Recap and Takeaways from the RAISE 2017 Advancement Conference

Who do you RAISE for? That’s the question that kicked off our second-annual RAISE conference in Boston. With over 250 attendees from institutions and organizations worldwide, RAISE 2017 brought the best and the brightest minds together to explore the nexus of the advancement and for-profit worlds.

Through two days of panels and sessions, we learned about everything from peer-to-peer fundraising to donor personalization. We heard from game-changing advancement leaders and tech industry CEOs. We took selfies, networked over beer and pretzels, and danced the night away to celebrate the amazing work you do to build relationships in pursuit of a better world.

Couldn’t make it to RAISE this year? Want to relive your time at RAISE? Here’s a recap of the fresh ideas and inspiring stories our speakers shared.

RAISE 2017 Inception SelfieThe annual RAISE #InceptionSelfie

Spotlight: Boston Red Sox

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RAISE 2017 kicked into gear on day one with Red Sox CMO Adam Grossman and moderator Field Yates of ESPN discussing the lessons learned celebrating David Ortiz’s legacy. Comparing the iconic player’s retirement with that of a university president or beloved faculty member, Grossman spoke on how the Red Sox said goodbye to Ortiz while keeping an optimistic eye to the future.

Grossman’s three underlying principles were to (1) appropriately celebrate Ortiz, (2) talk to him and be respectful of his wishes, and (3) be flexible knowing that things can and will change. “He was going to be a huge part of the story of the season, but there was a championship we wanted to win. [The question became] how to balance that and make sure he wasn’t the whole story,” Grossman said.

From asking Ortiz’s daughter to sing at Opening Day to sourcing digital content from fans and celebrities, the Red Sox strove to create heartfelt moments while also letting the community celebrate Ortiz’s career in an organic way.

For an institution in a similar position, Grossman had some words of wisdom to share: “It’s going to be a transition, you have to prepare as best as possible, and you have to give the organization—the teammates—the ropes to grow as a part of it. Be able to look to the future and try to lay the seeds for the younger players, while also knowing that it’s going to take some time.”


Panel 1: Mobilizing Your Peer-to-Peer Network

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The first panel of RAISE 2017 featured three experts in the peer-to-peer space: Ben Carcio, CEO of Promoboxx; Leah Davis, associate director of new media at WBUR; and Parks Smith, director of alumni relations at Longwood University.

Carcio touched on the power of digital marketing campaigns, getting to the core of why giving days are so effective: “When you run a campaign, it gets people fired up. Campaigns create urgency, and urgency drives peer networks.

Building on that concept, Davis explained how she mobilized internal and external constituencies to make WBUR’s “Keep Democracy Running” 26.2-hour marathon campaign a success. “Your donors will not love you unless your employees love you first,” she said. “We needed the staff at our station to care about fundraising, so we started treating internal staff like our first donors.

Davis created easy opportunities for staff to get involved even if they weren’t comfortable fundraising. For example, they kept a treadmill running in the office for 26.2 hours, invited staff to take shifts on the treadmill, and live streamed it.

Speaking of easy ways to get involved, Smith talked about Longwood’s “1 Hour a Month” alumni volunteer program and the impact it’s had across alumni relations and development. Over the past year, 650 people have submitted over 1,200 hours of volunteerism on behalf of Longwood. One-fourth of donors to Longwood’s first giving day were “1 Hour a Month” members.

“We now have a volunteer army, so if we know we need something, we know who to go to,” Smith said. “[The development team] sees [alumni relations] as a campus partner that was never really there before.”

Spotlight: Uconn Foundation

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What happens when you veer off of a 40-year paved road and “blow up” business as usual?

Just ask Josh Newton, president and CEO of the UConn Foundation. He took the stage to share his journey revamping UConn’s annual giving office into an Engagement & Acquisition team.

So, why the change? “We’re bleeding at the bottom… we’ve lost about 2,000 donors per year,” Newton said. “If I’m concerned with building a strong, long-term sustainable organization, this needs to be fixed.”

Working with an external firm, Newton and his team learned how to use personas and user journey maps to understand donor behavior and micro-target their alumni population. Now, UConn is looking at data in different ways to customize the giving experience to each individual constituent.

“Our alumni are liking things on our Facebook page, saying ‘I care about human rights.’ But we don’t ask them to give to human rights… because that’s the way our traditional annual giving models have worked,” Newton explained. “We have to be prepared for constant change in our industry. We have to become adaptable.”

Read more about this undertaking at UConn in our pre-RAISE interview with Josh Newton.


Panel 2: Sales Is the New Fundraising

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The second panel of the day dove into a conversation about the parallels between fundraising and sales, how to grow talent within your organization, and how to measure success.

Janet Comenos, CEO of Spotted Media, on the qualities of good sales hires:

“I look for people who care about winning, learning, and making money.”

Matt Ewing, associate vice president for development at Boise State University, on the role of the leadership annual giving officer as a stepping stone to major gifts:

“We’re building a team of frontline fundraisers that only qualify donors and hit our mid-gift range. It’s an important way for us to build our talent pool. We choose to hire those people without any experience whatsoever.”

Guy Hart, president and CEO of Plus Delta Partners, on high-performing frontline fundraising teams:

“[The best shops have] a culture that understands we’re going to build skills and create metrics that measure those skills. The most effective metrics are around productivity, not activity. Busy doesn’t necessarily beget productive.”


Spotlight: Drift

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Modern sales and marketing is broken—and as Drift CEO David Cancel explained, it’s time to rethink the way we do business. “Messaging is the new normal,” he said in his Spotlight session about inserting the human element back into outreach. In today’s world, connecting with your customers shouldn’t mean nurture emails and forms. Instead, start conversations with people the way they want to communicate: using messaging.

