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A League of Their Own

The 2006 CASE Circle of Excellence award winners have hit it out of the park

By Mary Ellen Collins

They are breaking fundraising records, engaging students in the alumni association, creating new institutional images, and taking their institutions to new levels of success. The 2006 CASE Circle of Excellence award winners profiled on the following pages are at the top of their game.

And this isn’t even the half of it. These featured winners are a small sample of this year’s 359 award winners from 200 institutions. CASE received more than 3,100 Circle of Excellence award entries for outstanding work in communications, alumni relations, development, and advancement services.

For a complete list of winners, go to and click on “Awards & Scholarships.” Think you have an award-winning program? Look for next year’s entry information in the same place on the CASE Web site in January 2007.

Relevant Reflection


Sibley Magazine of the Year

How does a college magazine capture the attention of readers who currently attend or work for the institution and alumni who said goodbye decades ago? It’s hard to be interesting to everyone, but Denison Magazine Editor Paul Pegher learned that the trick is to create connections among people, experiences, and stories.

When Pegher was charged with taking the publication to the next level, he knew that its traditional format would have to change. He met with different constituent groups and found that “there was a sense among the alumni and faculty especially that we needed to have a stronger voice and more of an edge. They just couldn’t envision what the change would be.”

Pegher worked with outside editorial designer DJ Stout to conceptualize a new, theme-based approach that would reflect rather than report on the Denison community. “I wasn’t really interested in doing a theme format,” Pegher says. “I thought it could be confining, but [Stout] convinced me that it could be used as a tool for building content and taking control of dialogue.”

The change resulted in a publication that engages readers in the life of the institution and encourages an open exchange of ideas. The first issue, which had the theme “The Future Is Now,” contained alumni-written articles on e-commerce and space colonization, a feature on the evolution of the Greek experience on campus, and six graduating seniors’ thoughts about life after Denison.

“We found that the use of theme compels people to pay more attention to the magazine,” says Pegher. “It strings together different stories and gets people thinking about the connections. We designed the magazine to be an experience, and that has taken hold.” Full-page photos make a compelling visual statement, and the magazine still keeps readers up-to-date with class notes and other short news items.

The quarterly costs $62,000 per issue to produce and is mailed to faculty, employees, parents, and 28,000 active alumni. Pegher reports that reaction to the new format was very positive, but even the handful of negative comments meant that he had succeeded in encouraging dialogue. Most readers’ comments were positive variations on the theme, “I can’t believe I read the whole thing, because I never have before!” Music to an editor’s ears.

Credits: DJ Stout, designer, Pentagram; Erin Mays, designer, Pentagram; Gary Cravener, designer, Pentagram; Stewart Dyke, director of public affairs; Paul Pegher, editor, Denison Magazine

Girl Power


Grand Gold for Reputation Campaign

A photograph captures the moment just after a dodge ball has crashed through a glass ceiling and landed on a conference table in a formal boardroom. It’s a far cry from ads that feature smiling girls working on computers, and the tagline of the photo drives home the point the Bishop Strachan School wanted to make: “Give your daughter the opportunity to try anything in school, and you give her the power to do anything in life.” That inventive ad launched an image campaign designed to close the gap between what people thought about the school and what was actually happening inside the walls.

“The school had name recognition, but there was nothing behind that,” says Sharon Gregg, marketing and communications director for the school. She hired a market research firm that identified the need to develop a contemporary brand to counteract the image of the school as being elite, dated, and less competitive than other schools.

“We wanted to break away from the sea of ads that all look the same,” Gregg says. “There wasn’t a single student in the glass ceiling ad. It was a completely unique approach, and we got a huge buzz from it.” The second phase of the campaign involved more “direct selling” messages such as “Brilliant, happy, well-adjusted daughter, yours free with tuition.”

Gregg bought ad space in the nearby neighborhood transit shelters, since BSS and its three competitor schools are located within blocks of each other. She ran larger ads in fewer publications throughout the school year and not just during open house season.

The brand promise that “girls can do anything” became a schoolwide mantra and a slogan on the newly designed Web site, school banners, and student T-shirts.

