Advancement

How the University of Maryland Engages Previously Unengaged Alumni with Online Book Clubs

How the University of Maryland Engages Previously Unengaged Alumni with Online Book Clubs

If you could meaningfully engage hundreds of alumni who had never interacted with your institution before with a program that didn’t require staff time to run, you would, right?

We probably all would. But that might not stop us from being skeptical if we were told that the program that could do that is a virtual book club.

But the proof of the book club is in the reading. Jeff Williams, Associate Executive Director of Engagement and Outreach at the University of Maryland Alumni Association, and his team launched four book clubs in July and reached nearly 2,000 alumni in 46 states almost right away. Over a quarter of those had never engaged with the alumni association before. And they did it all with minimal staff time by partnering with an outside company to handle the program.

What is Design Thinking, Anyway? And Why Should We in Higher Ed Care?

What is Design Thinking, Anyway? And Why Should We in Higher Ed Care?

If you’ve attended a conference or read articles or, well, done anything, really, in the past few years you’ve likely heard of something called “design thinking.” And if you’re anything like me, you’ve turned your nose up at what seems to be the latest fad out of Silicon Valley.

But design thinking is not business-school jargon. It isn’t pretentious, or fake, or overhyped. It’s actually useful—yes, even to higher ed, with all its quirks.

Here's why.

Hello, We’re People: How Losing Weight Made Me Appreciate the Value of Community in Creating Meaningful Change

Hello, We’re People: How Losing Weight Made Me Appreciate the Value of Community in Creating Meaningful Change

Change is hard. (See: Newton’s first law of motion). And humans are inherently lazy and creatures of habit. If there is more than one way to do something complex, we will almost always take the easy route. That, or shove it in a drawer so we won’t have to look at it.

So when I decided I wasn’t happy with the way I was looking and feeling about my weight for the umpteenth time, I held on tight to my inertia until a friend invited me to a Weight Watchers meeting. 

Why You Should Beware Scores, Predictive Algorithms, and Other Mathematical Mumbo Jumbo

Why You Should Beware Scores, Predictive Algorithms, and Other Mathematical Mumbo Jumbo

There are, the saying goes, three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

We tend to think about that axiom in the context of politics, where people willfully manipulate numbers to suit their beliefs and goals. But statistical analyses in any context are only as perfect as the people who perform them—which is to say that none of them are.

The predictive scores, algorithms, and other mathematical tools that advancement and alumni teams are increasingly using to evaluate alumni engagement and likelihood to make a gift often obscure reality and, as a result, counterproductively warp our priorities and strategies.

Every engagement or affinity score, or algorithm, or survey result is one or more steps removed from reality. What happens to these numbers in the intervening steps is what makes them powerful, but it is also what should make us wary. Here’s why.

A Lack of Professional Development Resources is Killing Constituent-Facing Offices in Higher Ed

A Lack of Professional Development Resources is Killing Constituent-Facing Offices in Higher Ed

Every month, we hear from folks in higher ed who are interested in Switchboard not because of what our company does, but because of what we have done—move from higher education to the private sector. Professionals in constituent-facing offices like career services, student affairs, alumni relations, and advancement want to know how they can transition from higher education, too.

This quiet, looming exodus is as frightening to watch as it is frustrating. It's frightening because institutions are losing the talent they need to succeed and survive in the changing higher ed landscape. It's frustrating because we know it is preventable.

When people leave their jobs, they each have their own reasons for moving on. But everyone we've spoken to shares one reason in common: a lack of professional development resources at their institution.

It's a huge problem, but we'll try to keep it brief. Here are four reasons why a dearth of professional development funding and opportunities is hollowing out constituent-facing offices.