Back to School – The Donor Experience Academy takes off at Emory

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Josh Newton, Senior Vice President for Advancement and Alumni Engagement at Emory University, often asks himself, “What is the thing that is going to reverse the declining trend in alumni engagement and participation?”

The answer: improving the donor experience. And to that end, Emory has launched a unique Donor Experience program in partnership with EverTrue.

Before we dive into the “How”, let’s look quickly at the high-level “What”.

  • A team of 3 Donor Experience Officers have enrolled in Emory’s Donor Experience Academy, an intensive onboarding, training, and development program for aspiring major gift professionals that cover the gamut of fundraising fundamentals as well as the nuances of working in advancement at Emory.
  • Each DXO manages a portfolio of 1,000 prospects. 
  • Every prospect in a DXO portfolio is cultivated through custom touchpoint plans. The outreach cadence, method, and content is curated, but every touchpoint is personalized by the DXO.
  • In the first two months of the program, DXOs at Emory have booked 75 meetings and had 225 donor conversations. And they’re just getting started.
  • Based on that success, Emory is considering enrolling regional gift officers into the Donor Experience program, as well.
  • The DXO program is building major gift and talent pipeline. One year from now, Emory’s first class of DXOs will (hopefully!) matriculate to become MGOs for Emory. 

We talked with Josh about his bird’s eye perspective of the program’s early impact, and we also got the nitty-gritty from Elizabeth Chapman, the new Director of Emory’s Donor Experience Academy. You can watch and listen to their interviews here.

We’ve noted below the highlights of how the Emory team made a big, bold change and stepped to the forefront of innovation in higher education advancement. (Spoiler alert: it’s paying off.)

The DX Academy

The industry average predicts that it takes about 3 years for an MGO to become fully trained and productive in their position. When Emory partnered with EverTrue to establish the Donor Experience program, they knew they had to cut that timeline by 66%; hire a new cohort of fundraisers; and teach them to be the best high-volume alumni engagers in the industry within one year.

No small task.

First, Emory hired a new cohort of Donor Experience Officers (DXOs). These are fully digital frontline fundraisers who manage portfolios of 1,000 prospects. Immediately after hiring, the DXOs were enrolled in an intensive training program at Emory called the DX Academy. Created in partnership with Evertrue, the DX Academy curriculum focuses on the two areas of training that are vital to launching a new junior gift officer into a successful career in higher ed advancement: the fundamentals of fundraising, and the unique nuances of working at Emory.

[Before we built the DX Academy curriculum with Emory, we talked to dozens of institutions to ask if they had an efficient, effective onboarding and training program in place for new gift officers. Very few places do. If your institution offers gift officers a comprehensive fundraising-for-Institution-101, we’d love to hear from you.]

In their first 30 days on the job, the DXOs spent about 75% of their time enrolled in the DX Academy. They took a crash course in fundraising essentials that covered vital basics, like: What is a LYBUNT? What is a planned gift? What’s a DAF? What are some sample qualification questions? When is the right time to make the ask? What is the difference between current-use and endowed gifts?

In the DX Academy, the DXOs also learned about best practices for working with internal Emory teams such as Prospect Research, Principal Gifts, Admissions, and Marketing and Communications. And they met with leadership across advancement and the institution. Basically, they learned how to be good Emory advancement teammates.

To ensure the DXOs were retaining all of the Fundraising 101 information they were consuming, they took periodic quizzes throughout the first month, and then again after 60 days. All of the training information presented in the DX Academy is now saved in a repository that DXOs can reference at any time. 

In Josh’s words, “We’re bringing in new talent. Imagine five years from now when ten of these DXOs become MGOs… and they’re still approaching their work they way they were taught in the DXO program, and what that will do for the success of our overall program and the [motivation] that will create for their colleagues. It’s a game-changer.”

Portfolios of 1,000

Now that they have completed the bulk of the DX Academy, the DXOs are digging into their portfolios. How did EverTrue and Emory determine which 1,000 prospects would be assigned to each DXO’s portfolio? 

Using EverTrue, Emory staff reviewed giving trends, social media engagement, and various wealth indicators to identify a universe of alumni who have historically fallen in the “forgotten land.” That is, the alumni who are lapsed or current donors; show indicators of affinity for Emory; and have the capacity to give more, but have not been engaged or qualified for MGO pipeline. Josh Newton refers to this universe of alums as the folks between Constituent Giving (because Giving shouldn’t just be Annual) and Major Giving. 

