What influences donors and funders to give? While many factors may influence private giving including size of endowments, number of alumni and overall student population few studies have focused specifically on the fundraising appeal message to donors. On what basis might universities appeal for funds in an increasingly challenging environment? Institutional strengths, which are defined as distinctive competencies (e.g., institutional research capacities, programs or majors) which the institution defines and communicates have been argued to provide capacity for differentiation and distinctiveness in higher education, contributing to fundraising effectiveness. This research study explored what appeal messages were related to above average giving in research universities. Findings both confirmed the importance of university strengths in fundraising and added novel conceptions of how strength themes may be represented in appeal messages. This study of successful fundraising outcomes through communication of the distinctive strengths of a university may be of value to fundraising officials, researchers and practitioners.