“Our challenge is to build a prospect pool that is regular and sustainable. We must engage people as our partners, which has not been our innate tendency.”
By Dan Lowman
The University of Queensland (UQ), a public university in Australia, historically has not required substantial private philanthropy. As a result, the Advancement team has had limited experience with major and principal gifts from individuals. While a large share of UQ alumni reside in Queensland and other large cities in Australia, a substantial number live in Asia, the United Kingdom, and North America.
“If you look at our history of big gifts, they have been spectacular but sporadic,” said Clare Pullar, the University’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Advancement. “Our challenge is to build a prospect pool that is regular and sustainable. We must engage people as our partners, which has not been our innate tendency.”
Periodic annual giving appeals produced a reasonably large pool of donors, although total dollars raised remained modest. But with changes in tax-supported funding and the need for capital and program support, the University began planning for a comprehensive campaign, one that would demand substantial alumni support.
The University engaged GG+A and the GG+A Philanthropy Survey Lab in 2014, in order to:
+ gauge the strength of alumni affiliation to the University, given modest engagement opportunities;
+ evaluate the quality and impact of gift stewardship; and
+ create a mechanism that would facilitate face-to-face visits between development officers and alumni.
The Survey: Process and Results
In partnership with the University, GG+A developed two related surveys. One would be conducted through face-to-face visits by development officers with past donors and prospects with higher gift capacity. GG+A provided training, invitation materials, survey response forms, and an online data collection tool to collate survey results. The other, a web-based survey, would reach out to the alumni as a whole.
“For many gift officers, it changed the definition of work from being behind a computer to being in front of a donor.”
The surveys have helped UQ to plan future fundraising programs. At a high level, the results demonstrated a positively inclined alumni base that was largely uninformed about the University today and unclear about the need for philanthropy. On a tactical level, one of the survey’s key findings was that a majority of alumni appreciated the University’s practice of sending handwritten thank-you notes from students to donors.
The survey also increased success in securing face-to-face visits. In an eight-week period, 268 “high value” prospects were visited – more than doubling the previous average total of 115 visits. Notably, more than 10 percent of visits were with prospects outside Australia.
From Results to Strategy
The UQ plan will capitalize on these positive alumni attitudes uncovered by the surveys while increasing both information flow and opportunities for engagement.
“The [survey] process changed the way we do business here. Our efforts need to be on the donors with the highest potential, who must be prioritized above all else,” said Pullar. “When we introduced the survey, a staff member asked, ‘How will we do our real jobs if we are doing the survey?’ and I said to all of them, ‘This is your job. This is the strategic priority.’ For many gift officers, it changed the definition of work from being behind a computer to being in front of a donor.”
Many donors expressed gratitude for being included in the survey – and some alumni gave gifts on the spot. More important, the interviews opened the door to personal relationships between staff members and donors and substantially increased the qualified prospect pool for the upcoming campaign. The survey also elicited detailed information about individual donors’ interests and priorities.
“I did 22 interviews myself,” added Pullar. “They were incredibly valuable. By providing a script to put us in a listening mode, the process helped to fundamentally change and deepen our donor relationships.”
This article was originally published in the GG+A Summer 2015 Quarterly Review. Download the entire issue.