On par with the industry average, only 2% of Emory’s 160,000 alumni were assigned to MGO portfolios, and only about 1/2 of those alumni receive an in-person (or virtual) meeting each year. The DXO portfolios dip deeper down into the donor pyramid to engage thousands of alumni through outreach that is both scalable and personalized.

There’s another huge benefit of the DXOs working with such a high volume of alumni: Emory has a more representative (and therefore, more accurate) pulse-check on its alums. As Elizabeth points out, “When you work through a bandwidth of 1,000 people, you have a pretty good perspective on some donor trends and things that creep up through their experience as an alum or as a donor. It’s a great vocal point for our institution.”

Touchpoint Plans

For readers who are just learning about Emory’s DXO program for the first time, they might be wondering how on earth it’s actually doable to personally cultivate a portfolio of 1,000 alums. The most simple answer is that, using EverTrue’s for-profit sales strategy as a model, Emory has developed a 7-step touchpoint plan for every alum in a DXO portfolio.

EverTrue technology automates reminders and prompts for each step of the touchpoint plan. Here’s an example: First, an alum receives a (personalized) welcome email from the DXO. Three days later, they receive a follow-up phone call. A week after that, they receive a personalized video. Then, the DXO reaches out to them on LinkedIn. Finally, the alum responds and the DXO schedules a quick Zoom meeting for the following day. 

Of course, there are nuances to the cadence and means of contact adapted to match the unique characters of the alum such as giving patterns, gift designations, and social media engagement. But the foundations of the touchpoint plans (the content and cadence of outreach, and the predetermined touches that move the prospect through the stages of cultivation) allow this personalized outreach to happen at scale.

And with portfolios of 1,000, scalability is the name of the game. 

Polite Persistence and Time Management

Emory’s team of DXOs are brand-new fundraisers. So, they are not yet accustomed to the many “no’s” and non-responses that come with prospect discovery and qualification. And they haven’t yet felt the gratification that comes with the eager “yes!” from an alum who is willing and excited to increase their annual gift.

In the for-profit world, it takes 12-16 touches to book a meeting with a potential customer. In higher-ed, alumni have a built-in brand affinity for the institution, so the number of touchpoints it takes to book a meeting might be about 1/2 of the for-profit average. (We will report back after we have a year of data with the DXO program.) 

Polite persistence is a muscle that needs to be flexed. It is a learned skill to be able to graciously and respectfully continue to follow up with an alum who has been unresponsive after months of emails, phone calls, and written letters. But when the LinkedIn message or personalized video featuring a student athlete finally elicits a response, it’s proof that the Polite Persistence Training Program (aka the DX Academy) is working.

Elizabeth is the Polite Persistence training coach for Emory’s DXOs. She is there to guide them through the DX Academy and to gently coax them out of the nest as fledgling fundraisers. She is also a huge advocate for time management and helps DXOs structure their days with a consistent, predictable, and replicable schedule. 

The Tech Suite

Scalability is possible only when all limbs of the Strategy, People, and Technology trifecta are operating at full capacity. 

Strategy is built and solidified in the DX Academy. The talent and potential of the DXOs are unlimited. The pièce de résistance is the suite of tech tools that fuels personalized engagement with thousands of alums.

Emory’s DXOs need the industry’s top tech tools in order to cultivate their 1,000-person portfolios in a meaningful and personalized way that yields deeper connections and more engagement. So, they use EverTrue to view a snapshot of alums’ giving trends, wealth indicators, and social media engagement. They use SalesLoft to track the steps and movement throughout each alum’s touchpoint plan. They use Thankview to send personalized stewardship videos. They use Zoom to have brief but impactful initial conversations. 

The powerful suite of tech tools is the launchpad that enables high-volume, personalized relationship-building with thousands of uncultivated alumni.

This is Working

As Elizabeth acknowledges, “Change is scary. Change is hard. But you have to embrace change in order to grow.”

Emory’s advancement staff dared to be the ones to go all-in to buck national trends in higher education philanthropy. The early data from the program speaks for itself. 

The Donor Experience program at Emory is building a more diverse, highly-trained, digitally-native talent pipeline. It is ensuring that the thousands of alumni in DXO portfolios can never again say “No one from Emory has ever reached out to me.” It is building major gift pipeline.

We asked Josh Newton to name his top measure of success for the DX program. His answer? In the short-term, the measure of success will be the conversion rate of outreach to contacts. In the longer-term, it will be the conversation rate of contacts to MGO referrals. 

Josh and Elizabeth are leading the way. To learn more about how the Emory team has staked out their spot as advancement game-changers, shoot us an email or request a demo. We’ll be in touch.

Update: 6X meetings and 34% increase in revenue

Follow Emory's Donor Experience journey with this 12-month update
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