15: Cornell University and the Future of Advancement Operations w/ Ashley Budd

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Ashley Budd, Director of Digital Marketing (Advancement) at Cornell University talks about the latest advancements in alumni tools, technology and AI that are changing engagement and fundraising at Cornell altogether.

Find a breakdown of this episode here.

Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Playbook. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university. I'm Eric Oleson, AVP of marketing at Helix Education, and we're here today with Ashley Bud, Director of Digital Marketing at Cornell University, serving alumni affairs and development. Ashley, thanks so much for joining us today here. Thanks for having me. Ashley and I have been friends for a while. She's also my biggest nemesis in the game dots and Co which, if you all played two dots on your phone, you really got to check out dots and Co and try to beat us. We're going to have a great conversation today on the future of university advancement operations, but before we get into that, Ashley, can you get the listeners a little bit better understanding of both Cornell University and your role? They're sure I am in a digital vertical within our advancement operation at Cornell, and Cornell's a big place. It's the largest Ivy League school and, like many large universities, we have different silos operating across campus. Advancement is both the alumni affairs wing...

...and development wing for the university and it's a big staff. We have close to four hundred employees in our division. So big place, lots of lots of people working towards engaging alumni and offering them benefits and offering them activities to stay in touch with the university on the engagement end and then also, I'm tying in the all the fundraising aspects of the university, which is really important for a place like Cornell, different than some other tuition driven universities. Cornell really does rely more on development to keep the keeps the doors opened. So we are a big staff. I mentioned I'm in part of a digital vertical which is really unique in advancement. We have web team, social media, digital marketing, all reporting directly up to the vice president for the division. So we're not housed in alumni affairs or in development, where we're kind of in our in our own vertical, which is really cool. It helps us work on both sides, different program areas, on both sides of the house in that division. Awesome. Yeah, it feels like advancement operations are kind of at the beginning of this digital renaissance, with new tools, new technologies making alumni engagement and fundraising more effective never before. What are some of the biggest or newest or shiniest alumni tools or functionality that you're currently finding the most success with the Cornell or excited to start investigating? Yeah, advancement is an exciting place to be right now and I did spend the first half of my career in enrollment and made the switch thinking that I was going over to the dark side, this fundraising wing of higher education, but I did it because I thought most of the business models in higher ed were kind of tapped out on their enrollment side and I was really curious to see what kind of a...

...shift we were going to see. As you know, those tuition driven programs had peaked. You know, bigger classes and raising tuition costs were you know, we kind of hit that bubble. So to see a lot of universities trying to unlock fundraising as a means to keep doors open it's really important. So Cornell's always been on the forefront of not only fundraising, being in the in the top five univers cities for fundraising dollars each year, but also known for their willingness to take risks and try new things with digital technology. With all that said, looking at what universities are doing compared to some other private sector companies, we're still we're still behind in terms of what technology is available and what we're taking advantage of. So one of the things I'm really excited about is actually our website itself, and we launched a new website. It's actually still in the soft launch phase right now. So I'm if you head over to alumni dot corn all that Evu or the giving site also is part of our recent launch, giving dot corn all that Evu. You're going to find a beautiful website for that external audience, but it's really a new tool for the university and for our constituents and it's rather than just offering for sure where or nice storytelling even, which has been something that we've been working on for the past few years, it's more of a utility and it's something that we own rather than relying on some third party products. So that's been a shift for us and a shift for the staff to start to understand that our external facing website is a tool for people to use. So that's one of the things I'm excited about. We you know, we're still in soft launch phase. We're just kind of scratching the surface of what the site is going to be able to do for us and I'm over the next couple months, as we start to roll out all the different bells and whistles that exist for...

...that site functionality, we're going to we're going to see that play a big role in how our alumni and our donors are able to interact with us. Part of that is, you know, US thinking about those interactions or the really squshy word that we use a lot, and higher at the engagement touch points. So trying to surface new ways for our alumni and donors and parents of current students to be able to interact with the university and in a digital way, which is the way we interact with a lot of different brands. You, organizations that were close to have already moved in this direction, and so the websites going to offer us some new tools to be able to keep people in touch. That I'm really excited about. Let's talk about some of those bells and whistles. How will the new website? How do some of these new tools and technologies make it easier for alumni to participate, whether it be easier to financially give back to the university or engaging in other ways? Yeah, I mean I think part of it is reorienting the site to create some logical pathways for people to interact and instead of presenting everything that the university offers based on our assumptions of what that person might want, or I who had looked at our old website, or reflection of our organization. Yeah, and kind of you know, we offer these things in volunteerism, we offer these things for getting. Rather than orienting it that way, we're really trying to start with with the person and rather than just put them on a path, say, you know, we know that you were in a Greek organization, so we're going to show you everything about just this Greek organization and put you down this path, we've opened the site up to be really exploratory and the paths are based more on life stage, which we found to be a really, really key indicator for when people come back to interact with the university...

...and what what they want out of it at different times of their life. So when a student is graduating from the university, they they don't know much. They kind of need an orientation about what it means to be an alumnus and all of the services and benefits that come with that. So it's a we offer kind of a nice primer for a new student. If you're kind of in your midlife after school, you are maybe you're a new parent, maybe you're moving to a new city and you're looking to connect with other cornelians to do some networking or just meet other people like you. So you might find yourself on a path for different networking and events near you if you're, you know, a senior and you how are finding you have some more free time on your hands, you'll find yourself on a path where we're showing more of our travel programmes and learning opportunities, some gift planning opportunities. So it's much more service oriented in the way that the content introduces itself. And then, as far as some of the functionality that isn't rolled out yet, we're going to be looking more at transactional communication and the ability for people to kind of give us, give us feedback on what they're looking for. So I'm incording some and these important feedback loops so we can keep keep the content fresh and keep them connected. I love that idea that you talked about of making the engagement and making the alumni fairs journey on your website personal. And you also kind of acted, you know, a little dismissively toward merely showing them the Greek organization that they are a member of. While I think for many college and universities that would be a step up in terms of customized engagement today, but there are more and more these tools are referencing their AI capabilities. Is the future of successful engagement. What use cases are you the most optimistic about in terms of what artificial intelligence might uncover from your alumni database and data...

...sets to help you more effectively engage and in personalize their journey on your site? Yeah, personalizations really interesting because we went into this redesign project thinking, you know, personalization is going to be key. This is what people want. They want, yeah, us to know, you know, they've already told us so much about themselves that we should be able to reflect that back to them. But actually what we found, especially with cornellions, is that they have a lot of different interests and their interests change over time. So to kind of pigeon hole them to what we know about them now would we'd be hiding a lot of things that they might be interested in. So that was a big a big switch in our in our philosophy and on personalization. As we were going through the discovery process and talking to people, we found that, you know, we needed to actually present them with more than just a narrow path that we, you know, personalized based on what we knew. And also, I'm thinking about our own resources, being able to come up with personalized content with, you know, be really prohibitive with our staffing and being able to produce the amount of content we would need to create those individual, personalized paths. So that was a nice finding and I think where we're going with exploring artificial intelligence is really exciting, partly because it's a little less exotic than it used to be. We're seeing our official intelligence come into our world's in a lot of different ways that are making it, were more comfortable with it, it's more accessible. Cornell's actually hosting conference coming up on December, first small advancement conference, and we're going to be exploring artificial intelligence impact on advancement. Hopefully we'll be able to live stream some of that and you can kind of share that information back with you. But we're yeah, we're definitely thinking about these massive data sets that we have and they live in, you know, data warehouses that are really hard to dig through. Awesome. We've got a lot of notes from individual meetings, either Alumna engagement officers...

...or gift officers who go out and meet with people and they type up reports and unless you're going to sit down and dig through, you know, decades of meetings with a potential major, major gift prospect, that stuff just gets buried and and would be missed. So thinking about the ways that we could crawl some of those reports and surface important, important information about a person or trends. We're thinking about so both the behavioral algorithms that we could surface from event activities, whether it be in person events or events that happen online, to also some of these predictive algorithms when we're we're sourcing kind of keywords through reports. What are people talking about? What kind of causes do they care about? What are the trends there and how can we match those with the things that Cornell is doing, either and in research or student experience, so you can match, you know, match our people with the things that they really care about and show them that at the university were making strides to to change, you know, whether it's the student experience that they care about or Cornell's influence on the world at large. So digging into the data sets are, you know, that's really interesting. Also, kind of on the and the front end, thinking about providing better service to our alumni, offering, you know, chat bots or something that will help them surface what they're looking for quicker on our website. Sort of thinking about that on the front end. Yeah, there's just there's a lot of emerging tools and techniques that have the potential to really change core engagement and fundraising and even the communication functions in our offices. So we're trying to get ahead of that. We certainly don't have all the answers, but we're investigating it and trying to think about how to future proof some of these technologies that were implementing now, thinking about the the website that we just launched and making sure that we're able to kind of...

