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3 Higher Ed Advancement Takeaways From Retail, Travel, and Other Industries

By Geshri Gunasekera July 10, 2018

As new budget cycles begin and your Higher Ed Advancement team starts to plan out travel and other conference visits, it’s a great idea to look outside of the traditional fundraising software world for at least 1 of those learning opportunities. Not only is that interdisciplinary inspiration an admirable goal but it also acknowledges the fact that our core constituents – donors and alumni – are people too.

Our day-to-day is filled with communication and customer experiences that inform and set the expectations that we then carry over to Advancement. For example, donors compare the university digital communications they get from you with the content they might get from other highly personalized sources such as their bank, their favorite big box store, or their airline app. They know the technology for great experiences exists…so why doesn’t their Higher Ed institution have it, too?

Takeaway #1 From Retail: Are You Correctly Measuring Loyalty As An Outcome?

Measuring Loyalty
Perhaps the best industry to start with is Retail. This is a fiercely competitive industry in which buyers can switch easily, so the pressure to capture attention is high and compelling storytelling is essential. In other words, not too different from the world of higher ed fundraising! There are lots of areas in which to dive into, such as online engagement for donors (and for more on that see this e-book). For now, let’s take a look at an example from our recent Connections 2018 conference where we heard speakers reframe customer loyalty to be seen as an outcome, not simply a points program (watch video).

One of many ways to apply these lessons to Advancement is to think about the benefits you are currently offering alumni especially if you have a dues-based membership association. Are the benefits you offer today a replication of the discounts that all consumers have through various other sources such as group-discount sites and employers? Are the benefits relevant to all alumni or do they best serve locals? If it’s been a while, poll alumni to ask them what they really want out of a relationship with the university and use that data to update your services and offerings to those needs. Check out this Eduventures study for inspiration.

Takeaway #2 From Travel: Are Your Onsite Events Inspirational?

Whether due to organic movement or the growth of online programs catering to remote learners, universities and colleges have to increasingly contend with the fact that their alumni are not as local as they used to be. Moreover, when we can all keep tabs on each other online, onsite gatherings need to be more than an opportunity to reconnect. Here’s where the travel industry can teach us about being inspirational, especially for those major donors that may be familiar to experiences within luxury travel or for that younger generation that’s always looking for instagram-worthy opportunities.

Onsite events

Perhaps we should take reunion and homecoming pages farther and position the registration page as the first step to creating a collection of curated, unique experiences. For example, could you surface a tour of the new science building to alums with science degrees in addition to the general programming? Can you position your campus as a destination in and of itself by showcasing local sights and attractions? Is there a meaningful experience to entice online students to make the trip? A focus on the place can be a great way to engage with your audience…and it doesn’t hurt if your reunion happens to fall during a time when families are planning their summer vacations.

Takeway #3 From Wealth Management: Development Officers As Investment Advisors?

If you specifically focus on major gifts and work with donors at the highest levels of giving, take a moment to check out this summary by my colleague Rachel Greenfield that highlights key takeaways from our Wealth Management basecamp conference. For more insights from this area, also check out this report on the “Connected Investor”. In particular, wealth managers focus on building relationship intelligence, creating superior client experiences and using technology to amplify connection points.

Development Officers As Investment Advisors

Just as investment advisors help clients to manage their wealth, what if development officers could help your donors and alums to manage their impact? At the end of the day, the question is whether donors would be more willing to be engaged by seeing the university as a bigger part of the fabric of society in which they would like to make an impact. If the programs at your university span a number of topics, there’s a good chance that there is opportunity for impact that your donors have yet to explore – from scholarship support to medical research to capital projects. How can your university become a one-stop shop for impact to your donors?

Advancement conferences continue to be critical meeting points to learn from your peers, get an understanding of key trends in policy and technology and stay plugged in to the broader industry. In fact, we’re super excited to be sponsoring at the CASE Leadership Summit in NYC in just a few days. That said, one takeaway from the past year of Advancement conferences is that our industry is currently experiencing transformation in multiple ways – from shifts in Advancement software, to alumni and donor expectations, to changes in policy. That observation is precisely what drives the imperative to branch out and find inspiration across other industries.

Want to learn more about how Salesforce Higher Education is bringing in other industry insights into our Advancement solution? Get in touch with us today!