How to Get Organizational Buy-in to Launch a New Program

Nick Linde - Donor Experience
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As you saw from the folks we spotlighted at RAISE Live, when an advancement leader demonstrates that they’re unafraid to push the limits, dig into data, and compare best practices in the for-profit vs. non-profit spaces, we pay attention.

So we’ve been paying attention to Dr. Nick Linde at the University of Nebraska Foundation for a while. 

Earlier this year, here’s the Nebraska situation that Nick described to us:

  • Only 2% of Nebraska’s alumni base was assigned to MGO portfolios. And only about 1/2 of those managed alums had been visited (or Zoomed) in the past year.
  • Thousands of alums with loyal giving patterns and wealth indicators were engaging frequently with the School’s social media profiles, but no one from Nebraska was reaching out to them.
  • The differences in frequency, quality, and content of contact for an alum who gave $2500 a year vs. $50,000 were vast. 
  • So many alumni were sitting in the proverbial “no man’s land.” They were showing their love for the university by donating, but receiving only mass-market annual fund appeals or phonathon calls.

The picture Nick painted for us of the Nebraska alumni landscape isn’t unique. It’s likely a very similar landscape at your institution. But, Nick is unique in his willingness to take a calculated risk, back it up with honest and transparent justification up and down the advancement ranks, and then iterate every day until he sees results. 

Nick’s risk is paying off. You can read the story below, or watch and listen here.

Admitting there’s an opportunity

Big Red Opportunity in Plain Sight: Conversation with Dr Nick Linde, University of Nebraska Foundation

In collaboration with EverTrue, Nick and his team took a critical look at their prospect landscape. They dug into the thousands of prospects giving loyally in the $500 – $5,000 range. 

Side note: In Advancement, six-figure gifts are commonplace and are where a lot of work and focus takes place. But it’s worth a reminder that $500/year is still a significant contribution and worth your attention.

Many of these loyal annual donors showed additional wealth indicators. They lived in neighborhoods where the average house value was over $1MM. They held executive job titles. They recently acquired assets that brought their net worth over the million-dollar mark.

Thousands of high-net-worth, loyal donors. And no one to follow up with them. 

Nick is the Assistant Vice President of Central Development. A big part of his role is making sure there are pipelines. Pipelines of donors to funnel into MGO portfolios. Pipelines of qualified and talented fundraisers who believe in Nebraska’s value to the world and are able to work strategically to expand its impact. 

Nick admitted that there was an opportunity to mend the leak in these pipelines. And then he considered the two solutions that were on the table.

"There is an opportunity, and there are a few different ways we can solve it. We can solve it by doing tons of FTEs with 80-person portfolios. We can try to solve it through the phonathon. Or we can do hybrid, middle-tier solution, which is the DXO program."

Nick’s two options

After a deeper look at tens of thousands of uncontacted Nebraska donors of $500-$10,000, EverTrue and Nebraska’s Prospect Information Management team narrowed in on a universe of about 3,000 households. Using data to determine high-inclination giving patterns, wealth-indicators, and social media engagement, they identified these households as Nebraska’s next-best prospects outside of MGO portfolios.

So, with these 3,000 unassigned potential prospects, here’s how option one looked for Nick: He could hire 28 Major Gift Officers to manage portfolios of about 80 prospects each. For equity’s sake, these MGOs would be hired with 8-10 years of industry experience. They would come at a high price tag. And their portfolios would contain purely “discovery” prospects.

Option two looked like this: Nick could test out a completely different approach and hire three new, junior-level fundraisers titled Donor Experience Officers. They would be new to the field of advancement, but would have a real affinity for the school (he had his eyes on some young alums), they would have a go-getter mindset, and they would be excited to pave a new path in the field. They would be tech-native and take a digital approach to their work. They would be willing to embrace a start-up mindset, understanding that every day in the DXO would look different because, well, something entirely new will naturally require lots of iteration.

The early days of DXO at the University of Nebraska

At EverTrue, our DXO Program Managers have now overseen DXO interviewing, hiring, and onboarding at dozens of institutions. So we know what to look for in a DXO candidate. 

We helped Nick recruit, interview, and hire three phenomenal Donor Experience Officers to kick off the program. They aligned with Nebraska’s core values. They were eager, talented, and new to fundraising. They were unafraid of the daily activity goals outlined in the position description. Basically, they were ready to cultivate 1,000-person portfolios and enact personalized outreach at scale.

The DXOs received an intensive one-month onboarding during which they met with key advancement leaders, got acquainted with their suite of tech tools (SalesLoft, EverTrue, ThankView, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, plus Nebraska’s database), and strategized around how they would build a predictable daily routine to provide personal cultivation to a high volume of prospects. 

The training was intense, but it was also fun. (Start-up life in a nutshell!)

Quick (and early) wins

One of the beautiful things about the DXO program is that every one of the 1,000 prospects in the DXO portfolio is receiving communication that is above and beyond what they’ve gotten in the past. And they’re already donors. (So they are what we’d call “warm leads” in the for-profit world.)