School officials saw admissions open house attendance reach record levels, and applications to the senior school increased 11 percent in one year, with a higher-quality applicant pool. And the fact that other schools have started to adopt similar approaches points to BSS as an innovative leader—the perfect place for girls to learn about breaking through glass ceilings.

Credits: Sharon Gregg, director of marketing; Zig Ad Agency; The Strategic Counsel

Techno Enticement


Gold for Technology Applications in Alumni Relations

College freshmen tend to have more pressing concerns than forging a connection with the alumni organization. But the Northwestern Alumni Association has started that relationship by going straight to the hearts of tech-savvy teens.

NAA officials gave every freshman a branded flash drive that included information on the alumni association’s student-related benefits and activities. “For the past three or four years we hosted the freshman picnic and gave away the traditional tchotchkes, but orientation is such a blur, and we were just one more meal at the end of the week,” says Jim Kaczkowski, director of marketing.

The 128MB flash drive includes a 2MB embedded Web site called “The New Student Roadmap” with helpful information and links to the NAA Web site. Students could then use the rest of the space on the flash drive to store their own files.

NAA publicized the flash drive giveaway in the freshman issue of the Daily Northwestern and in fliers mailed to students’ homes and distributed on campus. Ninety-three percent of students picked up their flash drive at the picnic, and the remainder got theirs at the alumni center later. Student reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

It took about four months for NAA staff to assemble the content, test the product’s compatibility with a variety of computers, and receive the final products from the vendor. The packaging provided “quick start” directions for the roadmap and emphasized name recognition of NAA.

Kaczkowski admits that the flash drive giveaway wasn’t the cheapest thing they could have done. “In the context of alumni programming for students, $16.85 per unit was a lot,” he says. The flash drive, however, contributed to the highest level of picnic attendance on record, and traffic to the five student-oriented pages of the NAA Web site increased 60 to 70 percent over the prior year. Every student event sponsored by the alumni association that year broke attendance records.

“A lot of student groups use space at the alumni center for meetings,” says Kaczkowski, “and it’s one of the most satisfying things to see them plunk down their backpacks and see that flash drive dangling from a key chain.”

Credits: Jim Kaczkowski, director of marketing; Franklin Habit, webmaster; Katie Petrak, designer; Aspasia Apostolakis, director, student team; Jeremy Wingerter, Tory McCord, and Rebecca Pheno, student team members

From the Mouths of Babes


Grand Gold for Fundraising Programs

Sometimes needs intersect in a serendipitous way. Asking children what makes their school special helped Shorecrest Preparatory School’s new headmaster get a feeling for the spirit of the place. Combining the students’ answers with the commitment of parent volunteers produced a record-breaking annual fund effort.

When 970 preK-12 students were asked about their school, responses ranged from “I’ve learned a lot, more than I used to know” to “the teachers don’t just teach you, they care for you.” How could school officials say it any better?

“Quotes from our students are much more engaging than anything we could ever write,” says Robb Resler, the school’s director of advancement. “We knew the words of our students could be a wonderful launching point for the annual fund campaign.”

Shorecrest traditionally does an October through November annual fund blitz that is focused on parents, who give 77 percent of the gifts. In addition to incorporating the student perspectives into the annual fund appeal message, Resler personalized the outreach and implemented extensive volunteer follow-up.

The school mailed a brochure that featured the students’ comments and drawings, along with a solicitation letter and a customized pledge form. Check-off boxes on the form were based on how much the person had previously given, and the boldfaced first box represented a 20 percent increase over the previous year’s gift.

Shortly after the mailing, parent volunteers contacted other parents via phone, e-mail, written note, or personal meeting to encourage their support or thank them for their gift.

The school surpassed its $325,000 goal, raising $379,992, with an 81 percent parent participation rate. Seventy percent of all gifts (526) increased in size from the previous year. Of those 526 gifts, 280 were from parents who did not give to the 2004-2005 annual fund, and 134 had not given since July 2003. The program budget of $29,820 covered design, photography, printing, and mailings.

“I am a huge believer in peer solicitation,” says Resler. “I think [this effort] is really good proof that if you train volunteers and rally them around something that’s near and dear to their hearts—their children’s education—you can expect a great degree of success.”

