How We Do What We Do (Part 2)

Posted more than a year ago.

Let’s review. You had questions…

  • “Is the Thrive Campaign intended as a crowdsourcing effort? The Thrive menu feels like a Kickstarter or Kiva, but the number of givers suggests otherwise.”
  • “Why did the team shoot past the goal for Garvey HD? The improvements in Judd sound wonderful, but with limited resources, wouldn’t you want to push donors and their gifts to other strategic priorities first?”
  • “What are you counting on the Thrive menu page? Are these real, tangible dollars that OC has in-house or are these pledges to give?”
  • “If the dollars listed are pledges, then where does OC get the money from right now to actually accomplish these projects?”

…and on Friday I gave you answers. Wait, you’re saying I didn’t give you answers? I explained our gushy, heart-warming philanthropic philosophy but didn’t get to the logistical meat?

Hmmm. Okay. Then let’s get to it.

How We Make the Map

There’s a rub here, isn’t there? You may have felt it all weekend. You understand my philosophy, but the dollars still have to come in. “You can’t rely on ‘good feelings’ to balance the budget and finance the future.” you might be saying to yourself.

You’re absolutely right. Philanthropy is about dreaming, it’s about relationships, it’s about the power of giving and the heart for change…but you have to build a strategic, logistical framework around those ideas to make sure the important gifts happen.

So how do we do that? (Here’s where some of your answers come out.)

Well, beyond the work of our relationships and our guts, we closely examine other factors about our OC family: capacity to give, history of giving, connectedness to the University, philanthropic interests, and more. We then use these factors to identify prospective donors for various projects and at various levels.

This prospecting process is ongoing. But, at the outset of a campaign like Thrive, we use this groundwork as a roadmap for how we’ll accomplish all the projects on our menu. For a project like our Campus Café Reboot ($3M), this roadmap might look something like:

  • 1 major gift at $1,000,000 (4 prospects)
  • 2 major gifts at $500,000 (8 prospects)
  • 3 major gifts at $250,000 (12 prospects)
  • 5 major gifts at $50,000 (20 prospects)
  • Total approached: 44
  • Total committed givers: 11

It might also look like:

  • 3 major gifts at $1,000,000 (6 prospects)
  • Total approached: 6
  • Total committed givers: 3

Neither map, by itself, is right or wrong. It all depends on the project and our potential donors. What you can see from these maps, though, is that we ask for a bit more than our targets. In the first scenario, our plan is to ask four families for $1M each. If they all give, we’ll raise $4M, which is more than we’ve projected needing for the cafeteria. However, we know from experience that all four families will not be able or willing to give $1M right now for the cafeteria project. They might decide to invest in something else, or at a different level, or at a different time.

To ensure success, we need to make sure we don’t put all our eggs in one proverbial basket.

How We Crowdsource

This speaks to the realities behind two of your questions (crowdsourcing and overshooting some goals). On the crowdsourcing front, we absolutely want a large pool of OC families to get engaged with Thrive. But we're also very aware of what we call the 80/20 rule: that 80% of all funds raised typically come from 20% or fewer of our donors. (This rule proves true time and again.) We need to make a map and we need lead donors to drive momentum on these efforts.

So is Thrive a crowdsourcing effort? Well, yes and no. We’re using many “traditional” methods in raising investments in these projects, but our transparent communication style and online giving options open this Campaign up to a broader group of influencers than any other university campaign out there.

How We Overshoot Goals

Meanwhile, on the overshooting front (which I honestly hope happens often), you can see one wonderful reason why that might happen: more people say “yes” than we expected.* Now that’s not ever the whole reason. Garvey HD, for example, was a very intentional expansion based on a reevaluation of our needs in those venues. But, the added funds to Garvey were only made available because more people gave us the go ahead than we initially mapped out.

*One important caveat: we don’t throw extra money at projects just because we have extra. Our philosophy is almost always to budget conservatively based on the core needs of an initiative. Chances are, if we are given extra, we can most definitely use those dollars in a wise and beneficial way. But, in those rare instances we can’t or shouldn’t, we would work with our donors to move their gifts to something else or to even (gasp) return their gifts. (Never seen that last one required, by the way.)

How We Count

Per your questions on counting, it’s good for you to know that one important tool in the philanthropy box is the pledge. I might not be able to give you $500k right now, but I might be able to give $100k each year for five years. (I can’t do either, but stay with me.) It’s crucial for OC to know this and respond accordingly. Because if the University bases all appeals on what can be done right now, then millions of dollars will be left on the table and hundreds of projects will be left on the drawing board.

This plays into the roadmap strategy. When it comes to capacity, we don’t always look at someone’s ability to give in the here and now. In fact, we rarely think in such a short term. Instead we look at their ability to give over the next several years.

And when those awesome people commit to giving, you better believe we tout their investments in total to the world. So the progress you see on the Thrive menu represents gifts and pledges.

How We Build with Pledges

Now to your other very good follow-up: if I commit $500k to the Coffee Shop now, but I’ll be giving $100k each year for five years, how does OC build the Coffee Shop before 2018?

That gets tricky.

We can’t go ask other people for the money. Even though we do ask beyond our targets in the planning stages, as I’ve mentioned, we never do so after our goal has been met. That would be deceptive. We only ever use your money for the project you selected, after all (see my post on donor intent for more info). So, in a case like this we’d be over-asking, and in five years we’d end up with $400k that we can’t use on anything but an already completed Coffee Shop.

Then how do we do it? Well, the most common way is that we use unrestricted dollars to fill the gap until the committed gifts come in. “Unrestricted gifts,” just as their name suggests, are gifts made free and clear to the University overall. Donors who give with an unrestricted intent are essentially saying, “Use my investment for whatever makes the most sense.” Gifts to our Associates Program are unrestricted in nature. We also sometimes receive planned gifts (estates from our friends who have passed away, for example) that are unrestricted.

These gifts give us the flexibility to use the first payment of a five-year pledge ($100k) along with $400k in present unrestricted cash to immediately build something like the Coffee Shop. Then, as future pledge payments come in, we can refund those dollars to our unrestricted accounts and use them for other important projects.

Clear as mud, I’m sure. If you’re wired like me, you’re probably wondering now how all this movement shows up on the Thrive website. Questions breed questions, don’t they?

Let’s talk about that later this week. Until then, reflect with me on the amazing generosity of our OC family and be blessed!

-Will