How RIT Uses a Donor-Centric Approach, Raising $2M+ from New Prospects

Seven years ago, the Rochester Institute of Technology took a gamble and implemented an innovative approach to connect with more high-capacity prospects.

Its Development and Alumni Relations team created a “constituent engagement specialist” (CES) position to help reconnect with alumni, parents, and friends of the university. These specialists are experts in tailoring personal communication to secure meetings with difficult-to-reach constituents, helping gift officers and prospect managers secure visits and add meetings to every trip.

We’re excited to write about this program, because it mirrors tactics we often see from the sales teams at for-profit companies (including EverTrue), which use business development representatives to start conversations with potential customers. In this case, the Constituent Engagement Specialists at RIT are often the first step in rekindling a relationship with an alumnus, bringing potential donors and volunteers into contact with prospect managers.

We sat down with Eileen Thrall, Executive Director of University Campaigns, and Kalie Fishburn, Assistant Director of Prospect Management, to talk about the engagement specialist program, which has now grown to three people.

Last year, RIT’s specialists booked 378 donor meetings and used EverTrue to unearth 60 of those new prospects. All told, prospects engaged by the CES team have gone on to become invaluable supporters of RIT’s students, programs, and key projects through gifts of time and donations totaling more than $2.3 million since the program began in 2011.

Here’s how they run the program…

Custom outreach for every prospect

“The idea is to open the door to challenging-to-engage, but fascinating constituents,” says Kalie, a former CES herself who now oversees the program. “The sweet spot is when prospect managers have tried unsuccessfully to get a meeting. The Constituent Engagement Specialists can get a meeting when no one else can.”

Constituent Engagement Specialists use all available information to try and pique the interest of a prospect. They’ll look at giving history, publically available biographic data, university archives, and professional biographies to uncover personal interests and identify areas of possible donor interest. Using EverTrue to view Facebook engagement and LinkedIn interests has been particularly helpful, because these insights create a deeper understanding of constituent affinity.

“We use EverTrue to tailor messages to our constituents, especially those who are highly engaged but not necessarily coming to events or on our traditional radar,” says Kalie.

“People who are engaged on Facebook feel connected to RIT, even if they’ve never been back to campus,” says Eileen.

Once the CES has discovered where a prospect’s interests and university needs intersect, they reach out via phone and email to try and set up a meeting for a prospect manager.

This isn’t a call center approach to booking meetings. It’s quality over quantity, using hyper-targeted outreach to prospects who have either raised their hand through their giving or engagement or have potential to make leadership-level gifts.

“It’s not cold calling; it’s understanding the person before you reach out,” says Eileen. Sometimes you only get one chance. We call it “warm calling.”

Working with GO’s to hit target regions

“The specialists are real assets to our prospect managers,” says Eileen. “We rotate their assignments on a quarterly basis by looking at the needs of the division. Our prospect managers can bid for their time and we take that into account when we make assignments.”

RIT gets new gift officers up to speed by using specialists to help fill trips and put officers in front of existing prospects quickly. Constituent Engagement Specialists will also work to to book qualification visits, sometimes planning entire qualification trips for a gift officer. By targeting one city for booking meetings, specialists help prospect managers visit with as many constituents as possible and provide a tailored experience that aligns with constituent interests.

“Development officers will book meetings with known prospects and we’ll help secure additional visits,” says Eileen.

Wanted: hard workers, good writers

The ideal Constituent Engagement Specialist is a solid writer who enjoys research, likes talking with people, and doesn’t give up when they hear their first “no.”

“We like to mix a salesperson with a writer,” says Kalie. “They need to be persuasive, eloquent, and professional. It helps to be curious and want to understand people. Being a little outgoing helps, since it can be daunting to call a CEO out of the blue.”

“They also need to be someone who follows through,” says Eileen. “If you never follow-up with a prospect even after it’s a ‘no,’ you can’t continue to move that relationship forward.”

Tracking Success

RIT reports regularly on its CES program. The team records how prospects were discovered and tracks meeting results, which is how they can point to $2.3 million in new gifts coming from these newly engaged donors.

“Every gift is a team effort,” says Eileen. “We are helping prospect managers establish relationships with people who are becoming our loyal donors and helping donors understand how impactful their time and support is on the lives of our students and university. That’s exciting.”

Subscribe to the EverTrue blog for more innovative ideas for fundraisers. And see how EverTrue helps gift officers work more efficiently to reach new prospects.


EverTrue customers, try these searches to help identify new prospects and book more meetings:

EverTrue search for c-level executives– C-suite executives whose last gift was $500 or more, yet are unassigned

Non-donors with 100+ engagements on Facebook

Use LinkedIn location to locate alumni who have moved without updating their records in your database.

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