How Oregon State University is Reversing Donor Decline

The Oregon State University Foundation is doing big things over in Corvallis, and we’re so excited to share some of the lessons they’ve learned along the way. They’re focusing on reversing donor decline by retaining existing donors, monitoring engagement, and finding ways to deliver ongoing value to alumni that will build long-term loyalty. Believe it or not, OSU hit all their 2019 goals using these strategies. Scratch that. They crushed all of their FY2019 goals, making it a record-setting year for the foundation. 

But they knew they could do even better in the future by transforming their organization to reflect the modern and evolving needs of donors in 2020.

We hit the road to talk about their success at this year’s AGB Foundation Leadership Forum in San Diego, and at CASE District VIII in Seattle, Washington. We were joined by OSU Foundation’s Mark Koenig, Chief Innovation Officer and Vice President of Technology and Jake Mendenhall, Assistant Director of Pipeline Development

Here’s what OSU learned:

Leaky Bucket

1. It’s hard to fill a leaky bucket.

Imagine trying to fill a bucket with water when there’s a leak in the bottom. Unless you can stop the leak, the bucket will not fill. This is what is happening in advancement today. The leak represents donors that have given in the past, but do not continue to give, while the water we’re adding represents new donors. In essence, failure to retain donors negates all of the time and resources going into acquiring new donors. 

You likely won’t be able to hit or exceed your institution’s goals if you’re not retaining existing donors and have to play catch-up trying to make up for lost donors. Trying to retain every single donor might not be realistic, but we can do much better than the industry average of 65% retention (OSU is shooting for 90% retention).

Yes, we should focus on recruiting donors that have never given before, but stewarding, retaining, and upgrading past donors is equally as important. Ask, “What kind of experience are we giving our middle-of-the-pyramid donors? Does it make them want to give again?” If not, it’s time to start making some changes toward reversing donor decline once and for all.  

2. Target the middle of your pyramid. 

We know that in a typical fundraising organization, 5% of donors supply 90% of gifts. But what happens when these donors grow fatigued from gift solicitations, lose the ability to donate at previous levels, or just decide to stop giving? Who will take their place? Has your institution been building relationships with the next generation of major gift or principal gift donors? If a $10,000 a year donor and a $10 a year donor at your institution are being targeted with the same telefund and mass marketing outreach, it’s time to rethink your outreach strategy. 

OSU is solving this problem through its brand new Donor Experience Program, aimed at reversing donor decline by targeting donors the middle of the pyramid. Donor Experience Officers at OSU each have 1,000 donors in their portfolio and are tasked with a certain number of touches per day. They target those that have made a recent gift and need some love, those that need to be warmed up before an appeal, or those that have recently raised their hand through social media engagement. 


3. Use technology to scale your outreach. 

Okay, a 1,000-person portfolio? It sounds like a lot, we know. How can anyone possibly talk to a thousand people frequently enough to create a relationship? When would they sleep? And just imagine the travel costs…

Here’s where technology comes in. It’s the cornerstone of the DXO program, and makes it possible to maintain a high-level of personalization with relevant, interest-based content at this volume without leaving the office in Corvallis. The OSU team leverages TrueView Insights in the EverTrue platform, uses Zoom, Soapbox, and Vidyard for personalized videos, and Yesware, LinkedIn, Hustle, and Facebook for modern messaging.

All of these efforts are leading to stronger donor relationships, customized donor journeys, and a larger major gift pipeline. 


Advancement in the Subscription Economy at OSU from EverTrue at AGB 2020

Fixing the Leaky Bucket at Oregon State from EverTrue at CASE District VIII

Interested in learning more? Check out our Digital Gift Officer Playbook here. Or chat with us to see how EverTrue can help get a DXO program off the ground at your institution. 

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