Using Technology to Transform Advancement in Higher Education

There’s hardly an industry that hasn’t been touched by the effects of COVID-19, but higher education has arguably felt the shock waves more than most. Advancement teams, tasked with fundraising, alumni relations, recruitment and marketing, have needed to display remarkable resilience in the ways they connect with stakeholders and support a newly hybrid-remote workforce.

Sherri Furman, vice president, chief financial officer, treasurer at the University of Iowa Center for Advancement, and Dr. Diana Oblinger, president emeritus, EDUCAUSE, recently joined a virtual discussion hosted by Docusign and studioID to share their thoughts on the role of technology in transforming the advancement function, helping to build closer ties to donor communities and enabling advancement team members working in hybrid-remote models.

Finding a starting point for digital transformation

The UI Center for Advancement, located in Iowa City, has over 60 fundraising staff who travel through the state, the country and even internationally to connect with donors and friends of UI. According to Furman, in response to the pandemic, the Center has prioritized the safety of its current staff and introduced new ways to engage and stay in touch with its donors and friends.

After ensuring staff was able to work productively from home, the Center began to rethink processes to make work easier and more efficient for its remote workforce. Two major roadblocks were too much paper and the need for physical signatures on many business related documents. Fortunately, the team had already begun to look for technology solutions to assist with these challenges. During the search, one of their main requirements was that the solution needed to be a “low lift” for staff and IT. As luck would have it, they were already evaluating Docusign CLM (Contract Lifecycle Management) just before the pandemic hit. Adoption of Docusign CLM was a first step in their digital transformation and the timing couldn’t have been better due to the heightened need for digital process.

EDUCASE is a nonprofit association whose mission is to advance higher education through the use of information technology. President Emeritus Oblinger suggests that when considering technology investments, instead of asking where you can implement technology for technology’s sake, leaders should think about where teams can eliminate unnecessary effort to free up time for what matters most: “Digital transformation isn’t just about technology; it’s about thinking differently.” 

Oblinger added that since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s become increasingly important to support our workforce by giving them the space to deal with the unexpected. Where are people overwhelmed? What are the processes that can be automated to give relief to a taxed workforce, how can manual processes be turned into digital processes so that team members can reclaim valuable time? Many administrative staff are struggling with too much paper to process, complex rules and incomplete information. As an example, the steps required to negotiate and book a major gift are complex and time consuming, involving multiple groups and approvals – both inside and outside of the organization. Identifying and simplifying existing processes and reducing paperwork are good first goals for digital transformation. The benefits can go beyond time savings: compliance and legal risk can be reduced and reporting streamlined.

Using technology to break down silos and increase transparency

For the fundraising arm of any advancement team, reaching people where they are goes beyond the donor experience into how internal teams collaborate. For example, how can technology be used to improve work streams that traverse multiple groups and increase transparency? Some advancement teams can have more than 150 employees – that means that there’s probably room for improved collaboration.

A great example of this is the UI Center for Advancement’s implementation of Docusign CLM to facilitate the donor intent agreement process.

This important step in the fundraising process includes a document that is utilized to administer the gift according to donor intent. As part of their implementation, the team at the UI Center for Advancement first mapped out the gift agreement process to identify weaknesses and areas of improvement, before applying technology to the process. Under the old system, it was a manual, multi-step process, requiring staff to enter information into one system and then re-enter into another system to create a PDF and a Word document for routing. Much of the routing was either done by email or by delivery of a paper document - none of which was possible once the team started working remotely.

Under the new system, 100% of the document creation, routing and approval occurs within Docusign CLM. Once the document has been prepared and gone through internal approvals, the final document is sent via Docusign to the donor who can sign and return via the tool. These efforts allowed the team to develop a repeatable creation and routing process for donor intent documents and make it possible for team members to easily see where the agreement is at any one point in time. This improves communication and visibility so that gift officers know where their agreements are in process and enhances relationships with other departments like the finance and legal teams.

What’s more, the team at the UI Center for Advancement has now identified a number of additional agreements, such as vendor and investment contracts, and non-disclosure agreements that are now on the roadmap to be managed using Docusign CLM.     

Learn more

Watch our on-demand virtual event The Role of Tech in Optimizing Donor Relations During the COVID-19 Era to hear how solutions from Docusign like Docusign CLM can streamline the gift agreement process in an increasingly contactless world.