Change and Project Management · Prospecting · Relationship Management · Content Type · Article · Level · I · Industry · Education
What the Beatles Could Teach Us About Working With Athletics
By Jeana Waller and Jeff Grizzle | December 01, 2022
A common pain point Across the Universe in higher education philanthropy are the silos that exist between academic and athletic fundraisers. Did you just groan? Maybe nod your head? It’s time to break down those silos and open the doors to collaboration and transparency. The first step is identifying and acknowledging what the challenges are. Having recently experienced this ourselves at Oklahoma State University Foundation, here are some items we found could Help!
It’s important to keep in mind that across the globe, athletics is often regarded as the “front porch” of the university. The challenge is not only within athletics, but the academic side as well. Good collaboration takes two! Here are some of the most common challenges across the industry:
- Not always adhering to the processes and procedures set forth by the organization. It’s common that not all interactions, solicitations and strategies are documented in the organization’s customer relationship management (CRM) system. Organizations struggling with inaccurate forecasting when solicitations and planned solicitations are not entered, updated, etc.
- Academic and athletic fundraisers feeling that the other side “reaches out to their prospects.” Tendencies to hoard prospects in large portfolios that do not look like they are being actively worked. Researchers add prospects to their portfolios and then Let It Be.
- Generally, there is not a holistic ask that includes both athletics and academics in the solicitation.
- The industry mindset that “athletics is going to athletics” — they are “special” and will never change their ways
In an ideal world, here’s how athletics and the academic side should work together to break down silos:
- Keeping the lines of communication open between athletic and academic fundraisers. Athletic fundraisers and academic fundraisers may live in different worlds, but they have the same goal: increasing contributions to the university.
- Creating strong, holistic prospect strategies that are worked by all fundraising professionals with an interest in the prospect. To be truly donor centered, we need to utilize a collaborative approach. Not only does this put the prospect front and center, but collaboration can greatly increase the impact a prospect can provide to the university.
- Being donor centered! Getting rid of rigid mindsets like “they graduated from my academic unit so that’s what they are interested in,” or “a bulk of their giving is to athletics so you don’t need to manage the prospect.” I Want to Tell You that this is not the case. Getting all interested parties to work together for what the donor wants is key. Do You Want to Know a Secret? They are not your prospects. They are prospects for the university. Any action that takes place with a prospect belongs to the university and should be documented in the CRM. If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.
- Shrinking and/or balancing portfolios to be more strategic, making it clearer to see who fundraisers decide to keep in portfolios.
Your first question may be “How Do You Do It?” It’s best to start by determining whose responsibility it is to take the next step. Let me Whisper Words of Wisdom — it’s you! If you want to see something change, step up and take action.
What helped us was the fact that members of our prospect development team already had strong relationships with our athletics fundraisers. It has been a Long and Winding Road to get here. Thankfully, a few things took place within our organization that afforded us an opportunity to make those first steps.
We have had a change in leadership.
This includes a new president, as well as a new athletic director who comes with a traditional fundraising background. Both understand the importance of collaboration, documentation and support. They have strong ties to our organization that help to continue building out the relationships between athletics and academics.
We implemented a Top 40 program.
Our principal gifts team established a program that hand-selects the top 40 “difference makers” for the university. These prospects have multiple interests across academia and athletics. As part of the program, there is a cross-functional group of fundraisers that have strategy sessions to discuss holistic approaches for the prospect. These sessions bring together fundraisers from athletics as well as multiple academic units. Following the session, a delegated individual compiles the holistic strategy, shares it within the group, documents Every Little Thing in the CRM and assigns tasks accordingly. This program and the strategies that evolve from the sessions are paving the way to a best-in-class model of collaboration and transparency.
We recently went through a database conversion.
In our new database, development officers are required to have a documented strategy and purpose for assignment in order to keep a prospect in their portfolio. This allows the prospect development team to work closely with both the academic and athletics fundraisers to collect this information prior to our data migration. It also requires each portfolio-carrying fundraiser to stop and think about why they need to keep a prospect and how they are moving them toward making a major gift contribution to the university. We were surprised at how many prospects were removed from portfolios.
The prospect development team has reshaped how we do things.
As a result of the conversion, prospect development tipped over our apple cart and then took off in a Yellow Submarine. We showed our development staff that we trust them! Prospect development often has a reputation for being “the police,” but we’ve worked hard to change that perception. Below are three significant adjustments that helped us turn the tides:
Our NEW Reality
As we’ve Come Together in this journey, we’ve learned all that’s needed is to have the seed planted and nurtured. We’ve noticed athletic portfolios have decreased in size by more than 25%, the number of athletic proposals within the CRM has increased by almost 400% and the amount of transparency has increased by documenting strategies and the purpose of a prospect on assignment.
From Me to You, take the first step and be encouraging. Things will not change overnight but stay the course. You’ve got this!
Athletics Project Manager, Oklahoma State University Foundation
Jeana Waller is the Athletics Project Manager at the Oklahoma State University Foundation in Stillwater, OK. She began her career as a Development Coordinator in 2004 with the university. In 2005, her position transitioned to the OSU Foundation where she has served multiple fundraising staff in her coordinator role until her transition to Prospect Development in 2013. While in Prospect Development, she has worn many different hats. Most recently, she was the Prospect Research Analyst and Prospect Development Project Manager and is a fundraising success advocate. The past eighteen months she has managed the design, documentation and delivery of educational opportunities following the co-managing of the needs of the department during their recent CRM implementation. She currently sits on multiple cross-functional teams as well as an organizational growth initiative.
On October 24th, Jeana transitioned to her current roll with the Athletics team. Having attended Oklahoma State University, Jeana has a strong passion for the Cowboys. She is also passionate about continuing education and assisting others to be successful. When Jeana is not working, you can find her spending time with her husband and their two daughters, reading a good book or doing something creative. She nurtures her creative side by painting, working with epoxy, quilting and has been known to sit down with a coloring book. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and LinkedIn.
Assistant Director of Prospect Engagement, Oklahoma State University Foundation
Jeff Grizzle is the Assistant Director of Prospect Engagement at the Oklahoma State University Foundation. He has been in Prospect Development since 2018, starting in Research before moving to Prospect Management. Recently, he was involved in revamping portfolio meetings at the organization to holistically view portfolio health and trends, as well as assisting the Prospect Development team through an eighteen-month CRM implementation.
Jeff is passionate about ensuring the fundraising professionals at OSUF are making the right ask at the right time in the right way, and that all OSUF’s assigned prospects are being engaged and cultivated. Prior to joining OSUF, Jeff served in the US ARMY, then spent ten years at Oklahoma State Career Services, and most recently was a professional real estate associate.
When Jeff in not working, you can find him sailing on a nearby Oklahoma lake or enjoying time with his wife and daughter.