CASE Summit round-up: Ideas that made us stop, think, and tweet

We loved spending a few days in San Francisco for the annual CASE Summit for Leaders in Advancement earlier this month. After three days with the brightest minds in higher ed, we were filled with ideas and inspiration. Here are some of our takeaways: 

  • To keep up with a rapidly changing environment, colleges and universities should look to industries like retail and consumer packaged goods in order to learn faster and govern smarter. Getting ahead means remaining agile, being quick to innovate, and always taking into account the consumer’s entire experience with your brand. The approval ladder for higher ed institutions can often hinder progress toward that goal, so internal alignment is more important than ever. —Thoughts from Thomas Friedman, speaking about big trends shaping the world today. 
  • Design is not a profession, it’s an attitude. The path to predictable isn’t an option anymore. Solving higher ed issues requires thinking differently about the big picture and constructing new ways to approach problems — with a design mindset. For example, planned giving can feel scary and complicated. Whether it’s how a donor letter looks or how a website behaves, it has to be simple and visually stunning — and move the prospect to give. —Insights from Sara Stein Greenberg, talking about the need to think differently. 
  • Planned giving is ripe for reinvention. Focusing solely on donor matching is constricting the market unnecessarily, making the market smaller. Go beyond the match to inspire new constituencies in two ways: create excitement and reinforce why the cause is important to them. —Thoughts from H. Rao Unnava, talking about why people donate. 
  • Trust takes time, sometimes a long time. And you have to be willing to dip into things you don’t know. Many major gift officers’ careers started with communications over fax. Now? They’re using WhatsApp to secure $2 million gifts. One thing hasn’t changed: it starts and ends with trust. —Insights from Marina Tan Harper, talking about engaging a diverse donor base. 
  • All graduates are alumni, but all alumni aren’t necessarily graduates. As more students engage in post-secondary education and get their start at community colleges, the goal of engagement with an institution isn’t necessarily a degree. Expanding the idea of alumni to include people who have a prior relationship with the institution helps include these outliers. —Insights that were shared during a CASE Commission alumni relations panel discussion. 
  • Being a lifelong learner will be the single most competitive advantage in the world. Rapid evolution in business and technology make it impossible to ever rest on the laurels of a formal education. Keep your skills sharp and always be curious. —From Thomas Friedman, speaking about the importance of personal responsibility for constant learning. 
  • In times of crisis on campus, you can’t always wait for talking points. Campus activism, societal issues, and a 24/7 news cycle doesn’t always allow for a coordinated approach to communicating with stakeholders. If you feel you can’t wait for leadership direction before communicating to your constituents, be honest and authentic in your message. Chances are it won’t do any harm, but it will build trust. —Thoughts by Todd McCubbin, speaking about aligning your internal communications.
  • If we don’t figure out how to measure digital engagement, we’re not measuring engagement. Demographics are changing, and communities and communication channels are changing with them. Our definition of engagement has to include more than email open rates and event attendance. —Insights that came out of a CASE Commission alumni relations panel discussion. 
  • Universities should have a “diversity grade.” Having a diverse workforce enhances creativity, improves the bottom line, increases breakthrough innovation, and changes the way you think. Some universities are slower to adapt, or don’t work hard enough in their hiring practices to achieve their goals. A grade would hold them accountable and allow prospective students to rate them like any other brand. —An idea that came out of a talk about recruitment and retention by a CASE attendee. 
  • Finding ways to turn passions into professions (and experiences) will add appeal for on-the-fence students. The landscape of how young people want to make a living has changed, and continues to quickly evolve. They want to find ways to align their passions with making money. Who can blame them? —From Thomas Friedman, speaking about how to make higher education more appealing to students. 
  • A global awareness campaign would help change the perception of higher education. The United States’ position internationally has taken a hit in the past six months. This has created fear and instability for international students; and it’s made U.S. students consider getting their education outside the country. We need to harvest the worth of higher education by “rebuilding” its reputation and building a positive narrative about its value. —Insights from Janet Napolitano, speaking about rebuilding trust in higher education.