Fundraising at a small institution is a fundamentally different enterprise than fundraising at a large one. Truisms fail and trends aren't always applicable.
That's why Keystone College shared its small-shop advancement strategies at the recent CASE D2 Conference.
Heather A. Schield is Vice President for Institutional Advancement and Frank Ohotnicky is Director of Advancement Services at Keystone. We asked them to reprise their CASE presentation for the Switchboard blog.
A core tenet of your fundraising strategy is that small institutions must take nontraditional approaches to campaign preparation. Could you explain that?
We performed a feasibility study with the hope of a clear priority emerging and having a traditional capital campaign for some type of new “brick and mortar” construction. The results of the feasibility study took us in a different direction, which we as an institution embraced. Organizations like ours, that lack a robust endowment but have great need, must carefully weigh the risk of taking on the burden of additional debt when considering a campaign.
After further analyzing the results of the feasibility study and taking into account our current financial situation, we decided that a comprehensive campaign would pose less risk and serve as an effective platform to engage our donors.
How do you use a data-driven strategy to run major fundraising initiatives at Keystone?
As we were developing the philosophy behind our data-driven strategy, I found several definitions that I disagreed with. One of which is that “data-driven fundraising is simply fundraising that is compelled by data not intuition or gut-feel.” I felt like this statement made certain assumptions that I fundamentally disagreed with, including that an organization should be “data reliant” and that there is no room for the “human element” in a data driven approach.
At Keystone College, we take a holistic approach where we allow human assumption to drive data endeavors and use analyzed data to add objectivity. We describe our unique strategy as informed intuition, or “beyond conventional wisdom” (Wagstaff, 2012). Albert Einstein once said “the only real valuable thing is intuition.” It’s valuable because it has a degree of honesty to it, although a person’s interpretation is often incorrect.
Intuition from the fundraising professionals can give Advancement Services professionals the ability to identify patterns or add unique insight to the patterns that are revealed. Data should support assumptions and hypotheses, which benefits from human interpretation. Our “interpretation” is informed through the intuition or intuitive abilities of others. While analyzing the data, we sometimes pose the question of “Why do you think this is the case?” in reference to a pattern that emerged and use their “gut-reactions” to point us to possible explanations. We engage our fundraising team in this process to gain multiple perspectives and be "data informed" as a fundraising operation.
In summary, our data-driven philosophy relies on the relationship between human intuition, the ability to understand something immediately, and then using data to mitigate the “fundamentally flawed” logic. This enables us to make well informed decisions that combine our team’s experience and data we collect and analyze.
What advice would you offer other institutions seeking to replicate your success?
Each institution is unique, it is important to understand the needs of your College or University and formulate a plan based on that. Fundraising is influenced by many different factors and our advice is to consider all of them carefully. Whether beginning a comprehensive or capital campaign your mission should be the driving force; it’s important to remain flexible and be ready to adapt to any situation. Thorough analysis and preparation is just as important as the execution of the plan itself.