The culture of higher ed


As 2014 comes to a close and we begin to “settle our brains” for a bit between the fall and spring semesters, I took the opportunity to attend the CASE V conference in Chicago. In session after session, I listened to the creative ideas of those working to raise funds in higher ed, and one theme was consistent – creating a culture on campus. But what kind of culture was everyone talking about? Turns out, many kinds.

A Culture of Connection
One great example is how Elgin Community College is working hard to create a culture of connection and mentoring between students and alumni. They’ve implemented a very successful project using English 101 students to interview former alumni and write synopses of their lives since graduation.

This is genius for many reasons. It is eye-opening for students to see what is possible after they work hard to earn their degrees and consequently sets their eyes on completion. Also, the advancement office is using this research to collect information about alumni – their potential donors. And alumni? They are reminded that their institution is partly the reason they’ve gotten where they are today and therefore might have a stronger consideration to give back.

A Culture of Stewardship
Another institution spoke about a program that creates customized stewardship plans for its highest-level donors. They deliver a beautiful report every year showing the donation’s performance and its impact across campus. It also seeks to connect donors to students or projects that have been positively affected by their gifts. The presentation even goes so far to include student quotes from the areas on campus that key donations have supported.

This same university works hard to develop very unique and personal gifts that top donors will treasure, including relics from residence halls where they lived and unique photo books that capture projects they have supported from start to finish. Creating this culture of meaningful stewardship is beginning to reap great rewards and there are plans to expand the program over the next couple of years.

A Culture of Security
There was also a fabulous presentation on the ins and outs of securing donor data. It’s not a simple process, especially with the growth of online giving, the use of students in fundraising and the demands to protect alumni and donor information. There were impressive CIOs of institutional foundations who have foolproof plans to support and secure the data and records that are vital to institutions while striking a balance between the need for compliance and access.

A Culture of Philanthropy
This one struck me the deepest as I learned about the importance of institutional commitment to philanthropy. Just as the university president must set clear expectations on recruitment, retention and completion in line with strategic plans, so must that president be clear that everyone on campus has a role in philanthropy.

As I look back at my college experience at Miami University in Ohio, I distinctly remember two key faculty members who inspired me to go above and beyond my annual giving because of their impact on my career and influence on my success. Faculty and deans who balance the demands of teaching, research and learning often don’t realize that they are the key to donations. Major gift officers work hard to connect those dots between donors and influencers at the institution to build trust with donors.

A Culture of Technology
Creating culture is hard work and it takes time. And one persistent truth is that fundraising faces turnover. This is where there is an important role for technology – to protect the work institutions do to connect donors to the right gifts that will bring the greatest good for both the donor and the institution.

All the examples of culture above have a need to store the information they are generating. That’s where enterprise content management (ECM) solutions can play a vital role. Critical donor information and documents can live in an ECM solution, making them available in a digital constituent record that can be accessed through the Advancement CRM solution to ensure a smooth process between donor and institution. With secure, configurable retention of your documentation in an easily accessible central location, you foster that smooth process – and pave the way for future donations.


Laurel Stiller

Laurel Stiller brings her passion for helping institutions strategically maximize their efficiency to Hyland as its marketing portfolio manager for Higher Education. A graduate of Miami University, Ohio, with more... read more about: Laurel Stiller

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.