Online Fundraising Resources Center


Cybergifts, Part 10

Copyright 2000 by Adam Corson-Finnerty

Permission is given to forward or copy this article, so long as the author's name, email address, URL, and copyright notice are included. (They are given at the end of this article.)
[printer-friendly version]

Sarah Chan is a mythical graduate of the equally mythical Sywash University, yet despite her invented status, she is one very satisfied alumna. The reason is that Sywash is a fully-wired campus with a well-tempered Alumni Relations & Development Office.

Well-tempered as in well-tuned. Well-tuned to Sarah, well-linked with the programs and services of Sywash, well-mannered and well-informed in its dealings with all of Sywash's alumni/ae, parents and friends.

When Sarah calls anyone in the department, she is known and responded to with knowledgeable attention. When she sends an email, she receives an immediate reply, and timely follow-up from just the right party. When she uses the Sywash web site, she is welcomed back by name, and can call for live help whenever she needs it. And Sarah is on the University's web site constantly, since she is taking courses toward a master's degree in American History-and because she is leading the Class of 1985 reunion drive-and because she is participating in the Alumni Book Club-and because she is using the Digital Library for research on a paper about Eleanor Roosevelt.

In fact, Sarah has set the Sywash alumni page as her home page. A sensible and efficient move, since the homepage carries world news, stock market reports, and other useful information as selected by Sarah herself.

You get the picture. The best features of the "Wired" World have been brought to bear on how Sywash conducts business with its alumni. Think combined with Nordstroms. High-Tech and High-Touch.


This is not a blue-sky vision of what a mythical Development Department could be. It is a simple prediction of where "wired" fundraising and alumni relations are headed. To state a simple thesis, the 21st century university will be an astonishingly networked entity, capable of delivering educational services 24 hours a day to students anywhere in the world. The new definition of student will translate as life-long-learner, so that the border between alumni relations and student services will erode. Some "students" will simultaneously be teachers, alumni leaders, and financial supporters of the university.

These new students will use the Internet at work and at home. They will recognize and expect excellent service, and they will assume that all "customer-facing" technologies will be seamlessly integrated. Thus they will be known and personally welcomed whether they call, email, fax, or drop by for a chat.

Signs of this trend are everywhere. Stanford University has established "Stanford.Start," an alumni homepage that contains news from the New York Times, sports, stock prices, and campus news-all of which can be tailored to individual interests. Stanford also has created "The Farm," an Internet area for discussing such topics as "current events, arts, sports, Stanford memories," and a place to "meet other alumni."

A quick glance at the contents of the Stanford Alumni homepage ( shows links to these areas:

  • Online Services
  • Campus/Students
  • Events/Reunions/Clubs
  • Lifelong Learning
  • News/Magazine
  • Career Networking
  • Travel and Vacation
  • Membership/Products

The Stanford site demonstrates many aspects of self-customization and self-help. Without having to call or write, an alumna visiting the site can register for the discussion areas, adjust the personal profile that other classmates can see, sign up for a monthly e-newsletter, sign up for a lifetime email address, set up "Stanford.Start" for herself and customize it, subscribe to alumni association mailing lists, volunteer for the Stanford Career Network, and link to a host of seminars and professional education course offerings.

It takes a lot of planning and a lot of technical savvy--and a fair amount of money--to establish a first-rate site such as But consider all the tasks that an alum can accomplish by himself or herself in an "automated" fashion once the site is established! This is one of the reasons why provides terrific customer service, despite the fact that most customers rarely interact directly with Amazon staff members.

At the other side of the continent Princeton University also offers a wide range of services Its web-accessed, free online courses currently feature sessions on Dante, Nelson Mandela, Ethnic Conflict in the Balkans, and "Walks in Rome" (see Wake Forest University has placed "Giving Opportunities" on its Alumni and Friends site, and is one of the handful of Universities to offer online giving via credit card. The Wake Forest online giving site also provides information about Planned Gifts, Major Gift Clubs, and Pledges. (See

The UCLA Alumni and Friends homepage features "Campaign UCLA," a site that promotes their capital campaign, allows online gifts, and asks alums to email the Development Department about their strongest interests at UCLA. It also provides online recognition for major donors like Glorya Kaufman, who recently gave $18 Million Gift to underwrite the World Arts and Cultures Department. (See

These are just a few indicators of a major new trend in Higher Education: a trend toward regarding alumni as something more than a donor base. A trend toward bringing alumni into the academic fabric of the University.

