Newsletter Archives

Feature Story: Stewardship

by Kathy Ruvolo, Executive Director of Constituent Relations
University of California, Irvine, Reprinted Courtesy of Association of Donor Relations Professionals


UC Irvine is a large public university, celebrating its 40th anniversary this year (UCI is one of 10 in the University of California system). Our campus consists of 16 schools/colleges/units; a medical center with affiliated teaching/research hospital; over 60 centers/institutes; an affiliated non-profit Foundation (UCI Foundation); a student population of over 24,000; an endowment of over $150M; over 2000 gift/endowment funds; and over 300,000 addressable constituents (donors, friends, alumni).

In late 2003, senior management within University Advancement determined that not enough emphasis was being placed on donor relations and stewardship - there was no one coordinating activities and there were no central services being provided - our donors were not receiving regular communication regarding their charitable contributions. By January 2004, a new Office of Stewardship was formed and staffed with a Director, an Associate Director, and an Administrative Assistant.

As Director, my initial goal for my unit was to "institutionalize stewardship," realizing that in order to do good stewardship, we needed everyone within the University on board -not only supporting our efforts, but ensuring that faculty and staff understand that donor stewardship is a global (or institutional) responsibility. Every faculty and staff member is responsible for accountability to our donors.

My first directive was to create a program that would be effective, efficient, and most importantly, one that would withstand changes in personnel. Being that we are a large, decentralized campus, with no prior central stewardship program, we had our work cut out for us. Due to my previous positions at UCI in Gift Administration and Accounting, I felt equipped with valuable knowledge of our campus' policies and procedures on accepting and spending gift funds -knowledge that I knew would complement the development of a successful program.

Following were some of the challenges and donor relations issues the department faced at its initiation:

  • Did the campus, as a whole, understand and embrace donor stewardship? No -most staff did not because there were no training programs or communication shared regarding this important responsibility.
  • Were there any systems in place to track and ensure proper and effective stewardship of donors? No, none.
  • Was endowment income being spent on a regular basis, and, were we assured that those that did spend were spending in accordance with the intent of the donor? No - my initial analysis showed more than 50% of our funds were NOT being utilized and there was nothing in place to ensure compliance with donor intent.
  • Were donors being shown the impact of their giving and how their money was invested and spent? Seldom.
  • Was donor relations and stewardship a top priority of the Information Technology staff within University Advancement? No.
  • Did we have the resources we needed to get started? We were optimistic with the approval of three FTEs for the department - but we needed to assess what types of positions and what skills and knowledge were needed for each position in order to be successful and achieve our goals.

My initial analysis showed me that there were two main objectives - one being institutionalizing our program, and the other being the effective use of technology. Being a large institution with over 2000 gift/endowment funds and an annual gift count of more than 18,000, technology and automation were going to key to our success.

My experience at UC Irvine was that when you need technical support you have to "wait in line" behind many others within the organization -sometimes waiting years to get the support needed. I decided to take matters into my own hands and use one of my FTE's for technical support. I re-wrote the Associate Director of Stewardship job description and incorporated technical skills - this has paid off substantially and in a year's time, we have many new automated, as well as custom, programs in place. I used my 3rd FTE as an administrative support person -someone to help me with my other main objective -institutionalizing stewardship (which became my primary objective for the year).

Approach to challenges/problems, effective use of resources and results:

