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Building a Successful Digital Development Officer Program from Scratch

Buena Vista University (BVU), a private university in Storm Lake, Iowa, has been grappling with the same issues facing development operations across much of higher education and nonprofit fundraising, including challenges with declining alumni participation, competition among nonprofits to hire great fundraising staff and a need to better develop the institution’s major gifts pipeline. To reverse these trends, BVU leadership knew that change was needed.

Finding Top Talent

“We recognized that to reach our potential, we had to change the way we approach donor engagement,” said Jared Bienemann, Executive Director of Development at Buena Vista University. “We wanted to not only find something that would help us acquire more donors, but keep them over the long run. That’s why we hired {{firstname}}.”

Expanding their focus allowed BVU to hire a Digital Development Officer who lived two hours from campus, but could be on campus for key events during the year. The new Digital Development Officer, Lizzy Deprenger, started her work with one goal: begin building relationships, at scale, with her three-thousand-plus portfolio of current and prospective donors. 


{{firstname}} worked hand-in-hand with BVU advancement throughout every step of the Digital Development Officer recruitment process, from drafting a job description to interviewing potential candidates to identifying the best candidate to hire. The forward-thinking team at BVU saw this as a chance to change their approach to hiring. 


“It’s a competition to find and retain employees. One of the hallmarks of the DDO work is that much of it can be done remotely, which allowed us to increase the quality and depth of our applicant pool by simply expanding the geographic radius where a gift officer can live.”

        -- Jared Bienemann, Executive Director of Development at Buena Vista University

Digital-First Training

To put Lizzy in the best position to succeed, {{firstname}} delivered a training program specifically designed for Digital Development Officer work. From video production to engaging donors via social media, multiple topics were covered.

“Having training customized for this role was invaluable. This helped me take what I learned and apply it directly to my work. Working collaboratively with the {{firstname}} team on skills and strategy allowed me to achieve, and exceed, BVU's fundraising goals for this position.”

{{firstname}} worked with the BVU advancement team to develop a portfolio for the new DDO to begin outreach and cultivation strategies. Notably, the portfolio included hard-to-reach alumni and supporters who had not responded to traditional outreach channels like phone and direct mail. 

Building the DDO Strategy for Real Results

{{firstname}} reviewed BVU’s fiscal-year outreach calendar and identified key fundraising campaigns that BVU’s DDO could integrate with as well as develop standalone warming and solicitation campaigns. 


For all campaigns, {{firstname}} worked to develop donor journeys to allow BVU’s DDO to reach out 1:1 to alumni and supporters who had engaged with prior content and revealed themselves to be “warmer” than other members of the audience who had not been opening emails or engaging with paid social media ads. 


Using contemporary marketing strategies, based on behavioral data, Lizzy was able to make inroads quickly, with nearly 20% of her portfolio engaging with every outreach attempt. “I was able to reach most of my portfolio via social media, email and even text-messaging,” said DePrenger “The best part about this outreach was my video content let me become a familiar face, helping set the table for future one-on-one conversations about supporting BVU.”

Results Exceed Expectations

The results speak for themselves. Lizzy and the BVU team were able to not only meet, but exceed their lofty fundraising goals. 

What exactly does this look like?

  • 20% increase in donors AND dollars from Lizzy’s portfolio
  • 10% of total gifts raised from Day of Giving and #GivingTuesday as a direct result of DDO outreach
  • Well above average email open rates, click-throughs and text response rates

What’s Next?

Encouraged by the success of Lizzy’s work, {{firstname}} and BVU are entering Year 2 of Digital Development Officer work. After realizing the potential of digital-first donor engagement, BVU’s goals are growing.


“We view digital donor engagement as the future of annual giving,”

said Joan Canty, Vice President, BVU University Advancement. “To put us in the best position to succeed, our entire team has undergone training to approach our work with a digital-first mindset. This has given us increased confidence to set, and meet, aggressive goals for the year ahead.”

Those goals include an increased emphasis on segmentation and using data to inform future strategies, including optimizing portfolios to focus on warm prospects. 

If you’d like to discover how a Digital Development Officer program can work for your organization, fill out this form and we’ll be in touch!


“We view digital donor engagement as the future of annual giving. To put us in the best position to succeed, our entire team has undergone training to approach our work with a digital-first mindset. This has given us increased confidence to set, and meet, aggressive goals for the year ahead.”

Joan Canty

Vice President for University Development and Alumni Engagement

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