How Prospect Research Saved the Day at Oregon

There’s never a shortage of interesting challenges to take on in an advancement office. Alex Spady, a Prospect Analyst at the University of Oregon, knows this all too well. But it keeps him on his toes, which is part of the reason he loves his job.

So when a frontline fundraiser approached him with the very specific wishes of a potential donor, he took it as a chance to get creative. We recently got on the phone with Alex to talk through how he tackled this particular assignment.

But first we’re going to spoil the results right up front. Because they’re awesome and we’re too excited to put them at the end.

As a result of just a few hours of work, Alex was able to identify over 1,100 potential donors, 117 of whom ended up donating, raising over $12,000 against a goal of $10,000. Alright, now let’s get into what all that means to understand why it’s so impressive.

The Problem

A gift officer was working with a donor who was interested in making a gift in support of scholarships for DACA recipients. The only catch was, they requested that the gift be a match and that the university raise money from other donors. Ultimately, that’s great: It means an even bigger scholarship pool.

But DACA is a sensitive subject, so a broad appeal probably wouldn’t be the wisest approach. How, exactly, could Oregon go about raising money for these scholarships, focusing in on potential donors who were more likely to respond positively to the request?

Alex’s Approach

When it landed on Alex’s desk, he knew right away it wasn’t going to be run of the mill prospect research data dive. There was no giving history or natural constituent base for this type of gift. How was he going to find people interested in the subject? Out of thin air? Cross his fingers and hope?

But then it hit him. He had just started exploring EverTrue and realized he could search social engagement around the subject to get a list of people who might be interested. He could use the school’s history of posting around the subject to discover who might be interested based on how or if they engaged with the post.

  • Brainstorm keywords: The first thing Alex needed was a list of terms to work from. DACA and variations on immigration were an obvious place to start. But people could be supportive of the issue without being quite so explicit. So he did a little research into countries where DACA recipients originate from and added some campus organizations with some relation to the subject. In the end he had a list of 25 terms to query.
  • Search: Armed with a robust list of keywords, Alex pulled up EverTrue and got to work finding prospects. Thanks to his initial brainstorm, he ended up with a list of 5,832 potentially interested constituents. Which was great, but also made him think that maybe he ought to…
  • Rethink keywords: Since that list seemed a little big. The team wasn’t totally convinced everyone would be receptive to an ask of this nature. After talking it over with coworkers, they came up with another list of terms, this one slightly more refined. After running searches on all those terms, he ended up with a list of 1,142 people the team felt confident approaching for the scholarship.
  • Prioritize results: Within his findings, Alex knew there would be various levels of interest. To make this easier for the team conducting the outreach, he separated his initial list into two tiers: One for those who interacted specifically with posts around DACA or immigration, and a second for those who engaged with posts containing more loosely related terms. Another important step was calling out a small percentage of the list that was already in the portfolio of a gift officer so that the broader team was aware of their existing relationship.

Alex’s Lessons

The crowdfunding campaign to raise money for the DREAMers Scholarship was a success and helped all other efforts fundraising efforts for the scholarship.

And Alex took away plenty of lessons and improvements to make when undertaking similar projects.

  • More collaboration: With the benefit of hindsight, Alex realized some collaboration across departments could have worked wonders. Instead of solely relying on old social posts from the school that were somewhat related to DACA, he believes working in conjunction with the school’s social media team to seed a handful of posts more directly around the topic could have helped him discover people even more passionate about the topic.
  • Increased diligence: You can never be too careful. While Alex had been careful to remove those who had responded negatively to the posts, he realized that some Facebook reactions can be a bit ambiguous on sentiment (the Wow face, for example). Going forward, he also plans to highlight people who comment on posts. Liking a post only takes a second, but someone who takes the time to comment is very likely even more engaged with the topic and probably the cream of the crop when pulling lists of this nature.
  • More targeted approach: Alex has already put this lesson into effect. With the DACA project, he relied on what already existed in terms of social posts and did the best with what was there. But they knew their donors would fit a very specific profile, which means they could have done more to engage them prior to announcing the scholarship. Having learned that lesson, another analyst revamped the approach for a recent project for the Athletics department. The department had a goal of getting a donation from someone in each state. In the weeks leading up to the day of giving, they used targeted posts in various athletics groups and saw who was most engaged and for the day of giving.

Pretty impressive stuff. And in case you don’t want to scroll up to remind yourself of the results, we’ll do it for you: They identified over 1,100 potential donors, leading to 117 gifts totaling over $12,000.

Not bad for a couple hours of prospect research.

 

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