Over the last year, we’ve successfully added 640 acts of individual digital engagement to our central fundraising database. Our goal was to establish a baseline of digital engagement data and determine the best way to compare it with event registrations as a precursor to giving over time. I outlined some of the approach in “8 Constructs to Developing a Digital Engagement Strategy.” I guess I like the number 8, huh?

As a unit within University Advancement, we reported out to the University of Virginia at-large on the number of unique individuals and duplicate registrations we received for our 1,300 events annually.  All told and including digital engagement, last year we recorded 18,736 unique registrations, and 31,437 duplicate registrations to our engagement events and programs.

University Advancement is separate from the Alumni Association at the University of Virginia and has unique engagement programming. My stats don’t include the Association’s awesome work on reunions, career services, alumni interest groups and students events. Our data comes from the UVaClubs program, Lifetime Learning and Cavalier Travels in addition to the digital engagement efforts.

This year we rolled out five methods to measure digital engagement at the individual level. I believe we’re just scratching the surface as far as our digital engagement potential. Over the short term, there are sizable costs to purchasing and deploying new technology to exponentially increase results, both in terms of dollars and learning curves. However, I believe the long term results of reallocating resources to building a digital alumni engagement platform could double or even triple engaged constituent statistics over five years. We’d have a much better sense as to who is already engaged with us as well.

1) Micro-Interviews

My team routinely reaches out to U.Va. alumni, parents and friends in order to conduct a short video interview using Google+ Hangouts. We call these “Creative Connections,” but we also interview alums by phone and record the conversation to build a post later. Sometimes we’ll send out 5-7 questions to the alum for them to respond in their own time. We record interactions in the Advance Web events table as registrations and also file contact reports after each interview.

2) Crowdsourced Content Submission

We built the UVA Global Network website to easily facilitate the crowdsourcing of content from alumni. We’re primarily looking for advice-based content, but we also love to share blog posts our alums have written on their own websites, or links to media they find compelling. Our content submission form generates the digital engagement data.

3) Feedback Forms form

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of people who have filled out our content feedback form. While users are increasingly wary of submitting their name and email address in this sort of capacity, it’s been helpful in gaining a sense as to who might be checking out our website.

4) Comments

The UVA Global Network website is WordPress-based and the comments section of the blog provides us with individual digital engagement data that we can add to the database.

5) Live Digital Events

Over the last year, we advertised and hosted nine, live digital events that included a registration process for constituents. We used the same iModules-based system for emails and the registration form then applied the data to Advance Web. We also hosted a series of Ph.D. talks called “HoosNext” featuring some of our great student research and received about ten registrations for each talk. My team hosted four “HoosNetwork: Live Digital Events” like this one with Ryan Hargraves, the Senior Associate Dean of Admissions.

The five methods above have worked reasonably well and plenty of growth potential exists. But to get to the next level, we need to be adding a greater volume of digital engagement data to the system without exponentially increasing the work flow and administrative burden.

6) Social Logins SocialLogin

They’re everywhere on the web. Why shouldn’t there be one on our engagement websites like this one from Janrain? The problem is creating enough value in the content to propel someone to login. I believe creating a robust content hub with awesome crowdsourced and university generated content is totally possible, it just needs to be a priority.

7) Email Opens
8) Email Clicks

The technology exists in order to drill down to individual email opens and clicks. We could use this data in any number of ways, but fundamentally, these folks are at the beginning of the engagement spectrum and it would be great to discover what might compel them to register for an event, contribute content or volunteer in some capacity.

Applying email open data to the central fundraising database should be simple, but it’s not. This is when it would be great if our systems talk to each other seamlessly, and probably why Blackbaud has a nice corner on the market. Right now, too much administrative time is being used in offices around the world transferring registration data.

I’d love to have your thoughts! What did I miss?

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

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

Leave a Reply

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