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LiveAlumni Talk | Robert Boley, Wright State University

Updated: Mar 29

This LiveAlumni Talk features Robert Boley, Associate Director, Advancement Research & Prospect Management of Wright State University. Rob has been using LiveAlumni data since 2015, so he's grown along with us, often offering valuable insight and perspective on our new features. In this talk, he shares his approach to prospecting donors and answers questions submitted by some of the attendants.


The video of Robert's Talk is in your LiveAlumni Helpdesk under

"LiveAlumni Blogs, Talks, and Webinars"

Topics Covered / Ideas Exchanged

  • From Suspects to Prospects

  • Looking for NEW donors during the Pandemic?

  • Pandemic Emergency Appeal strategies

  • Leadership by Example

  • Following up with donors after an Emergency Appeal

  • Using data points in creative ways

  • Narrowing down prospect lists

  • Segmenting your alumni for prospecting by alumni reunion groups


Q. What is your expectation of development officers in keeping the pipeline filled with high capacity and affinity donors?


Rob details how their process is a team effort, not so much an “us” (research) and “them” (gift officers) approach as it was in the past. They use a Three-Step Pipeline approach: Discover, Contact, and “Pool of Suspects”


Discover:

The research team has uploaded many new prospect tracks for discovery. The prospects are assigned different threshold indicators, such as consecutive yearly giving and donors of over +10K. When an individual is found that qualifies for these indicators, it is assigned to the list of Discovery Prospects.


Contact / Manage:

Rob stresses that if the gift officers don't have a way to contact them, data is useless, so the next step is to make sure that they have multiple ways to contact them via email, cell phone, home phone, LinkedIn, etc.


Pool of Suspects:

Rob’s team uses LiveAlumni to create lists of their prospects that have impressive job titles and that work at substantial companies. These individuals get assigned to the research staff, to look into individually. A gift officer then meets with the prospect and to qualify them to be managed or dismissed.


Rob mentions that every Monday he sends out a message to the whole development team which contributes towards creating a team culture that says “we all need to work together to stay on the same page.” The message includes:

  • Newly identified suspects

  • Newly added Discovery Prospects with a brief explanation

  • All the gifts that came in

  • Number of prospects that were qualified

  • Current state of prospect pool.


Q. Krista Knott, of Fort Lewis College mentions that she has a list of over 5,000 alumni, but no manpower to narrow it down and asks for Rob’s input on how to approach this daunting task, of weeding out the “prospects from the suspects” and focusing on people in their 40s and 50s


Rob mentions that they apply a threshold of $10,000 to $25,000 over five years. They ask: Is there any indication that the suspect is capable and willing to meet that threshold based on markers such as the job that they have, the home that they live in, and their giving history. Vanessa also explained that LiveAlumni can help identify young, successful, up-and-coming alumni by taking the senior level list and filter to see only those that have graduated between specified years.


Q. How do you feel that prospect research was affected during this pandemic? Did you see a significant change in securing initial gifts?


Rob feels it’s a little early to tell. Anecdotally, their focus has been less on engaging new discovery prospects and more on the people that they were already connected to, making sure those relationships don't suffer. In the next year, he hopes to get back into discovery.


Q. Did you do any emergency appeals during the pandemic? How are you going to try to retain those donors moving forward?


Rob talks about how, by March 20th, they launched the Wright State Student Emergency Relief Campaign to raise funds for their students that were negatively affected by the pandemic. They raised $67,000, from 529 donors. The foundation also provided a challenge where for every 100 donors that stepped forward, the foundation chipped in $1,000. About half those donors were alumni, about 42% were faculty and staff. They plan to keep that momentum with repeated appeals to try to keep that donor relationship. They followed up with handwritten thank you cards that profiled students that had benefitted from the fund.


Also, their Raider Strong Outreach was in April, and over 200 faculty and staff from all across the university made personal phone calls to every single undergraduate student enrolled at the university. Each volunteer was assigned 25 to 30 students to just reach out and make sure they were alright. By and large the students really appreciated that effort. Not necessarily directly related to fundraising, but it was an appeal of sorts.


Q. Can others share other ways that you were able to raise and can you share insight on how you followed up on those initiatives?


