Past, present, and future: How OSUF is transforming advancement
A Q&A with the Oregon State University Foundation
- One year ago, the Oregon State University Foundation (OSUF) went live with Ellucian CRM Advance in a move to modernize its operations and address significant changes in higher education advancement.
- Having the right people performing the right processes to effectively leverage technology is critical.
- Going forward, OSUF will be able to hyper-segment donor priorities and personalize experiences and journeys for donors.
One year ago, the Oregon State University Foundation (OSUF) went live with Ellucian CRM Advance in a move to modernize its operations and address significant changes in higher education advancement. In a Q&A with Mark Koenig, OSUF’s assistant vice president for advancement services, analytics, and digital strategy, we look back on the foundation’s year of notable successes and explore the ongoing role of CRM in their development strategy, internal processes, donor relations, and future initiatives.
Q: OSUF just marked the first anniversary of its new CRM system implementation. How has investing in this new technology driven the foundation’s overall strategy?
A: The advancement profession is becoming more sophisticated. It has benefited from greater exposure to private-sector business practices as well as increased attention from academic and institutional leadership. A world-class Oregon State University Foundation development program is dependent on a superior, function-rich, integrated CRM solution.
Furthermore, the desire to generate more private gift revenue to support higher education—while also managing costs effectively—has provided important incentives to improve operational efficiency in the advancement field. Technology has played a very important role in this process.
We knew we were missing opportunities to better serve our communities. External customers and internal employees had already largely adopted digital practices in all facets of their lives, from shopping online using their phones to adjusting their home thermostat remotely. They’ve been waiting for us to catch up—and now we’re finally there.
Q: How has modernizing helped your staff become more agile at adapting to the new donor landscape?
A: Since the migration, we’ve made key changes in IT and research, and we’ve made significant progress in restructuring our marketing team to align to our new digital reality.
It's really changed the way our research staff think and work. Now they have the ability to see the data and audit the data. They can really help the development officers manage their portfolios in the right way. Development officers are “people persons”—they're not data people, generally. So they really appreciate having someone proactively helping them manage their pools and helping to introduce new names and so on. Pipeline is like a stream: if it dries up in any spot upstream, you're going to have problems downstream.
We're also able to act in real time now. Our development officers can pull what they need, view it on their dashboard, and use it as they need right away. The data they need is right there: it’s transparent, and they have access to it every day.
The real power, though, is when we start to apply predictive analytics to donor behavior. Now we know when donors click on things and open them, and what they’re finding interesting.
Q: How has the ability to review your team’s processes and day-to-day activity helped you maximize efficiencies among your staff?
A: It’s useful to be able to view the development team’s system usage. At the end of the day, that's the kind of information you need as a supervisor to know how your staff is performing. You want to know that they’re looking at the system and strategically working the people in their portfolio. There’s a level of accountability.
The task-management piece of it also a plus. People love having task lists and checking off their tasks. There's something rewarding about it, and it's empowering to be able to say, “I got that done”—and then move on to other areas or next steps towards larger goals.
Q: Since implementing the new CRM system, have you seen any measurable results?
A: For one, an increase in self-entry. Before CRM, only a quarter of our staff were putting in their own proposals. Now, it’s 65 percent, and we have a goal to go even higher—to around 75 percent. That's been huge for us and shows us that the development officers are now more efficient.
We've also seen a lot of really positive feedback around the mobile piece. If I'm a development officer and there’s a newswire hit about my prospect, I would love to know that—and mobile is where I'm going to consume that information.
For me personally, the mobile access came in very handy early on in the launch. I was at an event with a dean and we ran into someone we needed to know more about very quickly. I checked the database on my mobile and the dean was able to incorporate him into her remarks that same evening.
Q: Looking back at the changes and at your team’s evolution over the past year, what key lessons have you learned? What really stands out?
A: The symbiotic role of people, processes, and tools. The old adage of “garbage in, garbage out” still holds true, but understanding the lifecycle of why data does (or doesn’t) get into your CRM is oftentimes less about the tool and more about the people or processes to get the information in there.
Having this more holistic approach to technology is critical for any organization. Having the right people doing the right processes to effectively leverage the technology is critical for successful adoption. This understanding, while it might seem basic, is really important. I like to think about the role of a conductor in an orchestra, blending the components of technology, people, and processes to make beautiful music.
Also, the importance of easy access to your information. CRM Advance doesn’t hide your data—it’s easy to find and easy to view. If it’s junky or full of inconsistencies, you’ll see that and want to clean it up. We felt we did a really good job of data cleanup prior to the migration, but afterwards found we still had plenty to do. The ability to quickly do an Advance Find to audit the information is exceptionally helpful as well. I’ve never worked with a system where it was so easy to get what you need, quickly.
Q: In your years in higher education advancement, what changes you have seen or witnessed during that time?
A: Honestly, I see that the same legacy systems that I started 20 years ago are still in operation today. And that makes me sad. How can you be using technology that’s 30 years old?
Higher ed is a medieval organization and we tend to move glacially when it comes to things like investment in technology. We don't think about it until it really comes to a critical mass. And I kind of feel like in our industry right now we're at that critical mass, where you're seeing a lot of folks saying, “What am I going to do in the next five years? We're still using a legacy product—how are we still doing that?” There's a reluctance and a fear scaring us into that.
Q: We hear your team is using your experience with CRM technology as a springboard for new projects across campus. How are you using your experience and knowledge to become a technology champion and improve collaboration with other teams and departments?
A: The migration to CRM opened our eyes to the possibilities with other digital transformation projects. We’re leveraging much of the same discipline and project management prowess we applied during the migration, and creating digital teams that tackle larger outcomes like engagement and customer experience. That’s allowing us to lower silo walls and bring the right people to the table to tackle any challenge facing us.
Change is hard. You have to find a way to build bridges and bring people together for a common goal.
Q: Where do you think OSUF would be today if you hadn’t transformed your technology and internal operations?
A: We’d still be limping along. We would still be getting things done, but at greater cost, incrementally at best, and with a lot of lost opportunity costs. That’s why we needed to make a big change—one that would allow us to have the freedom to partner with new, innovative, and emerging partners who have built their platforms on modern infrastructure and APIs. No more cobbling together with bailing wire and bubblegum the tools needed to create a robust and efficient infrastructure.
That's one of the challenges, though: you never really know until you invest and start to go through this journey that you recognize that you've really been leaving things on the table for a long time.
Q: What’s next for you and your team?
A: We are fully in the optimization phase of our project. In addition to refining and continuing to evolve and improve our business practices within CRM, we’re currently building out a modern marketing technology stack, which we would never have been able to do without CRM Advance. Having CRM Advance serve as the repository for all data and information allows us to truly harness the information to provide a level of customization and personalization we’ve only dreamt of in the past.
Going forward—whether it's the next campaign, or even general gift donations or the annual fund—our work will be much more proactive and targeted. We won’t just blast people with emails. We’re going to be able to be hyper-segmented about donor priorities. We’ll be able to personalize those experiences and journeys for the donors. We'll really getting them the right information at the right time in ways that might influence their ability to make a gift toward something they really care about.
That’s really important for us. Already in the last six months, we've secured a principal gift of over $20 million. So to be able to stay on top of those strategies and that information will really help us work with our donors in the way they want to be worked with.