Earlier this month, we joined advancement professionals in the heart of Chicago for the 2022 CASE Summit—a celebration of community insights and shared learning. After several years without the opportunity to gather in person, the energy and excitement from attendees and presenters were at an all-time high. We’re grateful to have been a part of this rich experience that has left us with more than a little food for thought.
- The Risks and Realities of Burnout: Fundraising dollars may be back on the rise, but the same can’t necessarily be said for staff morale and well-being. Author and digital anthropologist Rahaf Harfoush emphasized the importance of taking time to refocus and increase the value we place on the health and well-being of our employees in this prolonged moment of pandemic-related stress, global conflict, racial reckoning, and economic turmoil. We were enthralled by her session, “The Great Recalibration: Creating Employee Centric Cultures.” There’s no doubt that employees appreciate an extra day (or even multiple days) off, but according to Harfoush, this isn’t enough; all the digital tools we adopted during this remote-work adventure have conditioned us to be “always on,” and our brains require defined, restorative breaks. The need for greater systemic change was further supported in another session, “Gift Officer Management—Lessons from the Pandemic.” Though several university leaders recalled that their cost per dollar raised was less than $0.10 in recent years, this number is not believed to be representative of novel efficiency, but an indication that fewer staff are doing the work of many, and that donor acquisition may be getting too little attention.
- The Intentionality of Inclusivity: By now, we are all aware of the importance of making a commitment to DEI values. But this inclusivity requires more than verbal commitment; it requires action-based intentionality. In “Creating Cultures of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging,” thought leaders emphasized the crucial addition of “belonging” to this equation. An important step is to ask questions about ways certain groups can be included or why certain groups are not currently being represented. Furthermore, values must be communicated in conjunction with creating an environment that makes everyone feel welcome, accepted, and celebrated. Take the time to evaluate your own environment and ask your valued team members where there is room for growth; ask for candor, and greet it with humility.
- Content, Content . . . and More Content: As the saying goes, “Content is king.” And guess what, content’s royalty has reigned supreme, despite the challenging forces of a pandemic, changing demographics, and countless other variables. In filmmaker Ritesh Gupta’s session, “Brand Impact through Storytelling,” he revealed that more content has been created and shared in the past two years on the internet than in the entirety of human history. Though the forms and ways in which we present this content are evolving, the storytelling principles at the core of content remain consistent. (We’d love to talk further with you about what that means—and help make your content sing.)
- Looking Above and Beyond for Inspiration: It can be easy to get siloed within our own sector. While there’s inspiring and jaw-dropping creativity in the higher ed sector, there’s much more that is not to be overlooked beyond our familiar territory. Ranging from ideas based on concerts in the Metaverse to Airbnb’s Superhost communication channels, CASE’s Michael Lavery highlighted the limitless inspiration to be found in other sectors. With their varying perspectives and approaches, these other sectors—which share audiences in common with us—can help shift our thinking and expand how we communicate to and with our audiences.
- Brand and Story in Context: Building an institution’s brand and story is key to furthering potential growth and impact. But not everyone is so positive about the role of higher education in our society. It’s important to acknowledge and understand what’s driving rising skepticism of higher education. A panel of leaders spoke about “Understanding and Communicating the Value of Higher Education,”revealing barriers that make some feel excluded from higher ed. Things that may seem commonplace to higher ed professionals, such as emphasizing rankings or the benefits of a higher education degree, can send signals of exclusion, and contribute to an environment that further divides those with and those without degrees.
Data + Buy-in = Brand Success.
Securing internal buy-in is a key ingredient for successful branding.: