By: Elisa Davis, Anna Jakubowski and Kristin Burgarello
The prospect research team at the University of Nevada grew from a shop primarily providing reactive profiles, event bios and contact information, to proactive partners with our frontline fundraisers and leaders in advancement data visualization. We trimmed fundraiser portfolios from 200-300 on average to 80-120 while strengthening relationships with fundraisers. We built visibility on portfolios and potential prospects. Then, we worked with leadership to revise fundraiser metrics and create reports for qualifications/disqualifications, meetings, asks and dollars raised. Finally, we created a gift forecast based on actual fundraiser data gathered from in-person conversations with prospects. To top it all off, we presented our work at Apra PD 2021! How did we do it?
The first dashboard that we built was a portfolio browser. After taking the Desktop I level of training in Tableau, we created a mockup built with a static extract (.xls) of a fundraiser portfolio. With this very familiar data set, we were able to ask fundraisers how they used their portfolios to plan their work. We took suggestions from fundraisers and incorporated them, then took our demo “proof of concept” on an internal tour to build buy-in.
Once we had sign-off from IT and our VP, we worked on publishing this product to Tableau Server. We then hosted a series of in-person workshops and trained all of the fundraisers on how to use Tableau and this particular dashboard. By the time we were training on complex dashboards, the tools were already familiar.
Changing business processes takes work. Often, you’re asking people to do more work in the short term for something that may or may not benefit them directly in the long run. We focused on making friends with our IT staff by holding monthly meetings. Our meetings had clear agendas so they could learn about the business problems we were trying to solve, and we learned about how they needed information scoped and formatted to better assist us.
We made friends with our frontline fundraisers by meeting with them quarterly and asking them about their specific frustrations with the current system. We approached them as allies who were here to help them with their “data homework,” rather than pseudo-bosses who were here to hold them accountable.
We also made friends with colleagues in other shops who were either attempting similar transformations or who were a few steps ahead of us. It was reassuring to know that we weren’t alone in what we were attempting. Connecting with peers at other institutions helped us tell the story to our leadership and make the case for additional resources.
One Step at a Time
Every time we started building a new dashboard, we discovered something new that needed to be discussed, cleaned up or reconfigured. We found that we had business processes in place that often weren’t fully documented. Each step of the metrics project in particular involved understanding one or more existing reports (often hand-maintained excel spreadsheets distributed across various server locations) and learning how they were being utilized.
We expected resistance to change that we never actually encountered — the fundraising operations at the University of Nevada, Reno, had grown significantly over the past decade, and older ways of doing things that worked for a small team were holding everyone back. We consistently reminded people of our shared goal: to make the database work for us, instead of feeling we worked for the database. By building reports and documenting streamlined business processes, we helped make this a reality.
Information transparency and clear reporting is a key design feature in all of our dashboards. The fundraisers needed to be able to see how they were doing on each of their metrics at a high level. They also needed to dive down into reviewing each line of data to make sure that every meeting and proposal was captured accurately. By tackling one aspect of the moves management process at a time, we were able to support fundraisers in data cleanup while making it easier to maintain up-to-date and aligned portfolios going forward.
Play to Your Strengths
We grew the scope of our department without growing our staff by specializing our roles. While doing so, we were careful to keep in mind who would work well with each unit.
When Kristin took over leadership of the department in 2018, we transitioned to a liaison model where each of us had responsibility for specific colleges or areas. Kristin served as lead and executive champion, prioritizing projects and putting together PR plans when it became clear that a business process might benefit from updates.
Anna became the research specialist and Elisa became the data specialist. With regards to dashboard development, Elisa took the lead on understanding the business processes and building new dashboards. Anna was the first reviewer, primary trainer and ultimately the primary customer for the more complex prospect-finding dashboards.
One of the main benefits of the new metrics dashboard was that it was easy to see which fundraisers were succeeding, and laud them for their great work. We learned that we have specialists in each area — some were amazing at getting that first meeting, others at shooting for the stars. We publicly celebrated fundraisers who accessed the dashboard frequently and worked with us to keep clean portfolios aligned with their work. We celebrated anyone who suggested new features, so they kept suggesting great ones.
Continuing our conversations with peers and colleagues, we began to share with other shops what we had accomplished. What started as informal chats and “show-and-tell” grew into chapter presentations and ultimately our 2021 Apra PD presentation. We look forward to being able to celebrate the successes of our Apra colleagues who may have been inspired by our story to create change in their shops! Let us know if we can help.
Anna Jakubowski, Elisa Davis and Kristin Burgarello worked together at the University of Nevada, Reno, until the summer of 2021. Anna was acting director of prospect research and management, Elisa was acting director of prospect analytics and management, and Kristin led the team as executive director of development.
Anna is now the prospect research analyst for The Nature Conservancy’s Mountain West Region. Kristin leads fundraising efforts for the Desert Research Institute as its director of advancement. Elisa recently joined The Climate Reality Project as its first manager of prospect development. They look forward to continuing to collaborate in their new roles.