Top 10 Takeaways from RAISE 2018 – Part 1

We just put a bow on THE advancement conference of the year — the sold-out RAISE 2018. With more than 30 speakers sharing the stage, there were literally hundreds of takeaways over two very full days.

We had a hard time figuring out what to put into a “best of” blog post.

So we turned to RAISE attendees and looked at what resonated most on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Thanks to this feedback, we put together 10 insights that defined this year’s edition of RAISE. We’re sharing the first five takeaways in this post with five more to come in our next blog.

(There’s just too much great stuff to fit everything into one article.)

We hope this list gives you ideas to put into action as we head into a new school year. Let us know what stands out the most!

Oh… and we’d better see you at RAISE 2019.


1. “Knock With Your Feet”


Mike Troiano, partner with G20 Ventures, kicked off RAISE with the perfect setup for a conference about building meaningful relationships with alumni.

“Nostalgia is a crutch,” Mike said. “Support us [alumni] in the lives we have today. Start by giving authentic value first.”

Coming from a big Italian family, Mike says he’s accustomed to relatives showing up at gatherings with their hands so full of food and gifts that they have to “knock with their feet” in order to get in the door.


It’s the same with the relationship between alma mater and alumni — schools shouldn’t just rely on past sentiment to make asks for donations. They need to deliver value by meeting graduates’ needs today before sending an appeal.

“Friends knock with their feet. Bring something of value with you and I’ll open the door.”

Nostalgia is a crutch


2. “Everybody fights.”


George “Monk” Foreman III, entrepreneur, boxing trainer/coach, and founder of Everybody Fights (oh, and he’s the son of former two-time heavyweight champion George Foreman, Sr.) came to RAISE to teach us how to throw a punch. But George’s session was way more than that.

“Anyone can be a boxer,” he said. “All it takes is an eye exam and to find someone willing to pay you to put you in a ring. You become a fighter when you get knocked down and then get back up again.

George talked about fighting the fear that holds us back — from innovating, from trying something new, from taking a risk — by using faith in ourselves and our mission. It’s about focusing on the goal and not the obstacle. Fighters do that every day, even when the odds are stacked. Even when they’ve hit the canvas. They get up. They keep going. They fight.

“The fight doesn’t start until you want to quit… Have faith to fight the fear.”


3. “Flip the Pyramid”


Our Founder and CEO Brent Grinna took the stage for the closing keynote on the first day of RAISE. After a day of speakers connecting for-profit sales and marketing to higher ed fundraising and alumni relations, it was time to see how this played out across the giving pyramid.

Here’s the thing…

The traditional pyramid with different layers for communications and alumni relations, annual giving, prospect discovery, and major gifts doesn’t reflect how alumni think about their alma mater. It promotes silos by keeping each department separate. And it means organizations spend the majority of time and resources at the very top of the pyramid, leaving most constituents behind.

It’s time to flip the pyramid.

At RAISE, Brent unveiled the giving funnel. He showed that with the right mix of people, strategy, and technology, teams could turn advancement-as-usual on its head.

Higher ed can drive engagement intentionally, then channel engaged alumni and parents toward a goal, whether it’s to grow attendance, convert new donors, discover new prospects, or recruit transformational gifts.

Thinking differently allows the entire organization to work together and blow past goals time and time again. (We’ll have lots more coming about this concept. Subscribe to the blog and stay tuned.)

“#FlipThePyramid. It’s time to build your giving funnel.”


4. “Engagement is the Goal. Giving is the Byproduct.”


Nicole Jeter West, CMO for Legends, talked about the expectations of today’s customers. They’re looking for immersive, personalized experiences paired with A+ customer service. And that’s exactly what alumni want from their college, too. Higher ed is competing with everything that brands like Amazon and Zappos offer.

If you can get me engaged, I will give,” Nicole said. “I am engaged with Amazon. We may as well be married! I have a daily interaction with them.”

Every advancement team should try and deliver that kind of experience.

We can do that by understanding and responding to the needs and interests of our audience. We have to be authentic and helpful in our communication, using powerful stories to build engagement with customers (i.e. donors) before we take that relationship to the next level.

With alumni, there’s built-in love. They’re already fans. Tap into that passion and “show them that you know them” and their interests. They’ll respond.

“Engagement is the goal. Giving is the byproduct.”



5. Take an Interest-Driven Approach


Josh Newton, President and CEO of the UConn Foundation, was back onstage at RAISE. Last year, he talked about blowing up the annual fund and going with an interest-driven approach across the board for fundraising and alumni relations. He said, “the old mechanics of the annual fund have run their course.”

“My hotel chain has been wishing me ‘Happy Birthday’ for the last five years,” Josh said. “We just started doing the same in advancement. Every time we try to do what the for-profit world is doing, they lap us.”

“We’re not catching up. My hotel chain knows more about me than the institution to which I’m a loyal alum. …We have to think differently about how we engage in individual relationships with our donors, both at the base and in major gifts.”

This year, Josh let attendees know that the strategy is working. After losing donors every year since 2013, UConn saw its first gain in five years after making this shift. Overall fundraising dollars went up, as well.

His engagement and acquisition team talked through how they’re looking at engagement points in email, on their website, and Facebook to deliver custom content — whether it’s a homecoming invite that speaks to a known interest or an appeal to support a passion project. The results that UConn has enjoyed already should make every organization rethink a one-size-fits-all approach.

“We have to think differently about how we engage in individual relationships with our donors.”



Okay, so that’s enough for now… I’m sure your brain is already reeling with all of this RAISE goodness.

We’ll have five more takeaways for you in our next post. In the meantime, make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss an update!Subscribe to the Blog

Post a comment and let us know what resonated most with you.

Click here to go to Part 2 of our top-10 takeaways from RAISE 2018.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments