Engagement Success Tracking: An Insider’s Guide To OSU’s Engagement Campaign

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Earlier this year, CASE District VIII honored Oregon State University as a Platinum Award Finalist for its progress in Engagement Success Tracking. Read on to see how John Valva's work is driving real-world outcomes in alumni engagement.

By John Valva, Vice President, Alumni Engagement & Executive Director, OSU Alumni Association

Earlier this year, CASE District VIII honored Oregon State University as a Platinum Award Finalist for our progress in Engagement Success Tracking, leading a few of my CAAE colleagues to ask for some insights into how our work is driving real-world outcomes in alumni engagement.

Oregon State University is incorporating a comprehensive engagement component into its multi-billion-dollar fundraising campaign, which is in its silent phase. We are not just counting heads, we are using increasingly sophisticated metrics to measure the impact of alumni volunteerism and participation on the priorities of the university community. Our premise is that simply taking roll of our activities or awarding point scores when alumni and friends participate multiple times fails to tell the story of the actual positive impact that our graduates and friends bring to the lives of our students and to the success of the university community. Quantity might be easier to track and is not irrelevant, but we have elevated our focus on measuring positive outcomes. This is iterative, and we continue to fine-tune our tracking model to do just that. 

A premise is that engagement can directly support donor identification and pipeline development AND deliver meaningful impact when a constituent engages. We want to document how and why that happens so we can adapt, doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t.

At Oregon State, this engagement work is fully integrated with development, and we view development officers and communicators as primary engagers. In the campaign planning, we engaged university leadership and over 200 internal and external stakeholders. That set university-wide priorities for engaging alumni and friends in ways to deliver impact that complements the resources and expertise of faculty and staff. In phase one, we determined that engagement priorities fall into four primary outcome areas:

  • student and educational success
  • advocacy
  • diversity, equity & inclusion
  • giving and revenue

Exploring the meaning of each broad theme, this visioning exercise also aspired to define how Oregon State University will be better because of the time, effort and expertise of volunteers and participants. Seven aspirational goals were defined as tactical achievements that fit within these outcome areas. These involve palpable and public-facing goals that, when we achieve them, will differentiate Oregon State from our public land-grant peers. To cite three examples:

  • At OSU, 100% of students will have direct and pertinent access to alumni networks for their professional and career development needs. Previous statements have included internal-facing goals like increasing career mentors by 15%, hosting monthly alumni career panels, or launching an online networking platform. We flipped our goals to be focused on the end-user outcomes.
  • We have shifted our advocacy efforts from volume-of-activity goals during each legislative session to making sure that state legislators in every voting district in Oregon can recite the message points and names of Oregon State advocates, especially those in their districts. In our view, knowing that our elected officials understand our message and know our advocates is more impactful than simply reporting how many times we contacted them.
  • In diversity and inclusion, we are no longer satisfied by sponsoring identity-based groups and events. We have committed that traditionally underrepresented alumni volunteers and sponsors will be active and visible in every student admissions, orientation, mentoring, and networking opportunity across the university community. Again, our planning goes beyond intentions and effort, and focuses on noticeable and quantifiable results.


Exploring the meaning of each broad theme, this visioning exercise also aspired to define how Oregon State University will be better because of the time, effort and expertise of volunteers and participants.

This outcome-based approach has created a mission-driven focus on engagement and has resulted in a framework that combines the data-driven opportunities of technology with the human impact to tell a story from both a quantitative and qualitative perspective. Academic and university leadership regularly convene with staff to evaluate the quality of the tracking, the usefulness of the reporting, and the strategic, practical use of what we’re learning. The means are by no means perfect, but internally our moves have resulted in more consistent goals across the university, shared language and increased collaborations. Externally, our volunteers tell us we have made their roles and impact more understandable. The data results so far indicate a significant growth in volunteerism and retention. 