Credits: Michael Murphy, headmaster; Mark McKeage, trustee; Jerry Little, trustee; Robb Resler, director of advancement; Lisa Wikholm, annual fund coordinator; Kim Jones, alumni coordinator; Mienel Tomasino, donor relations manager; Steve and Kris Grant, John-Erik Savitsky, Mark and Tiffany Lettelleir, Martha Little, Kathy McKeage, Anne Barrins, Ken Slaby, Debbie Rosenthal, Rick Ivas, Melinda Pletcher, Jeff Neustadt, Marie Beth and Michael Cheezem, Julie Klavans, Suzie Park-Davis, parent grade level leaders; Liz Cherry, creative director, Cherry and Company, Rick Newberry, account representative, Cherry and Company

Helping Hands


Grand Gold for Alumni Relations Programs

A pencil in the hands of a child can change the world, according to members of the Houston Alumni Organization. And last year, University of Houston graduates continued a 15-year legacy of putting much-needed school supplies into the hands of more than 17,000 local elementary school students in the greater Houston area.

HAO and the Houston Coca-Cola Bottling Company founded Operation School Supplies in 1990. Today, media and community sponsors, including the United Way, the Houston Astros, and FOX 26/UPN 20, have joined the OSS effort, which is the largest school supply program in the Houston area.

“With a large public university in a major metropolitan area, the service component of your mission is very important,” says Steve Hall, president and CEO of HAO. “We’re an institution that’s always been an institution of access. If kids don’t have basic supplies, how are they going to succeed and go on to high school and succeed and go on to college? This is intervention at the earliest part of the process.”

During the monthlong 2005 summer campaign, participants donated supplies, made cash gifts via the OSS Web site, purchased Coca-Cola products, or bought OSS coupons at area H-E-B grocery stores. OSS partners exceeded their $100,000 goal, raising $150,000 worth of supplies.

With a budget of only $1,322, more than 200 volunteers collected, sorted, and packed the supplies for 181 schools in 24 school districts. After Hurricane Katrina, OSS volunteers mobilized for an additional week to collect more supplies for evacuees enrolled in the Houston schools.

“There’s no program that makes our alumni feel better about what we do,” says Hall. “They’re very proud of what this does for our community.” And in true community spirit, HAO staff are training members of an organization in San Antonio who want to launch a similar school supply program.

Credits: Steve Hall, president and CEO, Houston Alumni Organization; Jeff Fuller and Katie Kalenda, co-chairs, OSS Volunteer Committee; 200-plus volunteers; staff of the Houston Alumni Association; Tonja Jones, director of Cougar Connections



Grand Gold for Advancement Services Programs

The advancement services staff at the University of Connecticut Foundation defines service as more than just filling report requests and troubleshooting system glitches. While the fundraisers geared up to meet a $350 million campaign goal, their IT colleagues wondered, “What can we do to help them?”

They answered that question with Report Mart, a self-serve desktop application that enables staff to obtain the data and analysis they need without having to go through advancement services. Three IT staff members created the application and training program without incurring any new expenses.

“Staff reaction varied on the idea,” says Craig Dinsmore, assistant vice president for advancement services. “Some people just couldn’t conceive of it, but once we demonstrated it, there was a lot of excitement.”

Report Mart enables staff to develop queries based on 90 data elements from 13 data categories, share queries with other users, and export reports into MS Excel and Map Point for further analysis. In addition, the application frees advancement services staff to do more strategic work, such as enhancing the prospect management system.

Dinsmore explains that the training component was crucial in getting the users on board. “We thought it would be, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ Instead, it was more like, ‘If you lead them, they will follow.’ ” The IT staff offered small group training courses that included two four-hour sessions plus homework.

Staff members use the tool in a variety of ways. The vice president of development created a query to identify prospects with whom the foundation had no contact for a year and a half. She then extracted the information into Excel and sorted it by region and other elements.

As with any new technology, some employees jumped on the bandwagon more quickly than others. “Some people have grabbed on and become real power users,” Dinsmore says. “Some just dabble in it or ask their administrative staff to do it for them.”

For people who still want to rely on IT, Dinsmore offers an incentive to use Report Mart: “If you request it from us, it’s a 10-day turnaround. If you do it yourself, you can get it immediately.”

