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Advancement Goes Digital

Development offices are using constituent relationship management technology to advance their fundraising goals.
University Business, Jul 2008

PEOPLE WITHOUT ANY CONNECTION TO A higher education institution don't generally hand over large amounts of money unprompted. Even people who are proud of their alma mater often need to be wooed before they open their checkbook. "In the fundraising world they have always understood that no one is going to give money if you don't beat the bush," says Jim McGlothlin, vice president of higher education at Oracle. The difference is, now the bushes are housed in an electronic database rather than a Rolodex.

"If you don't have something to help you keep your information straight you'll just pull your hair out these days," says Marlene Shaver, chief financial officer of the UC San Diego Foundation. "There is a never-ending need for data, information, and data mining."

As the primary fundraising arm of the <b>University of California, San Diego</b>, the foundation wrapped up a $1 billion campaign in June 2007.

In order to keep all their donor information-ranging from giving histories and funds supported to donors' relationships to UCSD-straight during the campaign, development officers used a homegrown system dubbed FundraisER. A homegrown system was deemed better than something off the shelf because of budget concerns and the desire to avoid a data migration at the start of the campaign. Originally built five years ago to support donor stewardship, the system provides a customer relationship interface and reporting capabilities, as well as stewardship capabilities. It also allows gift officers to review funds, something not possible with the old system, which required special authorization.

"It's a huge improvement over the donor database, which was nothing," Shaver says of their previous system. "You could just put data in."

Although constituent relationship management (CRM) technology is being embraced by the admissions office-where adoption is being driven by the need to track and communicate with thousands of prospective students-development office administrators and staff can be reluctant to abandon traditional methods. In the transition from index cards to digital storage, some staff members are still hesitant to put their contact list into a central database, says McGlothlin.

The face-to-face meetings with major donors, however, will never go away. As more data is gathered, development officers are realizing the importance of tracking donor information holistically, says Karli Grant, product manager of institutional advancement solutions at Datatel. "There is a need to constantly improve how we are tracking and communicating with donors," she says. A good CRM system will enhance a development office's ability to identify, cultivate, solicit, and steward a donor.


Indeed, CRM technology can help higher ed institutions deliver the " experience" alumni and donors have come to expect, asserts David Lotz, director of higher education markets for Convio, a provider of online CRM technology. "The constituency is eager to be meaningfully communicated with and personally communicated with according to their preferences," he says. As a former gift officer for IHEs in Texas and California, Lotz has experience in providing that communication.


Shaver agrees. "The system allows us to tell them a story," she says. Gift officers can run reports that give a comprehensive view of a donor's giving history and the funds he or she is supporting, making it easier to personalize information.

"Our FundraisER CRM system is an excellent management tool to keep track of who you are working with, what you need to be doing, and who else you need to work with," says Kim Signoret-Paar, development director for Student Affairs at UC San Diego. "Using FundraisER is critical to a development officer to manage your work and priorities. The system offers a great snapshot of [donors]. With this data, we can get a high level view very quickly, including how they are engaged with the university and their interests-which definitely builds a better relationship."

Because of the increased competition for philanthropic dollars, donors are expecting more detailed financial information, not just the names of scholarships, says Dave Carey, senior manager of higher education practice at Smart Business Advisory and Consulting, a firm that works with higher ed institutions and other organizations to help meet evolving administrative needs. "It's essential in the advancement world to acknowledge how the funds are used. It's good etiquette," says Jeanne Heston, a director of product marketing at Jenzabar. For instance, if someone donates to a fund to build a new gymnasium, future communication can feature updates on the project, with e-mails including links to a webcam to view the construction.


It's not just donors who benefit from improved communication. A centralized database can get gift officers and development staff on the same page. Administrators at the <b>Texas A&M</b> Foundation wanted to get information out of individual heads and spreadsheets and into one location. "We had a development assistant trying to manage her officer's paper-based mailing list, and the information might have been six months old," recalls Lisa Skinner, data information analyst. The foundation migrated to Advance from SunGard Higher Education in August 2007, and now the information in the system is up-to-date as well as easy to see and manipulate, she says.


