Updated 2021

This whitepaper updates The Napa Group’s regular insights on Alumni Relations and on Advancement over the past several years. Now that the intense phase of the COVID-19 pandemic is subsiding, new data can be coupled with previous trends to provide a high-level view of trends in these organizations.

As we wrote in January 2020, before the pandemic temporally disrupted higher education and society, no longer can alumni associations stake the claim of “gatekeeper” of connections between alumni and of alumni with the institution. With LinkedIn and other social media, alumni can directly connect with each other and the institution easily and efficiently. This is forcing alumni organizations and institutional “advancement” programs in general to position and articulate their unique value propositions for their alumni and their institutions in new ways…

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Events of the past seven months have leapfrogged consumer behaviors ahead 10 years. The digital laggards – people who were slow to embrace digital engagement, communication and shopping – have become relatively experienced practitioners. They learned quickly to go digital when that became the only way to stay connected and informed during the COVID-19 pandemic – as well as to do business, shop, donate, attend worship services and experience museums and theater in a remote, stay-at-home, socially distanced world.

It’s time for university communications practices to fully leap ahead into digital-first practices because too much is at risk. Institutional leaders and communicators in central and advancement offices must re-engage stakeholders (across the spectrum from enrollment to philanthropy) by redefining the value proposition for higher education for their colleges and universities – how they’ve adapted, how they will be different and how they will sustain quality in agile, hybrid and even virtual environments. While university communications and marketing offices have accelerated digital communications in recent months, for organizations of all shapes and sizes, there is no turning back. The behavior of their customers has changed.

The attached PDF describes The Napa Group’s approach for developing and implementing a digital-first strategy in colleges and universities as part of a comprehensive strategic communications program. It’s scalable to non-profit organizations of all sizes.

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Worldwide, organizations and employees together underwent a major upheaval of routines, management processes and collaboration methods when remote work became the prevailing business model at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly five months in, new routines have taken root and each day at home is now business as usual. But without the critical touchstones of in-person collaboration and celebratory milestones ubiquitous to the workplace, and a daily routine that lacks important structural components such as commutes and lunch breaks and even post-workday beers, many remote employees are feeling the drudge of Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting (or similar online platforms) without social outlets to offset the mundanity.

We’ve culled through the best resources so you don’t have to – use this quick reference guide as you manage your remote and hybrid workplace.

All this time spent on video calls has its problems. We rely on it to connect with people, yet it can leave us feeling tired and empty. It has given us some semblance of normal life during lockdown, but it can make relationships seem unreal. This feeling has spurred talk of a new psychological affliction: ‘Zoom fatigue.’[1]

Employee engagement and strong leadership are inarguably the most critical elements of productivity in business. But how do you keep employees engaged from afar? How do you create equilibrium in the work/life balance if the two are now enmeshed? Read more >

Nearly six decades have passed since the Civil Rights Movement, a bellwether crusade for equal rights that seemed certain to galvanize the long-overdue eradication of racial bias. And yet, right now in 2020, with continuing Black Lives Matter protests across a country still in the throes of a global pandemic, it is apparent that any progress already made toward black equality is vastly overshadowed by the volume of change still needed.

Despite laws in place to prevent overt racial discrimination, biases remain deeply rooted in American society and individual ideologies. The questions are being asked across our institutions and media – What has worked? What hasn’t? What must we do to finally get it right? Read more >

Implementing a platform business model, in contrast to a vertically integrated organization, centers on a dynamic platform directed at the customer experience. This has impacts on the entire organization with respect to key functions (such as sales, marketing, communications, IT and analytics) as well as their alignment and governance.

While “digital” is often the reason that organizations consider a platform model, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution nor is it as simple as creating a single unit focused on digital; rather a comprehensive digital strategy is necessary to support the core strategic drivers of the business – and position the organization to respond to business opportunities and build the teams to respond with digital (and other) tools. Questions include: Will the impact of digital be focused on overall IT integration? On systems and software that provide deeper analytics for product development and sales? On marketing and communications? On social media?

Agile companies have more fluid structures in which day-to-day work is organized in smaller teams that cut across business lines and market segments. The old view of “dotted lines” begins to fade as talent and tools are reallocated according to the business need. Digital technologies facilitate a more customized tactical approach to customers as part of a larger strategy. From both IT and marketing/communications perspectives, it’s vital to understand the “whole customer” (the strategy) and what tools (the tactics) are most important to engage them.

Here’s how to design your organization for the customer experience…

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OVERVIEW

With the advent of increased natural disaster frequency, prevalence of cyber-attacks, and a global pandemic (COVID-19) that has plunged global marketplaces into precarious territory, organizations have more reason than ever to plan for unanticipated threats to their ability to conduct business and keep personnel and assets protected. Colleges and universities are no exception. Not only are enrollment cycles threatened but fundraising – ongoing and major campaigns – immediately began to see their investment portfolios and thus operating cash from endowments slide drastically while anticipated pledge payments started faltering.

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As U.S. higher education starts a new decade, several critical issues are driving decision making at most colleges and universities. And, as we wrote four years ago in our white paper, Public Higher Education 2016: Overview of Top Issues, colleges and universities continue to try to solve these issues one institution at a time. A promising outcome is that this pressure is forcing administrative and academic leadership to focus on priorities and differentiation, but the progress and payoffs are mixed and there is no clear path forward in terms of “one size fits all.” The following are the top trends The Napa Group believes will greatly influence higher education in 2020 and beyond.

Six big issues and their impacts on higher ed are described here…

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The modern higher education “advancement organization” has been evolving since the 1970s as development, alumni relations and communications have become increasingly integrated, yet in widely varying structures with no clear “one size fits all.” The trend toward “engagement” over the past decade linked these “three legs of the advancement stool” more closely and operationally. Besides adapting lessons from business and customer relationship management, institutions have sought to engage alumni on a journey from loyalty to commitment to contribution to generate the sustained financial support increasingly vital to the health of colleges and universities. Read more >

“Risk assessment and compliance” have typically governed strategic plans for businesses but, until recently, the concepts have not permeated strategic planning processes for colleges and universities. Broadened from the traditional association with internal audit finance and operations, enterprise risk management (ERM) offers a more precise lens for higher education executives and boards of trustees to analyze “strategic risk” as they develop long-term institutional visions and goals. Read more >

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University and college presidents and CEOs face an array of disruptive forces today as technologies, markets and customer expectations rapidly change. The institutions that are poised to thrive in uncertain times are shaking up administrative and educational models to be more relevant, differentiated and competitive. Declines in numbers of traditional students, growing numbers of prospective adult learners, competing priorities and stakeholder groups, globalization and growing dependence on private support are among the challenges of leading complex higher education institutions today. They demand enterprise-wide, market-responsive strategic solutions, reimagined academic and co-curricular programs and often organizational redesign of systems and structures. Read more >