In 2021, Kenyon College had the good fortune to be selected as one of the inaugural schools for the Schuler Foundation’s Access Initiative. This partnership aims to expand access for undocumented and Pell-eligible students to highly selective liberal arts colleges.
The grant from the Schuler Foundation is a game changer. The foundation matches up to $25M in new scholarship money with outright funds so the financial aid budget increases and supports students immediately. The money raised from donors remains invested and grows over several years, allowing participating institutions to add over $50M in scholarships.
Because the grant is structured to earn interest on its investment, it was clear that the $25 million Kenyon needed to access the match had to be raised as quickly as possible.
Sarah Tancredi, Director of Major Gifts, and her team knew they needed to figure out a boots-on-the-ground strategy to engage their community at the 1:1 level. But how could they balance the volume of prospects they needed with active relationship building — and how could they do it all in the context of a world opening up from the pandemic?
The solution? A year-long series of highly curated events to highlight the Kenyon Access Initiative. The team hosted one virtual event as well as intimate gatherings of 25 people in Cleveland, New York, Chicago, DC, Seattle, and San Francisco to effectively reach their donor base across the country.
The results? They raised the $25M needed for the match within a year of selection.
Below is their step-by-step approach to turning this series into the secret sauce for productive prospecting.
Select Your Storytellers
The team started by thinking about who would be best positioned to tell this story. They considered the different faces of the institution and who would be able to speak passionately about the transformative impact this gift would have. They also looked at who would be best to attract the high-level attendees they’d need to meet their major gift goals.
After consideration, they approached their President, Sean Decatur, and their VP of Advancement, Colleen Garland, as featured guests.
Then, they looked at who else needed to be in the room to facilitate networking and relationship building. They, of course, included the Development Officers, but they also invited early donors to the initiative as a forum to speak about why they gave.
Leaning into a peer-to-peer influence strategy is a great way to authentically communicate the value of a mission-driven ask.
Set Up Smart Segmentation
The MGO team started by applying filters including rated prospects, prospects with compelling wealth indicators, and strong advocates with engagement across their fundraising initiatives and social profiles. This initial list was a strong start to building their invite lists.
However, nothing at this scale can or should be done in a silo. Kenyon’s MGO team also approached partners early to widen their prospective outreach pools. Not only were they looking at who their top-rated prospects were, but they were able to lean into colleagues across alumni engagement and annual giving to understand which donors they should include.
Examples of the types of conversations this approach spurred were:
- Who are the up-and-comers who could be great spokespersons for the scholarship?
- Who are the individuals whose philanthropic passions align to make this a compelling stretch gift ask?
- Looking at this territory differently allowed me to identify some alumni of color or women that we have not engaged — can we add them to the list?
- Is there another wealth indicator here like a DAF that might help us find overlooked prospects?
To tap into your community across the entire given pyramid, it’s essential to have open lines of communication across your entire department. Curating your invite list should move beyond prospect ratings to include everyone that should have a place at this style of event.
Bonus: it will go a long way in helping you identify new names for ongoing prospect management and portfolio growth.
Dive Into Data Visualization
EverTrue became a key tool in how the team worked collaboratively across departments — from the trip planning function for featured guests, to the maps function to see what markets to target, to building the invitation lists from filters — ultimately it was all about data visualization.
The sheer volume of prospects Kenyon was mining for this year-long blitz of development events could be overwhelming, but the tools allowed them to process and strategize in a way that didn’t put all the pressure on their advancement services colleagues.
Make sure you have your data is visualized in a way that empowers your teams to make quick decisions when it’s go-time.
Apply the Art of the Ask
On the art side of the work – the connecting and relationship building — Kenyon leaned into making each event feel exclusive. Part of that was the curation of just 25 people speaking directly with each other and the President.
Another element was leaning into having face-to-face conversations not only with prospective donors, but as a stewardship effort for those who had made scholarship gifts already. It allowed each MGO to bring Kenyon to the individual and meet them where they were at in their relationship with the college.
Don’t overlook an opportunity to grow an existing relationship in addition to expanding your pool of connections. Events are an incredible way to deepen donor affinity to your institution.
Think Differently and Coordinate Collaboratively
Sarah Tancredi has this sage advice for those looking to take this approach or to cultivate their own campaign for meeting their fundraising goals:
First, do not look for change for the sake of change. Instead, make sure that you’re always taking a measured look at what you’re doing and evaluating if there are any gaps or missed opportunities. So often in campaigns, major gift officers are siloed because they’re the only ones in a territory.
Make sure your team is asking “How can I make this the most effective strategy and how can my colleagues help?”
That pause, the dedication to evaluating and iterating, has given the Kenyon MGO team the freedom to make the most of marrying the art and science of their work.
And to achieve incredible results like this.