Reposted with permission from Don Hasseltine’s LinkedIn series, Coach’s Corner. Read the original article on LinkedIn.

Who would have thought that within two weeks, most advancement teams would be working from home and our institutions would all be teaching on-line? As colleges and universities continue to work through the acute phase of this crisis, my Aspen Leadership Group colleagues and I saw a real need to reach out to Vice Presidents – because it can be lonely at the top – and to talk peer-to-peer to share challenges, successes, and ideas that could be shared more broadly.

I observed from these conversations four key considerations that other Vice Presidents and advancement leaders should be mindful of as they enter the next phase of response:

  1. Keep revenue flowing and keep relationships front and center. Most VPs were confident they would still meet their goals this year. The ones who were confident were continuing to be relationship-centric and high-touch with their donors, board members, and stakeholders.
  2. Even though many have adjusted fairly quickly to remote operations, leaders need to think creatively about how to keep staff motivated beyond this initial period. They need to think from a short-medium and long term-term perspective and continue generating innovative ideas at each step of the way.
  3. With so many unknowns, the focus right now needs to be in the next 90-120 days. What can you control, how can you engage your stakeholders, especially those closets to you, and how can you give your team some stability.
  4. Newer Vice Presidents, and/or senior leaders a tier below them, may need additional guidance and a sounding board to stay on track. Investing in short-term onboarding, executive coaching, or peer cohorts may be critical to their long-term success.

Here is a summary of my conversations. I imagine you will see your institution’s experience reflected in the summary that follows and I hope you will find several of the innovative ideas useful to your team. They also shared 10 creative ideas for keeping programs moving forward.

 Current Status:

  • All are working remotely. All made the transition in about a week.
  • All are delivering on-line classes. Only one institution is still holding classes on campus.
  • All are on crisis management teams and meeting daily with cabinet members and the president. Some are beginning to back off of the daily check-ins and moving to a few times a week.
  • Most have set up emergency funds and are actively raising money to support their students.
  • All have some students on campus, ranging from 30 to 1200.
  • All are now involved in a conversation about the financial implications of this crisis.
  • While most are moving forward with hiring, especially at the senior level, there were a few institutions that have already implemented hiring freezes.
Board of Trustees
  • One university will conduct its foundation board meeting by Zoom next week. Others anticipate having to do the same in April and May
  • Either the president or VP has used the board to gain perspective and guidance on how to proceed with fundraising.
  • All have set up a one on one conversation with board members.
  • Two universities have postponed their spring campaign launches and have not rescheduled at this point.
  • Fifty percent are in a campaign and are not currently planning to change the timing or goal at this time.
  • Everyone has made it a priority to reach out to donors and have check-in calls.
  • Some are progressing with gift conversations. It was noted that not everyone is experiencing this financially in the same way.
  • Many have adjusted their metrics to include substantive outreach by phone.
  • Some have eliminated metrics for the remainder of the year.
  • A few universities had received 7-figure gifts to support student initiatives.
  • Some have postponed commencement and reunion.
  • Mixed response regarding moving forward with Giving Days — some will conduct a giving day and adjust message toward student emergency fund and current use funding; others are taking a wait and see approach before rescheduling.
  • A few noted the use of town hall meetings on Zoom to talk with their staff and top donors.
  • Some are creating or expanding on-line events such as book clubs and happy hours.

Top 10 Creative Ideas:

  1. Use phonathon callers (who are working from home) to reach out to their over-65 alumni population to check-in.
  2. Conduct a virtual 5K run and share stories and videos of the experience.
  3. Create a digital outlet for alumni and friends to share their experiences during the crisis.
  4. Once annual fund and major gifts staff have called all of their top prospects, shift their outreach to support the admission’s efforts and/or reach out to alumni to help seniors find jobs/internships.
  5. Set goals for the number of contacts per week; one institution had a 1000 this past week.
  6. Have the president conduct a weekly Zoom call with your top prospects.
  7. If you need to postpone Commencement, develop programming that week that celebrates that class and reinforces ties to the college/university.
  8. Create an opportunity for Reunion Classes, especially older ones, to gather by Zoom.
  9. Offer the opportunity for parents to gift the room and board reimbursement back to the college. A few institutions have had success with this and little push back.
  10. Have your research team focus on industries that are making money at this time and match it with alumni in those industries.

Most importantly, all emphasized the multiple pressures their teams were facing, from transitioning to work at home environment, the health of family and friends, the security of their jobs, and the general stress of living in an unknown future. The takeaway message was: lead with empathy, look for silver linings where you can and celebrate them, stay steady, and make sure to take time for renewal. Sound advice, indeed. Please add to the list of creative ideas and let me know how you are doing.

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