We’re sure most of our readers have attended big alumni galas, homecoming gatherings, and fancy donor dinners. So, you know how we’re feeling this week. We have the post-event elation/blues/exhaustion/exhilaration.
All the feels after last week’s RAISE Live event. But the overarching sentiment is that it was pretty dang awesome.
Let’s relive the highlights.
If you joined us last week, you know that we had guests with us from all over the country. Our CEO Brent Grinna videoed in from his boat in Iowa.
Tons of you hosted your teams for a #RAISELive watch party.
In the words of Tyler Pyburn, one of the 5 Tool Productions masterminds that made Thursday’s event possible, “If PIVOT was the word of 2020, HYBRID is definitely the way to sum up 2021.” Hybrid was at its best last week as members of the EverCrew filmed live from our beloved EverTrue Boston HQ while lots of other ‘Crew members (and all of our guests) tuned in from offices everywhere.
BUT, in an acknowledgement that there is no element of videoing that can take the place of a long-awaited, in-person hug, we launched the Great RAISE Getaway Giveaway of two roundtrip plane tickets to reunite a RAISE Live attendee with a friend or family member that they’ve missed over the past year.
The competition for the tickets was steep (we asked attendees to submit a selfie and tell us who they want to visit and why), but Mike Pede, VP of Advancement at the University of Houston, won out.
He submitted to the Giveaway so that he could reunite his sister with her son (Mike’s nephew) who has been deployed in the Army in Poland for the last year. Mike’s submission was an act of true philanthropy.
Each of our keynote speakers shared stories that spotlight the aspects of our work that need some true TLC: Donor decline. Talent pipeline. Diversity, equity, and inclusion. The reputation of the profession.
RAISE Live kicked off with our friends Amanda Trabue, Ron Wilson, and Jahari Burnett from Western Kentucky University. They shared the story of how a chance encounter with Brent Grinna at a CASE conference eventually led to WKU’s entire advancement staff flipping the traditional fundraising script, embracing new strategies to connect more donors to WKU, and going “all-in” on the Donor Experience approach to their work.
Amanda told us how embracing this new way to fundraise is “just the right thing to do.” Jahari talked about what a day in the life of a DXO looks like. And Ron shared his favorite stories from year one of the WKU DX program.
Next, we heard from John Morris, SVP for Advancement at Auburn University, who talked about how there is an urgent need for advancement as an industry to make some big changes in order to build critical talent pipeline to power high-performing, high-impact teams. He warned us about the “Great Resignation;” explained how the demand for talented fundraisers far outweighs the supply; and reminded us that we all have a responsibility to uphold and promote the nobility of higher ed fundraising.
(No more “hide your wallet jokes,” folks.)
He also pointed out that advancement shops have the unique opportunity to provide millennials exactly what they are looking for in a career: Good pay. Benefits. Work-life balance. Innovation. Growth.
And, most importantly, purpose.
We were then joined by Melissa Korn, Reporter at the Wall Street Journal and Co-author of “UNACCEPTABLE: Privilege, Deceit & the Making of the College Admissions Scandal.” Melissa spoke about the effects of the scandal on higher ed fundraising and the responsibility we all share in rebuilding trust and restoring reputation with donors who may now be even more skeptical of donations to higher ed.
Melissa gave us the inside scoop on the institutions that lost so much as a result of the scandal, and she also reminded us of the institutions who denied Rick Singer’s monetary bribe and received a “boatload of donations” from proud alums as a result. She focused on the long-game value of aligning with ethics, morality, and integrity. Important lessons, all around.
Finally, we learned from Dr. Jessica Elmore, Associate Director of Diversity Programs at the K-State Alumni Association and Founder of JElmore Cross Cultural Consultants. Jessica talked to us about the “off-season team,” the folks who enable an institution to be proactive instead of reactive, and to be prepared in the face of hardship because instead of getting ready, they stay ready.
She dug into how we need to re-think 1:1 donor engagement to historically underrepresented populations; how we need to first tell the authentic truth about the histories of oppression and exclusion at our institutions before we can tell an authentic truth about out commitment to inclusion today; and five steps that every one of us can take immediately to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion at our institutions.
There were also lighter stories shared along the RAISE way, including some from our new Donor Experience Officers who manage portfolios of 1,000 donors each. Their stories are as plentiful as their portfolios, and include how to react when a donor calls you “babe,” what to do with a donation of a vehicle, and how to hold a conversation with a donor’s cat.
We also got some big laughs from hearing about some pretty embarrassing Zoom fails from the past year+ of virtual life, such as presenting a webinar from a car outside of the local barber shop (wifi fail), forgetting to mute while speed walking during a team meeting, and how to keep working when the home office gets struck by lightning.
I think it’s safe to say that of all the stories we heard at RAISE Live last week, there’s one that was everyone’s favorite. It’s the story of Wesley Young, a long-disengaged WKU Alum, and Jahari Burnett, a new Donor Experience Officer who politely persisted in bringing Wesley back into the WKU fold. It’s a story of community, connection, and the power that one person has to make a difference.
The Wesley and Jahari story reminded us that philanthropy is love, and that we gain so much by giving to others.
One big theme from yesterday’s conference is that sharing our stories is what makes us all human, and the stories that come from the work of our advancement partners are enough to remind us why we’re all here. We are so grateful we got to share a few amazing and important ones with you all at RAISE.
Cheers to many stories like these that are yet to come!
P.S. After learning from our amazing RAISE Live speakers, do you have a story you want to share? Get in touch – we’d love to share it.