Expanding the Customer Base

Until recently, most universities were crystal clear about who their customers were: first-rate students from around the world, to continually fill their residential undergraduate and graduate programs. The number of such students was limited by the size of the physical plant, and by other physical constraints, such as teacher-student ratios. Thus, their customer base has been highly delimited.

But in the new era, these limits are being tested. Internet-enabled classes allow for major (and minor) universities to expand their offerings to the following customers:

  • Undergraduate alumni, who want to take "enrichment" courses online; or who want to achieve advanced degrees online;

  • Busy Executives who want "Executive Education" classes, but don't want to travel to campus;

  • Professional School alumni, who need to take "re-certification" courses on a regular basis;

  • Smart high school students, who would like to take college-level courses online;

  • Non-alumni degree holders, who want any or all of the above;

  • Non-U.S. students, government officials, and business executives, who want any or all of the above.

In other words, the Internet allows for a stupendous expansion of a University's customer base both in terms of new students, and in terms of repeat students. Once these students have taken a class, they enter the "alumni" category-at least they should, if the university is smart about building and retaining its customer base.

While the Internet allows for an expansion, it certainly doesn't require an expansion. Universities actually have three paths they could choose:

  1. Do not expand the customer base. Keep a focus on campus-based learning, and use the Internet for enhancing the residential experience through asynchronous options (after-class chat, reading online, virtual office meetings, submitting questions and papers online, etc.).
  2. Expand the customer base only in selected areas, and as directed by individual units. If the business school wants to offer an online MBA program, let the B-School figure it out and take the rewards or losses.
  3. Jump in with both feet. Decide that you want to be a leader and major player in the market for global networked education.

Most major universities are already trying Option 2 and are intensely studying a shift to Option 3. My guess is that it is only a matter of time-perhaps months-before one or more of the traditional leading universities makes the decision to marshal the money-power and people-power to make a concerted push into the cyber-era.

When a company undertakes such a self-imposed transformation for the Internet-and many have-it is called "e-engineering." E-engineering requires the adoption and integration of sophisticated computerized management systems to handle this increase in traffic and service-delivery. This will involve a considerable amount of re-engineering of staff assignments, information systems, decision-making structures, marketing programs, and more.

Creating the New DAR Structure

For the Development and Alumni Relations Office (DAR), e-engineering cannot be avoided. Smart alumni and development officers will place their departments in the middle of the action, designing systems that can build relationships for future financial and volunteer support.

We shall leave academic and administrative computing and management systems to the appropriate specialists, and focus in this article on what our DAR colleagues need to be thinking about when it comes to e-engineering.

The DAR tasks can be stated rather simply: first, to make sure that all systems are integrated; second, to make sure that staff are prepared to use these systems; and third, that all systems are designed to help the staff and/or help the customer. Easily said, but not easily done.

Integrated systems: Development and Alumni staff must have one, shared, donor-management system. The donor management system must be integrated with the university's financial accounting system. And when an e-commerce system is selected, it must integrate with both. Overall, the University will have to move toward having one customer record, to which levels of access are apportioned.

An integrated system will give a development officer a very broad perspective on a donor, donor-prospect, or relative of a donor. Thus if good old class president Bill Smith makes a $50 donation to athletics, and adds a personal comment that it's a shame the Tennis Team doesn't have a better practice space, the college's computer will generate an automatic email acknowledgement, and the comment will automatically be logged into his record, and the Athletics Development Director will be alerted by email.

