Leading for Change: How this Advancement Leader is Setting the Tone at the Top

“The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision. It’s got to be a vision you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion.”
-Theodore Hesburgh, Former President of the University of Notre Dame


Every day, the EverCrew has the privilege of working with advancement innovators that are embracing technology and new tactics to work smarter and drive better results. However, if you’re not sitting in the driver’s seat, navigating change in our industry can feel a bit overwhelming. Strong leadership and influence at the top can make all the difference in the world.

No one understands this more than Josh Newton. As the President and CEO of the UConn Foundation, Newton spearheaded sweeping initiatives to alter the institution’s organizational model, starting with folding the UConn Alumni Association into the Foundation and subsequently closing down the office of Annual Giving in late 2016.

Like our friend Theodore Hesburgh said above, having a vision is essential for strong leadership. But that’s only half the battle. Vision needs to be powerful, clearly articulated and that leader needs to take action to drive effective change. By walking the walk, Newton was able to motivate his team to throw out the traditional annual fund model and start out on a new path.

We were lucky to have the UConn team take the mainstage at RAISE 2018 to share how they are adapting their approach. Join us for a two part series as we explore the monumental shifts happening in Storrs, CT.

Part one (below) will uncover Newton’s ideology for pivoting in a whole new direction. In part two we’ll update you on how the team at UConn is implementing Josh’s self-proclaimed “crazy ideas” and driving real results.

Why Disrupt the Field?


The annual giving model we’ve used for the last 50 years does not address how the world has changed in the age of technology. That’s a problem. Just because that’s the way it’s always been done doesn’t mean it’s working.

“I say that annual giving for the last 40 to 50 years has been a paved road. As we’ve all come into the business and as we’ve come through annual fund programs, we’ve learned the mechanics of how to run an annual fund program. I believe those mechanics have run their course.”


“It’s time to begin to think differently about how we approach our pipeline and how we look at engaging our donor populations.”

Planning for the Future


If dollars are up and donors are down, do you care?

Before blowing up the annual fund, UConn was on a steady trajectory of losing 2,000 donors a year. According to Newton, if you care about the future of your organization, you need to reverse the trends on donor decline.


If our giving is way up, but we have 2,000 less donors, I think we have failed our organizations.”

Looking Outside the Industry

To inform his approach, Newton drew inspiration from outside the industry. He examined how major business to consumer companies interact with their audiences and target their approaches based on behavior and engagement.



My hotel chain knows more about me than the institution to which I’m a loyal alum. We have to think differently about how we engage in individual relationships with our donors, both at the base and in major gifts.”

How has UConn Changed?

After losing donors every year since 2013, UConn saw its first gain in five years after making this shift. Overall fundraising dollars went up, as well.

How did they achieve this? Aside from the major organizational shifts mentioned above, the UConn team has embarked on a series of targeted campaigns that truly meet their constituents where they are now.

A strong example is how the school was able to target specific donors to donate their resources and time in support of undocumented students in relation to the DACA act.

“We know the school of graduation for most of our alums, but how do you begin to get at your engineering alum who has a passion for human rights?”

The task seems nearly impossible, right? Not for UConn. The school posted a letter from the President in support of DACA on Facebook. Alums liked it, they shared it, and they commented that they had never been so proud of their alma mater.

The result? The school now has 1,200 alumni they we can micro-target to support a fund for undocumented students. They have self-selected an issue that is important to them.


We’re able to begin to reach our alums in ways that they have interest and are showing that they’re connected to us.”

Not so fast…

According to Newton, traditional models like the phone-a-thon don’t need to be thrown by the wayside; the UConn team is now just thinking more strategically about their approach. Instead of a mass appeal, UConn targets the donor that has been giving by phone for the last 10 years. They still call, but they’ve saved $100,000 on their phone-a-thon program by scaling down and targeting only those who are receptive to phone outreach.

“We’re still doing direct mail, but we’re not just doing it based on school graduation year. We’re doing it based on behaviors and how people actually are showing interest. Those types of programs I think still have value.”

Want to watch Josh Newton’s full session at RAISE 2018? Check it out here.

Stay tuned for part two where we’ll discuss how the Engagement and Acquisition team at UConn is executing this approach at the tactical level and how they are looking at various engagement points to deliver custom content — whether it’s a homecoming invite that speaks to a known interest or an appeal to support a passion project.

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Note: Josh Newton is now the senior vice president for advancement at Emory University.

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