3 Major Higher Ed Takeaways from bbcon 2020 Virtual

We recently wrapped up our first fully virtual and truly global conference, bbcon 2020This year, we welcomed a record-breaking 38,000+ registrants from 70 countries and we’re proud to say higher ed was the largest group in attendance. Over 6,000 professionals representing departments across campus, including advancement, marketing, financial aid, academic leadership and more, from private and public 2-year and 4-year institutions.  

If you were unable to attend the conference, we hope you can use the summary below to inspire thoughtful conversations at your institution and help in your planning for the new year.  


1. Fundraising during a global pandemic 

It’s no secret that the world is going through significant change and fundraising best practices are not exempt from that. Ensuring fundraising success is more important than ever and our team at Blackbaud is monitoring the latest trends coming out of our Blackbaud Fundraiser Performance Management community to help our customers stay relevant and innovative.  

Recent data shows that total commitments and donor retention are both down in 2020.  So how do we combat this? Throughout bbcon, we heard time and again from customers how theyre finding new ways to drive giving. Whether it’s rethinking how they contact their donors, the language they use on donor calls, where theyre directing their funds, or even how theyre partnering with students to drive donor engagement. Institutions are getting creative and finding ways to come out of this pandemic stronger than ever.  


2. Mastering change management to usher in digital transformation 

Change management is always an important topic at bbcon as we strive to help our customers implement successful solutions on their campus. Regardless of whether it’s new technology, a new staffing model, or even a small adjustment to a process, adoption and success can hinge on keeping a focus on the human element of the change. Blackbaud’s Mike Reardon shared some tips for finding success with change management at your institutions. 

  • Define the problem and the “why”. It’s important to understand where you want to go and where you find yourself currently. This enables you to develop a change management plan.  
  • Get the right stakeholders involved and keep them involved. Executive sponsorship and senior leadership are key to success during a change 
  • Conduct an impact analysis and use it! Understanding the landscape and the culture where the change is being made is key. Understand your audience, listen to the different views, and then invest in stakeholder’s confidence through early engagement and consistent communication.  


3. Streamlining communication for your audience 

Whether it’s donors or students, clear and streamlined communication is key for engaging with your stakeholders especially during these socially distant timesLauren Janney, Foundation Relations and Scholarship Coordinator at Cape Fear Community College Foundation, shared how they are using the new texting functionality in their award management solution to connect with their scholarship applicants and recipients in a new way. She emphasized the importance of reaching out to students in a way that works for them and texting is helping her meet that need.  

Kristine Miller, Program Manager at Gonzaga University, shared her experience utilizing their fundraising software to develop a data-driven, multi-channel approach to fundraising. She shared her strategy for reaching donors across multiple communication platforms including by phone, direct mail, and email and finding the right technology to help manage this process has been paramount to their success.  


bbcon 2020 featured 1higher education focused sessions, many led by customers and industry experts 

  • Chris Krackeler, President and GM of Higher Education at Blackbaud, led a panel discussion of industry experts for our Higher Ed Super Session. James Wiley of Eduventures, Cara Giacomini of CASE, and Jamie Harper of Microsoft participated in the discussion and shared their insights. To learn more check out Chris’s super session recap 
  • The scholarship team from the University of Wisconsin – Madison shared how theutilize technology to streamline their scholarship awarding process across different offices on campus. They shared the importance of high-quality technology and communication in allowing them to minimize barriers, spur creativity, and increase collaboration across campus. 
  • Blackbaud’s Steph McCluskey broke down all the hype around alumni participation rates and encouraged us to shift our focus to maximizing our donors instead. She argued that, due to large class sizes, you may see your alumni base growing without actually seeing your alumni participation rate growing. For many institutions, it may be almost impossible to make headway here. While Steph doesn’t want you to ignore this metric completely, she encourages institutions to focus their energy on increasing their dollars by maximizing their current donors.  
  • Jeremy Wang, Associate VP of Development at Temple University, shared real-life examples for increasing your gift officer productivityHe encouraged the audience to create a “Major Gift Framework” that would help drive impact. This framework consists of 1) Focusing on the right people, 2) Visiting with the intent to fundraise, and 3) Using proposals to plan the work 
  • Blackbaud’s Carrie Goldberger shared practical tips for utilizing the Blackbaud Award Management (BAM) API to streamline your process and ensure you are using the most up-to-date information to make awarding decisions. The API’s make it possible for you the seamlessly bring in fund disbursement data into your Student Information System. You can partner with your campus IT department to get them set up and chat with your Blackbaud account executive to learn more. 

Missed out on bbcon this year? You can still access session recordings until November 18 by registering at the bbcon website. You can also explore additional resources around these topics on the Blackbaud Higher Education content hub. We hope to see you next year!