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Case Study: Appalachian State University

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northwestern North Carolina, Appalachian State University’s remote location belies its reputation for making big plans. The Appalachian Experience, the title of their July 2014–June 2019 strategic plan, also refers to the transformational process they seek for their students, who will “leave with a clear charge to make a difference and to care for the planet and its people.” Ambitious transformations extend to the university’s internal functions as well. In 2017, the development office set out to revamp everything from the annual fund to major and principal gifts. As Executive Director of Development for the College of Fine and Applied Arts and Annual Giving Audra Vaz put it, “The volume of work was daunting.” GG+A Analytics partnered with Appalachian to help them break down the revamp into more manageable pieces, as well as to provide prospect-level information.

Annual Giving

Annual giving at the university faced several challenges. Vaz described the program as “missing the boat in a lot of respects to donor acquisition, renewal, retention, and stewardship.” To address these gaps, GG+A created household-level annual giving ask amounts and developed a year-over-year roadmap for acquisition, retention, and upgrades. For Vaz, this work provided focus and some concrete starting points. In addition, portfolio-carrying fundraisers now have the annual giving ask amounts right on their prospect lists to help meet unit-specific annual fund needs when making donor visits.

Major and Principal Gifts

The major and principal gifts program was also missing several key characteristics. According to Executive Director of Donor Engagement Jeffrey Swaim, the program lacked “overarching strategy, consistency, and follow-through.” However, Swaim recognized that “good work was being done,” though “it was in pockets and episodic.” GG+A used its DonorScape® wealth screening and philanthropic modeling tools to analyze the gift capacity and major gifts inclination of Appalachian’s current and prospective donors, segmenting these individuals by the university unit they were affiliated with (e.g. College of Business, College of Arts & Sciences, etc.) and their geographic locations. GG+A also examined each fundraiser’s portfolio to determine their level of fundraising activity with their prospects. Swaim describes the analysis as a “first attempt to form an action plan based on a thorough analysis of the situation (from a process and strategy standpoint), as well as on data, combined with an objective look at best practices.” In short, the university took a comprehensive look at all of its available constituent data to determine what fundraising tactics were working and which were not.

Less than a year into the revamp, the results from GG+A’s analysis are already making an impact, particularly for the prospect management and research team tasked with creating pipelines. “The benefits of the modeling scores have been priceless to the prospect management and research team. They have allowed for the development of an efficient prospect identification process with a high level of confidence in the prospect discovery and clearance processes,” explained Colleen Deal, Director of Prospect Management & Research. “The GG+A modeling scores have changed the way we review and optimize development officers’ portfolios as well as the way we identify discovery prospects. We now use the major gift modeling scores to make recommendations on prospects to remove from portfolios and on prospects to add to discovery portfolios.”

GG+A is proud to partner with Appalachian to help them build the fundraising practices necessary to ensure their continued success.

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About the author

Kat Banakis

Senior Vice President, Analytics

Kat Banakis, Senior Vice President, Analytics, assists clients in using analytics in campaign, staffing, and prospect projections as well as in related staff performance metrics. Kat supports clients across industries to maximize prospect management and research, align staff metrics to overall development goals, gain insight into donor preferences and behavior,…