Stephanie Miller, of the University of Otago explains how their Vice-Chancellor started an Emergency hardship fund for students. She and all of the council members committed 20% of their salary for six months to the fund. People appreciated that sort of leading by example. They had +700 donors altogether, which was largely alumni and staff but also some students and parents of current students. 400 of those people were brand new donors. Student Services also reached out to students during the pandemic to make sure they were okay. The major gifts fundraisers made outreach calls to vulnerable alumni as well. Everyone who donated to the hardship fund was thanked and they are working now on a video case study of some of the students who benefited from the funding.


Q. How do you integrate the LiveAlumni data into your donor database and how are you using LiveAlumni for research, prospect management, and then data analytics.


Ben mentioned that they are in Banner 9 and always successfully import the LinkedIn URLs. Because of manpower, they haven't quite gotten the system in place to import the employment. To import to Banner, they have to know if the employment is or is not already in the system and if they have a record for that employer. He finds it difficult to link these points in Banner so for now, he uses a shadow database with a data crosswalk. To pull out a list with employment, he syncs off of the constituent ID and links with the imported LiveAlumni employment data. Rob feels that the employment data out of LiveAlumni is hands down more up-to-date than what they could ever have in their own database. Vanessa mentions that she is soon to record a Talk with another successful LiveAlumni / Banner user who has offered to share their step-by-step import process.


Q. What are the most important data points? What do your frontline fundraisers utilize? How do you research in general inside the platform?


Rob talks about how they use LiveAlunmi for research and prospect management: He finds that LiveAlumni is amazing for finding C levels, VP’s, etc., and has raised potentially millions of dollars based on this data alone.


They also have found some interesting alumni using other data points. For example, being close to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, they were looking for alumni that would be interested in an event there. That would be a very hard list to pull out of their own database. But their LiveAlumni Groups and Volunteer Roles helped them compile a great list.


On another occasion they used the Nonprofit Affiliation and Volunteering Interest data points, among others, to help build a list of notable black alumni making positive changes in their communities.


Their Career Services team also uses LiveAlumni to find potential mentors, which has been great for their young alumni that are seeking their first professional jobs.


Rob also talks about creating a working relationship with the companies that hire their alumni. They have a process of coding every corporation in their database with a score that indicates how involved the companies are with the life of the university. The ranking is based on how much they give, how much they sponsor research, and how large a vendor they are. Then they assign bonus points for different things like being an athletic sponsor, hiring alumni, having employees that serve on the school’s board, etc. Using LiveAlumni has been really helpful for identifying the companies that are hiring their graduates, which companies have their alumni serving on our boards, etc. They then approach those high-scoring companies to develop a business relationship with because they are interested in getting them involved philanthropically with the life of the university.


Finally, Rob admits that his team is barely scratching the surface with LiveAlumni, since there is so much potential and there are always cool newly added features, like the recently launched dashboards.


James Barclay of Dartmouth College then took some time to explain his 5 step process when looking for prospects.


5 step process:

  • Use LiveAlumni to update records

  • Segment by alumni reunion groups to target those that will be attending

  • Follow the high earners outside of those reunion groups

  • Look at the recent graduating classes to target those not in the above categories

  • Finally, everyone else that hasn’t had a data update for a really long time


Q. Do you add a designation field in your databases to indicate which fields are imported from LiveAlumni and from what upload date?


Ben explains that he uses a unique source code for data that comes from LinkedIn and LiveAlumni and tracks all start and stop dates on employment.


Q. Vanessa asks Teresa of Florida State University if she notices a difference in goals, metrics, researching, and her communication approach to potential donors.


Teresa says, in the end, prospects are prospects and her job is to find the best partner tools to help identify those people or companies who have an affinity to FSU. One of the biggest struggles is finding where those people work and are located. “Data is pointless if you can’t reach out to them”.


Vanessa comments that especially now, since there has been so much employment change in last year, LiveAlumni has onboarded many new institutions who are realizing their database is out of date, and acknowledge that they may not have the manpower right now to import it all in. But they want somewhere to research these changes and have a way to reach these prospects.


Want to watch more LiveAlumni Talks?


LiveAlumni Talks are a great community resource where we connect our members to share ideas and strategies to help each other navigate the constantly changing challenges in the world of alumni engaging and prospecting.


For more LiveAlumni Talks, click here.