In this work, Oregon State benefits from a generally centralized engagement tracking data culture, where collaboration is standard. This has allowed us to re-map all engagement coding to report in both CASE-methodologies (participation, volunteerism and giving), and to our primary outcome areas. We report our campaign success in the following ways: 

Metric dashboards:

We maintain dashboards for the overall totals of participation, volunteerism and giving, across OSU and per each college and division, AND similar dashboards of activity in each outcome area. These are live-data dashboards accessible by primary stakeholders, and delivered formally to the provost and deans twice a year. To understand our scale, at OSU we have mapped a 5-year average of about 45,000 individuals who engage annually in trackable ways (not including athletic or performance tickets – which remain a data challenge), and about 88,000 annual moments that individuals engage in the outcome areas. These dashboards are, to our knowledge, among the industry’s first comprehensive effort to specifically map engagement activities to priority impacts on the institution. Examples of the dashboards can be found here.


The dashboards also report correlation data of activity to impact – showing aggregate threads in correlations between participation, volunteerism and giving. This strategy supports the ways that OSU volunteers advance through the engagement pipeline. This focus on volunteerism is sparked by clear trends at our institution. Last year, 62% of our alumni volunteers also made charitable gifts. Lifetime, that correlation is 87%. For us, the more we can move individuals to volunteer opportunities, the more likely they will donate. Importantly along the way, the more we can showcase the inherent value of those volunteer moments, the broader the scope of alumni impact across the university becomes. We track new and continuing participants and volunteers, and train and reward staff just as much for acquiring and maintaining volunteers as we do gifts


We acknowledge that engagement value is solely quantifiable. Every moment of engagement has personal meaning for our graduates and friends. To reflect as much of the ‘soft science’ as possible, we maintain, promote and leverage storytelling to capture and share this in each of our four outcome areas. Anecdotal storytelling inspires more and deeper engagements in areas most impactful to the Oregon State community. This affirms to constituents that their time and effort is worth their investment because they see how they and their peers are part of an evolving, inspiring OSU story, and that increases the likelihood of repeat engagement. We use our magazine, social media, and collect, report and re-tell the individual impact stories in inspirational and emotional ways. 

Feedback Loops:

We are currently developing the feedback and listening loops needed to depict in metrics our progress toward our aspirational goals, like expanding student access to networks and clearer, more positive legislator perceptions of OSU. 

Initial Methodology 

A key pride point is that this herculean pivot in tracking occurred with existing staff and budget. The secret sauce was that the activity coding already existed. We have traditionally tracked our constituent movements relatively well. This effort simply added vision and purpose to the effort as our data team ferreted out and presented the new reports we needed. Our CRM is Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and the work was assisted by our reporting software Tableau, and our desktop design in MS Publisher and PowerPoint. Steps along the way included:

  • Campaign outcome discussions with approximately 200 stakeholders, including lead donors and volunteers, university and academic leadership, and staff collaborators.
  • Drafting and articulating tangible aspirational goals for impactful engagement.
  • Development of four primary outcome categories (student & education success, advocacy, diversity, and gifts & revenue).
  • Data mapping and recoding of almost 300,000 moments of engagement in our centralized customer relationship management system. This attributed outcome categories to each engagement moment to augment the CASE categories of participation, volunteerism and giving.
  • Developed storytelling fields in the CRM to collect and retell stories and anecdotes of engagement impact.
  • Convened feedback sessions for 15 different campus offices to assess and confirm outcome coding assumptions.
  • Reprogrammed our database reporting system to develop customized dashboards, launched on intranet for university colleagues to access unit-based dashboards, trained university partners for broad use.
  • Developed, published and circulated 10 formats of dashboards, reflecting university-wide trends in traditional CASE standards of reporting, others tracking campaign outcomes, whiles other itemize correlation trends between engagement categories and giving. Each report provides current fiscal year views, all-campaign views, and filters for each academic unit and primary campus partner.

We are confident that the engagement component and articulated goals of Oregon State’s campaign, when publicly launched, will be an engagement changemaker in our community, and perhaps a model for others in the industry. The university community has unified behind our more definable and expectant focus on engagement. It reflects and celebrates the significant donor-pipeline role of constituent engagement, while adding a strategic view that engagement that matters also provides direct and trackable value impact. And this is much more than lip service, with annual (and campaign-wide) trackable measurements that are outcome based, not simply a tally of activities. Understanding the inherent value of quantifiable measurements, we have connected our data to outcomes, and developed a centralized systematic reporting structure. The feedback from stakeholders has been positive, our front-line staff is excited and our new and growing set of tools has us more sharply focused than ever on making a real difference for our university and its people.

Oregon State benefits from a generally centralized engagement tracking data culture, where collaboration is standard.

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