Training in digital is crucial. For the most part, the professionals working in alumni relations and annual giving come from a direct marketing background, and digital is new. We are asking people to reinvent themselves to fit a new reality. We need to invest heavily in their growth – partly so they can continue to do their jobs well, and partly because that’s more likely to make them want to stick around.

However, there are three substantial challenges:

  1. The sector is not good at learning from those outside the sector. Only two of those I interviewed regularly read articles or attended events outside the higher education sector. Fewer than a quarter had been to a wider nonprofit event, or read about wider nonprofit best practice. Teams need to be sign-posted to relevant content and provision outside the higher education sector, and encouraged to participate and develop their skills.
  2. Provision of training is patchy and low quality. Within the sector, there are a plethora of conferences and events, but real training is thin on the ground. I have raised this with CASE in the UK, and hope to find a good way to work with them in the future on digital skills training.
  3. Budgets for learning and development are non-existent, or not communicated. Institutions which invest millions of dollars in their alumni relations and annual giving programmes either have tiny budgets for staff learning and development, or do not make staff aware of the opportunities. Of those I interviewed, just a single person knew that there was a budget dedicated to their professional development, and what it could and could not cover.

The sector as a whole is not doing enough. There is too much focus on grand achievements, too many awards and ceremonies, too much vanity over $s raised, participation %s etc – and too little on the ground investment in real training. There is a huge role for the sector associations, such as CASE, to play here, but it requires a switch in focus away from high-end events towards professional and skills development.

Those I interviewed on the East Coast in particular found that their greatest sources of learning were their peer networks in the region.

As an aside, I have already personally taken some steps in the UK to ensure that the sector receives the training it needs. Hubbub offers free annual conferences to the higher education sector, as well as webinars, to ensure the latest best practice is shared and understood. It runs a knowledge-sharing network, Crowdfundlist, as well as a Sharing Centre for content and materials – and finally, a blog.

In the nonprofit sector, Hubbub has also committed to a series of 6 full-day workshops, free or charge, to train nonprofits on how best to embrace digital and crowdfunding.


These are simple:

  • 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.

A natural follow-on is institutional resilience. The more people inside your institution have the skills necessary, the more resilient you will be to departures.

Read on for Resilience.