In early 2020, Mark Koenig, Chief Innovation Officer and Vice President for Advancement at the Oregon State University Foundation championed the launch of the nation’s first Donor Experience program. When COVID brought traditional in-person fundraising to a screeching halt, Donor Experience Officers at OSUF were already off and running in the digital-only advancement space. Fast forward to today, and “Donor Experience Officer” is the fastest-growing job title in advancement, and OSUF is raising more money from more donors through more productive fundraisers.
This is the story of how a three-person DXO pilot program was so successful that OSUF leadership scaled the DX training, technology, and fundraising approach to the major gifts team. It’s a story of seasoned development professionals embracing a brand new approach with the coaching and guidance of Mark and his DX co-lead, Anne Murphy, Senior Director of Development of the College of Business and Engineering. It’s a story of the metrics, mentorship, mindset trifecta that makes organizational change possible.
What’s in store:
The Country’s First DX Program
No Skipped Beats
All ADODs Aboard the DX Express
7 Steps to Institutional Change
Watch the Video
Late in 2019, Mark and other leaders at the Oregon State University Foundation, gathered with the EverCrew around one main assumption: something at OSUF needed to change. Donor counts were on the decline. Cash flow was flat, and was coming in from a smaller and smaller subset of major donors. Donor retention was below 70% (which is the industry average, but still not a good sign.)
So, in partnership with EverTrue, OSUF committed to trying something new. They recruited, hired, and trained three Donor Experience Officers who were tasked with taking an entirely-digital approach to cultivating portfolios of 1,000. They kicked into high gear with strategy and training on a new suite of tech tools.
The three DXOs used an EverTrue-first approach to viewing snapshots of their new prospects’ wealth indicators and job changes. They used EverTrue’s Relationship Management platform to track prospects’ moves through solicitation stages and document daily tasks. And the DXOs adopted the best sales-enablement technology in the industry and learned how to utilize multi-step cadences to send personal outreach to over 40 alums every day.
The DX program at OSUF was originally launched as a small pilot to test what three new, tech-native, digital-first fundraisers could do with a controlled universe of OSU’s next-best 3,000 prospects. They closely monitored the DXOs’ results starting their first week. And the ROI was almost immediate.
Because they were doing things like this.
No skipped beats
When COVID-19 hit, traditional fundraiser activity across the country slowed way down as MGOs adapted to a “new normal” of remote relationship building.
But, the new team of DXOs at OSUF didn’t skip a beat. They were settling into their new roles, they were trained in their new suite of tech tools, and they were powered by pre-set outreach cadences to their portfolios of 1,000 alums.
The guess work of “who do I reach out to, how, and when?” was gone. Their roles were already completely remote. So when so much of the world slowed down, DXOs continued to ramp up.
There were no skipped beats on the DXO Team.
All ADODs aboard the DX express
The data from the early days of OSUF’s three DXOs was enough to garner leadership buy-in for an expansion of the DX tech suite and strategy to OSUF’s team of Assistant Directors of Development (ADODs).
Mark Koenig led the launch of the DXO pilot team. To bring the ADODs onboard and make the DX program expansion possible, he recruited Anne Murphy, Senior Director of Development of the College of Business and Engineering, to run point.
Since the passing of the DX baton, Anne has coordinated the training (and retraining) of a team of 7 ADODs in a completely new suite of technology that has increased fundraiser activity, prospects in portfolio, and future major gift conversations.
There have been significant early wins. Anne, herself, closed 2 major gifts and uncovered two estate gift leads in her first four weeks of the DX approach. The team of 7 ADODs will have more qualification visits this quarter than in the entire previous year. But, the journey hasn’t been without its challenges.
In Anne’s words, change is really, really hard. Here’s how a team of seasoned fundraisers navigated a big tech transition to embrace a new (and better) way to fundraise.
Watch the full video here:
7 Steps to Institutional Change
Training a group of seasoned fundraisers to use a new suite of tech-tools; to get rid of spreadsheets, sticky notes, and call logs; and to embrace high-volume outreach cadences as a means of cultivating larger portfolios is a big undertaking. Here’s how OSUF led the expansion of the DX approach to a team of 7 seasoned gift officers.
1. Creating a safe environment
Have you watched Simon Sinek’s TedTalk titled “Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe“?
The premise is that when leaders make their teams feel safe, they bring them into the inner circle of trust, and then everyone can expose vulnerabilities and ask for the help and support they need without shame, blame, or punishment.
Before training the team of 7 Assistant Directors of Development in a whole new approach to fundraising, it was imperative for the team to feel safe. To help create this safety, Anne started by sharing her own vulnerabilities with the 7 fundraisers who were about to take the DX journey.
