Dr. Gloria Kellum, Ole Miss: Creating an effective development office

I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Gloria Kellum, retired Vice Chancellor for University Relations at the University of Mississippi and a Baby Boomer in her 60’s. As the chief advancement officer, she was tasked with the overall responsibility for communications and fund raising on behalf of the university. Not a small job.

Dr. Kellum oversaw the development department from 1996 to 2009 and its approximately 17 employees who ranged in age from their twenties to sixties. Previously a faculty member since 1966, she joined the “dark side” (aka development) in 1996 to work on the school’s $525 million capital campaign and later a $240 million capital campaign with Chancellor Khayat. In her words, Dr. Kellum built a “cool development department” over the course of almost fifteen years.

“Technology became our friend in coordinating our younger and older people.”

In order to get all the development officers on the same page and communicating in the same language, she utilized technology. She and her development colleagues worked really hard to develop processes for coordination and communication about donors.  The key to successfully cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding donors was a database that would track each development officer’s moves and touches with each individual donor. With over thousands of donors, a donor database was key for communication among the multi-generational team. Dr. Kellum feels that technology is absolutely necessary to fundraising success because you have so many people you are dealing with as donors and so many development officers who have contact with these donors.

“By having multiple generations working in the Ole Miss development office it helped us keep in touch with our multi-generational alumni and donors.”

Dr. Kellum also knew how to play to the generational strengths of her development officers. The development office was roughly broken down to about ten younger officers under the age of 40, two to three 40-somethings, two to three 50-somethings and two to three from the “mature crowd” who were over 60.

While most universities are challenged with engaging young alumni as most of them defer giving until 15 years post graduation, Dr. Kellum met the challenge by utilizing her younger development officers. She tasked them with figuring out how to engage young alumni early on and even while they were still students.  The staff implemented communication and solicitations that would appeal to them as a younger person. These young folks were more in touch with utilizing technology to reach out to younger donors.

“I find that diversity (age, be it whatever) is a wonderful way to keep people intrigued with each other and build that sense of community.”

The peer-to-peer approach is very effective in fundraising. Dr. Kellum implemented this strategy to engage her mature donors. Retired staff and administrators were retained on a part-time paid basis and asked to utilize the relationships that they had built up during decades and decades at the University. Donors are more likely to give when they are asked by a colleague or friend.

While technology was a must to keep the development office working effectively together, Dr. Kellum was also aware that the mature development officers were not as literate with technology. These development officers were assigned a staff person who would record all of the donor information into the database on their behalf. This staff assistant would also produce donor reports for the mature development officer to review before he or she went on a donor site visit. This allowed the “technology-challenged” fundraisers to effectively use the system, ultimately, creating effective communication among her development officers. With the combined the strengths of the mature and the younger development officers, Ole Miss’s development department had a great interaction.

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