Principal, Major, and Special Giving Programs: University of California, Irvine - Bronze Medal

Category 2B: Fundraising Programs–Principal, Major, and Special Giving Programs
University of California, Irvine–Principal Gifts: Fundraising Soars to All-Time High

Contact: Kathy Ruvolo, executive director, constituent relations, 555 Administration Bldg., Irvine, CA 92697, Phone: (949) 824-5618, e-mail:

Professional Staff: 1 (+ portion of Vice Chancellor’s time)
Support Staff: 1
Target Audience (Principal Gifts): 30 prospects ($5M+ range)
Total Number of Affected Constituents: 30 prospects/donors
UCI’s Addressable Constituents: 309,127
Volunteers: 40
Program Budget: No assignable budget – limited to staff resources
University Advancement Mission: To create awareness, build relationships and generate support for the University of California, Irvine

Introduction: Just four years ago, UCI raised $35 million through private support. The following year, the chancellor hired a new vice chancellor for university advancement, Tom Mitchell. As with any fundraising organization, Mr. Mitchell’s main objective was to increase the amount of giving from alumni, friends and, new prospects – and, he was asked to do so taking into account the university’s overall strategic plan which outlined priority projects for our campus over the next 10 years.

With UCI being a young institution (41 years old) with the average alumni being about 34, we knew we would need to develop unique and innovative programs in order to secure the multi-million dollar gifts (or, what we are calling “transformative gifts”) needed to substantially fund university priority projects. Fast forward to today – UCI raised a record $101 million in FY 2005/2006 and we are well on our way to raising a record $125 million in FY 2006/2007. The campus is now currently in the second year of the silent phase of a $1B campaign.

The success of our fundraising has been unequivocally the direct result of a well planned and executed principal and leadership gifts program ($1M+). In the process, we have not only significantly enhanced our fundraising results in a very short period of time, but we have also learned to both grow and evolve along with our transformative gift donors who not only desire to change the face of philanthropy, but are also changing the university through their transformative investments. These are the patrons who proudly proclaim “please don’t call my support a ‘gift’, call it an investment in our future…one that demands results!”

Objectives: The newly formed Office of Principal Gifts objectives were as follows:

  1. Increase the university’s pool of high-quality prospects and donors with giving capacity of $5M or more;
  2. Significantly increase our overall fundraising totals;
  3. Create an institutional “value-based teamwork philosophy” to strategically implement focused efforts for each individual leadership ($1 million and above) and principal gift ($5 million and above) prospect; Create value-based strategies (including teamwork, initiative and performance outcomes) for big-impact gifts dedicated towards UC Irvine’s big-impact, highest-priority projects as defined in UC Irvine’s Strategic Plan.
  4. Expand the fundraising roles of our chancellor, executive vice chancellor, vice chancellor of university advancement, deans, foundation trustees and other volunteers;
  5. Build multi-unit (interest) relationships with our top prospects and donors;
  6. Strengthen “impact” and “results oriented” stewardship of UC Irvine’s top donors;
  7. Identify specific strategies for high net worth prospects.

Challenges: There were a variety of challenges facing the new division including:

  1. Low fundraising results; not enough concentration was being devoted to high-end giving.
  2. No centralized strategy for identifying and developing principal gifts prospects; development work was being managed in a decentralized manner, by individual schools and units across campus.
  3. Donors were looking for more cross-disciplinary causes – ones that would make a significant impact on the institution – therefore the need for a centralized program all the greater.
  4. Previous Chancellor’s involvement in fundraising was minimal; new chancellor came on board in FY 2005/2006.
  5. Being a large public institution with a campus governing body, and a system-wide governing body, we were challenged with a lengthy and often bureaucratic gift acceptance process; not only were donors at times discouraged when trying to make a gift, but we found that we lost gifts due our own internal policies and procedures.
  6. Inefficient strategies for UC Irvine’s future and the need for a strategic, value-based focus on high impact, cross-discipline gifts for big impact, high priority projects within the campus’ overall strategic plan. The primary challenges to implementing the above-mentioned activities were re-engineering an academic culture that formerly had held principal gift donors’ relationships “close to the cuff” rather than collectively building teams to help ensure greater success for the university. Relationship building among the various constituent parties was going to be needed to be successful.
  7. No coordinated stewardship of the campus’ highest-level, quality donors.

To address our challenges, and to successfully address the significant opportunity presented to us, University advancement created a new Office of Principal Gifts to better serve UCI’s key constituents and to successfully enhance our fundraising results by raising funds for the university’s priority projects.

The office was formed and communicated to colleagues as a “partnership” opportunity; the goal was to have our office perceived as a point of coordination for the university’s top prospects, rather than a “policing” perception among our colleagues. All prospects of $5M or more are managed by the Principal Gifts office; however, other team members are assigned as requested. We strive for an “open cultivation” attitude.