Cancel suggested putting a live chat bot on your online giving page to offer real-time customer support for donors. You could also use live chat to capture visitors on your planned giving site; think about how powerful it could be to engage those people in a conversation right when they’re most interested in learning more about your program.

Panel 3: The Infinite Expansion of the Social Universe

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With two billion monthly active users, Facebook is the undisputed king of the social sphere. Pouring $10,000 into Facebook advertising might make your jaw drop, but that’s exactly what Colgate University did this year.

“The year before this one, we spent a little more than half of [$10,000]. And the year before that, only $50,” Matt Hames, communications strategist at Colgate, said. Colgate now runs over 160 Facebook ads a year, targeting different groups of constituents with high-quality, relevant content on a centralized Colgate Facebook page.

Facebook’s Rodney Robinson then shared the impact of Facebook ads on Trump’s fundraising during the 2016 presidential race:

  • The Clinton campaign focused only 15 percent of their efforts on social media, serving 1,000 ad variations to her different constituencies across the country.
  • The Trump campaign spent 85 percent of their efforts on social media, creating and A/B testing 450,000 ad variations. Trump spent $90 million on Facebook ads for a return of $250 million in donations.

Even if you don’t have thousands (or millions) to spend on Facebook, $25 and 25 seconds can still net results. EverTrue CEO Brent Grinna told us how he helped bring in 100 registrations for a Brown alumni event by the simple act of advertising it on Facebook.

Want to get started with Facebook ads? Learn about the different types of ads and how to run them.


Panel 4: Where You Lead I Will Follow

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Dave Balter, CEO of Mylestone, and Diane Hessan, CEO of Salient Ventures, each have years of experience as entrepreneurs, leaders, and nonprofit board members. At RAISE, the two CEOs engaged in a discussion full of wisdom for leaders and followers alike. Here are the highlights:


“Being involved in nonprofits nourishes the soul.”

“The more you ask people for help, the more they give you. The more that you get people involved, the more important they feel. If they feel like they understand your institution, they write bigger checks. Personalization is a big deal. Don’t run an event without asking people for help.”

“People have spent the most transformational years of their life with your university. The relationship is so emotional. When they feel like they know you so well, they want to feel like you know them back. It raises the bar.”


“Every night, prioritize what you need to do. [The next day] don’t move onto anything else until you’ve done number one.”

“Status, value, scarcity, and exclusivity: If you pull on one of these, or all four, you can get anyone to do anything.”

Panel 5: Game Changers: Disrupting the Status Quo

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What do The Boston GlobeReebok, Drizly, and the Guggenheim have in common? At surface value, probably not much. But dig deeper and you’ll find a common thread: disruption. Representatives from each organization joined us for a panel to talk about how they’re shaking up the status quo in their respective industries.

Justin Robinson (co-founder of Drizly) and Emily Mullins (senior manager of global business development at Reebok) spoke on the changing expectations of consumers and the importance of adapting to those behaviors. Drizly does that by giving people the agency to pick which liquor store(s) to work with from the palm of their hand, while Reebok has evolved its strategy to serve niche communities and to align with how people discover and buy shoes today.

“We’ve tried to identify where consumers are spending their time and then go there,” Mullins said. “We can’t compete with Amazon; we have to be on Amazon.”

Political Reporter Josh Miller described how the Globe has shifted from an advertising model to a subscription model—and how he grew the Political Happy Hour from zero to 40,000 subscribers despite a crowded email newsletter space. Miller also talked about his unconventional—but successful—idea to host live Political Happy Hours with politicians over beer.

Representing the nonprofit angle on the panel, Tina Vaz (deputy director of global communications at the Guggenheim Foundation) commented on out-of-the-box strategies the Guggenheim uses to compete in the competitive museum space. From using digital media “to create a rich experience for people who aren’t able to visit the museum”; to bringing in celebrity DJs for#ArtAfterDark social events; to keeping the museum open until 9 p.m. on Tuesdays, the Guggenheim has been able to increase its appeal to both local and international visitors.

EverTrue CEO Keynote & Panel 6: The Connected Office in Action

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The start of RAISE day two brought an exciting announcement from EverTrue CEO Brent Grinna: EverTrue will be integrating with leading platforms Facebook EventsEventbrite, and Emma to track event and email engagement in one place!

These integrations will join our existing integration suite to give you insight into event RSVPs and email opens right in EverTrue. Imagine connecting your entire advancement office to that important data without lifting a finger. Get a more complete view of how constituents are engaging with your institutions—and deliver a personalized experience for every alumni and donor.

Following Grinna’s keynote, representatives from Williams College, the University of Virginia (UVA) College Foundation, the University of Rochester, and Emma took the stage to build on the concept of the “connected office” and how it’s already changing the game at their institutions.

Erin Kane (Rochester’s AVP of communications, marketing, and constituent engagement) reiterated that using top event/email platforms and breaking down office silos will lead to a better constituent experience: “What is the experience that we want constituents to have? What do we want these people to walk away feeling about this place—and then doing?”

However, selling new technology internally can be challenging—especially to those who hold the IT keys. Mike Reopell, director of advancement information systems at Williams, had the following advice: “It becomes critical to get this new data in our systems and use it to make decisions. My advice would be to allocate resources and prove the results.”

Valerie Oswald, director of engagement and annual giving at the UVA College Foundation, shared the story behind her team’s migration from iModules to Emma. “We piloted Emma… and went through pros and cons to show leadership why we needed to make a change,” Oswald said. “Now our gift officers are going to be able to see who’s attending an event, opening an email. This is going to break down the silos.

Thank you to everyone—attendees, customers, and speakers—who made RAISE 2017 an experience to remember. We hope you left inspired to try out new ideas and to RAISE for the causes you care about. See you next year!

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