Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. was Affinaquest’s first client to go live with Advancement RM, Affinaquest’s robust advancement CRM. To learn more about that experience, Affinaquest’s content team recently sat down with Kirsten Reppert, Chief Data Officer & AVP of Advancement Operations at Georgetown University to learn about their experience.
In Part One of the three-part series, Kirsten explained some of the benefits of using a “managed package” CRM instead of building one from scratch. For Part Two below, she explains some of the Advancement RM customizations that Georgetown University has developed, building on the CRM’s industry-leading functionality to transform advancement at the university.
Customization Isn’t Always Complicated
Kirsten Reppert, Chief Data Officer & AVP of Advancement Operations at Georgetown University: Just a few weeks into going live [with a new advancement CRM] and watching how things work, you start to say, “Okay, how can we make this better?”
Customization doesn’t mean all the bells and whistles and from A to Z. Sometimes customization just means we add our own special style or account for our order of operations.
It doesn’t have to be functionality like a workflow (which we’ve done, for sure). Sometimes it can just be a custom field, object, or component that curates information for you to help you make better decisions or to just help your reporting.
For [Georgetown], we aim to make things super transparent so colleagues can get the information they need when they need it. Advancement RM has an activity report. We customized our own advancement activity reports, then took it a step further and created customized activity reports for non-advancement university leadership who regularly meet with alumni, parents, donors, and potential donors.
Using Affinaquest’s Advancement RM’s permission functionality and customization options, Kirsten and the Georgetown team have been able to curate the information that they share, ensuring that the right data gets into the right hands without compromising the security of the information. This allows the team to be flexible in responding to a variety of university business needs.
The Ecosystem of Advancement RM
Caitlin Scarano, Senior Marketing Manager for Advancement at Affinaquest: What has been the most critical way that you’ve customized or extended Advancement RM at Georgetown? What was the impact, and who benefited from it?
Kirsten: My philosophy is that it is an ecosystem. There is no one thing that drives all of your advancement operations, but the thing that comes very close is gift recording.
At the end of the day, advancement shops exist to raise money for our institutions. You can’t not get that right! Our gift data, which originates and is maintained by our Gift Administration team, influences just about every decision that we make. [Georgetown] built on Affinaquest’s batch processing functionality, which is a game changer for our industry.
Called SmartBatch, the gift batching and processing functionality of the Advancement Cloud is one of its most critical features. It was designed by advancement professionals for advancement professionals to make gift entry more efficient. SmartBatch is fully auditable and meets all CASE, IRS, GASB, and FASB standards. Since implementing Advancement RM, Georgetown has seen a roughly 25% speed increase in gift processing, with simultaneous faster processing and fewer back-end auditing challenges.
Kirsten: Understanding how that works and getting it right has enabled us to think about how we can share advancement fundraising information with people who need to know it. We were able to provide dashboards right away to our finance colleagues to say, “Here’s what’s in the queue. This is what’s getting posted and here’s where it’s going.”
Then we took a look backwards. Batching is the core, but what happens before that?
Our development officer colleagues maintain portfolios, and it’s important that we optimize their engagement with donors and potential donors. So we leveraged Opportunities to track and measure what’s happening with our gift conversations. There was, and continues to be, a lot of collaboration with our front-line colleagues on this:
- What are the right fields to use?
- What parts of the engagement do we prioritize?
- How can we determine in a moves-management-like way our confidence in our ability to close that gift?
- How can we build it out so that it’s dynamic and flexible, but also intuitive and easy for a colleague to use on the go?
We took deliberate steps to ask and map out, “What’s informing this and what’s not?” We did the same thing with Campaigns.
After identifying the data that they wanted to capture, Kirsten and her team expanded upon the Advancement RM’s campaign structure with custom fields. As one result of this work, Georgetown is now able to better understand what appeals will likely elicit a better response from their constituents, down to the type of appeal (direct mail, email, phone call) and who signed the message, whether a student or the university president. This allows them to identify overarching trends and individual constituent habits and make better, data-informed decisions too.