  1. Formed team to meet regularly to develop strategies to secure gifts of $1M or more. Team meets every two weeks. Team members include the vice chancellor of university advancement, associate vice chancellor for development, executive director for health sciences advancement, executive director of principal gifts, principal gifts administrative analyst, and other directors of development or campus leadership as appropriate. At each meeting, the following occurs:
    1. review progress of the program to date (i.e., gifts received or in process);
    2. two new prospects are brought to the table to develop strategies; review profiles, identify relationships, rate prospects;
    3. strategy, action steps and timeline are documented and tracked by the principal gifts administrative analyst;
    4. team members update the group on activities and visits surrounding prospects previously discussed – action items may be altered or added as needed and ratings may be adjusted;
    5. discuss stewardship strategies for donors who have already made gifts of $1M or more;
    6. review prospect “watch list” and prioritize prospects capable of transformative gifts; identify two prospects for the next meeting
    7. review process of drafting formal principal gift policies and guidelines (manual)
  2. Developed annual calendar “holds” on the chancellor’s calendar for meetings with prospects of $5M or more; approximately 20-25 slots are held each year – the Office of Principal Gifts manages these appointments. In addition, we involved our trustees and other volunteers by asking them to identify people with giving capacity, to help us qualify, cultivate, solicit and steward prospects and donors.
  3. Identified the top 15 principal gift programs nation-wide and began benchmarking best practices; among these institutions are Stanford, Cornell, University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of Minnesota to name a few. These calls have helped us identify and implement practices modeled after the very best in the country. Examples of best practices included collaboration and establishing teams; capitalizing on the president’s time (chancellor in our case); developing “big ideas” to garner interest of multi-faceted donors; an efficient prospect management system; efficient tracking and follow-up systems; regular and consistent communication among team members and affected constituents; and, better stewardship strategies.
  4. Analyzed data of nation-wide study of transformational gifts to education: who-what-why-how; study showed profile of who these donors are, what they give to, why they give and how they give. Study helped us compare the profile of our own top prospects against those nation-wide.
  5. Developed significant relationships with campus senior administration and UC Office of the President colleagues in order to identify areas that may reduce or eliminate time-consuming gift acceptance practices (hence, achieving faster campus “results” for our donors). What used to take months to get agreements/namings approved, can now be done in a matter of days. We were able to streamline the process and we have a close relationship with the UC President’s office (key to accepting gifts of $5M or more on our campus).

Results: The Office of Principal Gifts has shown considerable success in a very short period of time, and these achievements are expected to continue well into the future. Notable accomplishments include:

  1. Enhanced Fundraising Results: In fiscal year 2005/2006, we broke an all-time fundraising record by raising $101 million in private support (a 188 percent increase from just four years ago when we started our program). The University of California, Irvine also became the first organization in the County of Orange to raise more than $100 million in one year. Principal gifts were clearly the sole contributor to this success.
  2. The University’s Strategic Plan: Our efforts have significantly impacted many of the priority projects outlined in the campus’ strategic plan. Our department’s overall reputation has also been a positive outcome of our success– senior campus leadership know that we understand the campus’ needs and we don’t merely raise money “just to raise money.” A few examples of these projects, and, the individual gifts that funded them are as follows:
    1. $30 million for the Graduate School of Management
    2. $20 million for the School of Information and Computer Science
    3. $20 million for the School of Engineering
    4. $20 million for Biological Sciences
    5. $10 million for the Stem Cell Center
    6. $5 million for the university library
    7. $5 million for the new university hospital
  3. Meaningful Relationships: As an integral part of our new process, the chancellor and executive vice chancellor have become engaged with donors more than ever before – they have regular meetings with donors and prospects. As a result of our efforts, the chancellor and the executive vice chancellor have established many friendships with the campus’ most affluent donors.
  4. Principal Gifts Pipeline: The number of prospects increased from less than a handful when we started our program to dozens today.
  5. “Results-Oriented” Stewardship: In consideration of the campus’ most meaningful relationships, strategies were developed to steward UC Irvine’s top patrons.
  6. Expedited and streamlined gift agreement approval process.

Closing: Transformational gifts have characteristics distinctly different from those found in traditional gifts. Similarly, transformational donors tend to invest in results and values, and demand direct participation in the outcome(s) derived from their investments, which will benefit society. Responding to these opportunities, UC Irvine’s Office of Principal Gifts has built our new program dedicated to focusing on the values-based issues that will involve high-level prospects with our campus’ faculty, staff and students, so that transformational investments may be made that will have a significant impact on our campus, society and the world.

Almost fifteen years ago, Peter Drucker noted in a Wall Street Journal article, “People no longer give to charity, they buy into results.” Then, as now, Mr. Drucker was ahead of his time in observing the changing role that transformative gifts, and the impact that transformational donors, have on both the philanthropic sector and non-profit organizations.