Higher Ed CRM: How Florida Poly Built Its Advancement Operation
Florida Polytechnic University was established in 2012 to prepare 21st century learners in advanced fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Being one of the youngest public universities in the US provides some unique opportunities to take a fresh approach to processes and technology that a campus typically relies on. One example of this is their fully-digital and “book-free” library. Another is their Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) system that’s used to support students throughout their journey from recruiting and admissions to alumni.
Advancement Operations at Florida Polytechnic University
We recently caught up with Laura Schumacher, Research Associate and Alumni Coordinator for Florida Polytechnic University, to talk more about the process and decision making that went into preparing a CRM system to give the Advancement team a way to track, report, and utilize data to effectively support the university.
Q: I know that Florida Polytechnic is a fairly young institution. Tell us a little more about its history and what its goals are today.
A: Florida Polytechnic University was established in 2012 as the State’s 12th and only Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) focused university. Classes began in the Fall of 2014, and we were granted accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) in June of 2017. Florida Poly is now in the accreditation process from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). The University offers 2 graduate degrees and 6 undergraduate degrees. Majors include Computer Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Computer Science, Data Analytics, and Science & Technology Management. The first cohort of students that started in August 2014 will graduate on May 4, 2018. This will give us almost 300 total Alumni!
It’s not everyday that you start a new university, so we are unique in that we get to build the curriculum, programs, student offerings, and processes from scratch. This can often be a challenge, especially for our Advancement department. With no alumni to serve as the base of our fundraising efforts, we face a continuous battle on how to prepare our students to give back in the future while raising the funds necessary to support the university today.
Technology for Major Gifts at Florida Polytechnic University
Q: I’d imagine that being a young institution would greatly impact your advancement and fundraising strategy. Tell us a little bit about that and your overall operation.
A: The first place that we started was to reach out to other institutions to see what they had learned and what their operations look like. Luckily, the Central Florida Community and Advancement community in general is very friendly and willing to chat about what they do! Quickly, I learned that many of the other higher education operations have a major focus on their alumni as donors. Because of this, we needed to get creative in how we can prep for that time while also having the information necessary for a community and business focused Advancement department.
I come from a Theatre background with a few years of experience working as the Admin on a Salesforce-based ticketing and donation software. Because of this experience, I had an idea of what the Salesforce platform could do with donations and other aspects of an Advancement operation. Through a combination of what other universities do and the incorporation of techniques from the nonprofit sector, we were able to come up with a setup that will work great for us for years to come.
Q: What challenges did you experience with a smaller pool of alumni in which to engage?
A: Our focus is shifted toward community, corporate, and grant support for our Advancement operation. Our biggest need is currently scholarship funding due to the generous scholarships offered to every student that attends Florida Poly. We also play an additional role in simply establishing the name of Florida Poly in our community and securing internship and potential job opportunities for our current students and future alumni. Because of this shift, we created custom objects in a way to help track these opportunities. We customized our Salesforce instance in a way that changes the name of standard opportunity objects to be Philanthropy objects and created a whole new Opportunities Object to help track engagement outside of donations.
Q: Tell us about some of your initial campaign plans. How those have shifted over the past few years?
A: In the building of our Development department, we have now designated a specific staff member to focus on annual campaigns. In the past, prior to integrating Salesforce, we had one Faculty/Staff campaign in the fall semester. We were able to track this campaign better this year, and our stewardship team member has access to the donor information in order to prepare thank you gifts and document this in Salesforce. We had our first End of Year campaign in the Fall of 2017 and tracked all messaging through the use of Salesforce Campaigns. In this, we are able to see who received emails, who opened them, and who went on to give us a donation. This spring, we are having our first Senior Class Gift. I can track those students who give directly in Salesforce without any duplication of their information and use the reporting features to export into our Commencement check-in software to give them their Philanthropy Cord to wear at Graduation. Moving forward, the possibility of a capital campaign is more likely due to the confidence we have in our record keeping and the use of data to assist with the ask.
CRM Tools for Advancement Operations at Florida Polytechnic University
Q: How do you look beyond advancement to ensure that the student experience was connected even before graduation? What benefits are you seeing from that approach?
A: The major benefit we’ve seen so far is that in our CRM, I’m able to easily transition students into Advancement contacts. There is no duplication when we have students who become donors, and we can specifically tie a parent’s record to their student to better track our parent giving program. I am also able to track those alumni that were involved on campus to know that they are more likely to be involved as alumni. As we move forward, I can see this being even more beneficial as each department buys in. Specifically, as we get more information and usage from our Academic Success department, we will be able to communicate the rate of alumni that convert their required internship into a full time position.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: I’m really looking forward to sharing how we use Salesforce, and I hope that those that attend will be able to take something from our operation to better their own!
Want to learn more? Join Salesforce.org and Laura Schumacher of Florida Polytechnic University on Tuesday, May 22nd, 2018 at 2:00 p.m. ET / 11:00 a.m. PT, to hear how they built their advancement operation from the ground up.
Curious about how your other advancement peers are improving their gift operations? Check out these additional resources:
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