Donor Relations/Customer Service: University of California, Irvine - Gold Medal

Category 3C: Advancement Services Programs: Donor Relations/Customer Service
University of California, Irvine, "Our Best Prospects Are Our Well-Stewarded Donors"

Contact: Kathy Ruvolo, Executive Director, Constituent Relations, 555 Administration Building, Irvine, CA 92697-5600, Phone: (949) 824-5618, e-mail:

Professional Staff: 2
Support Staff: 2

Overall Program Budget: $55,000 (this is the entire budget for the Office of Stewardship), costs related to this particular entry are addressed in the abstract; all costs were incurred internally (staff time).

Addressable Constituents: 309,127
Target Audience: All major donors of $100,000 or more
Affected Constituents: 850

University Advancement Mission Statement: Create awareness, build relationships, and generate support for the University of California, Irvine.

Office of Stewardship Mission Statement: The Office of Stewardship seeks to build and sustain strong relationships between the University of California, Irvine and its donors and friends. We enhance these relationships through acknowledgment, recognition, information, and engagement, and we ensure that gifts to the campus are responsibly managed and follow the intentions of our donors.

Problem/Challenge: Since its creation in 2003, UC Irvine’s Office of Stewardship has established its programs and services around its mission and goal of ensuring every donor of the campus receives outstanding stewardship. Our goal was to change and institutionalize the then philosophy and belief that “our best prospects are our previous donors,” a slogan used by many non-profits. Our thinking was one step better… “Our best prospects are our well-stewarded previous donors.”

One of the areas we identified during our annual analysis of program needs was to ensure that our major donors had an annual stewardship plan involving acknowledgment, recognition, communication, involvement, and personal contact from the campus. The challenge was to develop a stewardship plan and efficient tracking system of stewardship activities for each donor – one that would withstand changes in personnel. As it is with most large educational institutions, development officers come and go – this was an area of great concern to us as we embarked on creating a fool-proof process, one that would continue through the revolving DOD door.

Our first step was identifying how donors were currently being stewarded within each school and unit on campus, and identify the donors who were not being stewarded, and finally, determine the reasons why. Through our initial analysis and review of contact reports for donors who had given $100K or more, we found many of these donors were not being stewarded and had fallen through the cracks. These problems occurred because of employee turnover or neglect, poor prospect management, and the lack of an over-arching central stewardship program.

Goals and Objectives:

  • To educate the campus on the importance of stewarding our donors and to institutionalize the belief that “our best prospects are our well-stewarded donors.”
  • To identify and review previous and current processes around donor stewardship
  • To develop an annual stewardship plan for every $100,000 or more (cumulative) donor to each school or unit. Again, a process that would withstand changes in personnel.
  • To develop stewardship activities through acknowledgement, recognition, communication, campus involvement, and personal contact.
  • To track, follow-up, and report activities in our database, Advance C/S, to ensure activities are completed in a timely manner and according to each stewardship plan.

Solving the problem, impact and results: At the beginning of last fiscal year, we identified over 850 donors who had given $100,000 or more to a particular school or unit. With such a large group, we knew we needed to develop and efficient, automated, and reportable system that would help us track stewardship activities for each of our major donors. After a period of initial analysis and review, an automated Stewardship Planning and Checklist System was created and implements for each major donor. This system would require an annual plan, checklist, and follow-up plan of stewardship activities for each donor.

Within this initial review we found that many of our donors were stewarded within the first year of the gift and then fell off the radar after the initial acknowledgement and recognition. Hence, the need for a system that would continue to steward the donor even beyond the first year; our mission was to keep our donors engaged and connected with the campus. Along with the actual checklist, we developed a recommended menu of stewardship activities for three levels of donors. They consist of our platinum, gold, and silver donors groups.

We developed a plan that we would execute each year, at the beginning of the fiscal year. The process is as follows:

  • The associate director of stewardship develops the checklists for each donor – these lists are created by downloading information about the donor from our donor database (Advance C/C) directly onto the form; this information populates the top part of the checklist. The information downloaded onto the form includes the donors past giving history and areas of interest around campus (affiliations).
  • The administrative assistant schedules meetings with all development officers (in each of the schools and units across campus). The meetings are conducted by either the director of stewardship or associate director of stewardship (the responsibility is shared in order to reach asll areas on campus).
  • During these visits, a comprehensive stewardship plan for each donor is discussed and the annual checklist is developed, planned, scheduled, and approved by all parties
  • Once the activities are determined, they are summarized by the administrative assistant in the Office of Stewardship and returned to development officers for approval.
  • The administrative assistant enters each activity into the “tasks” windows of our donor database – each activity is entered as a separate task with a due date.
  • Activities are tracked and reported quarterly to the development officers in each school or unit, with copies going to the associate vice chancellor for development and other senior development personnel. The reports are now used during the performance evaluation process of our development officers.
  • As stewardship activities are completed, development officers notify the administrative assistant in the stewardship office and the tasks are updated in Advance.
  • The administrative assistant generates quarterly electronic reminders and reports are generated to ensure stewardship activities are completed as planned. If activities become overdue, the stewardship office alerts the appropriate development officer.

The costs incurred for this project were limited to staff hours among current staff. The stewardship planning and checklist system was developed entirely in-house, including programming and reporting tools. Two staff members worked on design and implementation of this process that required approximately 100 hours or staff time. The annual stewardship planning process incurs 20-30 hours of annual planning meetings at the beginning of each fiscal year, 40-60 hours of tracking, follow-up, and updating stewardship activities, and 10-15 hours of quarterly reporting to development officers.

With our stewardship planning and checklist system in place, we have ensured that our donors are being well-stewarded, and no donor is left behind. We are assured that our donors are informed, engaged, and connected with the campus. This in turn, gives the donor what they value most – the satisfaction that they have made a positive difference at UCI, and, positive impact on the greater community and the world.