  1. Began building relationships by meeting and communicating with what we call "centers of influence" on campus (Financial Aid, Academic Affairs, Dean's offices, Accounting, to name a few). Regular meetings are conducted with key staff in these areas to define and emphasize importance of stewardship and their role in the process.
  2. Established annual stewardship checklist system:
    • Associate director designed a program in Access, which extracts data from donor database and creates a checklist for each of our major donors (currently, we use $100K (cumulative) or more as our threshold).
    • At the beginning of each fiscal year, Director and Associate Director of Stewardship meet with Directors of Development in each school or unit on campus. During these meetings, the checklist is completed for each donor and a one-year stewardship plan is created.
    • The activities identified during our stewardship visits are entered into our donor database (Advance C/S).
    • During the year, as activities are concluded, they are "checked off" in Advance.
    • Regular reports showing outstanding/completed stewardship activities are produced and sent to Development Officers. Also, reminders are generated and sent to the schools/units as activities become past due. Senior University Advancement personnel are copied on these reports.
    • Process ensures that all of our donors are appropriately stewarded and that no donors fall through the cracks (especially when development officers leave UCI and new people are hired to come in and pick up where their predecessor left off).
  3. Donor Stewardship Reports
    • During stewardship checklist visits, we identify donors to receive stewardship reports.
    • Due to hiring an associate director with technical skills, these reports are designed and generated in house.
    • Reports are designed to give recognition to the donor and include our institution's vision and values statement, a financial summary (history of donor's giving), and a report that shows the impact of the donor's gift (written in collaboration with the gift beneficiary, i.e., chairholder, scholarship recipient, Dean, etc.)
    • In 2004 we issued about 75 personalized and custom stewardship reports for our major donors. Directors of Development determine delivery method.
    • In 2004, we issued over 400 endowed fund reports to donors who have established endowment funds.
  4. Financial Aid Interface:
    • In order to track students who have received donor-funded scholarships, we developed automated interface between financial aid's database and our donor database, Advance C/S.
    • Once a month, a download is received from Financial Aid listing students who received a scholarship -the student's Advance ID is included in the download so records are easily matched with our database. The information is recorded on both the student's record and the donor's record.
    • As a result, a student thank-you initiative was launched and students are now writing letters to the donors who support them.
    • Our office also facilitates setting up donor/student thank-you lunches/dinners and assists Financial Aid with marketing and awarding of donor-funded scholarships.
  5. Annual Endowment Income Spending/Compliance:
    • January 2004, we developed an automated process to track endowment spending -used to notify (and to bring into compliance) departments that are either not spending or those that are reinvesting their income.
    • Associate Director wrote a program to extract financial information from the accounting system. Data is downloaded on to one of the three following forms with questions/instructions to the department (on 3 different colored papers):
      • Red Form – Alert! No spending on the fund for one or more years.
      • Yellow Form – Caution. Records show the income on the endowment is being reinvested into the corpus of the fund. Departments are asked why they are reinvesting, and, if they wish to continue, and why.
      • Green Form – Thank you for Spending! Now, tell us how you used the funds.
    • Reports are completed by the beneficiary department on campus and returned to the Office of Stewardship.
    • Our office monitors and analyzes the returned forms, and, produces a report summarizing each school's/unit's funds, including a total of funds being unspent -this report is sent to all the deans/unit heads.
  6. Donor Acknowledgment Tracking and Reports:
    • Every Monday morning, a report of all gifts processed the previous week is generated and sent via e-mail to development representatives in the schools and units.
    • Report includes an indicator for "no acknowledgment received" -this prompts the departments to get the letters done.
    • This report is also sent to the Vice Chancellor's and Chancellor's offices and prompts them to write letters (based on internal acknowledgment policies).
    • Office of Stewardship administrative assistant monitors the reports and follows up to ensure 100% compliance.
  7. Other programs created and managed by the Office of Stewardship:
    • Honor roll of donors/annual report (mailed to donors September 2004)
    • Director staffs the UCI Foundation "Stewardship Committee" (a sub-committee of our board of trustees)
    • Anniversary cards -cards are sent annually on important anniversary dates (date of gift, date of building dedication/naming, etc.)
    • Donor Recognition Gifts -for donors of $1M or more, at the time they make their gift, they are given a custom framed collage, includes: handwritten note from the Chancellor; certificate; brass name plate with date of gift; photo and gold coin with University seal.
    • Milestone (Birthday) cards -birthday cards are sent to key donors signed by the Chancellor.
    • New donor welcome packets - sent to donors who have made their first gift to UC Irvine.
    • Memorial program - our office receives a weekly report of all gifts made in memory or honor of another person. This prompts a letter to the next-of-kin so that this person may also thank the donor if he/she so chooses.
    • UCI Medal - Annual event to recognize top donors and star faculty (usually 3-4 award recipients per year); black tie event, 700-800 in attendance.
    • Special Events -The department of Special Events reports to the Director of Stewardship. Manage 65-70 events per year (staff of 5).

Finally, one obvious way to do good stewardship, albeit often overlooked, is to simply ask your donors what they want. Every donor is unique -some may want reports, while others do not. Some may want to be active with your school, some may not. Some may want recognition, some may want to remain anonymous.

A good place to start with your donors is at the time the gift is made - inquire at this time about what they expect in return for their generosity. Be cautious, and don't make promises that will be hard to accomplish in the future.

Remember stewardship is an easy and inexpensive step to ensuring your fund-raising programs are successful. Don't be shortsighted and only raise money -our best prospects are previous donors.

For more information please contact:

Kathy T. Ruvolo
Executive Director of Constituent Relations -- Advancement Services 
University Advancement
University of California, Irvine
Irvine, CA 92697-5600 
Phone: (949) 824-5618 
Fax: (949) 824-7073 
E-mail: ruvolo@uci.edu


For more information

For specific project examples and demonstrations, or more information on interactive displays, digital messaging systems and integrated donor wall projects, please contact Planned Legacy.

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