As I thought about what to write this month, I realized that perhaps this is a great platform to ask for your feedback. Since my last post I’ve transitioned into a new position at the University of Virginia. My immediate top priority is to take a hard look at what I like to refer as “Engagement Operations.” I have a strong sense of best practice in this respect, but I am a student of our industry and want to know what works for you.

With an acknowledgement that operational best practices are specific to each institution because of current assignments and administrative “space,” below are three assessments based on my notion of Engagement Operations best practice. The goal is to refine procedures to both automate and customize where appropriate.

1) Streamline communication processes and eliminate email strings

If you are executing a high volume of events, time is critical, and small inadequacies can impact your attendance results. There are often streamlining opportunities with respect to communications. It takes time to sort through email strings between multiple people involved in the planning process (I call it treasure hunting for content) for the event specifics. Tremendous time can be saved, and then reallocated towards customization or graphic enhancements, if content is finalized before it gets to the approval phase of a test email. To accomplish this, an online form or cloud-based shared document can help tremendously by facilitating a collaborative planning and editing process. This will then allow just one person authority to give final approval of a test email message because all stakeholders have already seen the content and signed-off.

2) Automate Key Registration Components

Providing pre-event registrant lists to volunteers for catering guarantees or general updating, and/or administrators for things like name tags production and prospect research, would be greatly aided by automation. Time can also be saved, and again reallocated, if attendee lists are easy accessible without the process of submitting the request, exporting the data, and returning the spreadsheet as an email attachment. If your engagement office is managing 1,200 events a year like mine, and it takes two minutes to manage this simple administrative task assuming the attendee list is only provided once per event, you’ll reallocate an entire week’s worth of work time over the course of a year. And you might save someone their sanity.

3) Utilize a pre-scheduling protocol for e-blasts, and make the most of each communication.

Don’t send a “Save the Date” with just the date. If you know the location or the name of the guest speaker, then sell the event! Why should it go on someone’s calendar? If the event specifics have been developed entirely, a reminder should be pre-scheduled at the same time as the initial invitation to go out ten days before the event date OR one week before a registration cut-off.

Engagement Operations is about the intricacies of event marketing with the goal of getting more people to the same number of events by reallocating time and applying both automation and customization techniques. I’d be thrilled to learn what’s working for you.

Ryan Catherwood is the Director of Engagement Strategy at the University of Virginia. Follow him on twitter @RyanCatherwood, connect on Linkedin, or email him at


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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