Clear recommendations from my research are currently broken down into the different sections. In this section, I attempt to summarize the key recommendations arising in each area. Links back to each section for more detail can be found below. This section will be markedly developed for clarity and examples over time.
Risk: attitudes towards risk and digital.
This breaks down into reputational risk, and structural risk. For reputational risk, the recommendations here are clear. Cross-cutting the question of purpose – institutions should invest in establishing a simple set of guidelines, and start experimenting with delegated communication and delegated messaging. Delegated communication can be achieved with social ambassador programmes, and messaging by allowing the audience to generate and publish content within the brand of the institution (with varying degrees of moderation!).
For structural risk, we need to develop a risk-taking culture. Encouraging and fostering a risk-taking culture appears to be about two things:
- removing short-term goals
- removing micro-management
I would encourage organisations to set a far smaller number of much bolder objectives for their programmes, with much longer term agendas. It’s immensely demotivating to spend a year working for a 0.1% improvement in the participation of alumni in giving.
I would also encourage organisations to engage with entrepreneurial students, researchers, and alumni – as well as the wider innovation communities around them – in designing both their engagement solutions and their corporate structure.
Finally, I would recommend strongly that participation be removed from the metrics by which institutions are ranked, in the US, and significantly discourage its adoption as a metric in the UK or wider international markets. It drives institutions to pursue short-term, but suboptimal, programmes.
Conflict: the emergence of competing goals.
What an alumnus/alumna thinks of the institution is a sum of all of the interactions they have with it. As a result, clarity of purpose is everything. There need to be fewer silos of strategy, a single purpose, and more open channels of communication. Running individual teams with explicitly competing objectives should be outlawed.
Structure, Strategy and Purpose: how offices are set up and configured, and the implications for digital.
- Make sure senior leadership has created, communicated, and reinforced a strategic timeframe and a purpose/mission. As a team member, do everything in your power to make this happen. It’ll make your job and your life infinitely better.
- Don’t build a machine out of people. Don’t divide and conquer goals across multiple teams before you’ve understood what the unifying goal actually is. It is my belief that alumni relations and annual giving are one and the same, because they speak to essentially the same audience today. It is also my belief that as institutions make more of an impact on the world around them and start to step into the cause-led mission space, this goes beyond alumni relations and also more into wider public relations and general communications. Fundraising has already stepped well beyond the alumni networks; it’s high time alumni relations does too. However, if it’s too institutionally complex or political to create a single team combining at least alumni relations and annual giving – and at most all of fundraising and communications – then there is an alternative. A solid audience analysis, segmentation and “user journey” analysis that is done above all of these teams, with their involvement, will provide much clearer guidance and shared goals. When goals are distributed without this analysis, friction is inevitable. But if the strategy across all of these areas is defined first, then the goals become both much easier to create, and much less conflicted between team. Furthermore, it might be possible to reimagine team structure based around the specific goals, rather than based around conventional divisional structures such as “alumni relations”.
Training: how teams are recruited and trained.
- Sector associations: commission and deliver more training in digital skills.
- Vendors: deliver more free training in digital skills. It’ll help you embed the skills – and your products – inside the institutions you serve.
- Higher Education Institutions: create and/or communicate explicitly your learning and development opportunities and budgets to your staff, and encourage/incentivize/mandate high take-up.
Resilience: what happens when things go wrong.
- Conduct a skills audit, and assess any technical or functional skills that only a single person knows how to do. Train these skills into at least one other staff member, and ensure that the load is evenly balanced across at least two members of the team.
- Where vendor software is only understood by one individual in the team, get the vendor in to train others in its use; many vendors will often do this free of charge, as the more staff are trained on their software, the less likely the solution is to be cancelled.
- Ensure a periodic “strategy refresh”, to ensure that everyone in the relevant team understands what activities the team is doing, why, and how. If everyone is aware of what their colleagues are doing and why it’s important, it’s much more likely that they will be aware of the need to up-skill, and invest time in it.
Content: the role of content in strategy.
- Stop writing content, start discovering and curating it
- Start investing in active listening tools, monitoring departmental and internal web pages and social media for new stories and content
- Invest in processes for rapid curation of content around strategic priorities
- Invest in audience personas, segmentation, journey analysis
- Invest in individual advocates or ambassadors for each segment, to reflect the attention shift from institutions to individuals
Technology and integration: the role of technology in digital.
- Acknowledge that there is no single point of authority and reference for all alumni data, and develop a strategy to accommodate this;
- Shift away from a batch-processing to a real-time interaction mode, reducing the need for “databases” and “list-building”;
- Focus on people and interactions not technology and process;
- Re-specify your CRM for the digital age: work out what you actually need to store, and why, and if there is somewhere else where the data is accessible, updated in real-time, and accurate, consider using that other authority as the point of record.
In conclusion – this was a monumentally enriching experience for me personally, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity it afforded me to widen my horizons. In turn, I hope to have provided value back to the community in the form both of this report, and the work I am doing to disseminate the findings and research.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading. If you’d like to get involved or find more out about the plans for the future of this website, click here to skip back to the earlier section regarding “The Future”.