New evidence of success in the digital realm of advancement communications can be found in recent “Giving Day” results both in terms of dollars raised and donor participation percentages. Columbia University, Colgate University and Washington and Lee University come to mind as great examples. Several universities have tried and many more are planning 24-hour giving events this next fiscal year. What’s so powerful about these successes is that they’re shaped by the development and deployment of content marketing and social media strategies in addition to more traditional communication approaches. It’s also been great to note that alumni aren’t launching tomatoes because we used Facebook to ask for money.

All of a sudden, our Advancement VP’s are clamoring to see how the digital space can be used to raise more money moneyand not just one day a year. The problem is that most advancement shops don’t have robust social media platforms with large followings or websites designed to accommodate a high volume of content dedicated to fundraising initiatives. Not to mention, who the hell wants to follow a social media account that pumps giving asks and “why they gave” stories over and over? Nobody does… or at least, not exclusively from a content standpoint.

Another problem is that our partners in university central communications don’t generally feel that it’s in their scope to infuse giving messages into the news oriented content already being created. Their thing is crisis communication, faculty research stories, student success stories and school spirit around athletics news in order to earn media placement and brand equity. Advancement communications is left to figure out how to use the digital space effectively on its own in a way that attracts readers that really enjoy the content and brings in more gifts too.

At most institutions, advancement communications has traditionally meant email marketing and direct mail. There’s often a general giving site with static content and little traffic. Sometimes there are priority specific sites dedicated to raising money for stuff like renovating a building or raising money for scholarships. But in general, advancement communications has meant copy writing for solicitations, brochures, website copy and sometimes proposals for development officers.

So where does all this leave advancement communications? How do we increase website traffic to our giving sites, facilitate daily gift conversions and raise awareness of the importance of giving and its impact on the lives of students?

The first part of the answer lies in accepting a new philosophy that giving is just another way to engage. If a university embraces this paradigm shift, then the opportunities are endless to build a truly unique digital strategy that might positively impact individual digital engagement, boost event attendance and increased giving participation. More specifically, university advancement and alumni associations can work together by combining resources to turn the primary alumni site into a marketing tool that contains more than program specific pages. Instead, both entities collaborate to create and manage a robust content hub containing different forms of alumni interviews with advice about success in the work world, graduate school or work/life balance along with alumni and parent supplied thought leadership. Then alongside this advice oriented content, we can share giving related posts, embedded links to pledge forms and ads for various fundraising priorities.

Take for example the idea of the “Insta-Ask” – a new content idea we’re toying with at U.Va. Here’s an example. The idea is to take an Instagram photo, add 5-7 sentences of copy that both describes the photo and makes an appeal, and then add the post to the social sharing mix. Along with other more engagement oriented content like this Creative Connections interview using Google Hangouts On Air, we can create a content strategy that’s en-mass 65% alumni relations & engagement and 35% giving infused. Note that the last question in the interview is giving oriented. In the near future, I imagine different sidebar templates with ads specifically designed to connect with the content as well.

I’d love your thoughts on advancement communications and how you see it evolving in the future.

Ryan Catherwood is the Director of Engagement Strategy at the University of Virginia and Co-Host of “Advancement Live.” You can follow him on twitter @RyanCatherwood and connect on Linkedin.


Article Author

Ryan Catherwood

Ryan Catherwood

Higher Ed Live blogger and Former Host of Advancement Live
Assistant VP for Alumni and Career Services, Longwood University

Ryan Catherwood is the Assistant VP for Alumni and Career Services at Longwood University. Prior to joining Longwood, he was the Director of Digital Strategy in the University Advancement office at the University of Virginia. His work is dedicated to strategies that utilize events, crowdsourcing, inbound and content marketing, email marketing and social media community management in order to drive alumni and student engagement, participation, connections, networking, volunteerism and giving at Longwood University.


Ryan Catherwood

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