The DXOs’ outreach to donors connects in a way that mass marketing cannot. They ask questions like, “What really motivates you to give every year?” “Why are you giving to this area when you graduated from another program?” “What was it about the business school’s recent Facebook post that caught your attention?”

And it’s working.

  • Within the first month, the DXOs uncovered 7 estate gifts that were entirely unknown.
  • One DXO spoke with an never-contacted alum in Kentucky who said, “It’s crazy that you called me today. I’m retiring from my firm and they just gave me a lump sum and I want to give it to charity. I’ve never really had the University in mind as a potential charity, but now…”
  • The DXOs are speaking with prospects who have given nominal amounts annually to the general scholarship fund, the student emergency fund, or the Nebraska Fund, and they’re communicating stories of the real-life students who benefitted from those funds. They’re making unrestricted giving personal. (Because it is.)

The DXOs held 69 virtual meetings (not including phone calls) in their first month. As Nick says, “That’s 69 looks into inclination, impact, and into donors telling us what they want their donor experiences to look like. And now it’s up to us to facilitate that.”

Now, it’s a few months into the launch of the DXO program at the University of Nebraska. The DXOs are working through 7-step outreach cadences to move each of the 1,000 prospects in their portfolio through a cultivation sequence. They have received plenty of non-responses, quite a few “no’s,” and a number of very key “yes, absolutelys.” Their activity is so high-volume and completely powered and tracked by technology, so Nick has data to demonstrate the impact that the newly established program is having at Nebraska.

Internal transparency

This is a really important part of Nebraska’s DXO story, thus-far. In Nick’s words, “A fate worse than death for the DXO program would be getting 6-9 months in and having our colleagues say, I don’t know what the DXOs do.”

All of you who work in higher ed know about the many benefits that come from working for an institution that is so well-established (read: old). The stability, resources, and dependability of higher-ed counts for a lot. But, we are sure you also understand that the historical prowess comes hand-in-hand with internal hierarchies and an abundance of red tape.

So, how do you pitch a brand-new, start-up-style solution for a deep-rooted problem to a team of tenured senior leadership? And how do you explain to the rest of the organization that what you’re doing is unique and impactful, but doesn’t step on toes?

One of the things we admire most about Nick is his deep respect and appreciation for his colleagues up and down the ladder. And his ability to communicate this new DXO program concept clearly and honestly.

“If you’re going to assign these folks and make it someone’s responsibility to work with these donors and truly understand what they are trying to do with their philanthropic giving, then we better be prepared to decide whether or not we're accomplishing that.”

In Nick’s words, he starts by focusing on what the program is not. It’s not a team of new Major Gift Officers who play the long game to cultivate and solicit high-inclination prospects to make transformational gifts for the University. And it’s not direct marketing annual fund appeals to Nebraska’s 280,000 non-donors.

It’s the middle ground. The no-man’s-land that we’re prettttttty positive is actually the promised land. But in order to prove it, Nebraska hired three new, excited, talented DXOs to launch personalized outreach at scale to its next-best 3,000 prospects. 

“Through all these people that we’re meeting, there will be folks that identify they want to have a greater impact, and at that point in time we will work with MGOs to make sure that we’re getting those prospects on their radar and in their portfolios. We’re not in this to have all these wins for ourselves. We’re part of a team and a much bigger development organization University-wide.”

Nick knows how important it is to prioritize internal communication about the DXO program. He is transparent about it being a nascent and new approach to solving an old and growing problem. He takes confident ownership of its successes and failures, and he shares all of them openly and candidly. He’s real, and his colleagues sense it and they are rallying behind him in support of this new program that will ultimately benefit all Nebraska advancement staff. 

A few important takeaways

There’s a lot that goes into launching a start-up within an old and deeply established institution. To get more nitty-gritty details and the inside scoop, reach out to us (or request a demo) and we will put you in contact with Nick. 

But here are some of the highlights from the Nebraska DXO launch story:

    1. Solutions are only born once people admit there’s an opportunity. The proposed solution needs to be measurable, precise, and backed by data. No room for fluff, here.
    2. Internal buy-in is vital to launching a new program. Honest communication and demonstrated results (again, data!) are the keys to that buy-in. 
    3. Personalization at scale is difficult. Personalization at scale without technology and strategy to enable it with the right people in the chairs is impossible. Invest in the Strategy-People-Technology trifecta, and you’ll see results in the first month.
    4. The DXO program is the ramp that leads donors from annual giving to major giving. It’s also the ramp that will launch the next generation of new, diverse, tech-savvy fundraisers.

Thank you, Nick, for showing us the future of fundraising. We’re super excited to follow your DXO journey.

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[…] *We’re trying to consciously reposition problems as opportunities in our EverTrue communications. This dose of optimism is thanks to our innovative friend, Dr. Nick Linde. […]

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[…] if, through grit, determination, and necessity, Nebraska DXOs can hold 69 meetings in their first 90 days on the job; if the University of Wyoming can 300x the […]

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[…] argues that innovating in higher ed advancement isn’t hard. Here’s the recipe: Make a really good case to leadership. Show the potential ROI. Then, deliver on it. (And, to build your credibility and your impact, […]