Shifts in consumer behaviors and expectations accelerated by COVID-19 have forced organizations to change how they connect with customers. In business, those that do not adjust will be left behind. Why? Because “platform organizations” that connect with customers online via multiple touchpoints informed by sophisticated analytics accelerated improvements in relationship management during the virtual activities forced by the pandemic. In many cases, nonprofit organizations, including those in university advancement, were not prepared to make the shift from in-person activities. Yet others did use the time to make improvements in the digital “customer experience” for students, alumni and donors – and not lose traction.
Because of these developments, traditional major donors comfortable with face-to-face solicitations in a linear series of in-person cultivation activities are increasingly responsive to “digital” and “instant” interactions – just as they are day-to-day with Amazon, Uber, banks and online retail. In fact, what’s in your “in-basket” will more likely grab your attention if it is personalized, timely and focused. What McKinsey & Company describes as a “proven formula for executing customer-experience transformations” is also applicable to nonprofit organizations, such as universities and their advancement divisions. This model comprises specific steps across three core building blocks – a clearly defined aspiration, an agile transformation approach and a thoughtful deployment of new capabilities, particularly advanced analytics.
The past 20 years have seen substantial changes in how fundraising organizations use technology; those on the leading edge (and their partner alumni associations) use customer relationship management software that pulls together multiple pieces of data to create useful donor profiles. Advancement data science teams are partnering with firms like Salesforce and Fundmetric, among many others, to leverage another new partner – artificial intelligence (AI). With data-gathering and predictive analytics tools, AI – once feared as a threatening replacement for people – is potentially one of advancement professionals’ best partners.
As the following trends show, the path toward “Advancement 2040” is hyper-personalized, builds strategically and has customization with multiple touchpoints from admissions to lifelong learning in the longterm relationships of universities and their constituencies (sometimes called the “60-year degree”). These trends focus on five key areas: (1) fundraising, (2) generational shifts, (3) continuously evolving methods for engagement, (4) integration of alumni and career services and (5) sophisticated digital transformation.