...plug in some of these new things that have to totally redesign again once ai is here. It's super exciting and I love that balance that you're trying to strike between utilizing the information about the alum to provide a better and more customized experience without assuming you know exactly how, when and where they want to engage. It's awesome, Ashley. As an I be league institution, I'm sure national rankings do matter to Cornell, whether or not you'd like them to. Alumni participation scores or a critical factor in these rankings. Can you talk about how digital engagement can count as participation and how you're able to quantify this? Sure? Yeah, I mean rankings are, you know, their blessing and a curse. Rights. As a professional, you don't want to be held to a number, but the reality is that, you know, our alumni base does care where we show up in national rankings. Pro Prospective students still will use it when they're lookinging at schools and and our trustees care, thank care a lot about not only the rankings but our participation rates. And so when we think about participation, were traditionally advanced of offices have been calculating participation based on the number of constituents who are giving to the university, who are volunteering on behalf of the university or who are attending events. Those kind of the top three. Thinking about people giving back of their time, talent treasure. And so what you're saying now is is a trend to start counting digital interactions as participation, because, when you think about it, how meaningful it is to have a phone call with someone is just as meaningful to have an online conversation with that person. Attending an event in person is just as meaningful as tuning into a live stream and watching it for the entire time. Yeah, so we're thinking about the ways that people truly are interacting with the university...

...in a meaningful way. Some of the ways we calculate that in hard numbers. We are counting those live stream participants. So anytime we're live streaming an event, we're collecting are enough information through a log in to link that back to a record. That's really important, not just counting the number of people who should but actually record who those people are so that that's a shift for the back end of the house. We're also counting people who are volunteering online. We have a social media ambassador program and these are over five hundred alumni, parents and friends of the university who have signed up to be social ambassadors and share important content about the university on their own social channels. And we, you know, we try not to share just pretty pictures and that lighthearted kind of social fun stuff. We really use it for strategic initiatives and to get the word out about important university announcements, important fund raising initiatives. And so those who sign up as a social ambassador are counted just the same as if they were volunteering in another role, as a board member or showing up to do you know, done in the day, done in a kind of volunteer activity. And then we're also being at book interactions and we do set threshold so if like one post, that going to give you participation credit. You liked our content more than five times in a calendar year, or if you've commented at least once, you are going to get participation credit because you know you're you're paying attention and you're raising your hand. And the way that social media interactions are trending where it takes a little bit more to get a comment or like out of someone because it, you know, it is showing their own you know, they're taking their own personal accounts into play there that...

...we do want to give them that credit of being connected to the university in a way that we wouldn't have counted before. And so there's you know, we're surfacing a lot of constituents who we might have felt had fallen off the grid, who maybe, you know, don't have a close connection to their alma mater or anymore, don't really you know, they're not responding to emails or phone calls. Maybe in the past we would think they don't care, they don't have the connection. Looking at some of these social channels and seeing what they're excited about what they do care about and how they're commenting. It really shows that there they are engaged and they are excited to stay connected to the university. Such good stuff. Actley, anything else you want to leave us with today? For Alumni affairs professionals looking to maximize their effectiveness fundraising engagement s course, I would say an important thing is thinking about how you're going to connect the work that you're doing back to how your division is holding you accountable for that work. So you know, you might be doing all of these things already. You probably have a facebook page for your university or probably already thinking about how to extend the in person of on that you're doing so well to online platform. But the tricky part is going to be how can you give people who participate credit for their own participation? If you really wanted to tie back to a true participation number that's going to influence your rankings, you need to think about how you're going to collect, you know, at the very least, an email address, named email address. Maybe you're asking for their university ID, and so it does take an extra step and getting yourself organized to really influence the numbers that are important, so that would be where I would start working. Awesome, Ashley. Thanks so much for joining us today and getting us all excited about where advancement is trending. What's the best place for listeners to connect with you if they have any follow up questions?...

Oh, I'm all over the Internet, I do. My website is Ashley Bodcom, so you can find me there and all my social accounts. On twitter I'm Ashley Underscore Bud. So yeah, it's you using Google search to find me. Awesome. Thanks against so much for joining us today, Ashley. I think Eric and talking with you. As always, you've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show on Itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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