SARAH SIMS, CFRE

S. Sims Headshot.jpg

Executive Director of Donor Engagement

University of Houston

sarah@donorrelationsguru.com

AREAS OF EXPERTISE

  • Fundraising and Donor Relations

  • Program Development and Strategy

  • Program Metrics and Evaluation

  • Impact and Endowment Reporting

  • Fund Stewardship and Auditing

  • Campaign Donor Relations

  • Top Donor Engagement

With an extensive background in fundraising, donor relations, program development and leadership, Sarah is committed to not only stewarding past gifts, but inspiring future philanthropy at higher education and non-profit organizations across the country. Known for being a “builder”, Sarah has been responsible for building new and innovative donor relations programs from the ground up at multiple educational institutions. She currently heads the comprehensive Donor Engagement Team at the University of Houston through oversight of donor relations, stewardship, special events, and advancement communications. Her hallmark programs have generated several millions of dollars in additional contributions, increased retention rates, and engaged donors at all levels of the giving pyramid.

 

Drawing from her strengths in strategy and execution, Sarah is always looking for ways to turn challenges into opportunities. She believes that every team member is a fundraiser no matter their title, and every donor relations initiative should be designed to impact the fundraising bottom line. Looking towards the future of the donor relations field, Sarah focuses on the art and science of blending stewardship and cultivation.

 

As a trainer, consultant, and frequent speaker for Academic Impressions, the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), and the Association of Donor Relations Professionals, Sarah balances humor and passion for the profession in her work with others.​

PRESENTATION TOPICS
Sarah is available to present or lead conversations on the following topics: ​

Metrics, She Wrote: Uncovering the Clues to Success

Some days donor relations metrics can feel like a mystery…and quite possibly the death of us. Everyone is asking, What do we track? How do we track it? Where do we get the information? What does our leadership want to see? It’s an overwhelming and nebulous task. But it doesn’t have to be! You already have all the tools you need to be a super sleuth and to solve the mystery – you just need to look at it with a variety of angles. Join us as we explore what key metrics we should be developing and how to let them drive our strategy for engagement and fundraising success.

 

Strategic Stewardship to Increase Donor Retention

Learn how you can apply strategy to your donor relations efforts that will positively affect donor retention rates as well as steward some of our more “at risk” donor populations. This is more important than ever as our industry sees declines in overall giving, staff and resources may be limited, and we must tie our donor relations efforts directly to the fundraising bottom line. We will explore strategies to explore retention in key populations, segmentation and messaging best practices, and shifting the organizational culture to a donor-centered retention mindset.

 

As the Lights Go Down: Donor Engagement at Campaign Close and Beyond

The lights are fading, the party is almost over, the goal has been met…your campaign is coming to a close. Your development officer and leadership teams may be starting to breath deep, but now it’s our time to shine – it’s time for donor relations, stewardship, engagement, events, and communications to take the stage and breathe life into all that has been accomplished through your massive fundraising accomplishment. Join the team as we explore to role of these teams in effectively recognizing donors to the campaign at all levels, reporting the impact of funds raised, stewarding new funds, consolidating and converting events as necessary, and more. We will explore key data reports to be pulling, important annual communications to be issuing, and how to develop retention strategy for these important donors. It’s now our job to retain and these campaign donors – until the next big party!

 

Legal, Possible, & Practical? Check Yes or No

By far, one of the most challenging areas of our work is determining legality standards in the gift agreements that govern our philanthropic gifts. Is it legal? Is it possible? Is it practical? Chances are, the answer is in a gray area, or at least requires a legal or financial judgement call. Of which, we are not typically lawyers or accountants, but we serve on the front lines of these conversations. The good news is that you are not alone and many organizations struggle with determining the legal, possible, and practical status of their fund purposes. The bad news is that it doesn’t make it any easier and doesn’t take away any of the liability of your organization may be facing if you are administering funds not in compliance with IRS or federal regulation, or against the court of public opinion (otherwise known as potentially really bad PR). Join this webinar for an overview of what constitutes legal, possible, and practical in your gift agreements, how to bring your development partners along in these critical conversations, and how to course correct these issues if they currently exist in your gift documentation.

 

Surprise & Delight! Engaging Your Top Donors Through Custom Engagement Plans

You have the basics down pat...acknowledgments, fund stewardship, and reporting are all well in hand. But what are we doing to connect and engage with our top donors as individuals, on a customized basis? How do you use donor relations and individual engagement plans to strategically move and deepen the relationship? "Surprise and Delight" is a term coined by development consultant Susan Washburn to describe the little, unexpected ways to engage with your donors - leading to great dividends. Join us as we explore ways in which to not only strategize and execute these plans, but also view some of the innovative and ingenious surprise and delight moments being implemented across the country.

 

Brace for Impact: Donor Reports that Resonate

Donors want to know not only how their gifts are used, but also how their gifts have impacted your institution and furthered your mission. Whether you are generating annual endowment reports, communicating about a one-time project, or a donor's lifetime giving, stewardship reporting is an integral component in fundraising success. Join us as we explore not only the type of impact reports your organization should be generating, but how to strategize, execute, and track the ROI of your reporting program.

  

A Cake to Feed All: Implementing Behavior-Based Recognition Programs

Sometimes we have to feed a large crowd. We have finite resources, both in staff and budgets, and we have to strategize ways to satiate many donors with different interests and needs. By developing a program based on donor behaviors, in lieu of arbitrary giving amounts, we can ensure we are communicating gratitude and impact to donors at all levels of giving. This webinar will assist you in identifying priority donor behaviors you need to reinforce, personal communications to these groups, and strategy development to increase donor retention. Everyone gets a slice.

 

Not Your Grandma’s Tea & Cookies: Revamping Your Recognition Society

Are your recognition societies getting stale like cookies that have sat out too long? Are they cumbersome to implement and lacking in engagement and ROI? Well it’s time to rethink the traditional society construct. This webinar will explore how organizations are reshaping their recognition framework to create meaningful experiences that drive affinity and communicate impact – everything from tiers, benefits, events and communications geared towards the modern donor.

 

Taming the Beast: Tiering Your Endowment Reports to Slay Inefficiency

Endowment reporting can become a beast. It often becomes an all-consuming task that sucks time, resources and ROI from your team. As organizational endowments grow and the number of funds, complexity of agreements, and demand for impact reporting increase exponentially, your donor relations and stewardship teams must develop creative and efficient ways to slay to the beast. Join us as we explore how to evaluate your endowment reporting process and develop tiering mechanisms to ensure you are putting your resources where they matter….and your donor remains the knight in shining armor.