Anne pointed out that across the board at higher-ed institutions, only 48% of prospects in portfolio receive 1-1 outreach from their assigned gift officer. She admitted that there were really important people in her own portfolio that were being ignored.
She recalled that she used to spend hours on Friday afternoons combing through spreadsheets, highlighting names, and making sticky notes of the 50 people she needed to call on Monday. And then, on Monday, those best-laid plans would be (literally) a thing of the past.
She divulged that she would spend lots of time checking her “sent” email box to remember who she had emailed the prior week or shuffling through printouts and handwritten notes to remember which prospect was overdue for a phone-call.
Through group chats and 1-1 conversations, the OSUF crew aired out the dirty secret of advancement that no one wants to talk about. And they discovered that it was nothing personal. It was an industry-wide thing. Even with the absolute best of intentions, no one really had a rhyme or reason to their prospect outreach.
[collective sigh of relief!]
With the psychological and professional safety to admit that there was a big gap in the profession, the ADODs got curious about new tools that would take the hours of guesswork out of fundraising and allow them to do what they do best: build relationships.
"It’s like we didn’t want to talk about it, we didn’t want to say how random our processes were. It was like this dirty secret that we have all these great leads, our prospect researchers are spending all this time, we subscribe to all these systems, these prospects come into our portfolios. And then we do this weird job of reaching out to people, it’s sub-clinical, it’s not enough outreach to bonafidely qualify or disqualify people. And surfacing that has been really healthy. Creating psychological safety for people to say, yeah, that wasn’t working so great for me and I can adjust now. "
2. Focused training
Anne describes the training process for OSUF’s fundraisers as “going slow to go fast.” With the help of Kevin Massimo, Donor Experience Program Manager at EverTrue, the team trained in EverTrue, SalesLoft, Vidyard, and LinkedIn Sales Navigator. Kevin welcomed OSUF fundraisers to weekly office hours in which he shared lessons learned from other institutions that had launched DX programs.
The crew patiently worked through glitches, joined group brainstorms, and attended 1-1 coaching sessions. And the ADODs were encouraged to really hunker down and focus on learning the new tools.
As Anne explains, learning a new way to fundraise is just like learning anything else. You have to focus and dedicate time to the learning process.
3. The right mindset
A safe environment and focused, supportive training is key to guiding a team of seasoned fundraisers through the learning and unlearning process. But, as with any big change, mindset is also hugely important.
From the outset, Anne encouraged the ADODs to view the process of learning the DX approach as an investment in their future careers as modern, marketable fundraisers.
“One of the greatest ways that ADODs could accelerate was to approach [the learning process] as essential, personal, an investment in their own portfolio and their own success. I wanted to give them a sense of buy-in, reassuring them that the technology is amazing, and that we can all learn new things. It was about boosting them up when they were hitting a plateau.”
Changing habits is really, really hard. And Anne and team did experience some of the hesitation that is part-and-parcel of the traditional arc of adoption of new technology and new business practices. (You know, the “Who are these people (DXOs), what is this new tech, I’m certain that I can do it better.”)
But, as the data began to reinforce the narrative, fundraisers started to change their mindsets and realize, “Wow, this is actually amazing and can make me better at my job (and will make my job more enjoyable).”
“Having spreadsheets and emails and call lists and back of the envelope and trying to keep things straight in your head - there is a comfort level in having your own system. It’s totally bespoke. It’s exactly what you want it to be, whether it working or not. It’s just human nature. So asking for no more spreadsheets, no more emails, no more remembering things, it's pretty seductive from a productivity point of view. But from the personal changing of habits, changing habits is really really hard.”
4. Confidence boosts
Learning any new skill is difficult. But early wins give us the confidence to persist in the challenge and hint to us that we’re on the right track.
Using the DX approach, the evidence that the new tech tools were working came early for the OSUF ADODs.
Here’s what they experienced:
- In the first four weeks, Anne closed two major gifts and discovered two estate gift leads from alums that had never been contacted. In Anne’s words, “[these gifts] are in process and I didn’t have to do much work.”
- ADODs accelerated the number of alums who are in active communication with a development officer.
- ADODs ran prospects through a full, 12-step cadence that combined video introductions, emails, phone-calls, 1-2 “punches,” breakup emails, LinkedIn messages, follow-up on social media engagement, and interesting updates from campus.
- NB: To learn what a cadence is and get details of cadences that work, sign up for our webinar on September 16th.
