Case Study

Higher Education: university of British Columbia


Boasting seven Nobel Prize winners and two Canadian prime ministers as alumni, the University of British Columbia (UBC) has consistently been ranked among the top 40 universities in the world. UBC’s student population numbers over 59,000 students, and the institution’s commitment to research is evident in its investment of $564 million in 8,442 research projects.


Finding new donors to financially support a university’s burgeoning academic programs is always a difficult task. But if an advancement office relied solely on previous donors for contributions, it would miss out on many promising prospects. Complicating the task for UBC’s Development and Alumni Engagement Department (UBCDAE), the staff faced limited access to public records to find major gift donors—individuals willing to give more than $25,000.

“Because privacy laws are very strict about individual data, people felt we couldn’t do anything to determine wealth and capacity to give beyond looking at Census data,” recalls Tracey Carmichael, UBCDAE’s Director of Research and Data Analytics. “We had to prove we could have success using statistics to score prospects.”


To aid UBC in its donor research, Environics Analytics (EA) provided the university with three of its financial datasets: WealthScapes, AgeByIncome and LiquidAssets. Using WealthScapes, UBC officers were able to gather neighbourhood-level information on Canadians’ incomes, investments, liquid assets and net worth. LiquidAssets and AgeByIncome in turn helped officers refine their results to identify mainly older candidates and those who could give at a major gift level. With all this information, analysts created an innovative model that ranked postal codes based on wealth indicators to identify those who had the financial wherewithal to give generously to the university. One UBC analysis even indicated that 27 percent of non-donor alumni were both willing, and wealthy enough, to become major donors.


With the data-driven profiles and visualizations of the segments identified by the model, UBCDAE can now help its fundraising staff recognize the potential major gift donors faster and more reliably. “Some of our findings just blew away the fundraisers,” says Carmichael. “We showed that we could accurately identify the major giving potential of nine out of ten individuals who had already given us a major gift based solely on where they live and data recorded within our CRM system.” Not only is UBCDAE now able to find major gift donors, its pre-screening of potential candidates also improves the advancement staff’s return on time and effort.