How UConn funded the first full-tuition scholarship at its medical school via virtual visits

Finding hidden gems, closing new major gifts during the pandemic.
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Mid-pandemic. A prospect who had last been met with years ago, and the contact report said, basically, “not gonna happen.” A series of email conversations and check-ins during a time when inboxes were maxed out.

At first glance, most would say the odds were working against Natalee Martin and Josh Cantor, two directors of development at the University of Connecticut, as they worked jointly to cultivate a PhD alumna living and working in the pharmaceutical industry in Boston.

This is a story of lemons and lemonade. And the first full-tuition scholarship at the UConn School of Medicine, solicited, established, and celebrated 100% remotely.

How? Strong prospecting. Seamless collaboration. And flawless follow-up.

First things first. Natalee and Josh are expert prospectors. They are frequent users of EverTrue, and they both have their go-to searches that mine out new prospects to fill out trips around anchor visits. Natalee and Josh usually drill down by changes in job title, wealthy neighborhood dwellers, recent increases in annual gifts, and folks who haven’t been contacted in a while.

Sample map-based search in EverTrue
EverTrue searches like this one make finding additional visits easy for gift officers. (Sample data.)

Their quick filtering and automatic alerts in EverTrue helped them to find a person who met with a former UConn gift officer years back. That development officer filed a contact report from the meeting indicated low inclination and low capacity. But the donor’s job title and sporadic but generous annual gifts prompted Natalee and Josh to re-open the door.

It’s worth noting that Natalee is a gift officer for UConn Health. Josh is a Boston-based regional gift officer reporting to the central advancement team. They’re used to collaborating on trips together, tagging each other with pertinent notes on prospects’ profiles, and building shared prospect lists in EverTrue. They cooked up a shared cultivation strategy, asked the prospect for a joint meeting in June 2019, and she immediately accepted.

That June 2019 conversation was pretty stellar. Like, one of those meetings where you’re left wondering “How on earth did this person end up sitting in the thick cloud of prospects-who-never-got-a-follow-up-visit?” This prospect received a medical degree in China and wanted to come to America to complete her PhD. Her parents paid for 18 stamps to maiI 18 applications. She got rejected from 17 schools. UConn was the eighteenth, and her only letter of acceptance. After their first conversation with this prospect, it was clear that the capacity and inclination was higher than their former colleague had indicated. Josh closed the meeting with a simple but essential question: “How do you want us to keep in touch with you?”

So, keep in touch, they did. And they did it consistently and effectively, regularly sharing articles from the School of Medicine that aligned with the prospect’s interests. When Natalee and Josh got launched into remote work in March 2020, they had laid a strong foundation to continue the relationship in the virtual realm. They scheduled a joint Zoom meeting with the prospect.

On this Zoom meeting, Natalee and Josh asked another key question that all gift officers should add to their repertoire: “Take money out of the equation. What kind of impact do you want to have here?”

The prospect knew that she wanted to establish a full scholarship for a PhD. She named the scholarship after the faculty member who supervised her thesis, and she asked to remain completely anonymous. She was thrilled to be able to establish a full-tuition scholarship to support the type of student that she had been.

Natalee and Josh closed the first full scholarship for a PhD student, and the very first scholarship at the School of Medicine, and they did it all entirely remotely.

The key takeaways of this story are:

  • Get creative with your prospecting. Look beyond your anchor visit. Who’s nearby and looks like a high-potential prospect? (You can do this even when you’re not traveling.)
  • Collaborate. It’s even more important during remote times. And there are tech-enabled ways to make it seamless. Take advantage of the no-travel phase and loop in your school-based colleague, a faculty member, a Dean to bring more value to your conversations.
  • Follow through. Don’t lose your prospects to the nebulous void of forgotten follow-up. This gets easier with tools like EverTrue that automatically alert gift officers when a prospect is overdue for an email or phone call, or has been sitting in the “Qualification” stage for too long.

Closing during a pandemic is entirely possible, and can be efficient, effective, and impactful if you make the best use of the tech tools that empower the process. Nice work, Natalee and Josh!

See how the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is equipping gift officers to build their own portfolios using EverTrue.

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