Hi Everyone, Brent Grinna, Founder and CEO of EverTrue, here.
I recently read this quote about hope from the author and activist Rebecca Solnit. She says, “Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. Hope is an… alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting.”
You don’t need me to tell you that 2020 was tough. The past ten months dealt us so many “firsts,” and some of them were really, really challenging.
If you are an advancement professional who has felt paralyzed over the past year, let me say, wholeheartedly, I get it. Fundraisers, I know you thrive on the thrill and fulfillment of getting on a plane to a far-away place to have a beautiful dinner with a major donor who tears up when they hear the story of the students impacted by their life-changing scholarship. Alumni Relations folks, you love to piece together the minutiae of event details that culminate in a spectacular gala or meaningful alumni awards ceremony. I know this because I’ve met hundreds and hundreds of you.
You are people-people. And your job descriptions were rewritten overnight. You were launched into a digital-only space, and the in-person relationship building skills you honed for years were suddenly and completely off the table. I know that this was really difficult, in the broadest sense and at the most granular level.
But, true to any time of crisis, 2020 also delivered some opportunities for fast growth and innovation amidst the discomfort.
In the past year, there have been a number of Advancement professionals that managed to align themselves with Solnit’s definition of action-oriented hope. I’ve interviewed some of these advancement superheroes for the RAISE podcast. My team works hand-in-hand with these go-getters every day. And as we came into the summer and fall of 2020, more folks came out of the woodwork to join their ranks and say, ok, we’re breaking out of the paralysis and we’re ready to do something different.
This blog post is intended to highlight some institutions and people that have aligned themselves with action, and have therefore given the whole advancement industry hope. Because their actions are producing winning results. And the recipe is replicable. Anywhere.
When these hopeful go-getters raised their hands to partner with us on a new approach, we first reviewed some of the more optimistic “firsts” that were dealt to us in 2020. A few of the top ones looked like this:
There has been a decade’s worth of technology adoption jammed into a ten-month period. This is a once-in-a-lifetime sea-change, and it applies to just about everyone. 5-year-olds, 95-year-olds, and everyone in between are now hosting and holding Zoom meetings.
There is more willingness by donors and staff to learn about and leverage technology. Some folks are excited by the new tech options in their toolkit.
Alumni engagement has launched into a “digital everything” space. Webinars; reunions; Dean’s Advisory Board meetings. It’s all happening digitally.
And “Digital everything” means alumni engagement is more trackable than ever.
Truths, established. So next, we had to build a plan about how to make friends with these new Truths.
Strategy, Technology, People
Since I founded EverTrue, I’ve been pushing the Strategy, Technology, People mantra with my own team, with our earliest customers, and with every new institution that partners with us. This approach is the trifecta that brings about magic in every industry, even in, and especially in, times of crisis and big change.
So, we started with the strategy. As soon as March 2020 descended upon the Advancement world, leaders and managers at all levels were building new digital strategies to align with the digital-only space we’d all been launched into. Digital fundraising metrics were established. Dashboards tracking digital fundraising were created. Virtual roundtables were buzzing with conversations centered around three of the most powerful words in the English language: “My strategy is…”
It was clear to everyone that the strategy was in the works.
Next, we took stock of the technology available to power the digital strategy. If gift officers were now going to take a digital-first approach to fundraising, what technology existed to fuel outreach that was high-velocity, personalized, and scalable? And which tech tools would accurately track fundraisers’ digital activity so that performance metrics could be measured and iterated in a fair and informed way?
Over the past 18 months, EverTrue added a number of new features to make discovery of new prospects unavoidable, rather than a stroke of luck. Using EverTrue, fundraisers can set up automatic alerts for when a prospect in their portfolio or region lands a C-Suite job; exceeds $1M+ in net worth; or makes philanthropic investments with other non-profits. And those prospect characteristics can be combined with indicators like an increased annual gift, an interest in social or racial justice based on their social media engagement, or a comment on the Dean’s recent post on Facebook.
And through the portfolio management tool in the EverTrue platform, gift officers now receive automatic alerts when a prospect in their portfolio is overdue for an email follow-up or LinkedIn message, in need of a stewardship touch, or ready to be moved from Cultivation to Solicitation. Contact reports can be dictated through the gift officers’ mobile phones, and gift officers can easily do a keyword search for previous contact reports; receive live notifications when someone in their portfolio makes a gift; and are pushed daily task management and activity prompts so that they really do know exactly where to begin every day.
So, the technology is at-the-ready.
But, even with seamless technology to enable a foolproof strategy, this all falls flat without the people to bring it to life. And if the year 2020 taught us anything, it’s that people need people.
