The mission of the University of Connecticut Foundation is to serve the educational, research, cultural, and recreational objectives of this storied top-20 public research university. The foundation supports a myriad of initiatives and programs that ensure UConn’s healthy growth and help shape student experience.
The Foundation is running up against a troubling national trend: well-established revenue streams are shrinking, especially at the modest levels of annual donations. Traditional ways of seeking entry-level donors, like phone-a-thons and direct mail, are increasingly frustrating alumni and returning less and less revenue over time. Since philanthropic organizations rely on entry-level annual donors maturing into major donors over time, this impact at the lower end of the donation scale could mean a big drop in revenue in the future.
UConn approached Cooper to help them rethink annual giving and view the problem through the eyes of various parties in their complex fundraising ecosystem. Cooper began a comprehensive user research phase and delivered an actionable plan that UConn could use to tackle problems in team collaboration and messaging to appeal to the new generation of alumni. Perhaps most importantly, Cooper helped the Foundation team create a common language and align their goals and plans for the future.
The Cooper team immersed themselves in the world of annual giving at UConn with robust user research. They interviewed a diverse set of Foundation staff and alumni—both donors and non-donors—to understand the landscape. They discovered that alumni wanted to support their alma mater with both time and treasure, but current opportunities didn't fit some of their goals. Cooper dug deeper and discovered that successful donor relations depend on using cutting edge digital marketing techniques and providing meaningful opportunities for engagement that encourage giving.
The Cooper team’s solution was made up of many ideas applied all across the Foundation as well as services that would create a better experience for donors. The challenge was in identifying opportunities and solutions and presenting them in a way that felt actionable to UConn. Cooper unearthed more than 100 ideas grouped into twelve opportunity areas. Each opportunity included short-term and long-term solutions, from specific interaction design improvements to increased conversion across digital touchpoints, to high-level organizational changes that would better support the needs of a marketing-driven organization. Cooper helped UConn prioritize and organize these insights into a high-level strategic plan that they have already set into motion.
While the broader spectrum of nonprofit organizations have begun to apply more technologically savvy, donor-first approaches, academic institutions have been slow to adapt. Under the leadership of Foundation President Josh Newton, The UConn Foundation is changing that. Before working with Cooper, traditional organizational and programmatic models yielded the same results again and again. Through Cooper's partnership, the Foundation team is now equipped to create a culture of collaboration and innovation and build a thriving pipeline of engaged donors. Go Huskies!
Joshua R. Newton, President & CEO, University of Connecticut Foundation
A Cooperista will follow up with you shortly.