One can imagine many marvelous possibilities through integration of systems, but this will have to be managed carefully. For example, it may be highly useful for a development officer to know that alumnus and major donor prospect Joseph Sanchez has just signed up for an internet-based Telecommunications Masters program. But it is not appropriate for the Development Officer to know what his grades are. It may be important for a Medical Center Development Officer to be informed that the husband of a trustee has just been admitted to the university's hospital; but it is not appropriate for her to see the patient's records. It may be handy to know if the granddaughter of an important benefactor has applied to Sywash, but the development officer should not be peering into her admission record.

Staff Preparation: All DAR staff must be comfortable using the Web and using email. Every staff member should have a desktop computer connected at high speed, and staff who travel should have laptops, or PDAs, or cell phones that connect to the internet. All staff should be encouraged and supported in the acquisition of web-authoring skills, so that each unit can help to create, maintain, and enhance specific web sites for their programs. Middle and senior staff should have training in e-fundraising strategies and tactics, so that they can tailor their programs to take advantage of the Internet.

A full-blown Internet and Intranet structure will not appear from nowhere. It will have to be imagined, designed, and tested. The Development Communications unit-the one that currently worries about printed case statements and donor reports-will have to incorporate a high level of Web-authoring and training ability. DevComm staff will probably construct most of the early sites, and will teach others to create their sites. DevComm staff will host regular training sessions to share new skills, using internal or external teachers. The Development IT unit will need to be prepared to support a variety of advanced applications, including enriched email, database-driven web site construction, e-commerce customization, creation of cgi scripts for forms and personalized response email. The IT unit may also have to be able to support web-casting, listserv creation, "gated" discussion groups, streaming video and audio, and whatever else of value comes down the pike.

Supportive Systems: An advanced DAR system will contain the same elements as a good online retail site. Many of these elements were sketched out at the beginning of this article, wherein Alumna Sally Chan is welcomed to the Alumni Portal by name, her preferences are already known. In the business world, this happens because of the installation of a sophisticated Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software package. If Sally needs assistance, she can click on a "live chat" button and be instantly connected to a staff member. If she clicks on a "dialup" button, an Internet phone call is initiated. All of these elements are already in play on the commercial side of the Web, and it is only a matter of time and money before they are adopted on the non-commercial side.

DAR staff will be actively involved in designing and improving the University's Customer Relationship Management system. They will also have a full set of tools and resources available on a DAR intranet site to assist their work. The DAR intranet will allow staff to easily connect with each other via email, group lists, listservs, and instant messenger services. It will also support virtual meetings and virtual teams. Key policies and documents will be available on the intranet web site, such as tax guides, planned giving forms, draft gift agreements, templates for newsletters and publications. In addition, there will be deep graphic and multimedia sites to borrow from. Staff will be able to search these sites to grab video clips of a presidential speech, pictures of campus buildings, logos and mottos, clipart, clickable campus maps, music clips, and more-all of which can be designed into individual sites or desktop publication designs.

One has only to imagine a future Capital Campaign site to gain a picture of how new-style communications will be done. During the "quiet phase" of a campaign, DAR staff will be building the look and feel of the Campaign. The logo, the goals statement, the project descriptions, the supportive material-all of this will be mounted on a passworded site for review and amendment. Furthermore, as the site takes shape, individual schools and programs will design companion sites and link them to the main site. All ideas will be tested on the web first, and then adapted for print as needed, rather than the current method of "print design first, web design second."

Once the Campaign site is ready to go public it will not only convey the full "case" in color and multimedia glory, it will also serve as the rallying site for volunteers, as the main donor recognition site, as a key news site, and as a site for virtual events. What's a virtual event? It could be an interactive chat with the President, a panel of famous alumni, a webcast of the Campaign Kickoff, a "jeopardy" contest between two reunion class teams, an auction, and whatever else draws interest and involvement. Gifts and pledges will also be facilitated on the site with the aid of secure e-commerce tools.


While a survey of new technology may have a certain "gee whiz" factor for professional fundraising readers --and send business administrators into near panic --the real story is not about chips and pixels, it's about people.

