Case Study: The University of Calgary

The University of Calgary (UCalgary) launched Energize: The Campaign for Eyes High, a comprehensive fundraising campaign, in 2011. In addition to an ambitious $1.3 billion fundraising goal, the campaign includes initiatives to strengthen the culture of engagement with alumni, donors, and friends. The objective is to garner support for UCalgary’s bold ambitions and innovative programs and opportunities.

In the summer of 2017, UCalgary reached a critical point: while they had reached 77% of their campaign goal, growth in unique donors had leveled off. In the early years of the campaign, the number of unique donors had grown by over 20% per year. However, when oil prices began to plummet and the local economy struggled to adjust, UCalgary’s unique donor support also dropped—by more than half—in subsequent years. While this might have signaled a crisis in many other organizations, UCalgary treated it as an opportunity to identify new strategies for campaign success. Just a year later, UCalgary is well on its way to meeting the campaign goal and has taken on a new challenge: ensuring that each academic unit and program meets its individual goal within the overall campaign.

GG+A had worked with UCalgary for several years, most recently coaching frontline fundraisers. Building on established relationships and knowledge of the organization, we worked with the University to assess and articulate the assets and needs of their development operations, frontline development officers, development leadership, and academic partners. Together we were able to identify what each group had to offer in terms of technology, relationships, insight, and expertise. We even considered whose standing meetings could be refocused for the campaign. One of the most important discoveries occurred in development operations where fundraiser portfolios had stagnated. Over 2,000 of their prospects were languishing in the earliest stages of donor cultivation, and many had never received a visit from a gift officer. UCalgary’s internal analytics department also identified a trove of unassigned, unqualified prospects who demonstrated a likely capacity and inclination to make large gifts but who had not been engaged for the campaign.

The assessments came together in a development-wide action plan to qualify new households for the campaign. Qualifying this many new prospects required the Prospect Research and Pipeline Management team to shift from a reactive service unit to a proactive strategic partner. They needed to provide insight into portfolio needs, targeted information (instead of an elaborate profile) that would enable a fundraiser to more effectively engage a prospect, and analysis for units and programs that required the most help meeting their campaign goals (thanks to more precise forecasting). They developed a new suite of reports, re-vamped meeting agendas to focus on moving prospects through the development cycle, and developed an interdisciplinary working group to track progress and troubleshoot problems.

With the overall campaign end in sight, UCalgary has begun to focus on each unit’s success within the campaign. Prospect Research and Pipeline Management staff meet regularly with deans and fundraisers of the most at-risk units to identify opportunities and develop ask strategies. At the beginning of 2018, five faculties were at risk of not meeting their goal; as of August 2018, three faculties are moving towards campaign success.

GG+A has been grateful for the opportunity to partner with UCalgary as they navigate a particularly challenging yet rewarding moment in their story. Together, we were able to work through some difficult cultural changes and institute new processes that are re-energizing the campaign and their fundraising operations as a whole. We look forward to following their progress.

For any questions please email Kat Banakis at kbanakis@grenzglier.com.

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