By Drew Fox Jordan • February 19, 2021

    CASE All Districts: Our Top Sessions From This Year's Conference

    This year's CASE All Districts conference played host to so many engaging and thought-provoking sessions that it was hard to choose which ones were our favorites. Luckily for you, the Gravyty team picked some of their favorites and compiled a list of their top takeaways from this year's speakers.

    Opening keynote speaker Laura Huang kicked the conference off by showing us how a large part of success relies on how well we can shape others’ perceptions of us. She forced us to think how we can leverage both our strengths and our flaws to our advantage—creating an edge that will keep attention, beat competition, and win.

    We concluded with hearing from  award-winning historian and author Dr. Ibram X. Kendi on anti-racism in education. His thoughts on the importance of civic education is something that resonates with the entire nonprofit industry, not limited to colleges and universities. Talking above race is something that impacts politics, education, and our communities, and it is our duty as members of society to actively push back against racial bias.

    Untitled presentationHere are the top sessions the Gravyty team attended at this year's CASE All Districts:

    DAY ONE:

    COVID-19 Lessons Learned for Online Alumni Engagement

    As devastating and challenging as the COVID-19 pandemic has been this year, it’s also created a lot of advances in online alumni engagement from creative alumni professionals forced to rethink how to engage alumni in a new reality. Sarah Szabo, J.J. Slager, Jeff Williams and Zach Rubin will follow up last year’s standing-room-only presentation at CASE V with a collection of innovative programs for engaging alumni online and advice for thinking about where alumni relations can go from here in a world that has been profoundly changed.

    Recap: Prior to the pandemic, Furman University was not doing any virtual events and jumped into them without much experience. They were pushed outside of their comfort zone and learned as they went. They crushed attendance numbers for things like virtual game nights and career panels for younger alumni, as well as started a business series lecture with faculty/alumni which was previously done in different cities, but now they’re able to gain access to more alumni to feature/attend. Overall, the trends are increases in attendance and a broader reach that they were not able to engage before with in-person events.

    Reimagining Alumni Weekend: From Good to Great to Virtual

    For significant engagement growth, sometimes traditions must be evaluated and reimagined. Between 2018 and 2019, New York University took time to transform Alumni Day into a full weekend of activities, resulting in the most attended alumni program. After winning both a Silver and a Bronze CASE Circle of Excellence Award for this transformation, we faced the challenge of moving the program online in 2020. From 750 alumni to 1550 alumni to 5000 alumni attendees, this session will review the two years of change endured with NYU Alumni and Parents Weekend.

    Recap: This session provided strategies for providing alumni with an authentic alumni weekend, virtually. Once people sign up, the key is to keep them engaged with fun content so they want to attend and interact with the program. however this poses the question: What content do we provide? What is the tech that we need to be using? Is it in house? How will we organize the schedule? Live or on demand? Interactive?

    Fundraising Storytelling: Data Analytics and Visualizations in Advancement Services

    Advancement services professionals should be focused on: 1) Gathering data about constituents; 2) Measuring effectiveness and impact of fundraising efforts; 3) Leveraging technology to improve processes and insights; 4) Getting information into the hands of those who need it most. This "big picture" thinking creates context and outcomes that people may be drawn to. This clarity means every decision you make and every action you take can be measured to show how it impacts the organization. In this session, attendees will get an idea of identifying and/or implementing KPIs for data analytics that lead to dynamic interactive visualizations.

    Recap: This session started by going over key metrics - how do you see a story in random data? The focus should remain on the audience (donors). They want to know where their money is going, and it remains important for fundraisers to be able to communicate that with donors in a timely manner. With this said, how important is this data to the donors? The info that is important to fundraisers and the info that is important to donors may be different.

    Inside the Journey and Results of Implementing and Adopting Artificial Intelligence

    This session provides candid lessons and practical tactics surrounding the implementation of Artificial Intelligence across the entire giving pipeline. Set against the backdrop of implementing A.I. at The Oregon State University Foundation, the vendor and project champion take you along the journey of actual implementation, the successes, failures and results will provide a step to step guide to implementing Artificial Intelligence.

    Recap: Oregon State brought in Fundmetric to help improve their data quality and “future-proof” their dataset. Their idea is to build a better database, giving fundraisers the exact right people to reach out to based on AI-driven insights of who is likely to give and how much. Fundmetric CEO Mark Hobbs said “AI helps because people don’t want to be harassed for gifts”.

    Managing and Hiring Your Advancement Team in a COVID Environment

    As advancement leaders seek to manage through COVID and the social movements of our time, many questions arise. How can I best manage my team in a budget constricted environment? How can I make the financial case for hiring advancement talent in the future? What resources and energy should I be putting towards retention? Specifically, what should I be doing to create an inclusive environment for my diverse workforce? It's an exceptional time, and this session will ask a diverse panel of some of higher ed's premier advancement leaders to share their thoughts about the current advancement management landscape.

