Cybergifts, Part 10
THE WELL-TEMPERED ALUMNI RELATIONS & DEVELOPMENT OFFICE
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.)
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
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
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
Amazon.com 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 (http://www.stanfordalumni.org/jg/home.html)
shows links to these areas:
- Online Services
- Lifelong Learning
- Career Networking
- Travel and Vacation
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 stanfordalumni.org.
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 Amazon.com provides terrific customer service,
despite the fact that most customers rarely interact directly with Amazon
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 http://email@example.com).
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.
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 http://www.campaign.ucla.edu/spotlight.htm).
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
- 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:
- 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.).
- 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
- 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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
With this elevated notion in mind, consider this quotation from our
"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!
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: http://www.informationweek.com/782/cr3.htm
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
Print and electronic editors who want to reprint or mount any of my
electronic articles should contact me directly for permission. Linking
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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 (http://www.fund-online.com/musings/index.html).Cybergifts
Parg 8 is copyrighted by the author, April, 2000 The opinions expressed
are those of the author. Adam Corson-Finnerty firstname.lastname@example.org
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