Innovation is key to maintaining a high-performing, dynamic workplace. The Innovation Spotlight seeks to celebrate teams that are implementing creative, new solutions that not only enhance, but transform their work and advance the University’s mission. Our first spotlight shines on the Gift and Data Management team, led by Amy Schell.
Gift and Data Management is comprised of three areas: Gift Management, Advancement Records, and Gift Strategy. The team is responsible for gift strategy through gift agreements and for overseeing the biographical and gift data in Advance and crmND for every Development constituent. From creating new constituent records, eliminating duplicates, updating marriage, birth, death, and parental statuses, and recording the whole giving cycle of outright gifts, pledge payments, and deferred giving—including 15 different pipelines to give—the team manages all constituent information quite literally from the cradle to the grave. In addition, the team has key partnerships across campus that arose from creating funds, and they share the purpose of how each fund is to be used with the relevant campus stakeholders. Keeping biographical and giving records as accurate and clean as possible is essential to the success of every other Development team, making Gift and Data Management the backbone of our work.
Through a combination of retirements and early retirements, the Gift and Data Management team lost seven employees over the past two years. Facing this substantial loss of personnel and institutional knowledge, it was critical for the team to find novel ways to do more with fewer people.
Before making any changes, the team worked hard to create a culture in which each team member is empowered to ask questions, challenge existing methods of operating, and present new ideas. Through these ongoing conversations, the team was able to identify opportunities for improvement, select a few to focus on, and create detailed plans for implementing new processes.
For example, the team noticed the increasing stress on the lettershop to keep up with the complexity of gifts coming in. After reevaluating the purpose and audience of these letters, they were able to reduce the number of unique tax letters produced from 17 to 7, significantly streamlining the process. In addition, they changed the signatory on these letters from the EVP to Stacy Koebel, Director of Gift Management, allowing them to simplify the letters while incorporating more personalized giving information such as the opportunity to have gifts matched, pledge reminders, and more within the letters.
In addition, Gift and Data Management has implemented several other changes that have helped improve efficiency and collaboration among team members. Previously, the team had been split between floors, but now the entire team has moved to the 11th floor of Grace Hall, fostering better communication and eliminating excess information handoffs. Now when data is processed, the processor manages both the biographical and giving information at the same time, ensuring that no piece of information is touched more than once.
The team has developed an electronic project with the USPS that has reduced the amount of direct mail that is sent to incorrect addresses (and therefore returned to us), resulting in a more than 90% decrease in cost. Finally, Gift and Data Management is phasing in the DocuSign system, which will allow both donors and University leaders to sign gift agreements electronically. This system will ensure agreements are processed faster, development staff will be able to see the status of an agreement, and donors can fill out gift agreements whenever and wherever their schedules allow.
The goal of these innovative initiatives is to ensure that everyone’s talent and time are maximized. While these efforts have seen early success, it’s important to remember that innovation necessarily involves risk. On the Gift and Data Management team, every team member has new responsibilities, and it’s only natural that some missteps will happen along the way. But with their spirit, there is no doubt they will conquer these challenges with grace and tenacity.