Lessons in Building a High-Growth, Sustainable Fundraising Team with Ohio University

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This year at CASE District V, our very own Brent Grinna traveled to Chicago to join Nico Karagosian, President and CEO of the Ohio University Foundation in a session titled “Lessons in Building a High-Growth, Sustainable Fundraising Team.”

Today, OHIO has…

  • Increased total dollars 17% YOY
  • Increased annual giving donors by 20% 
  • Increased alumni donors by 12.6%
  • Increased donor retention by 23%
  • Increased donor acquisition by 48%

Here are the 3 major lessons he learned along the way:

1. Build internal relationships first

When he arrived at OHIO, Nico made a concerted effort to build strong relationships between the foundation and the university. Nico’s team works directly with leadership and deans at different colleges to identify their priorities and set goals and define fundraising priorities. This effort has been an important step in building a high-functioning and unified advancement operation geared towards achieving common goals. 


2. Build strong alumni relationships around the country

OHIO is focused on stewarding 1:1 relationships with their alumni and donors to build retention. They’ve hired regional engagement officers in Dallas, D.C., New York, Columbus, and Chicago that are tasked with booking 200 meetings a year, referring major gift prospects, raising funds, and building relationships. They focus 25% of their time on new relationships, 30% of time developing relationships, and 45% of time moving existing relationships through the pipeline. 

This has resulted in a 25% increase in overall gift officer visits YOY, with 32.1% of visits being made to constituents that had never been visited before.

3. Source powerful stories to earn the loyalty and trust of donors

Research by EverTrue has shown that the participation rate among constituents engaged on Facebook is 3.4x higher than that of non-engaged constituents at the average institution. 

The team at OHIO is incredible at sourcing powerful stories from students, faculty, and alumni to engage and connect with their donors emotionally. They consistently share anecdotes about students and initiatives across the university that are supported by the foundation in different ways. 

This Giving Tuesday, the Ohio University Alumni Association Facebook page shared the story of a recent alum that benefited from the Student Emergency Fund when a fire destroyed her off-campus home while she was a student. The post quotes the alum explaining how much the fund helped her and that she will be making a Giving Tuesday gift to help current students in the same way. 

These stories enable relationship building and provide a way for donors to interact directly with students and faculty. They also provide an opportunity for non-donors to raise their hands about causes and university initiatives that they care about.

Use EverTrue to find unassigned, high capacity donors that are engaging on Facebook but have not given in the past year.

This donor-centric and engagement-based approach has allowed OHIO to turn engagement into opportunity by targeting unassigned, high-capacity, engaged donors that haven’t given in the past year. 

Interested in learning more? Let’s chat about how you can get started on something similar at your institution. And while you’re here, be sure to check out Nico on the RAISE Podcast.

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