RAISE Podcast: Adam Compton, North Carolina State University

On this episode of the RAISE podcast, Brent talks with an advancement innovator; an inaugural 40 under 40 member; and a long-time EverTrue partner Adam Compton. Adam serves as the Executive Director of Annual Giving at North Carolina State University, a big role at an institution that has allowed him to push the envelope, break through the red tape, and test out new approaches. The freedom to innovate is what has kept Adam at NC State for over 13 years, much longer than the average tenure in the industry. Adam and Brent talk about the importance of donor (and staff) retention, how to scale personalized messaging and relationship building to activate more of the donor pyramid, and the key factors and costs of coordinating a Giving Day that raised 14,000 gifts totaling over $58million. They also discuss how NC State plans to dive into that pool of 14,000 donors and narrow in on the 1,400, then the 140, and finally the 14 who will be the University’s future Major Gift donors. Spoiler alert: the answer involves data-informed automated donor touchpoint plans. And perhaps a personalized donor portal. Lots of good stuff on this episode – thank you, Adam!



Here are some highlights from the episode…

Adam comes from six generations of UNC graduates. He chose NC State and he’s been proving ever since that he prefers to take the path less traveled.

While at NC State, he worked at the student call center, was a member of the All-Greek Council, was involved on the Homecoming Committee, served as an alumni ambassador, and was a student senator. His transition from uber-involved student leader to Development Specialist was eased and enabled by his excellent first boss.

There are only a few members of the NC State advancement team that are more tenured than Adam. He’s stayed loyal to NC State because he has been given the freedom to fail, to go against the grain, and to test out his hypotheses on how to deepen alumni relationships at scale on the Annual Giving team.

Adam took an unconventional route to Annual Giving: he made a first stop on the Major Gifts team. His experience building 1-1 donor relationships enables him to “speak MGO” and motivate gift officers to go all-in on Annual Giving projects and initiatives like Giving Day and social media mini-campaigns.

As a frontline gift officer, Adam felt there wasn’t really enough variety in his 1-1 conversations with donors. Instead, he was really fired up at the idea of figuring out how to segment, personalize, and dig into the data to deepen thousands of alumni relationships.

Here is one instance of proof that staff retention and the freedom to innovate are important: Five years ago, Adam presented a memo to the NC State Vice Chancellor on the proposed value of holding a Giving Day at NC State. This year, Adam led a Giving Day that raised over 14,000 gifts totaling over $58million, representing all counties in North Carolina, all 50 states, and over 23 countries.

Now, Adam is grappling with questions like, should all Giving Day donors be thanked the same? How do you ensure that those 14,000 donors renew (and increase) their gift over the coming year? How many resources are too many resources to dedicate to Giving Day each year? 

Adam is all about the hybrid approach to fundraising, going forward. He acknowledges that as  we come out of COVID, it’s going to be so important to continually ask ourselves “What is really best for the donor?” Maybe the answer is to book a trip thousands of miles away for an in-person lunch next month. Or, maybe the answer is a Zoom meeting next week with cameos from the Dean, a beloved faculty member, and the athletic director.

NC State is rounding out a capital campaign this December. What will staff turnover look like after the campaign wraps up? How will a flexible work policy play into staff recruitment and retention? 

Adam’s approach to advancement work is that if you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. In his words, “If you want to do some kick ass sh*t and rethink things, join our team.” Maybe this speaks to you, or maybe you want to figure out how to coordinate a $58 million Giving Day at your institution. Either way, keep an eye on NC State’s job postings, and connect with Adam on LinkedIn. He is awesome.

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