About University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania is an American private Ivy League research university located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Development and Alumni Relations (DAR) at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) plays an important role in helping to provide the resources to support the mission of the University and its vision for the future. With over 500 employees across the University in more than 25 Schools, Centers and Central functions, DAR operates as a decentralized organization with a centralized management structure. Over the years, Penn has used an integrated approach to institutional advancement, recognizing that a large part of success in fundraising is due to the strength and commitment of over 300,000 Penn alumni.

Penn’s Making History campaign which has raised more than $3.5 billion over seven years is focused on six key priorities: Faculty, Undergraduate Scholarships, Graduate and Professional Student Aid, Buildings and Renovations, Programs and Research, and Unrestricted Giving.

As Senior Director of Business Analytics and former Senior Director of Advancement Research and Analysis, Bob Baer has been in charge of Central prospect research, prospect management and data analytics efforts for DAR.

The Challenge

Having been with the University for over 13 years and coming from a corporate background, Baer brought a fresh perspective to the role research plays within an organization. “When I came to Penn 13 years ago, they thought they were looking for someone who could run focus groups and do surveys. It’s amazing how things have changed, and how big of a role analytics has played in it,” explains Baer. “We were doing some work with predictive modeling eight or nine years ago, for example, that I am just seeing other folks begin to do these days.”

With keen interest and an eye on the value of applying analytics, electronic screening has become a critical component in the prospect research process. Prospect research resources are in scarce supply and electronic screening helps focus research efforts on the most promising prospects. Competition over the past few years among providers of electronic screening services has benefited both buyer and seller. Institutions like Penn have alternative providers from which to choose and the providers have been focused on continuously improving their offerings.

In evaluating various providers, assessing the credibility, accuracy and reliability of their solutions have been important considerations. “We looked at such things as are they readily available, responsive and cost effective? Is the service user-friendly? In the area of electronic screening, it was important for us that the service is capable of screening both exceptionally large volumes of data and small and modest sized batches. And most importantly, it was critical that the system could provide some of the detail that our prospect researchers are going to need when they conduct research on individuals to prepare prospect rating memos and determine the rating which will go into our system on the individual’s record.

The Solution

Penn has worked with WealthEngine to conduct periodic screenings of various prospect and donor target segments. Three critical steps to successful screenings and prospect research used at Penn are:

  • Determine which prospects to screen in consultation with the DAR client area,
  • Screen those prospects electronically, and
  • Capture the screening results and make it available and useful to DAR staff.

Screening projects begin with a perceived need for more major gift prospects to support the fundraising goals of an area. Sometimes the need is identified by development officers, sometimes by researchers and sometimes the results of a business analytics project. Setting criteria to determine which prospects to send for screening most often occurs in a business analytics consultation with development officers and prospect researchers. Giving capacity estimates from electronic screening are combined in a “custom-built” Microsoft Access database with internal data, including indicators of inclination such as giving consistency, event participation, volunteer activity, responses to surveys, etc.

Using giving capacity and indicators of inclination to give to Penn enables researchers and development officers to select individual prospects for more extensive research. "The screening allows us to prioritize our research efforts, and the research team can assess real estate, income, stock holdings and other data to arrive at an internal giving capacity rating. Having all of this information available in our MS Access database and/or the screening providers systems makes it easier for our prospect researchers and gift officers to identify top prospects for research," explains Baer.

"Once prospects have been rated, these newly identified prospects are assigned to a school, center or central area. Once the area assignment is established, a development officer may choose to be assigned to the prospect as Prospect Manager. Because development officers are also a scarce resource here, for all of DAR, only 32% of rated prospects are assigned to a development officer. In fact it’s critical for us to be able to prioritize based on both the prospect’s capacity to give and their inclination to give. Recently we completed a predictive modeling project for alumni pool prospects to create inclination scores using giving to Penn relative to giving capacity and several behavioral and demographic variables” says Baer.

With approximately 25 DAR researchers and 150 front line fundraisers, the University has made very efficient and effective use of wealth screenings and inclination indicators to identify prospects for research.

Another quite different way in which Penn sometimes uses screening data is in selecting individuals to invite to a local event or reception based on giving capacity. As Baer explains, “Maybe after you have identified people on your rated prospect list to invite, you would like to ask others outside the rated prospect pool but with high giving capacity.” Availability of screening results data makes that selection of add-ins relatively easy.

Another use of the screening results is for determining which prospects to schedule in-person meetings with when travelling to a particular city. “We have used the results of screening to determine who to meet face-to-face, almost as a discovery visit,” explains Baer.

“Finally, to Penn it is important that even development officers be able to look up the prospect one at a time and get a sense of giving capacity and the bona fides driving the estimate according to the screening provider.”

The Result

The University has seen some amazing results of the impact that electronic screening, wealth data, prospect researcher ratings and analytics has on their fundraising success. “We have about 40,000 individuals in our prospect pool that are capable of making a major gift of at least $25,000 a year over five years. We add about 2,000 new prospects each year. About 80-85% of these are alumni and the rest are parents and friends.”

“Over the life of our Making History campaign, we have added over 14,000 prospects. Of these, 9,000 have been donors to the campaign. In aggregate these new pool prospects have made campaign commitments of $600 million.”

Next Steps

Baer acknowledges the pivotal role that business analytics and predictive modeling will play in the future of development and alumni relations at Penn. “Prospect researchers need to be more knowledgeable in how they use analytics in their work.”

Baer highlights the important role prospect researchers will play in the development office of the future, and the importance of balancing technology and consultancy. “Prospect researchers need to grow their skill set from simply preparing memos, to managing lists and analyzing and understanding data, in order to be more efficient and effective in what they do. The demands of technology will continue, but to make their work pay off within the development team, prospect research will also need to take on a more consultative approach. It’s critical to not only be able to do the research, but to sit down with the development group, understand their needs, bring them ideas and offer solutions to help them.”

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