    Recap: “Being two dimensional helps us listen better and gives us a window into who we are”- allowing potentially greater intimacy. Is it possible to have a stronger connection further away? Morehouse College advancement team is expanding, spurring a discussion about persuading a board to approve an expanded budget. It was suggested to "start with productivity and data” to justify investments.  During times of reckoning like these (pandemic, racial justice, facts/science), universities are incredibly important. Begin the process of thinking through a transition to a “new normal” now. It’s a slow ramp up, not an immediate return, and leaders have to start thinking about what has added value in the last year and what can go back to how it was.

    Persona Marketing: What Is It? How Do You Do It and Exceed Expectations?

    At HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, we know people relate to people, but we wanted to take our real student stories and images a step further to recruit future students. From implementing a casting call to creating four-phase integrated marketing communications plans for each of our three diverse personas, you will find at least a few nuggets to take back to your teams. We will discuss our strategies for reaching traditional, nontraditional and workforce students, how the campaigns have exceeded our expectations and our “don’t do that again” list.

    Recap: This was a really good presentation on how HACC strategically developed persona’s and then did a casting call to pull in 3 students ($1,000 each off of tuition if they were chosen) and then used them for marketing to connect with future students and alum. They used real student stories and saw great impact and value.

    Business Intelligence Solutions as a Strategic Initiative to Support NYU Fundraising Efforts

    The NYU team will share our success story of implementing the Business Intelligence intranet site, aka the BI portal, from the ground up.

    Recap: “Business intelligence is about providing: The right data, at the right time, to the right people, so that they can make the right decisions”. NYU had to re-imagine and rebuild prospect records. But once they cleaned and prepared data they built with Tableau, they had 50 dashboards and self service reports, in digestible and compelling format to help shift behavior of the entire team, frontline and back end. Results include a new, effective and data driven strategy and improved data entry. Buy in from fundraisers achieved with top down roll out and champion strategy.

    Marshaling Your Resources: Leveraging Key Advocates and Building an Advancement Board & Board Building and Leading with Purpose

    Join us for a practical hands-on session and answer the questions: “Why start an advancement board? Will it be worth the work/time?” Presenters will share experiences from three institutions, offering real-life examples of how to create a board or re-energize an existing one. Most often, boards are composed of volunteers eager to help — but without the proper structure, guiding documents, and positive collaborative partnership, a board can become rudderless. Learn how you can activate your board, create internal buy-in, set expectations to ensure success, and create shared sense of purpose within your institution

    Recap: UConn, Oakland University (Michigan) and Kettering University discussed setting up an advancement board and the difference between an advisory board (members provide council) and a governing (power to make change). They discussed why you should create a board, how to create a board and how to activate the board. Ultimately the board allows for high-level engagement with prospects, access to leadership, information sharing (eliminate silos and provide new perspectives), network building, and professionalization. The board should be diverse and mirror the current student body. The goal of any board is to foster strong, authentic relationships.

    Elevating Expertise: Leveraging Faculty and Staff Experts Across Communication Platforms

    Every college campus has experts who can contribute to their areas of research and professional skills to the news of the day. But finding those experts and connecting them with media opportunities isn’t easy. And once you’ve landed a media placement, how can you get the most out of your efforts? The University of Richmond media relations team will share three ways to best leverage experts to land national media opportunities. They also will share five ways to maximize media placements by showcasing how media placements can be used across University platforms and divisions to reach target audiences.

    Recap: It is important to remember that as a fundraiser you are a Brand Ambassador. Your communication with Alumni, Parents, Donors and Prospects is critical to the schools overall success. Always be aware of faculty expertise and stories that are being promoted around campus and utilize that material with your portfolio to present a unified front.

    DAY TWO:

    Bridging Scholarship and Practice – What we can learn from Philanthropy Research

    What can we learn from academic research on donor motivation? A deeper understanding of our donor’s motivation can inform how we as an institution create engagement, communication, and partnership. This session will present four recent academic studies on donor motivation, interpreted by two Scholar-Practitioners. The presentation will include actionable steps for participants by bridging theory and practice. After presenting a broader framework on donor motivation, we will illustrate the breadth and depth of the research on donor motivation in four unique segments: donor motivation for giving to athletics, LGBTQIA+, bequest donations, and major and mega gifts.

