[NPFX Ep. 58] The Challenges Facing Higher Ed Fundraisers (with Sami Zoss and Emily Berry)

Welcome to The Nonprofit Fundraising Exchange, a podcast from IPM Advancement. Our mission is to empower nonprofits to succeed so they can make the world a better place.

Today’s topic: The Challenges Facing Higher Ed Fundraisers (with Sami Zoss and Emily Berry)

Americans are losing confidence in higher education, alumni are carrying record level student debt loads, and charitable giving in general is shifting more towards social impact causes — all of which makes it harder for higher ed institutions to make their case for support. In today’s podcast episode, we look at strategies for higher ed fundraising, including how to engage young alumni, the role of major donors, attracting corporate partners, the value of give-to-get, and more.

Time-Stamped Episode Shortcuts

  • Topic and guest introductions [0:50]
  • What characterizes annual giving in higher education today [4:46]
  • The role of student debt in the decline in participation rates [6:48]
  • Demographics — who is actively giving to higher ed and how does that affect financial sustainability? [7:50]
  • The challenges of motivating donors, including unrestricted vs. restricted giving [10:42]
  • The positive and negative impact of leadership changes on fundraising [15:27]
  • How the rise of major gifts affects annual fund strategy [18:11]
  • Corporate philanthropy and what corporations expect for their donations [24:21]
  • Using creative strategies for personalization to engage donors [28:03]
  • Ways to engage young alumni [33:02]
  • The value of give-to-get with alumni donors [35:46]
  • How authenticity and recognition can engage young donors [38:20]

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Sami Zoss, Interim President and Chief Executive Officer for DSU Foundation, is a passionate nonprofit leader who likes to make lasting connections and perpetuate worthwhile causes. With an MBA in Finance and Marketing from Miami University, Sami has given her time and talent to several organizations including Camp Gilbert Inc., a volunteer-led, not-for-profit company supporting a one-week summer camp for children in the South Dakota area living with Type 1 diabetes. Her professional expertise lies in stewardship, alumni and donor relations, and external engagement.

Emily Berry leads the Annual Giving effort at Miami University, generating more than $6 million each year. With more than two decades of fundraising and advancement experience, Emily brings a wealth of experience and knowledge as a session presenter. She has previously served on the District V conference committee, and her team has been recognized with CASE Circle of Excellence Awards for their annual day of giving, #MoveInMiami.


Russ Phaneuf, a co-founder of IPM Advancement, has a background in higher education development, with positions at the University of Hartford, Northern Arizona University, and Thunderbird School of Global Management. As IPM's managing director & chief strategist, Russ serves as lead fundraising strategist, award-winning content creator, and program analyst specializing in applied system dynamics.

Rich Frazier has worked in the nonprofit sector for over 30 years. In his role as senior consultant with IPM Advancement, Rich offers extensive understanding and knowledge in major gifts program management, fund development, strategic planning, and board of directors development.


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