Look, you have a team of the best people-people in the business. BUT. Over the past 12 months, only 46% of managed prospects received personalized outreach from their assigned gift officer. And to zoom out a bit further, only the top 2-3% of potential prospects are even in a gift officer portfolio in the first place.
This means that more than 98% of your alumni are not being contacted in personalized, impactful ways that build a genuine connection with their alma mater.
At EverTrue, we’ve been studying why it is that even if gift officers are armed with powerful prospect discovery and portfolio management through EverTrue, gift officer activity is still much lower than we know it can be.
In our EverTrue platform, we have invaluable access to trends in donor counts, dollars raised, gift officer activity, and so many more data points from hundreds of our partner institutions. And after years of studying these cross-industry data trends, we developed a solution. One that is founded on the strategy, technology, people approach, and fills the gaps that the data has shown us over and over again.
This year, we were so grateful to the advancement superheroes who showed up with total readiness to embrace a new approach and partner with us to bring this solution to life through a program we now call Donor Experience by EverTrue.
The basics of the program are that we partner with institutions to identify strong internal candidates OR recruit, hire, and train Donor Experience Officers (DXOs) who will embrace a digital-first approach to high-velocity fundraising. EverTrue conducts an in-depth landscape analysis of the partner institution’s alumni base and, in collaboration with leadership and advancement services, identifies the indicators that point towards the next wave of potential prospects. These prospects are added to portfolios of up to 1,000 per DXO. And then, DXOs get to work conducting high-speed, personalized outreach at a pre-defined cadence that follows a scripted touchpoint plan based on the prospect’s “alumni persona.” The DXOs track their activity and monitor their portfolios using EverTrue, which delivers daily alerts and reminders to keep the larger portfolios on track.
Essentially, the DXOs are the higher-ed version of a modern customer experience team.
At the highest level, here’s how it looks.
At Oregon State University, EverTrue-powered new “Donor Experience Officers” manage 1,000 person portfolios, and in just six months, they’re retaining donors at a 30% higher rate than OSU’s average.
At Western Kentucky University, DXOs conducted over 236 Zooms, 899 phone conversations, and 6,000 touchpoints with over 1,500 prospects in the past six months alone.
At Louisiana Tech, in sixty days, two DXOs engaged in over 1,000 touchpoints with 150 prospects, and held 19 Zoom meetings.
At University of North Dakota, four DXOs made over 500 phone calls, penned 1200 emails, and sent 94 LinkedIn messages to over 1000 donors. Their outreach resulted in over 200 interactions and a new $25k gift. All within two months.
Our partners at Emory, Vassar, and Boise State have jumped on board with our DXO approach, and though it’s early days, they are seeing similar results. Check them out.
Think for a minute about how this activity level compares with your advancement metrics over the past year. At the most basic level, more assigned prospects means more ongoing, meaningful interactions; which leads to more annual gifts; which builds long-term major gift pipeline.
The biggest takeaways from the DX program are 1) this works; 2) we can scale personalized relationship building far deeper into the giving pyramid; 3) any institution can replicate this recipe (learn how to start a DX program); and 4) donors love it (see below some alumni quotes in response to DXO outreach).
“Thank you for reaching out! I really haven’t had anyone reach out from the Foundation before.”
“Wow. I’m speechless. Let’s talk tomorrow.”
“Wow! What a great video. Thank you! Just booked time on your calendar for Thursday.”
So, there’s hope.
2020 forced advancement (and every other sector of business across the entire world) to balance innovation and pragmatism. EverTrue rose to the task with the data and technology to enable digital advancement strategies. But it’s imperative to continue investing in passionate professionals who are trained, capable, and excited to bridge those two end-pieces and bring it all to life. If we want Advancement to thrive in the midst of this colossal, ongoing, global shift, we have to take immediate action through one of two solutions to complete the pinnacle of the strategy, technology, people trifecta.
Solution one is to retrain and empower your existing staff to become tech-enabled fundraisers. Continually rebalance portfolios guided by data science. Make their outreach hyper-personalized but scalable. Show your existing team that you believe in their ability to modernize and bring their work into this digital-everything space.
Solution two is to invest in a brand new talent onramp into Advancement. Target new and diverse candidates. And launch a team of Donor Experience Officers who take an entirely new, digital-first, tech-enabled approach to managing portfolios of 1,000 donors or more.
You have the strategy; EverTrue has the technology; let’s partner up to ensure that you have the people to really bring this thing home in 2021.
I challenge us all to commit to being neither optimists nor pessimists, but to instead take hopeful action this year. Donor Experience by EverTrue. Let’s do this!