The hallmark of the 21st century university will be the facilitation of educational community through one-to-many and many-to-many technologies. As I noted in the beginning, the new definition of student will translate as life-long-learner, and many "students" will simultaneously be alumni leaders, teachers, volunteers, and financial supporters of the university.

"You are always a student with us," one school has proclaimed to its entering class, trying to convey its commitment to a forever relationship, but sounding to me like the kids will never grow up. How about: "We are all part of a community of lifelong learners"?

This ought to bring about a fairly profound transformation of the Alumni Relations function, and perhaps even the fundraising function. In the "old" university, alumni were ex-customers. Their function, if they had any, was to say good things about their alma mater, rally to its aid if it was politically threatened, and send money. Increasingly, the emphasis has been on "send money," and Alumni Relations staff have become the handmaidens of the Development Department.

In the new university, the alumni base is the most important customer base the university possesses. Every retail operation knows that existing customers are the best prospects for new sales. To translate for the university setting: life-long-learners mean life-long-fees. Old customers can become repeat customers, and each time they cycle around, they bring greater resources and greater skills to the "community of learners." Alumni Relations gets a new lease on life, not dependent upon the imputed fundraising potential of its programs. Alumni Relations becomes Customer Relations, or even Community Facilitation.

This is not a small deal. The university is going to change, and to some extent no one knows what it will eventually become. Some of the most important players in shaping what it will become may very well be the people currently called "Alumni Relations" staff.

In an article in the April 10, 2000 issue of Information Week magazine, three University of Michigan professors argue that commercial enterprises will be radically transformed by the new nature of the customer. The networked economy allows for the customer to change from a passive buyer to an "active participant in co-creating value." The new customer, whether it be an at-home dad or a corporate purchasing agent, will be an interactive customer. He or she will engage with the institutions that provide goods and services, and will contribute ideas and directions to the company as it seeks to satisfy new needs. ("Customer Centricity," by C.K. Prahalad, Vekatram Ramaswamy, and M.K. Krishnan, in Information Week, April 10, 2000, Pages 67-76.)

When this notion transfers to the institution of higher education, where customers can be corporate CEOs, leading researchers, artists, writers, inventors, poets, lawyers and doctors, Native Americans and Fiji Islanders-and where teaching and learning can be multipoint and collaborative-the university as dispenser-of-knowledge becomes the university as community-of-learners.

With this elevated notion in mind, consider this quotation from our Michigan professors:

"The recognition of consumers as active players in co-creating value shifts the locus of core competencies from the firm to the enhanced network. Competence now is a function of the collective knowledge available to the whole system." (Ibid, page 70)

The University as Enhanced Network. Newly-redefined Alumni Relations officers as facilitators of the involvement of newly-redefined alumni/students in this network. Fundraising as a subset of community resource-sharing. And every process is well-tempered. Could be interesting. Could be great!

******************************************************************* Notes:

For more on the expansion of the University customer base, see: "Does Old Ivy Have an E-Strategy?"

For more on online fundraising, see "Cybergifts," a multi-part series

For more on Customer Relationship Management tools and vendors, see the April 17, 2000 issue of Information Week magazine, and for example:

Permission is given to forward or copy this article, so long as the author's name, email address, URL, and copyright notice are included. Yes! You can print it out, copy it, hand it around, forward it as an email to someone else, and so on. The only things I don't want readers to do are: Sell it, edit it, put your name on it, or take my name off it.

Print and electronic editors who want to reprint or mount any of my electronic articles should contact me directly for permission. Linking to my articles is fine.

Back to Part 9

Adam Corson-Finnerty is Director of Development for the Library of the University of Pennsylvania. He is the co-author of Fundraising and Friend-Raising on the Web (ALA Editions, 1998). For other articles by Adam Corson-Finnerty, see the Online Fundraising Resource Center website (/musings/index.html).Cybergifts Parg 8 is copyrighted by the author, April, 2000 The opinions expressed are those of the author. Adam Corson-Finnerty 215-635-4084



Send comments to Adam Corson-Finnerty or Laura Blanchard