3 Higher Ed Themes Emerging During COVID-19

May 1, 2020 Sue Cunningham and Tiffany Crumpton

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education and industry leaders have been collaborating to respond and change course through this time of uncertainty.  To maintain operations across campus, institutions have been – and still are – adjusting their strategies and learning how to communicate and engage with constituents, staff, and students in entirely new ways.

Advancement teams are facing difficult decisions when it comes to the management of their annual giving days and in-person events and protecting the health of their supporters. Many alumni relations teams are moving to online programs and virtual peer-to-peer events. And development officers are pivoting their giving days to support the needs of students and surrounding community members affected by the pandemic.

As we continue learning how to navigate today’s shifting landscape, here are three themes we have seen emerge throughout the global crisis.

1. Education transforms lives and society

Expertise from our institutions is needed now more than ever. Think of the institutions that have rapidly been developing testing capabilities and partnering with their communities on health care. Universities are one of the first lines of offense for COVID-19, whether it is for testing, treatment, or research.

Around the world, the interconnection of government agencies, science funding, academic medicine, academic research, and public health – these organizations are part of an incredible symbiosis and now are harnessed toward one end – finding treatments and creating vaccines. Donors also uniquely fit in to this picture: enabling research through funding innovation and basic science. This is all at the heart of what institutions do and particularly at the higher education level. Times like this remind us that expertise matters a great deal, and that education is vital.

Learn how higher ed leaders are adjusting their strategies to successfully navigate COVID-19: Watch the “Leading Higher Ed Institutions Through a Global Crisis” four part webinar series on-demand

2. Mission and institutional stewardship is key

Institutions must be laser focused on their mission and on stewarding their institution through this very uncertain time. Consider the following:

    • Reassess your markets: This might require looking at student markets differently. At last year’s CASE/Blackbaud Global Advancement Forum, we discussed demographic trends that will impact higher education. Part of that conversation was the role international students play around the world. Are there local markets we have not thought about sufficiently?
    • Revisit your delivery models: Campuses were thrust into new delivery models – how do these become sustainable over time, and how can they best be utilized?
    • Establish creative partnerships: How do institutions collaborate more effectively – through shared services and partnerships.
    • Make informed decisions: As leaders, our decisions right now are more critical than ever – what information do we need for decision making and how can we find opportunity for innovation?
    • Relations remain key: Advancement professionals are staying focused on outreach to their stakeholders, including alumni, the media, donors and their institutional community. People who care want to stay connected and feel valued, even if the time may not be right to be making an ask, staying in touch matters.

3. Communication strategies and priorities must shift

Immediately, priorities have shifted to ensure students can finish their terms and that research can continue. Higher ed leaders and communication teams have been working hard to share information, help make sense of the crisis, and communicate the emotion related to missed events and other celebrations. All this occurring while also ensuring the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff.

Institutions are communicating about their research and how they are contributing to solutions. But many are doing so in new ways. For example, advancement professionals have shifted from in-person office work and engaging in person to remote work and online/remote engagement. We know that for many their home office and virtual meetings have become the norm and that gift officers are reaching out to as many donors as possible with words of support. We have seen wonderful and creative examples of outreach across our membership. Furthermore, because CASE’s membership is global, for parts of the world who are beginning to emerge from the thick of this crisis, they are sharing their learning and experiences on planning for that time with their fellow CASE family members.

It is during unprecedented, challenging times like today that planning for the future is more important than ever. In many ways, this is an evolving situation and the full economic impact is still unclear. However, what is clear is how effective many institutions have been at pivoting in order to continue serving not just their students but also their communities.

Visit Blackbaud’s Advancement COVID-19 Resource Hub or COVID-19 Resources from CASE Educational Partners for additional guidance and support to help your advancement team overcome challenges during these trying times.

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