Three months ago, I started a ‘mystery shopping’ exercise in order to investigate the standard of donor care across fifteen higher education institutions (HEIs) in the UK. I did this not to expose individual institutions to criticism, but to make observations about the experience that we are offering non-alumni donors as an industry. Having read Ken Burnett’s Relationship Fundraising with great interest, I was curious to see if HEIs adhered to the principles outlined in this seminal publication, particularly within the context of a fundraising landscape undergoing major changes in response to highly critical stories in the media that followed the death of Olive Cooke in May 2015. I was hoping (with a bit of luck) to find some outstanding examples to showcase.
I was interested to read today a guest blog on the Cool Data site by Peter B. Wylie and John Sammis. It is called “Are we missing too many alumni with web surveys?” and is part 2 in a series (part 1 was published in 2012).
In summary, they looked at a North American university’s recent survey data (and presumably the institution’s full constituent data) and compared respondents, non-respondents and email-uncontactable alumni with regard to age, event attendance and giving. They were looking to identify and demonstrate demographic or behavioural differences in the survey respondents as compared with those who were unable to be invited to complete the survey (no email address) or those who chose not to.
A relative latecomer to this industry staple, over the last couple of weeks I ‘took Ken Burnett to bed every night’ (as my partner teased) and read his oft-quoted book. Many of you will know it well – it’s called Relationship Fundraising: A donor-based approach to the business of raising money.
Given the sound advice contained within, the amount of time passed since this book was published (1992!) and its popularity in the industry, you might assume that we’re all ‘relationship fundraising’ by now. I’ve certainly heard many a quote from this book (or from the man himself) at team meetings, conferences and industry events.
Not so! Within the well-thumbed pages of my copy of Relationship Fundraising, Ken had described many of my 2017 frustrations and concerns so accurately, I can only imagine how bittersweet it must be for him that this book is finding a new audience 25 years later. The truth is (references to fax machines and ‘working women’ aside) Ken’s book is still as relevant and revolutionary as ever.
What university doesn’t want to measure the engagement of their alumni? Not many if the latest International CASE Alumni Relations Survey (ICARS) results are anything to go by. But why are we measuring it? And what makes it so challenging? Here’s my take on the subject and some ideas for taking alumni metrics to the next level.
Having outlined the concept of the model in my previous post, I’d like to offer my thoughts on how you could make this work for your team – big or small.
I’ll cover determining the journeys and involving your team in this process. I’ll also look at maintaining the model,what you can put in place to make this easier and also what to do with ‘super contributor alumni’ who support multiple causes in various ways.
Finally, I’ll add an important warning.
I’d like to propose for discussion a simple model for segmentation that would allow a certain degree of proactive journey planning. This has been tough to crack, and something that still needs refining – but putting this concept together has allowed me to start having conversations with colleagues about how the brave new world might look and feel. Until now, we’ve only been speaking about how ‘segmentation and journey planning’ is the solution to a lot of our communications, workload planning and supporter experience problems.
I believe that it is a solution, and I also think it can be more. I think it’s the beginning of a shift in mindset and culture, treating alumni as individuals capable of both growing and losing interest, and ultimately in need of communications that mean something to them.
Increasing scrutiny from the media and regulators about the fundraising activities of charities, the sources of their funds and even the pay-packets of their senior staff has made charities and fundraising organisations more and more conscious of the cost of poor reputation and breaching public trust.
The fallout of summer 2015 is still being felt across the HE fundraising sector in the UK, with most institutions reviewing their programmes and if needed, taking measures to ensure their full and demonstrable compliance with regulations and ethical practices. Before that, there was the Woolf Inquiry in 2011, with many universities hurrying to put in place standard procedures for the solicitation and acceptance of philanthropic gifts.
When public confidence falls in charities, so does public willingness to donate, and the good work that many charities do in our communities becomes harder. This is the reason many organisations are opting to fix what’s broken as quickly as possible. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations is already taking this a step further by attempting to equip charities with a “narrative” to help tell the positive and meaningful story of what they do. For the benefit everyone in the UK, particularly the vulnerable who rely on charity supported programmes, it’s important that our industry is well respected and held to high standards.
There are probably two things we can safely conclude from the pervasiveness of customer satisfaction surveys: one, they must be very useful to the organisations that commission them, and two: it’s getting harder to make a survey stand out.
At some point nearly every Higher Education institution will wind up wondering how to plan an alumni survey (or how to improve their results), so I thought I would collate a few tips from personal experience. For my sins, I have now been involved in two full scale quantitative alumni survey projects, co-ordinated a qualitative donor satisfaction survey and have designed and delivered countless satisfaction and engagement surveys to similar audiences. And this is what I’ve learned…
Once every few months, to my complete horror, someone on our industry listserv will ask unashamedly for a copy of another university’s advancement strategy to use as an example to write their own. If you don’t ask you don’t get, right?
As much as I worry about the strategy that they’ll put together based on someone else’s unique set of circumstances, I really have to wonder whether anyone is really crazy enough to hand over their office’s most valuable piece of planning to a competitor?
On reflection, more than likely this kind of misplaced generosity comes from a few common misunderstandings to do with strategy.