Universities across the globe face challenges with successful digital transformation and what it means for their fundraising and alumni data, legacy systems, data literacy, and access to skills. This highlights the importance of making the most of higher education advancement technology with effective collaboration across advancement leaders, CIOs, CTOs and CITOs. Philanthropy and external engagement must be given the right importance and focus from the get-go.

In this article, we share the top insights from Dan Keyworth’s white paper, Higher Education Advancement Technology, to help you make the most of your advancement technology solutions. Dan is the vice-president of customer success modernization and managing director of International Markets Group at Blackbaud and has years of experience working in the higher education space.

Keeping Up with the Global Technology Trends

To achieve sustainable digital transformation, universities are increasingly focused on converting their system of record into a true system of action, with embedded insights and heavy automation. The goal is to make it easier to act upon the vast amounts of data these institutions have.

Considering today’s innovations, an advancement system is–or should be–much more than a repository of data. As a key enabler to income generation growth and enhanced engagement with largest and most diverse external audiences, it is essential that fundraising teams harness a smart customer relationship management (CRM) that supports the ‘orchestration’ or automation of their work. Leveraging this kind of modern technology helps universities empower that audience of a hundred-thousand-plus alumni and supporters to give their time, their talent, and ultimately, their treasure in support of the university’s mission.

An encouraging trend is the increasingly weighted commitment to engagement beyond just philanthropic benefits (treasure), with institutions acknowledging the value of alumni and other friends as volunteers (time) and advisors (talent) to help drive university priorities. Drivers vary from widening access and participation; to career mentoring and networking; to business, civic, or community engagement; to continuous learning; and more. It cannot and should not be all about fundraising.

However, despite being well-positioned on areas like privacy, cyber security and payments compliance, many universities have barely begun to scratch the surface of truly empowering and engaging their audiences into action – whether for fundraising or engagement. Luckily, better technology solutions are now there to support sustainable growth, and recent innovations make these systems even stronger.

In fact, we have seen a drastic rise in tools powered by artificial intelligence (AI). The popularity of these tools is not surprising. Educational institutions have an abundance of data, but they are often challenged by making sense of it in the most effective ways possible. As AI grows smarter by the day, it has become the most efficient and effective tool available to make the most of that data without dedicating hours of human resources.

As such, no longer can we think of our advancement system as just a ‘database’. It needs to be much more, and fundraising leaders must embrace and champion this as a core priority.

Boosting Opportunities with Advancement Technology

A top priority for universities seeking to make the most of their solutions or build a business case for advancement technology is to represent sustained investment as a key enabler to income generation growth and wider engagement. Critically, advancement is a revenue generator, even if it requires initial investment. With this in mind, advancement leaders cannot defer technology decisions solely to their teams but should open the discussion amongst their fellow university leaders.

We collectively need to champion that advancement is not an ‘either/or’ between human relationship management, and technology and data-driven interaction – the best operations blend both.

Let’s take a look at how you can make the most of your advancement technology to create such blended strategy!

1.   Collaborate

Progress in leveraging advancement technology is all about partnership. The most successful universities are typically those where advancement and technology teams work as strong partners, and embrace integrating key suppliers into the process too. Collaboration helps achieve the combined goals of the institution, with deep understanding of the pivotal role of fundraising and alumni engagement and what is needed to ensure a positive return on investment.

Digital transformation is the full integration of digital tools across every part of an institution – it is a cultural transformation that puts new ways of working at the heart of what you do. All departments across the university must be invested in the vision of what can be achieved, including advancement. Fundraising must be a key partner/lead, as this team has one of the clearest pathways to advancing the institution’s mission.

Institutions can achieve much more when they build bridges across departments, and with suppliers, to partner together closely, understanding that the benefits of sharing data and insights whilst advancing their core business priorities far outweigh the costs.

2.   Balance Expectations and Resources

Every university has a mission, and income generation and external engagement are two key enablers of that mission. At the same time, of course, most face significant challenges around costs and must be prudent stewards of their university’s resources. However, the goal of university IT and finance with respect to advancement should not be simply to reduce costs, which results in far lower ROI.

Yet it is not just about cost – time matters too. Some universities have spent several years trying to achieve cross-student lifecycle transformations without any meaningful progress in delivering fundraising improvements. That has a material negative effect on the university’s mission, by delaying significant growth in income that could otherwise propel other initiatives and positively change the lives and success of all students, teachers, researchers, and other beneficiaries.

As such, the best IT programmes effectively balance time, resource, scope, and risk, with a clear set of milestones that focus on propelling the advancement team forward quickly and acknowledge the significant cost of delaying the development office’s time ‘in the sun’.

3.   Enhance Your Vendor Relationship

Go-live is just the first phase of your perpetual programme, focused on getting the most value out of your technology and data. In a cloud-first world, your supplier should proactively help you with this as a part of your annual subscription.

Universities should invest in vendors and solutions that are motivated to drive long‑term success, with advancement as a priority. By investing in partners that can develop, implement, support, and deliver value, and bring annual innovation, you lower the expectation and cost upon your team to have niche skills or become in‑house software developers.

Ask what your supplier spends on annual product development specifically focused on fundraising and determine whether they will regularly spend time with you discussing how best to adopt this innovation.

Having that same supplier relationship across all stages of the technology lifecycle ensures access to external expertise on an ongoing basis. You want interoperability, yes, but with a single point of accountability. Ultimately leverage your supplier as a partner. Lean into relationships with vendors that invest to help you succeed.

4.   Build Your Team

The world has changed multiple times over the last five years, and that will continue. Your technology and data need to be one of your key enablers in this ever-changing world. So, the most obvious point is to prepare and be ready for that continuous change management, with solutions for advancement that will keep pace with an ever-changing world.

As such, invest in people who embrace change and have a continuous change mindset. There is value in recruiting and retaining those who can drive collaboration, break down silos, and win ‘hearts and minds’ across and beyond your institution.


Social good matters. Our ability to have social impact on the world has never been so great, nor so important. We must all be champions and ambassadors for the importance of advancement – of philanthropy and fundraising for greater income generation to higher education, and of the pivotal role of engagement to inspire, empower, and engage our alumni and other audiences around the world. These are, or should be, non-negotiable priorities for every university, with technology and data as key enablers of that vision.

To learn more about how to enhance engagement and leverage your advancement technology to its fullest potential, read the Higher Education Advancement Technology white paper today.

The post Harnessing Higher Education Advancement Technology to the Fullest first appeared on The ENGAGE Blog.