Scaling a Principal Gift and Strategic Initiatives Prospect Program
Across the United States, campaign goals and transformational gifts have grown exponentially. Over the past two decades I’ve staffed four campaigns, and during my years on staff within the University of California (UC) higher education system, I actively refined an approach to building six-figure and above gift prospect programs during UCLA’s $5.4 billion Centennial Campaign for UCLA, and the $6 billion Fiat Lux Campaign for Berkeley.
Background on Transformational and Strategic Initiative Gifts
It has been my experience that each fundraising and prospect development program across UC’s 10 campus administrations is absolutely unique. In fact, my reflection is that the only shared approach between the multi-billion dollar campaigns of UCLA and UC Berkeley were newly aligned resources toward aspirational multidisciplinary academic solutions, centered around society’s greatest challenges (i.e., climate/energy, neuroscience/depression, health justice, genomics, data, etc.) to be lifted by transformational gifts of six figures and above, for “Strategic Initiatives,” or “Grand Challenges.”
In 2017 I was recruited for a newly created prospect development campaign role within the Principal Gift and Strategic Initiatives team at UC Berkeley, recommended by campaign counsel and supported by leadership. I believe the below key elements created the foundation to move UC Berkeley’s shop from having a single six-figure gift in its prior campaign to over 12 transformational gifts by last year of the current campaign. Such contributions supported our nomination as a 2021 CASE Finalist for Best Practices in Fundraising.
Bridging Partnership and Information Gaps in Campaign Culture
Scaling any prospect development and management program has its complexities and challenges. With the interdependent, interdisciplinary collegiality required of transformational six-figure and above gift work, and as a prospect development professional, it is important to anchor all your partnerships with institutional colleagues for success.
Whenever praise was given for a past campaign gift in a meeting, I would reach out to the fundraising staff member or unit that received the gift to learn more. Understanding their role supported my observation and understanding of our thriving fundraising culture, the key checkpoints of decision making among fundraisers and their preferences around prospect communications (solicitation clearance, points of contact, etc.). I recommend you fold what you learn from your fundraiser partners into your future cross-campus collaborations that will entail liaising between multiple fundraising stakeholders.
Berkeley’s last campaign closed one six-figure gift. In order to increase high-touch cultivation of high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs), there was a clear need for greater access to the information on our database for research and relationship prospecting across multiple academic disciplines, consistent reporting and visualization of top campaign prospects, and creating a refreshable campus six-figure and above gift pipeline.
To top it off, a need arose to define legacy families at UC Berkeley to support a redefined principal gift staff that would instead support stewardship efforts. I actively introduced myself to staff from donor relations, marketing and communications and business development. I offered to be a resource for assessing campaign business rules, testing new reporting as an advanced user and sharing thoughts about upcoming transformational prospects for which we might need writing support. As the campaign progressed, I developed the right contacts for specific workflows and learned about resources or upcoming priorities that would support lifting up an agile principal gift prospect management system.
At the time of the campaign’s silent phase, there was no UC Berkeley campus-wide gift pipeline, or established characteristics of what the campaign’s top 100 prospects should entail. Meanwhile, advancement technology services colleagues became acquainted with my daily impact on key campaign datasets through my managing documentation of high-touch cultivation visits, related Office of the Chancellor correspondence and audits of six-figure gift opportunities from our team. This led to our partnership (my data context, their tech muscle and expertise) in creating an instrumental analytics report that surfaced a holistic view of cross-campus $5 million-plus gift opportunities — and laid out essential recency, frequency and monetary (RFM) and engagement data to assess relationship building.
Due to UC Berkeley’s history of not having conducted database wealth screenings, access to this information ultimately informed Berkeley's top 100 campaign prospects as having the capacity to give $10 million or more (initially based on curated fundraiser ratings) and in its final state, total campaign gifts and open gift proposals reaching $10 million and more. This partnership’s campus-wide deliverable benefitted the whole UC Berkeley advancement community. It increased efficiency, predictability and accountability in collegial engagement of top prospects.
Similar to the wealth of knowledge fundraisers learn about prospects, faculty are equally important internal partners to engage for prospect development. A clear career highlight during my time at UC Berkeley was the opportunity to build out a prospect pipeline for a future new academic school, now known as the Division of Computing, Data Science, and Society, which had not occurred in five decades.
To truly understand the personas of potential HNWI prospects interested in data science, I learned from the initial faculty architects who were charged with visioning the future curriculum about the context of the new division's formation and the impact such a division could have on society. With this content in mind, I prioritized identifying prospects with cross-disciplinary interests in data science (at that time, under an effort for the Data Science Initiative) that overlapped with key topical areas such as ethics, public health and neuroscience. I consequently built multidisciplinary prospect pools for the future division, created data visualizations of key data science capital donors across the United States that could support the future $550 million building and researched the C-suite executive relationships at tech companies to support potential corporate sponsors.
As transformational gifts increased, so had the need to strike a balance between extended cultivation efforts of potential six-figure prospects and stewarding past donors. As it had been a goal of leadership the prior year to gauge past high-touch stewardship efforts, I resurfaced my historic analysis of top stewarded families by the Office of the Chancellor over the last decade.
This created a short list with an impartial spotlight on a collection of families that, based on RFM scores and recent engagement data, would be better suited for permanent stewardship efforts. This optimized active fundraiser portfolios by having the redefined principal gift staff member focus on stewardship items and allowed me to allocate my prospect management and strategy focus to top 100 campaign prospects.
More university shops across the United States are lifting up transformational multidisciplinary initiatives or aligning resources from existing principal gift teams, as was done in merging strategic initiatives and principal gifts into one department at UC Berkeley. I truly believe these key efforts create an agile principal gift and strategic initiatives prospect program, and are foundational for prospect development leaders who are ready to tackle mega gifts and billion-dollar campaigns. Intentionality in such partnerships supports greater transparency of your role in transformational prospect development and management work, but also enables partners to know how instrumental they are to both the development process and the transformational success of your institution.