entirely.

College campuses have changed in many ways over the past several decades, and increasingly so over the past year. But one thing that hasn’t changed for students is the desire to find purpose, discover who they really are, and develop the passions that will help determine their life path. For many students, this process of self-discovery can present a challenge when it comes to growing their faith. This is exactly where those who serve with Campus Outreach are positioned to flourish.

About Campus Outreach

Campus Outreach, founded in 1978 by Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, Alabama, is a ministry built on relationships. They believe in meeting students where they are and building meaningful one-on-one relationships that equip students in their community and Christian faith. Campus Outreach missionaries don’t preach from the pulpit, but rather work, live, and play alongside students in their daily lives, helping them to discover what it looks like for them to be people of character, and leaders in the world.

Campus Outreach

Phil Sineath, Director of Advancement for Campus Outreach SERVE, states “The ministry of Campus Outreach is highly relational. We meet students exactly where they are in their journey, teaching them how to be a light to their group of peers. Our leaders are in the fabric of the campus, doing life with college students in small groups, shoulder to shoulder.” In the same way Campus Outreach missionaries integrate into the college experience, they teach students to integrate faith into their
life experience.

“The influence of Campus Outreach does not end at graduation. The success of our vision is measured best by the students who carry the vision of reaching the lost world with them after college. Our prayer is that alumni will continue to grow in their relationship with God, share their faith with the lost, and continue the process of discipling others.” – from campusoutreach.org

Many of the recipients of the organization’s outreach go on to serve within Campus Outreach, right back into the college experience. Their unique perspective on balancing individual faith with the social, cultural, and educational pressures of college helps them reach students in meaningful ways. And of course many others, now equipped with confidence in their faith and strong desire to serve, display their faith in the world, reaching countless lives through their careers, communities, and spheres of influence in every aspect of their lives.

Campus Outreach has continued to grow and expand over the last few decades, reaching beyond the 23 locations in the United States to 9 other countries including Mexico, Brazil, England, Zambia, South Africa, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand. And as expansion continues, it is increasingly important to remain aligned from one location to the next. As such, in January of 2020, Campus Outreach established a new arm of their organization called Campus Outreach SERVE, which exists to coordinate and support 700 staff serving across 37 CO locations around the world in their shared mission.

Like all nonprofit organizations, it is of great importance that Campus Outreach is properly funded in order to continue their work. But unlike many other organizations, in addition to serving the needs of students, each member of the Campus Outreach staff is entirely responsible for funding his or her own position. For many years this was accomplished through traditional methods that included mailing checks and collecting cash, a process that can take time, be inconsistent, and become cumbersome. In fact, it took an average of six months to raise 100 percent of a staff member’s fundraising goal for the year. But thanks to advancements in technology, the ability for staff to raise funds in new, more efficient ways has greatly increased.

Making the Digital Shift

Over the last decade or so, massive advances in consumer technology have influenced the way we all expect to engage with brands, and these shifts have drastically impacted expectations for engaging with nonprofits too. Today’s donors want to interact with their favorite organizations in the same way they interact with any other online entity – meaning nonprofits need to adjust accordingly. Campus Outreach, in part because of their younger, technologically-engaged demographic, was keenly tuned in to this paradigm shift and eager to support it. They wanted to provide their donors with an easier, faster way to make an impact – which is just what emerging nonprofit technology offers.

Making the Digital Shift

Interestingly, the overall fundraising strategy of Campus Outreach has not changed much, even with the integration of digital fundraising technology. Campus Outreach started as a grassroots movement of relationship building and has applied that same type of engagement toward their fundraising efforts.

“When our donors are giving, it’s a very intentional relationship with the person they are supporting,” says McCauley Adams, Financial Director for Campus Outreach Birmingham.

Each staff member has their own dedicated fundraising page to share with supporters, complete with a photo, bio, and an embedded giving form – so the giving experience for the donor is personalized, transparent, and provides context for their gift. As staff members cultivate relationships with their supporters throughout the year, this evergreen fundraising page becomes part of the relationship, not just a way to process a transaction.

“Our support-raising model is truly meant to be a meaningful, ongoing partnership with donors,” says Adams.

While their giving philosophy has not shifted, the way in which Campus Outreach enables their supporters to give has. “We gave them a tool to make it really easy for donors to prayerfully support our team, which has allowed us to raise the funds we need in a timely manner,” explains Adams. By providing digital giving options that are easy to use along with consistent, personal donor communication, Campus Outreach staff members have been able to focus more time on the mission, and less on administrative and fundraising-related tasks.

Connected Giving Checklist

Donor Centric

CO started with a donor-centric mindset, observing and understanding the expectations of their supporters to create a strategy that served their donors best.

Alignment & Accessibility

CO made giving simple by offering easy-to-use digital giving options that can be accessed right from their phones.

Brand Consistency

Each staff member of CO has a dedicated fundraising page that includes a unique embedded giving form and other personalized details, accessible right from the main CO website, which helps to maintain brand recognition and trust.

Intentional & Relevant

Through consistent, personal communication that often includes a link to their fundraising page, CO staff members cultivate relationships with their supporters and provide a way for donors to engage when it works best for them.

Clear & Proactive

Regular communication about the impact of a supporter’s gift, and clear & customizable messaging on the giving form enables CO to not only provide transparency into where the dollars are spent, but also remain compliant with tax deductible donation regulations.

Personalized

Individual fundraising pages give the donor peace of mind that their gifts are being properly designated.

The iDonate Difference

A key strategy for Campus Outreach was enabling a digital giving solution for a variety of giving preferences. Now Campus Outreach donors have a choice with how, when, and with what frequency they’d like to engage.

CampusOutreach5“We can now offer online and recurring giving when donors want it. They can give any day, 31 days a month, with credit/debit or echeck options, and that has opened the opportunity for a wide range of donors being willing and able to give easily, which in turn has greatly increased our online donations.” – Josie Moser, Campus Outreach Birmingham Finance and HR Coordinator

Since 2017, the Campus Outreach team has seen digital giving far surpass traditional giving, with over 83 percent of all income coming from digital channels. And that six-month fundraising timeline? It can now be accomplished in two-to-three months, which means leaders can start serving faster.

“We brought on 10 contingent staff members who started raising funds on June 1. By July, we added five of them to payroll (meaning they fully funded their position), and by the end of August we will have added three more – that’s 80 percent of our new staff able to start full-time in just three months,” states Adams. The accelerating timeline is attributed to training and arming motivated individuals with a variety of digital giving options for ease of supporter giving. Plus, says Moser, “Real-time tracking allows us to reach our goals faster because we can see immediate results; we don’t have to keep following up with people to remind them or ensure their gift is on the way.”

Leaning Forward

As the leaders of Campus Outreach prayerfully consider what the next decade of service looks like, their mission remains clear: build laborers for Christ. And while fundraising, technology, and college campuses will all continue to change, the practice of leaning in to meet people where they are, working shoulder to shoulder, and engaging in meaningful relationships – a practice Campus Outreach has refined – will endure.

“iDonate has been a key piece in making what we do possible. You are facilitating the continuation and expansion of our vision and impact.” – Phil Sineath

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