This August, Kathryn Wittneben, Vice-Principal and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Advancement) at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS), joined Blackbaud at the CASE Europe Annual Conference in Edinburgh to share her experience of how technology can directly drive fundraising and improve engagement.
“When I interviewed for my job at the University, I asked where all the data was, and they told me they just didn’t know.
They’d had Raiser’s Edge for some years, but it hadn’t been used for fundraising – so my challenge in the new role was to create an Advancement structure and function at UWS. This really was a start-up operation.
I was very familiar with Blackbaud, having worked with their products in the US previously, so we worked together with the team to come up with our three main database goals:
- To grow the UWS alumni and prospect database to increase fundraising income over the next five years
- To facilitate informed, data-driven and strategic advancement decisions by conducting a comprehensive and thorough assessment of data derived from the founding institutions of UWS
- To implement a secure, scalable and high-performance technical infrastructure to support UWS’s future development plans
The first task was a big one – find the missing data. I knew it had to be somewhere because Universities don’t get rid of data. We searched through storerooms and talked to former registrars and staff, eventually discovering hand-written ledgers from the 1950s and 1960s! In perfect, beautiful handwriting, someone had diligently recorded student and degree information, including postal addresses. We then found typed records from 1967 onwards, and even found notecards containing degree information and photographs of each student – it’s all such fantastic stuff to see and an amazing part of the University’s history.
We employed students for six months to input all the data onto Excel spreadsheets. To support our long-term advancement plans, we had made the decision to upgrade to Raiser’s Edge NXT; and we didn’t migrate all of the data until we had NXT up and running.
We hired a database and prospect research manager who understood the data challenges and again was familiar with Blackbaud. Blackbaud has been fantastic to work with and the whole process has gone very smoothly.
In less than a year, we have gone from having just 23,000 records to 120,000 records in NXT. It really shows that you can start from nothing and achieve a lot.
We are contacting alumni and asking how they would like to be engaged with the university – people are telling us that they are so excited to hear from us and they have been waiting years for us to get in touch! We are starting to raise money and we’re making a real difference. Raiser’s Edge NXT has been fundamental to our success. Moving online hosted by Blackbaud was an opportunity to improve our systems – it makes everything much quicker; it means we don’t have rely on our internal IT team; and it is accessible on the move.
NXT allowed us to improve the quality of data; and the user-friendly version of the database allowed the team to join on board quickly. We find that we spend less time on “admin” and view the database as a tool and not a burden. We have overcome one of our biggest challenges in a cost-effective way and are now focusing on all the opportunities which the data provides.