Credits: Craig Dinsmore, assistant vice president for advancement services; Colin Budd, project manager; Michael Chapman, programmer

Training Days


Gold for Advancement Services—Other Programs

When the University of Miami began to lay the groundwork for its $1 billion “Momentum” campaign, the advancement services team decided it was a good time to send the entire fundraising staff back to the classroom.

“We already had orientation [training], but this gave us an opportunity to train the whole division instead of just new people,” says Ann House, associate vice president for advancement services.

The result? House and Director of Training Ana Fernandez created “Tools for the Trade,” an in-house training curriculum of campaign courses required for all fundraisers and their support staff. Subjects ranged from refreshers on biographic updating to the nuts and bolts of gift agreements.

Fernandez taught many of the courses and also recruited guest trainers, including two ethics professors who taught a session titled “Donors, Deals, and Development: Practical Solutions to Ethical Challenges in Fundraising.”

Fernandez used feedback from these campaign classes to revamp the advancement division’s orientation and training program. New advancement employees receive a personalized training curriculum tailored to their job function. Attendance at orientation training is mandatory, and supervisors receive tracking reports of employees’ progress.

With a budget of $4,000, the division offers more than 100 class sessions a year for approximately 150 employees, who submit uniformly positive evaluations. “I get great feedback,” says House, who has high praise for Fernandez.

Despite staff praise for the courses, House admits that there’s a “use it or lose it” aspect to the training. In addition to providing post-class cheat sheets and “Tip of the Month” e-mails, sometimes it takes a verbal nudge: “You can run that report yourself. Do you remember how to do it?”

Credits: Ann L. House, associate vice president for advancement services; Ana Fernandez, director of training

Meeting Their Match


Gold for Fundraising Campaigns

Nothing jump-starts a campaign like an unexpected, jaw-dropping challenge. The University of La Verne was planning a $16 million campus center project as part of a $42 million, five-year campaign. Shortly after the board reviewed initial campaign plans, Trustee Michael Abraham stunned everyone by making a $4 million campus center challenge pledge. He wanted board members to give another $4 million and the university to raise another $8 million—in 21 months. If they didn’t, he would retract $3 million of his pledge.

“This was a stunning pledge and a steep challenge,” says Jean Bjerke, vice president of university relations. “We had never had an individual make a gift of cash larger than $350,000. We were in the process of gearing up for the campaign, but the challenge created a profound sense of urgency. We knew we had no choice. If we came up short by $10, we’d be short by $3 million.”

Bjerke’s 16-member staff immediately launched into raising construction costs for a building that hadn’t been designed yet. They instituted presidential briefings to introduce the project, began major gift solicitations, and substituted creative use of PowerPoint for a formal campaign brochure. The president used the personalized PowerPoint presentations, which incorporated top donors’ yearbook photos and event pictures, during one-on-one solicitations.

“When individuals met with the president to discuss their gift,” Bjerke says, “they saw a history of their relationship with the university projected on an eight-foot screen. It created a very warm feeling and helped people reconnect with the role the university had played in their lives.”

Abraham’s pledge and challenge resulted in unprecedented fundraising achievements, including pledges of more than $1 million from former faculty and staff and $9.6 million from board members.

“This challenge transformed the whole atmosphere of fundraising and people’s perceptions of what we could do,” says Bjerke. On deadline day, Bjerke and staff had exceeded Abraham’s challenge, raising more than $16.5 million.

Sometimes, all it takes is one person to speak up and step up, in order for everyone else to soar.

Credits: Michael A. Abraham, trustee and challenge donor; Benjamin C. Harris, board chair; Stephen C. Morgan, president; Robert Earhart, associate vice president; Mario Perez, major gifts; Don Flora, major gifts; Heather Nishioka, foundations and Leo Family Fund; Charles Bentley, public relations director; Rusty Evans, publications design; Leonard Pellicer, Leo Family Fund; Jean Bjerke, vice president of university relations

About the Author Mary Ellen Collins

Mary Ellen Collins is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg, Fla. Her work has appeared in Advancing Philanthropy, The Christian Science Monitor, The Arizona Republic, Angie's List Magazine, and Notre Dame Magazine.




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