What’s next? Advancement Trends to follow in 2017

Jason Coolman, MA, Associate Vice-President, Development, University of Waterloo, Canada, shares his predictions for the hot trends in advancement over the coming year.

Trump wins. Britain exits EU after referendum. David Bowie and Prince pass on. Did you see any of these coming? I certainly didn’t.

Each year we encounter unpredicted change. While change can make us feel uneasy in our personal lives we need to be prepared for changes in our profession.

In Advancement, we must have a vision and plan while ensuring we’re on top of market trends and continually evolving our strategies and programmes to address the shifting landscape. Not doing this will lead to less reach, declining alumni participation, and most certainly declining revenue and shrinking numbers of donors.

But there is no need to be afraid. Here are some promising trends 2017 has in store for Advancement professionals.

Alumni Engagement Metrics

How do you demonstrate the value of your alumni programmes? How engaged are your alumni? What impact do alumni have on your institution? These are the most important questions that alumni professionals must answer. Do you have the answers? If not, finding them should be a top priority for 2017.

The Good, the Bad and the Easy provides an overview of the current state of alumni metrics and highlights the keys issues plaguing alumni relations. This year we’ll make bold advances on these data challenges as CASE kicks of a Metrics and Standards of Practice Project, charged with establishing a set of global standards for alumni engagement. I’m excited to join other alumni relations thought leaders on this important project. Stay connected with CASE to learn more later this year.

Increased International activity

Brexit and US President Trump’s idea of building a wall between Mexico and the USA suggests that countries are closing their borders and focusing more on their own citizens. Higher education will take an opposing approach.

Built to help solve global problems and educate the leaders of tomorrow, our institutions will expand our international research partnerships and increase internationalization activities. We’ll open our doors to more foreign students and send more domestic students abroad.

As our institutions create their internationalization agendas, Advancement will be asked to:

· Build a volunteer platform to ensure we have international chapters, branches, and networks in key strategic regions,

· Broaden the role of international chapters to enhance institutional brand, recruit students, and assist with employability initiatives such as internships and career mentoring,

· Increase global relevance to help the world in times of crisis. This article on the Syrian refugee crisis illustrates the impact our sector can make while Western University offers an example of a recent institutional response.

Bye, Bye, Donor Decline

For the past five years, my institution has followed the national and international trend of alumni donor participation rates dropping while average alumni gifts increase. Has your institution experienced the same? If so, corrective action is needed.

The changes we’ve recently implemented are beginning to yield our first donor number increase in five years. The better news is that we’ve only started to implement the corrective action and we still have a lot of things we can do. To improve donor numbers this year, here are a few keys to success:

· Stop the leaky bucket — Shift your focus from annual renewals to recurring gifts. Then you can focus more attention on acquiring new donors while still seeing revenues remain constant from your loyal group.

· Implement new giving programs — Consider crowdfunding. When done effectively, crowdfunding can introduce a series of new donors who you likely won’t acquire through traditional programmes.

· Diversify your communication channels — Social media, mobile, video, geo-fencing, and digital marketing ads are the new normal. Exploring these options will expand your reach to new audiences and enhance content to existing ones.

· Ensure proper stewardship — It’s more cost effective to retain current donors than to bring in new donors. Comprehensive donor relations and stewardship plans ensure donors are thanked, know that their gift was properly used, see the impact of their giving, and perhaps most important, know what our needs are so that they’re ready to support us again.

Mega donor shift

There has been a recent shift in the way the world’s most wealthy are challenging and changing the face of traditional philanthropy.

Post-secondary institutions will continue to be the biggest beneficiaries in the “mega gift” space. To do so, we must deepen our knowledge of these donors, their intentions, and adjust to the new levels of involvement they are requesting.

The key changes you need to be aware of are: impact investing, venture philanthropy, social enterprise, and “giving while living” creeds. The great news for Advancement is that many of the world’s wealthiest plan to give away a large portion of their wealth to solve large, complex problems, which can often align perfectly with many of our research agendas.

To capitalize on this, we must adjust to the changing landscape that includes deeper donor involvement, more “strings attached”, and gifts tied to outcomes. Institutions must be willing to expend significant upfront financial resources to prepare proposals, business cases, and detailed donor relations and stewardship plans. This space will not be for everyone, but will continue to change the face of philanthropy in higher education for those who do it successfully.

Final thoughts

Regardless of the size of your operation, location, history, strategic plan, or budget, we should constantly strive to improve our operations and enhance the way that we interact with our alumni and donors. 2017 will be a year of great Advancement opportunities. Choose a path and make it happen.

Jason Coolman, MA, Associate Vice-President, Development, University of Waterloo, Canada.

Interested in learning more about Alumni Relations visit the CASE Alumni Relations Institute.

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