More information is being captured on each prospect, but the system's benefits go beyond that. Because the system has standardized fields, the information is cleaner and more accurate. With development officers housed at academic colleges around campus, the system helps eliminate variations in how each unit stores information. When it's time for a development officer's six-month review of his or her prospect list, instead of relying on the officer to send in information, reports can be pulled from the database. "It's cleaned up the process a lot," Skinner says.

The ability for multiple people to run reports can be a big draw to these systems. Gary McKillop, director of development information systems at <b>Chatham University</b> (Pa.), says the staff at Chatham avoided using the old POISE system because the interface wasn't logical. There was also too much flexibility in how information could be entered, leading to redundancies. McKillop says he is seeing consistency across the system after they switched to CampusCornerstone from Campus Management because there are specific fields to complete, and the graphical user interface means everyone can run their own reports.

Many systems also have a web portal that allows advancement officers to access information remotely, meaning they can function more efficiently on the road.

Because all contact with a donor is recorded in the system, it is easier to coordinate a variety of campaigns, such as the annual fund and a scholarship endowment, bringing a consistent look to communications and helping to avoid donor burnout. <b>Cornell University</b> (N.Y.) business analyst Susan Luckhurst says the ability of multiple people to view a prospect's records leads to better coordination on how and when a prospect should be contacted, and an approval process has been developed.

Having a detailed record of when a donor was last contacted can also alert the caller to whether it is necessary to explain the difference between the annual fund and a special campaign.

The more training users have on the CRM system, the more useful the technology will be. Skinner says that officers at the Texas A&M Foundation capture as much information as they can about a prospect's or donor's family, as well as that person's relationship to the university, activities while in school, and wealth and assets. The 2002 merging of the foundation's database with that of The Association of Former Students, Texas A&M's alumni association, helped round out some of the biographical information.

"You need the discipline to do the data entry," says Andrew Sallee, project manager at <b>William Jewell College</b> (Mo.). "When major gifts officers are making calls, they have to enter that data into the system for it to work." He says the Raiser's Edge software from Blackbaud allows the small staff at this liberal arts college to work smarter. Donors can have multiple relationships with an institution-such as being alumni as well as parents of current students. The system enables Sallee to mix and match communication efforts.

Donor contact plans are easier to manage with a CRM system in place, says Convio's Lotz. New alumni might be placed in a campaign where they receive regular information targeting their interests, but they aren't solicited for a gift for the first year. "The idea is pulling them out and giving them a different experience," he explains. "A CRM system can help you do this because you can identify segments." Tailoring communication to parents, alumni, and friends is easier when all the data is in one place. When records are up-to-date, there is also less risk of losing information due to staff turnover.

As with any database, there is some disagreement over how closely the system in the development office needs to integrate with the systems in other departments. The ability to manage more data and have one system that follows relationships from prospective student through alumni was a driving factor in migrating from a homegrown system to Oracle, says Tilly Garnett, an applications specialist at Cornell. As McGlothlin explains, Oracle users often have the need to synchronize records to eliminate duplicate entries, leading Oracle product managers to believe close integration is important. However, he has seen institutions successfully use a mix of systems as long as there is a way to merge the data.

Rick Tomlinson, a director of product marketing at Jenzabar, points out that role-based communication is easier to manage when data flows from one system to the next. Chatham's McKillop agrees. "Integration is important for an education institution," he says. He is pleased with the fundraising capabilities of CampusCornerstone, but the integration with the systems used in the front of the house-such as the registrar's and admissions offices-is taking longer than expected.

"There is a need and desire to mine data and pull it out," says Shaver. "It's a challenge all institutions are facing. How do we mine this data to have effective relationships with alumni, donors, and vendors? There is a huge amount of work still to be done before we can really manage our relationships."