    Donor motivation is highly researched. Why do donors do what they do? There are eight mechanisms of donor giving: Awareness of need, solicitation, costs and benefits, altruism, reputation of donor, psychological benefits, values, and efficacy. This session included  motivations for giving to athletics (feeling like part of the winning team), LGBTQ philanthropy (social uplift, justice motivation-desire to right a wrong, wanting to make a difference) bequest giving (felt they they were important), and understanding motivations of mega-gift donors to higher ed (altruism, legacy, reciprocity, desire to have impact). How do you build a strategy based off these needs? Ask donors compelling questions, look at past giving, talk about why they are motivated. This can shape better communication.

    The Science of Including Faculty in Your Alumni Engagement Events

    “Lifelong Learning” has long been a buzzword in Alumni Relations. We know there is power in leveraging faculty members to reengage graduates, but it’s not always an easy – or realistic – feat. This session will explore how Butler’s Alumni Relations department teamed up with two chemistry professors to organize and execute the popular “Science of” event series, a program which took home CASE V Gold Awards in two categories in 2019.

    The key here is to keep things broad and fun with faculty who are openly willing to engage with alumni. Also, it is a great idea to run these events with small businesses/topics that alumni own or are associated with. Think about location, tech, and layout of the event so that it is more of a classroom setting, as opposed to lecture hall. From the session: “For virtual events, we did very much what we do for our students. I engaged the alumni in the same kind of way that I would engage my class. I recorded a pre-event video, and then we all met on Zoom to discuss.”

    Metrics for Success: Creating a University-Wide Stewardship Plan

    Stewardship is key to nurturing and growing relationships with donors and has a direct impact on future giving. How do we know if we are successfully stewarding donors throughout the University? What are the integral measurements to assess donor stewardship efforts? How do we quantify successful stewardship for our institution? Which metrics matter most and how do we track them? Presenters will share Penn State’s process for creating and implementing a University-wide stewardship plan, key metrics for success, and how the plan guides foundational stewardship at the unit level.

    The stewardship process depends upon who your constituents are, how you are measuring their participation, and what their expectations are. There are also internal stewardship metrics that are incredibly important to operating a successful development program.

    Seven Commitments to Highly Effective Data Management

    The pandemic taught us the importance of hygiene/cleansing for our overall health and well-being. The same applies to our data.  This session will discuss how to apply the seven commitments of effective data management (Teaching and Training, Data standardization and governance, Alignment and partnerships, Regular data audits, Data enrichment, Digitization, and Automation) regardless of the size of the institution.  Attendees will learn how to prioritize and enhance data hygiene, learn how to identify opportunities for process efficiencies, and learn the importance of data governance, training, and compliance.

    The big takeaway from this session was the need to have forward thinking. By “Cross Training” by team and “Alignment” by department you can avoid problems when the unexpected happens. For example, when one of your team members leave or is unexpectedly out of the office, be sure that you are always able to cover their work. If there is a major project in the works like a campaign mailing, be sure that the data side is onboard for needs of timing for reports and data entry.

    Advancement Services: Ask the Experts

    Join this panel of experts to gain their insight on your toughest Advancement Services challenges.  With more than a century of combined experience, if they don’t have the answer – they will know where to find it!

    There have been lots of changes in the industry, especially with diversity. Fundraising remains process-oriented, but needed to adapt and focus on doing business in ways not done before. There was also a call for data exchange with niche tools. Leaning into technology helps us get much more analytic and targeted in addressing donors.

    Building a Digital Gift Officer Program

    The rise of the digital gift officers has been underway before the pandemic and the emphasis on digital engagement. Gift officers who work with mid-level donors are confronted with the dilemma of scale. The portfolio-based approach that is so successful for major gift officers falls short of addressing the challenges and opportunities leadership level gift officers face working with substantially larger pools of donors. The digital gift officer is creating new pathways to personal communication and relationship building among our mid-level donors as well as improving what we know and how we respond to donor needs and preferences.

    Custom solicitations towards your mid-level donors are great, BUT, these communications can be expensive. The focus needs to be on the mid-level donors. Many orgs have been on leadership giving development programs to move mid-level donors through the pipeline. Retention is the north-star of mid-level donor programs. When designing these programs, high retention must be top of mind as digital engagement allows more outreach in a customized fashion. 

    Fundraising for Financial Access: A Fresh Formula to Inspire Urgency in Your Campaign

    As educators commit to integral diversity, equity, and inclusion work, institutions commit to providing financial access never before available. But common fundraising mistakes like focusing on the need rather than the urgency and not thinking deeply about what will inspire donors results in missed opportunities. A panel will share case studies from San Francisco Day School, Stanford Humanities Center, and Georgetown Preparatory School—all of which prioritized diversity, equity, and inclusion in their campaigns—demonstrating strategies that achieved their goals through disciplined use of a powerful communications strategy. Learn how to stoke donor support that gets this critical work accomplished.

