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Articles > Community Comment > Community Comment: Q&A with Alastair Lee, Director & Founder of AlumGrow Consultancy

Community Comment: Q&A with Alastair Lee, Director & Founder of AlumGrow Consultancy

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?

From what I am observing with our AlumGrow clients and many other education providers, the advancement community has been truly magnificent in the way it has responded to the pandemic. In a noticeably short space of time, it was able to adjust quickly and pivot to 100% digital engagement with minimal disruption to marketing, fundraising and alumni programs. This need for ‘on the run’ innovation has led to advancement professionals having to carefully assess and reimagine their future roles and practices - which can only be a positive for the sector in the long term.

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?
Major gift fundraising and capital campaigns certainly have been adversely affected due to COVID restrictions impacting on the ability to interact face-to-face with donor prospects. Despite the many advantages of digital technology, personal one-on-one contact with major donors is still so vital to help build the necessary trust and affinity touchpoints needed to achieve fundraising success. In Australia, the biggest challenge for the advancement sector is undoubtably the impact of the massive job cuts by universities, as the impact of closed international borders has significantly reduced revenue streams. Having been at the forefront of helping to build the sector over the last two decades here, I fear that it is going to take many years to rebuild our advancement departments and reimagine culture and skillsets across the country. This will likely mean some vital sector growth opportunities may be missed.

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?
The last eighteen months have provided the perfect storm when it comes to annual fundraising programs in education. Globally all the industry statistics are showing significant increases in annual giving because the case for support is naturally so strong around the concept of
economic hardship - thanks to the pandemic. I’ve been finding too that the other major explanation for this increase, is that annual giving programs are easier and less costly to run so ultimately provide quicker access to ‘now’ revenue more than other giving programs. This has led education leaders to be more willing to provide the necessary resources to tap into this revenue to then be able to offer more bursaries to families and students doing it tough. In a sense it has brought education communities closer together. My only reservation is that it could have the unintended consequence of reenforcing leadership attitudes when it comes to donor engagement where they can often view fundraising as being based on transactions rather than the long-term donor relationship.


The here and now
Have you spoken to any contacts recently who have taken the opportunity to change their ways of working, are employing new tactics or trialing alternative techniques?

The changes ushered in by the pandemic should really have occurred years ago and are now hopefully here to stay. I am seeing so many colleagues embracing new online engagement practices and work-from-home options rather than previous resource intensive forms of engagement with stakeholders such as face-to-face events or spending precious hours in a train or car travelling for work that could otherwise be better spent on achieving optimal work-life balance.

When it comes to stakeholder engagement too, in the past it was always a last resort to use online tactics - and usually only it was done when department budget cutbacks necessitated it. The pandemic has shown that online engagement such as alumni webinars, giving days and virtual open days are just as effective and can even increase program ROI and customer experience results.

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?

I hope that senior leaders in the education sector come to see advancement as a more indispensable component of institutional revenue generation into the future. As advancement professionals we simply must find more impactful ways to educate senior leadership about the long-term benefits of advancement programs - particularly around the theme of institutional financial stability and self-reliance.

What kind of message would you like to send to your peers and professional network inthe coming months - what is motivating you, and have you found a silver lining?
Given our current industry challenges, it is important for all advancement professionals to support each another and seek to actively share ideas, frustrations, challenges, and successes with each other for the overall betterment of the profession. I encourage all professionals working in advancement to view it as the true and impactful profession that it can be, and work to support and nurture new generations coming through, to ensure the sector continues to grow and provides even greater opportunities for the organisations, communities, and people they serve into the future.

Education advancement specialist Alastair Lee is the Founding Director of AlumGrow Consultancy, where he assists education providers to generate more alumni support, fundraising revenue and enrolment enquiries using his exclusive DevelopmentPro Growth Framework™.
Prior to establishing AlumGrow in 2020, he held many senior leadership positions over two decades in the tertiary education and private school sectors in Australia with Deakin University, University of Tasmania, and Sacré Cœur P-12 Girls School. He founded Deakin’s international award-winning advancement program in 2004.

For more information about Alastair and AlumGrow Consultancy visit

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