The regularly scheduled posts on product implementations will be interrupted this week for a view into the early innings of new analysis focused on requests for proposals (RFP). Specifically, this week, we are looking at customer relationship management (CRM) systems and managing relationships with alumni.
Why CRMs? For one, over the last several years CRMs have been of the most sought-after solutions by universities. The rise of CRM in HigherEd reflects an overdue modernization and centralization of managing student engagement across the student lifecycle at many institutions.
Why alumni specifically? The saying goes that you are a student for a while, but you’re an alum for life. Alumni do much more than fill the traditional role of supporting the institution through giving. They are one of the most important groups of prospective students for postgraduate studies, and as technological advances require many to upskill and reskill, institutions are looking for return students. Additionally, alumni play critical roles in the learning and mentorship of current students. Their professional experiences are brought into the classroom and often made a large part of an institution’s career services approach.
Finally, alumni engagement, in the traditional sense of institutional advancement or through career services, is in many ways siloed on campus. This administrative sector has distinct and established functional units and buying centers for technologies with specific needs. As we explored these RFPs, we wanted to see if there were any insights into how institutions envision the implementation of a new CRM to unify or centralize student relationship management across the student lifecycle: from a prospective student to a life-long learner (and donor).
What Are We Seeing in a CRM RFP?
This review considered about 40 RFPs for CRMs issued in the last five years. The RFPs primarily come from public, four-year research institutions enrolling over 10,000 students. In most cases, the RFP was not explicitly seeking a CRM for advancement purposes or admissions. instead, the RFP was simply for a “CRM.”
Many institutions indicated that the CRM must either facilitate and manage relationships with alumni or at least integrate with existing solutions already doing that work. The examples below portray three specific system requirements:
RFPs for CRM from Three Public Institutions:
Large public flagship, over 20k students enrolled:
Describe how the platform can integrate the “life cycle” of the student, from prospecting through alumni engagement…Describe how the platform can integrate and exchange data with our [alumni CRM]. The alumni CRM is provided by Salesforce.
Regional public, over 10k students enrolled
Describe how your CRM manages relationships across the student lifecycle from applicant to enrolled student/donor. In a separate section, identify how your CRM supports activity and functions related to the areas of alumni relations.
Large public, over 20k students enrolled
Describe how the system will connect with current records, including the relationships with prior educational institutions, alumni family, […] employment, […].”
Several schools did not reference alumni in their CRM RFP.
It is worth noting that several large public institutions do not reference alumni in their CRM RFP. This may be due to the fact that alumni engagement is already taken into account by another sector or product and integrated in other workflows, but its absence is still notable.
Potential For Disruption or Another Brick in the Wall?
The review of a few RFPs does not make a trend. Still, it does show how schools are thinking about utilizing technology to understand more about their students and, potentially, break down data and communication silos. There is a saying about best-laid plans to be mindful of here, as realities on campus require much more than even the best technology to effect change.
That said, it is clear that some institutions are actively asking their prospective technology vendors to demonstrate how they can help be a part of an approach to managing student engagement with a centralized solution during enrollment and, for this brief analysis, after graduation.
We did not see any institutions calling on the prospective CRM to take on functions more specific to career services, like connecting students to prospective employers (alumni or not) that platforms like the seemingly ubiquitous Handshake can do. Nor were they asking to create bespoke alumni networks in the ways that companies like PeopleGrove and Almabase are doing. Similarly, more in-depth management of the advancement office, a role most schools look up to Blackbaud for, was not cited in depth within RFPs that were not specific to advancement.
The system requirements to manage student engagement beyond graduation demonstrate high potential for a new CRM. A potential which has, perhaps, been a contributing reason for their increased adoption in recent years.
Could a new CRM, accompanied by a high-level directive for change, help even a large, complex institution to undertake or augment a strategy for student engagement? One that allows administrators across the institution to utilize the full relationship of engagement for current students and alumni through a single solution and to organize and analyze those records for any number of purposes. Similarly, could a new CRM help an institution rethink traditional models of advising?
Such an undertaking would require a strong and visionary institution as well as a technology vendor to reach these outcomes successfully. One would have to demonstrate that it would be worth it for operations, likely in dollars saved, and for staff in less burdensome processes. On the constituent side, for students, it would have to yield improved student success metrics and, for alumni, an increased engagement and enrollment in postgraduate programs.
Alternatively, if a new CRM streamlines communications and improves student engagement, on top of but not necessarily replacing existing technologies and processes, then that, in itself, is of value and being another brick in the wall, which might be just what was needed after all.