Oregon State University is Oregon’s Land Grant University and one of only two land grant universities in the country (the second is Cornell University in New York) to also hold sea, space and sun grant designations. The university was founded in 1868 and is approaching its Sesquicentennial or 150 year anniversary. Oregon State boasts strong agricultural, forestry, and engineering programs, as well as a superb ocean sciences program. At 26,000 students, the Oregon State community is home to students from all 50 states, and over 100 countries. The Oregon State University Foundation, the fundraising arm of the university, launched the public phase of OSU’s first ever comprehensive campaign in 2007 with a goal of $625 million. Raising more support from more sources at a faster pace than imagined, they have since adjusted their goal upward twice, and now stand to raise over $1 billion by the campaign close in 2014.
One of the campaign priorities directly impacting the university’s ability to raise the needed funds for this campaign and to lay the groundwork for future improvements in fundraising capacity and effectiveness was the Discovery Project. The establishment of the Discovery Project was deemed a campaign goal and sought to qualify 6,000 individuals (potential donors) identified capable of giving $25K and above for the major gift pipeline. This goal was shared by the Advancement Services, Prospect Research, and Fundraising teams. Advancement services would source the necessary data, prospect research would identify and verify the capacity of prime candidates, and major gift officers would qualify potential donors through direct contact.
Mark Koenig, Senior Director for Advancement Services at the OSU Foundation, joined the team in 2008, shortly after the public launch of the campaign, and became an integral part of the team responsible for building the Discovery Program. “Prior to 2008, we, like many institutions, screened our data the traditional way,” shares Koenig. “Prior to your campaign, you would do a full data base screening and never look back until the next.” When Koenig came on board, bringing experience from Rice University, Georgetown University and George Washington University, things changed. “OSU had done a full database screening with another company and had imported the returned data directly into our Advance database. It was problematic – no verification of the results had been done. Unfortunately, the data was just dumped in and not used strategically,” says Koenig. His first order of business was to back track and complete verification on the data that was in the data base.
This earlier screening had suggested to leadership that there were 6,000 individuals in the database capable of making major gifts to the campaign, and it was from this data that leadership included a discovery goal of 6,000 qualified prospects in their campaign strategic plan.
Looking to do screenings in a more precise, structured and actionable way, Koenig brought in WealthEngine. “I had worked with WealthEngine in the past, and I trusted the data, so I added it to the slate of tools we use here at OSU. We started doing what I call ‘surgical screenings,’” says Koenig. “These are actually changing the way we do our work. We screen about 30,000 records per year, divided into mini-screenings, and they are tied to specific university goals.” Koenig attends management meetings, and as goals are identified for a project in agricultural sciences or a new building or other project, he and his team mine the university data to determine which records are appropriate to send for a miniscreening. They use WealthEngine’s on-demand screening service, which allows them to upload up to 6,000 records at a time and have them screened and returned the same day.
“Prior to sending the data, we look for those records in our sweet spot for capacity, age and other factors, and once we get the data back, research verifies the findings from the top down. Verification may take 15-30 minutes per record, depending on the complexity of the data matched,” explains Koenig. He points to one recent example, in which they screened a segment of prospects for OSU’s College of Engineering. “We got the results back, and there were 8 prospects in the $5 million+ capacity range. When we had reviewed them all, we ended up with two we didn’t know. One turned out to be a previously unidentified potential donor with huge capacity. Trust me, that was an invaluable find.”
Using the surgical screening method with WealthEngine, the OSU Foundation has already identified 7,815 constituents with capacity to make a gift of $25K or more who have had little to no contact from the University prior to identification. These were added to prospects already rated to make a total pool of 11,277 new prospects for the Discovery Project. Overall, the University has a pool of 22,366 rated prospects.
Research analysts spend approximately 25% to 30% of their time on screening verifications (or identifications), and major gift officers are tasked with qualifying the identified prospects forwarded to them by the Research Department, with goals for qualification varying by individual based on portfolio composition, longevity in field work, and other goals. “The important thing,” says Koenig “is that they actually have goals. That’s a key to making the Discovery Project work. If major gift officers didn’t have qualification as part of their goals, it simply wouldn’t work.”
Of the pool of prospects verified by research from the WealthEngine screenings, 3,462 have been qualified either by phone or through face-to-face contact. A qualification, according to OSU metrics, can be either positive or negative. “It is as important to learn that someone is not interested in the university as it is that they are,” Koenig explains. “We’re just a lot happier when we find out they are.”
Of the 3,462 qualifications, 1,506 or 44% have been positive and therefore have moved into major gift officer portfolios for cultivation. 569 of those, or 16% of those who were qualified, have been solicited for a major gift, and 184, or 5%, have made gifts to the campaign. These gifts have resulted in $11.4M in contributions to the campaign.
“The amazing thing is that this $11.4M in revenue is directly attributable to the work we’ve been doing. We didn’t hire any additional staff, we didn’t add to travel or hospitality budgets, the only direct expense attributable to the Discovery Project is the surgical screenings we’ve been utilizing since 2008,” according to Koenig. The screenings and the FindWealth Online subscription together have averaged about $9,175 per year, for a total over the past five years of $45,875. Because no other direct expenses were incurred in the project, ROI can be calculated as:
“While it’s true that staff time has been devoted both to the verification of prospects and the qualification of prospects,” he explains “the truth is that these staff members would have been doing prospect identification and qualification anyway, and likely it would have been much less efficient. Realizing a 24,750% ROI is simply phenomenal, and makes you wonder why everyone isn’t doing it.”
“When I started, I was leery of the 6,000 goal,” shares Koenig. “I wasn’t confident of the historical data we had on file. But now that we’ve been screening our prospects on a routine basis, and put the time into qualifying them, we have 11,000 prospects in our discovery pool, waiting to be qualified. Now it’s just a matter of time before we exceed the original 6,000-prospect goal.”
With responsibility and accountability built into the discovery process at OSU for both the research office and the major gifts team, the Discovery Project has been a huge success. Koenig stresses the importance of having leadership committed to a data-based approach to fundraising, and being disciplined about tracking activities and results. “We have to be aligned with the overall goals of the university,” he adds. “If we had to do a lot of full profiles of prospects, we wouldn’t have time to do this. Because the goal is to fill the campaign pipeline and seed the pipeline for the next campaign, we’ve been able to focus a lot of our time on discovery, and it has paid dividends.”
The OSU Foundation has taken its data-based approach beyond reporting and metrics and is building a formidable modeling arsenal, including ratings for enthusiasm, engagement and a just-released planned giving score. Having multiple dimensions on which to evaluate and cross-tabulate prospects allows Koenig’s Advancement Services group to serve many functional units. In addition to the major and annual giving teams, they provide data and analysis to the Alumni Association, who have used the enthusiasm score to identify volunteers and committee members, and the planned giving group, who have used data to limit their mailings from mass appeals to more targeted and actionable subgroups.
Koenig looks forward to the coming year, when he is planning to enrich the data files with demographic, behavioral and consumer data. With this addition of data in combination with his modeling scores, he hopes to create more powerful tools to guide and inform University strategies.