Like all fundraising, university fundraising turns on the strength of relationships. Alumni who are emotionally invested in their alma mater are more likely to donate. Finding these emotionally invested graduates is the work of the university fundraising team. Dartmouth Advancement wanted to better equip its members in identifying and reaching the graduates who are most likely to give. Streamlining this strategy would enable the team to invest time and effort on these particular potential donors based on personal data.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added layers of complexity to almost every field, and fundraising wasn’t immune. Fundraising strategy at the major gift level typically rests on in-person interactions, which were now nearly impossible to continue on a large scale. Dartmouth Advancement had already wanted to make its prospecting process more precise. So, with new social distancing regulations in place, they took time to think about how to solve and utilize digital strategies for engaging and soliciting alumni, parents, and friends.
The wealth of information we have on these folks is typically quite incredible and weighs much, much deeper than anything you might find in a typical corporate file.
As the executive director of research and prospect management at Dartmouth Advancement, Mike Foote knew there had to be a solution for the current fundraising challenges. Mike says, “The wealth of information we have on these folks is typically quite incredible and weighs much, much deeper than anything you might find in a typical corporate file. We know where they went to high school… where they grew up. Certainly, we know what year they graduated and, many times, if they have graduate degrees. We know what sports they played and what clubs there were in and fraternities or sororities they were in.” Despite mountains of data that produced some robust prospect profiles, the Dartmouth team still didn’t know which of those profiles were graduates that were primed to give.
That’s when Mike turned to Doug Cogswell from the GivingDNA Platform. Doug has long provided expert analytical assistance to clients, helping them see their information in new ways. Relationship mapping is a key technique, used to identify high-potential prospects based on the connections between them and current donors. Doug knew relationship mapping could help resolve Dartmouth’s fundraising challenge, considering the wealth of alumni data available to feed these maps.
Mike explains: “The GivingDNA Platform has always allowed us to react quickly to shifting priorities, by reducing—greatly—the time it takes to run reports and do discovery work. With full analytical ability at the fingertips of everyday users, not just programmers, the tool gives nearly everyone the ability to act as quantitative analysts and data miners.”
By running relationship mapping analytics to Dartmouth’s file, they were able to see any connections between the prospect and a current key donor. That key donor then becomes the link between the prospect and the university. “Experience has told us,” Mike explains, “that when we look for connections to a specific alumnus, those that were closest to them while on campus are often those that remain closest to them years and years later.”
All this data has to be manipulated properly, of course, if it is to produce a worthwhile map. The beta version of Dartmouth’s tool automatically assigns weight values to various connections resulting in strength scores. But the map’s accuracy increases as more data is added or as the strategist confirms the weight based on interactions with the prospect. Doug says, “We’re trying to get at the more significant attributes that describe connection and why people might actually know each other and be comfortable taking a call from one another.”
Mike’s excited about where the tool might lead and sees it having “immediate impact during strategy sessions with our different officers in highlighting where we can begin leveraging relationships.” Most recently, Dartmouth was able to deploy a predictive model for potential bequest expectancy donors to be reviewed by primary staff in just one day; this actionable model will allow them to prioritize and focus strategy around a campaign goal to raise $250 million in bequest expectancies.
An in-house database with relationship mapping capabilities is a real game changer for Dartmouth Advancement and university fundraising.