Two Coasts – Two Conferences – One Message

Change. According to noted Psychiatrist, RD Laing, “…change is so sped up that we begin to see the present only when it is already disappearing.” Earlier this month I attended two conferences focused on the future of Community Colleges, one in Tampa – one in Anaheim…The consistent message: Change is happening NOW!

At the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship’s (NACCE) Annual Conference in Tampa, speakers consistently noted the rapidity by which change is happening in the community college market today.

  • Free tuition “Promise” programs are spreading throughout the country at an unprecedented rate. Over the past twelve months, the number of states that have some form of a Promise Scholarship Program has tripled to 20.
  • Giving to community colleges, according to the Giving USA 2017 report, rose at a faster rate in 2016 than giving to other education institutions.
  • A recent book, Performance Funding for Higher Education by Kevin Dougherty, determined that over the past three years, performance funding, which ties state financial support of colleges and universities to institutional performance, has been adopted by more than 30 states.

Formal and informal discussions at the NACCE Conference focused on how free tuition programs, plus increased interest from individual funders, plus shifting funding metrics will affect resource development efforts in the community college world.

Later that week and 2,500 miles away in Anaheim – the theme of change continued to resonate at the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education’s (CASE) Conference for Community College Advancement. The opening speaker, Rachel Muir posed the following, “The world is changing. Our demographics are changing. We’re in the midst of a dramatic cultural shift, but is organized philanthropy stuck in the past?”

Those Community College’s that are embracing change and NOT looking in the rear-view mirror are finding success in their advancement – development efforts. Specifically, the following three traits seem to be a common theme embedded in these schools. They…

  1. …speak the language of their funders. Successful community college fundraising offices connect, relate, and engage with their funders in areas such as investible outcomes, return on investment, and stewardship.
  2. …create a seamless partnership with regional workforce development efforts. In the eyes of many potential supporters, community college fundraising efforts are inextricably linked to economic growth and covering the employment skills gap.
  3. …look an awful lot like a 4-year college’s development shop. As one speaker at the conference said, “We aren’t your father’s community college fundraising shops anymore!” Diversified, sustainable, and comprehensive giving programs that have annual, major, and planned giving programs sprinkled with aggressive donor cultivation and stewardship efforts are driving these successful programs.

Change: My coast to coast conference jumping between NACCE and CASE opened my eyes that change isn’t coming, it is here now, and it defines our new norm. Are you ready? Convergent walked away from these two conferences arm in arm with colleagues in the community college world knowing that WE will embrace these changes. Most importantly, we walked away confident that our unique approach to fundraising, which focuses on investor motivations, return on investment, and entrepreneurial fundraising, meets the needs and challenges facing the community college industry today and will continue to secure funds in support of our students, colleges, and communities.