Quick action by a fearless and talented fundraising president and her team helped the University of La Verne exceed its $125 million campaign fundraising goal, despite a global pandemic. The university’s success was highlighted in a recent article in The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

The Phoenix Philanthropy Group has worked closely with University President Devorah Lieberman and University Advancement leadership to develop and execute their largest comprehensive fundraising campaign. As key partners in the campaign, The Phoenix Philanthropy Group can attest to the remarkable work done by the president, fundraising staff, and members of the Board of Trustees who stepped forward and set a pace for the campaign to be successful.

“Devorah is an outstanding fundraising president,” says Richard Tollefson, The Phoenix Philanthropy Group president. “Her story, as shared in this article, is a great resource for professional and volunteer fundraisers and highlights how agility and creative thinking can overcome major disrupters.”

Here are key takeaways from the University of La Verne’s campaign success and how fundraisers can apply them to their campaigns.

Support from leadership is critical. Having strong support and participation from the Board of Trustees was a critical factor for the University of La Verne’s campaign success. It’s important to develop a partnership with your organization’s leadership to persevere in times of adversity. Staff feels reassured and donors feel more confident with leadership’s backing.

Keep going. There will always be disrupters, and in some cases, like a global pandemic, there is no playbook to fall back on. But it’s important to keep going, think creatively and find ways to connect with your donors. The need and the ask may be different. The venue may have to change, and priorities may shift. As for the University of La Verne, President Lieberman estimated she had at least 10 virtual coffees a week and roughly 120 virtual meals with supporters of the university. “The key lesson is that leadership needs to find ways to continue speaking to, interacting with, and meaningfully engaging prospects and donors,” says Tollefson.

Don’t apologize. The University of La Verne proved this to be a key approach in its fundraising strategy during the pandemic. Students needed help; the university needed support. This was a clear-cut reality and fundraisers presented it as such, never apologizing for having to ask its donor base for money. “In many cases, cash contributions increased for the University of La Verne, particularly for students in need,” Tolleson confirms. “Those who can will continue to give. The conversations may need to be more direct, even more urgent, clearly identifying why you’re calling, and what the critical need is.”

Roll up your sleeves. With a reduction in workforce, University of La Verne’s advancement leadership team and president needed to pick up more fundraising responsibilities than typical. “In times of crisis, it’s important that leadership embraces its responsibility to be a more active participant and dive in,” says Tollefson.

Cut the fluff. Public health concerns put an end to big and small in-person fundraising events where fundraisers typically connect with their donors. While these virtual events were less costly, would they be as effective?

The University of La Verne showed the answer is yes. By taking its annual scholarship auction virtual, the university was able to cut the fluff and still raise $600,000. “Because we didn’t have to spend money on a location and food and a take-home gift and a photographer and all of that, we ended up having more net revenue than if we’d rented a place and had a face-to-face gala,” Lieberman says.

“This is not to say that events won’t have a place in the future,” says Tollefson. “But fundraisers would be wise to find a better balance while incorporating both in-person and virtual events. This experience has shown us there is a place for both.”

Create more opportunity for donors. The way donations are structured is becoming more diverse and non-traditional, a direct reflection of uncertain times. Fundraisers should expect this to continue and be prepared to provide donors more optional ways to give, such as planned gift donations and other non-cash contributions.

A Proud Partnership. The Phoenix Philanthropy Group has worked with the University of La Verne since 2012 and is proud to have played a role in the university’s most successful fundraising campaign to date. “Phoenix Philanthropy President, Richard Tollefson, is a mission-driven, consummate professional who is knowledgeable and experienced in every aspect of the world of advancement,” says Lieberman.

Further highlighting the University of La Verne’s fundraising achievements, CASE (the Council for Advancement and Support of Education) awarded the university the 2017 Educational Fundraising Top Overall Improvement Award, an honor richly supported by the Phoenix Philanthropy Group’s partnership.

“Richard and his consultants have broad experiences, nationally and internationally, and are creative and focused. They do far more than dispense advice; they provide tools, strategies, calendars, and samples that allow us to move forward strategically and efficiently,” says Lieberman.

March 2021