Deploying Development Officers Effectively with Customized Opportunities
Caitlin: What are some of the specific things that you did to make the gift opportunities more functional for moves management in a fundraising operation?
Kirsten: One of the things that we felt was most important was having opportunities align with the way that we wanted to manage portfolios, now that we had the tools to do so. We now have a much more dynamic approach because we can blend the science with the art of relationship building. Opportunities open the door to a more enhanced and comprehensive view of how we’re covering our pipeline.
Development officer portfolios are where we see the highest potential impact; if fundraising is your business, opportunities are how you manage your institution’s most valuable assets.
- How are you deploying your development officers?
- How are you leveraging their portfolios to make sure that they are covering and engaging the right people, at the right time?
- What are you learning from development officers about what kinds of engagement are the most successful?
- How long does it take to go from cultivation to conclusion and what combination and timing of activities were necessary?
It’s tempting to measure everything, but it’s better to measure what’s important. We went from having a ton of fields on Opportunities to having just what we needed: what do we need to know from a development officer about how this conversation is going?
We continue to fine tune and we’re still learning, but the core elements don’t change – start with an expected close date and an expected amount, and give colleagues the ability to move the Opportunity into actual close and actual amount.
From there, add confidence levels at different stages, whether [the Opportunity] is in qualification, cultivation, intent to solicit, or stewardship. Nearer to close means closer to 100 percent confidence.
We know this in advancement, but it doesn’t often translate well when you’re collaborating with university colleagues on financial forecasting. Now it’s one of the big things that informs our Campaign Impact Dashboard, because our non-advancement colleagues need to know what we’re forecasting so they can align their plans and expectations. It’s added a new dimension to our collaboration.
The Campaign Impact Dashboard is one of Georgetown’s extensions of the Advancement RM, helping to bridge the gap between financial and fundraising accounting so that both teams have a clear sense of what’s happening in fundraising. Kirsten’s colleague Danny Brothers presented the dashboard at the Affinaquest Virtual User Summit held in December 2021.
Kirsten: We know that our fundraising success has a very real impact on the university’s budgeting and projections. Finance and advancement, industry-wide, have different ways of looking at the world, but we’re actually both looking at the same dollars. One of my colleagues calls it two versions of the truth, two true versions of the truth. Thanks to our colleagues on both teams, we’re now able to translate our numbers and theirs using data curated from the gifts and opportunities we record.
Customizations to Drive Understanding and Efficiency: Accounting and Cases
Kirsten: [At the beginning], our interface showed the double-entry accounting method for our pledges and payments. For example, you see a pledge for $100, four $25 receivables, and then a payment and a negative offset. It’s correct, just not intuitive for most of our users.
We prioritized user experience and made that whole interface much easier to read, thinking primarily about our development officers and others who needed to quickly see and understand a person’s giving. Now it looks like online banking.
Another area we tightened up right away was our gift correction process. Corrections are an expected part of our business, but at the start there wasn’t a central way to capture this. We were getting a lot of correction requests to different emails and intakes without the ability to dedupe. If five people saw the same gift and saw what was wrong, then there’d be five different requests for the same correction. It was a nightmare for everyone. So we developed cases that manage those requests and also prohibit duplicate open requests for the same transaction.
Cases are requests that can be submitted within the Advancement RM. Kirsten and the Georgetown team built them out for gift corrections to capture what the issue is, what needs to be done, and to allow the user to submit supporting documentation. The cases alert the gift processing team to the issue and even create a batch to help automate the correction process. Georgetown has since expanded the use of cases to capture a number of other requests as well.
Don’t miss Part Three of this series, where we close out our conversation with Kirsten by diving into more of the impacts that using Advancement RM has had on Georgetown’s campus.
In the meantime, learn more about why more than 40 institutions have trusted their data to Affinaquest’s industry-leading CRM platform by scheduling a demo with our advancement experts.