An important part of DX onboarding is using EverTrue data to identify the universe of next-best prospects for DXOs and ADODs to target. And as Anne points out, for anyone who has been in the fundraising business for long enough, there is always going to be an element of skepticism about leads.
But through the DX process, ADODs are able to move prospects through outreach cadences quickly, so they can learn for themselves whether these leads are helpful, whether they will boost their metrics, whether they will be additive to their portfolios, and whether they are MGO prospects. They have ownership over the process, and it moves quickly.
This is not a six-month DX trial period. The ADODs test out the new approach immediately, and they see results. So they stick with it.
They're gaining confidence in the program. It’s given people a way to rapidly figure out “are these leads solid, are they going to help me with my metrics, are they going to build my portfolio, are they going to create engagement opportunities for my foundations goals?”
They’re seeing appointments, gifts, new relationships, and numbers.”
5. Shifts in business flows
As the ADODs adopted a more open mindset, saw increased alumni engagement, and embraced the DX approach to their work, they began to layer in some new business processes.
The first step in a DX outreach cadence to a new prospect is typically a video introduction. So, ADODs got more comfortable on video. Anne encouraged the team to embrace a raw and authentic approach to video, to allow themselves to feel awkward or silly, and to just keep practicing.
The ADODs also made fresh updates to their LinkedIn profiles. As they incorporated LinkedIn Sales Navigator as part of their tech-suite, it was important that their profiles showed prospects that they were proud ambassadors of OSUF.
If they were going to build relationships with previously disengaged prospects, ADODs had to meet alums where they were at (online and on video) in an authentic and relatable way.
6. Weaving DX into existing campaign priorities
Anne knew that the team was fully integrating the DX approach into their work when four ADODs proposed concrete, finite, measurable goals for implementing the new DX technology within an existing (and huge) campaign priority.
She was thrilled to see that members of the ADOD team were feeling empowered to get creative and take ownership of their work. The entrepreneurial spirit was taking foot.
On OSU’s Giving Day, Anne dropped some alums into a personalized Dam Proud Day outreach cadence. Prior to using the DX tech suite, Anne may have had the best of intentions of reaching out to tons of alums with the Dam Proud Day message but without the tech to tell her exactly which prospects would make excellent targets and without the simplicity of setting up a multi-touch cadence, the outreach just wouldn’t have happened.
A fun side story: Anne sent a Dam Proud Day message to an alum who had never been contacted before, but who was flagged in EverTrue as a HNW individual who was engaging with OSU on social media. In her message to the alum, she forgot to block off a chunk of time on her calendar. Two days later, she woke up to a calendar alert for a meeting with him. Whoops! She scrambled a bit, and made it to Zoom in time for the meeting.
7. Talent pipeline and inclusion
When OSUF and EverTrue recruited, hired, and trained the nation’s first Donor Experience Officers last year, the early results and data supported an expansion of the training and approach to OSU’s seasoned fundraisers.
Now, with Anne and the team of seven ADODs on board, the quantitative wins from the program are eight-fold.
But the qualitative wins are just as important.
The national demand for talented fundraisers far outweighs the supply. Corvallis, Oregon is a small town and recruiting the best and brightest fundraisers through a national search firm is resource-intensive. The advancement industry, like many other industries, is a long ways from being truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
The DX program has built an onramp for new, diverse, tech-native talent through the DXO program. OSUF’s DXOs are learning the art of fundraising while learning the science of tech-enabled, high-volume outreach. Their DX training makes them marketable for future fundraising positions anywhere, but the hope is that they’ll stay at OSUF.
Expanding the DX tech and training to seasoned fundraisers was an amazing retention move. It has equipped ADODs with a modern skillset that leaves them marketable in advancement and beyond, and makes them more productive, effective, and impactful at OSU every day.
In Anne’s words, “As a manager and leader in the organization, one of the things I’m most excited about is that this helps with the career pathing from DXO to ADOD, to DOD1, to DOD2, to Senior DOD. We are nurturing our future leaders by giving this technology and investing in them. This is a gift for their futures.”
"This is a gift for their futures. We are investing in them because this is the direction that major gift fundraising is going to go. To me, the ability to help them build their careers is phenomenal."
More connections with more donors.
More revenue in the door.
More employee engagement.
Talented, productive staff who are now trained to be the most marketable modern fundraisers in the game.
Wins all-around at OSU.
Thank you, Mark, Anne, and the OSUF crew for showing us, your team, and your nation-wide counterparts what’s possible. (Hope you enjoy the #tbt pics below – back when it all began!)
Mark, Anne and the OSU team are “growing their own.” Want to learn how you can do the same? Reach out to us.
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