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Articles > Community Comment > Community Comment: Q&A with Neil McWhannell, CEO of Educate Plus

Community Comment: Q&A with Neil McWhannell, CEO of Educate Plus

Perspectives on the post-pandemic advancement & development landscape

ToucanTech's Community Comment series provides a view of how community management is evolving, from a range of experts around the world.

The past year

How has your professional community responded to the unique challenges that we have faced during the global pandemic? What do you think the biggest challenges have been for the professionals you interact with?

As a small and agile organisation, we immediately pivoted to offer our support services and professional development to online. We originally had a goal of providing 4 webinars in 2020, but ended up offering over 80 with well over 3000 registrations. Our people crave personal interaction so this has been a hard time for them. During the darkest times we set up an 'Adopt a Victorian' program which paired other members with those struggling during the extended lockdowns.

What impact are you aware of on the ultimate causes behind the communities you are in contact with - have people, campaigns, or goals been put at risk, or suffered as a result?

Many institutions have continued to run most successful fundraising programs. However, some have decided to put major giving programs on hold. Our recent member survey showed 78% had retained all their staff, 9% had an increase in staff and 14% saw a reduction in their advancement staff. 69% had an increased professional development budget, 1% kept the same and 30% saw their professional development budgets decreased.

On the other hand, do you have any examples of success stories or anecdotes about positive outcomes that have emerged from operating differently during the COVID era?

As a result of our quick pivoting and the offering of significant online professional development opportunities and training, we have seen an increase in overall member interaction and our membership numbers have remained the same.

The here and now

Are you seeing any marked change in how networks have started to reinstate in-person engagement practices in recent months, or during periods where restrictions are lifted?

As soon as restrictions are lifted, our various Chapters spring back to life and experience strong attendance at face to face events.

Are you aware of any communities that are thriving, and whose fundraising efforts have pivoted or even been facilitated by an increase in online engagement?

Many of our member institutions have flourished in this period with enrolment figures increasing in many instances. Many of them have run successful online fundraising programs.

In the future

Whilst it’s tricky to predict, do you foresee any long-lasting outcomes for fundraising and community engagement operations or initiatives that your community would welcome?

Whilst many will still use traditional fundraising strategies, I see a further increase in online fundraising.

Are you expecting to celebrate more online/digital admin or engagement solutions in your everyday, and how could this change your relationship with your colleagues/clients?

We will retain some online options for professional development and training but most will return to face to face – this is what our members crave and appreciate the most.

What kind of message would you like to send to your peers and professional network in the coming months - what is motivating you, and have you found a silver lining?​​​​​​​

Remain positive. We will get through this and the future will be bright. See you in Adelaide in 2022 for our International Conference.


ToucanTech is an all-in-one community software, combining data management, member engagement, and public or private online platforms. Connect your network and consolidate administration using a customisable and easy-to-use solution, built for community managers. 

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