Imagine for a moment you’re a brand-new VP for Advancement. You arrive on the heels of the most successful campaign in the university’s history with the institution looking forward to a new campaign launch in a few years as part of the university’s 150th-anniversary celebration.
Shortly after arriving, you discover an annual giving program in steady decline, alumni giving near an all-time low, volunteerism virtually non-existent, donor prospect visits that are sporadic at best, and alumni events that attract the same people each year.
You have 18-24 months before the quiet phase of the next campaign begins, and no opportunity to add more staff.
What do you do?
Lest you think this scenario is hypothetical, it is actually one a Gonser Gerber client faced. As with anything in Advancement, the solution was multi-layered and comprehensive: a formal prospect management process was implemented, portfolios were re-engineered to be smaller and more focused, metrics were established to guide and evaluate visit activities, and regular meetings were held to discuss engagement and cultivation progress.
This brought more focus and discipline to prospect discovery and cultivation. But even more alumni outreach was needed, given the low levels of alumni engagement and the relatively short timetable to prepare for another campaign.
How can the rate of prospect discovery be increased without adding staff? This was the challenge this new VP faced.
What was the solution? The Big Discovery!
This was the tagline given to the effort, which entailed tapping into a network of bright and talented students who were trained to conduct “discovery” interviews. During the interviews, students asked alumni questions about their collegiate experiences and professional journeys since leaving campus and explored ways alumni might prefer to personally connect and engage with the university. To spur ideas on engagement, a visual resource was created – 8.5 Ways to Engage (see graphic) – that listed ways alumni could meaningfully engage with the university.
Students were identified and trained by Alumni Relations staff, who also conducted one-on-one interviews. In doing so, Alumni Relations staff found themselves involved in more meaningful one-on-one discussions with alumni than during any of their past events. Overall, hundreds more alumni were engaged and “qualified” than through any previous process.
Can you spend time this week brainstorming all the ways your institution can meaningfully engage its constituents? Do you have staff who are currently underutilized or volunteers whom you can trust in one-on-one settings, to do your version of “The Big Discovery?”
These are just a few of the ways we can creatively engage more constituents without increasing permanent staff.