    Strategies for running a successful campaign include 3 basic ideas. First, get to know your campaign stakeholders. These aren’t ALL donors, but the people you need for your campaign to succeed. Second, link institutional values to stakeholder values. It’s easy to be wrapped up in organizational goals without actually engaging donors in what they care about. Finally, ensure the campaign communicates with urgency, emotion, and rationale. Ask the question “If we don’t meet our goals, then what will happen?” Then keep asking that. Eventually, you’ll get to the core “why”.

    Pitch 2.0: The Next Generation How Augusta University Cut Through the Noise

    Augusta University turned 11 media releases into 113 media hits — including mentions in top outlets such as MSN and PBS — all through pitching their experts the right way. With 96% of pitches never placed and increasing difficulty getting media attention, AU leveraged technology to take their pitches to the next level by focusing on go-to faculty experts offering unique angles on timely news topics. AU has been monitoring the success of this program and will share the data and what they’ve learned during this session, including how they kept the momentum going throughout the pandemic.

    This session covered media strategies Augusta University used to get their name into the public sphere, including leveraging “rockstar” faculty for media appearances (research, relevant expertise). Cutting through the noise- “crossing the coverage, capacity, and creativity gap.” The big takeaway for me was utilizing and maximizing the resources they already had to create buzz around the university.

    Advancing Engagement: A Model for Portfolios for Alumni Engagement Professionals 

    Alumni Relations plays a meaningful role in identifying, engaging, soliciting and stewarding donors to our institutions. Learn about the Michigan State University Alumni Office's migration to portfolios for Alumni Engagement Directors and the positive influences portfolios are having on time management, focused outreach, diversity & inclusion efforts, organizational collaboration, data collection and fundraising.

    For Michigan State University, portfolio size for engagement officers is around 50. They have many other duties, so they are trying to keep it manageable for the fundraiser. Selecting which donors to put in portfolios is tough, but they are seeing great return in taking the time to ensure the right people are being contacted by moving relationships forward and moving them up to major gift officers. They recognize value in disqualification here as well.


    Giving Circles: Expanding Our Reach by Focusing Our Touch

    As development professionals look for ways to increase the number of alumni who are engaged with and give to their institutions, they must become very deliberate and targeted in their approach. To accomplish this, many colleges and universities have formed giving circles. This session will give you an inside look at how three institutions of varying sizes have implemented giving circles. In 60 minutes you will learn from both failures and successes and leave with tested tactics, high-level strategy and inspiration that you can take back to your colleagues.

    Giving Circles are working on college campuses, as they are great way to get donors to engage.  As an alternative to traditional methods, Giving Circles allow their members to have a greater impact, bring together diverse ideas, and support specific causes that are meaningful. The more specific you can get, the more impact you will see!

    Building a Culture Around Alumni Engagement Metrics

    Building an engagement score requires identifying balanced and meaningful data streams that will help you diagnose the health of your engagement programming and cultivation strategies. Building a robust reporting system isn't enough. How you use your engagement score to assess the strategies that are meeting your goals, and those that are not, is the real value of engagement scoring. Based on the groundwork of the CASE metrics task force this session will focus on how to track, visualize, and share your engagement data. What should you track? Should you weight engagement? What is "engagement"? How do you operationalize your data? Learn how Davidson College and VCU built their reports using CASE AE metrics and how they use it to strengthen programming and cultivation strategies.

    This session outlined three steps on how to achieve this.

    Step 1: Must gather everyone on the team to come up with a shared definition of engagement, and how you are tracking it. Set expectations, goals and establish a timeline. “Make sure there is intentionality behind what you’re tracking and future plans to use it. Don’t just track to track.”

    Step 2: Set operational responsibilities, get feedback on early reporting, build natural segments of donors, establish reporting expectations, and start to test ideas to put this data to work.

    Step 3: Evaluate your data journey across all stages. Continue to enhance, refine, and gather feedback. It is okay to celebrate success, but always be iterating and improving.

    Race, Sex, Politics & Privilege: Uncomfortable Encounters with Donors and Strategies to Manage Them

    The work of diversity and inclusion goes beyond our campuses, but in meetings and interactions with donors and potential partners as well. Often times, advancement professionals are put into awkward situations where they have to confront inappropriate or racist remarks. What do you say? What can you say? This session will explore potential situations surrounding gender, race, and privilege and the best strategies to address them. Hear from other Development professionals on how they are addressing these issues at their institutions and come away with practical tools and resources to empower you to have successful and fruitful conversations.

    How do we address donors who do not reflect the values of our organization today, such as equity, inclusion, social justice, etc? It is important for upper-level people in advancement to have these discussions with people within their cabinet. There needs to be a streamlined approach and process across all areas of the organization. There may be a disconnect between the donors’ generation and the generation of the current students on campus.

    What sessions did you attend this year? Connect with the Gravyty team and let us know what you have learned at #CASEalldistricts!

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