Bentley received enthusiastic buy-in and glowing reviews from their Trustees after rethinking their annual endowment reporting process. Here’s how they joined the cutting edge of impact reporting.
Bentley University is one of the leading business schools in the country. They teach their students to be on the cutting edge of communications, strategy, and leadership. The declaration of their commitment to the “cutting edge” is right on Bentley’s home page:
“For more than a century, Bentley University has been reinventing business education to meet the needs of the evolving global marketplace. Innovation and reinvention are part of Bentley’s DNA.”
Now, consider this position statement in light of the impact reports that Bentley’s most generous donors receive every year.
Traditionally, annual endowment reports consist of a printed, two-sided, numbers-filled document mailed to donors via USPS. Sometimes, if the stars align, the report might include a letter of thanks from a student scholar. Most years, personalizing the letter with a “Dear NAME” salutation or adding a signature from a Bentley leader adds too much time to an already time- and resource-intensive process.
Let the record state that Bentley’s endowment reporting woes are neither unique to Bentley nor do they stem from any lack of desire for a more modern process and product. Rather – and those of you who have lived through “endowment report season” know this – the fund reporting process involves disparate systems and data points, very sensitive financial information, is spreadsheet-based, runs through many ranks of approvals, and is high-stakes.
Endowment reporting has long been synonymous with clunkiness (amongst other adjectives that have been assigned to #endowmentreportingszn).
The bottom line is that the business process of impact reporting at Bentley did not match Bentley’s cutting-edge ethos. In lighter terms, what Bentley’s top donors were receiving each year just didn’t align with the “Bentley brand.”
Sending endowment reports via ODDER bridges the disparate systems of fund financials, impact reporting, alumni data points, personalization, and report design and templating. (And sending endowment reports via ODDER means they are dynamic, back-end editable, and completely secure, to boot.)
Right around the time Betsy pitched the ODDER value proposition to the Bentley leadership team, a Bentley Trustee forwarded an email including a digital endowment report he had received from his undergraduate institution. “Bentley really needs to start doing this,” he said. He, too, recognized the misalignment between Bentley’s cutting edge education and their impact reporting.
And so, the Bentley team got ODDER. Here’s how it rolled out.
Phase 1: Pilot ODDERs to major donors
First, the Bentley team piloted On-Demand Digital Endowment Reports to a controlled subset of major donors. They excluded their highest-level donors and Trustees in an effort to first get some feedback on the new endowment report experience.
The reviews were glowing. For the first time, Betsy and her team received positive replies to the endowment reports – via email! – with feedback such as “Oh my gosh, I love getting this via email!”
In Betsy’s words, donors “loved, loved, loved it.” Even some notoriously hard-to-please alums responded that they enjoyed receiving their endowment reports digitally and liked the ease of access, the longer shelf life, the ability to view a lot more information about their fund (i.e. past years’ fund performance), the nice design and branding, and, of course, the personalized video from Bentley leadership.
Phase 2: ODDER rollout to Trustees
Given the positive feedback from major donors, Bentley used ODDER to send out all endowment reports this year, including to their heaviest hitters (and toughest critics): their Trustees. NB: Trustees have absolutely earned the right to be the university’s toughest critics: they are invested at the very highest level and have an onus to the university to hold their alma maters to the highest standard. So, of course, there were nerves involved when the Bentley team pressed “send” on the carefully-curated digital endowment reports to their Trustees.
Nerves were assuaged as replies rolled in from their Trustees after receiving their on-demand digital endowment reports:
“Great report and excellent video.”
“I like the new format and the video overview was great!”
“Wow – what a great looking report – very professional looking for sure.”
“Sleek format. It was good to hear the Chair of Investment Committee talking about the endowment.”
(These are actual replies from real, live Bentley Trustees.)
The above clip begins with the video from the Chair of Bentley’s Investment Committee that was embedded in every ODDER that Trustees received last year. (Each on-demand report is customizable with a video from university leaders, faculty members, or student scholars. The video component adds a layer of impact and “wow” factor that just doesn’t come across in a stat-filled printed two-sider mailing.)
After watching that clip, we think it’s safe to say that Bentley is “walking the walk” to align their alumni experience with the ethos of a Bentley education. Well done, Bentley team.👏