Edtech Insiders

Building Affinity in Education Communities Lori Stirling of Affinaquest

April 24, 2023 Season 5 Episode 15
Building Affinity in Education Communities Lori Stirling of Affinaquest
Edtech Insiders
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Edtech Insiders
Building Affinity in Education Communities Lori Stirling of Affinaquest
Apr 24, 2023 Season 5 Episode 15

Lori Stirling is the Senior Vice President of Advancement Strategy at Affinaquest, a SaaS solution that empowers higher education and non-profit organizations to boost revenue and fundraising, enhance constituent engagement, and drive operational efficiencies through data.

Advancement RM is Affinaquest's CRM software built on the Salesforce platform to meet the complex needs of Advancement teams. It is designed to improve fundraising and build stronger relationships by creating a seamless donor experience. 



Show Notes Transcript

Lori Stirling is the Senior Vice President of Advancement Strategy at Affinaquest, a SaaS solution that empowers higher education and non-profit organizations to boost revenue and fundraising, enhance constituent engagement, and drive operational efficiencies through data.

Advancement RM is Affinaquest's CRM software built on the Salesforce platform to meet the complex needs of Advancement teams. It is designed to improve fundraising and build stronger relationships by creating a seamless donor experience. 



Alexander Sarlin:

Welcome to Season Two of edtech insiders, where we talk to the most interesting thought leaders, founders, entrepreneurs, educators, and investors, driving the future of education technology. I'm your host, Alex Sarlin, an edtech veteran with over 10 years of experience at top edtech company. Lori Stirling is the Senior VP of advancement strategies at Affinaquest, where she represents the company as the industry leader in advancement, ensuring product innovation, product success and working with clients. For those who might not be familiar with the industry term advancement in higher ed. It refers to the work of building affinity between the institution and its constituents that includes fundraising, alumni relations, and any communications designed to keep the university community engaged. So a little bit about Affinaquest. It's a suite of solutions for both higher ed institutions and collegiate athletic programs. It offers BI data analytics and CRM software to help higher ed institutions and athletic programs, build and enhance relationships with their fans, alumni, donors and friends. And a quick note about this episode. If you hear about a fan of quest for the first time through this episode of The Tech insiders podcast, check out their website at authentic quest.com/ei That's Affinaquest? And no, there's no affiliate or money changing hands here. We're just for referral purposes. We want to know that you are coming to their site through at Tech insiders. Enjoy the podcast where we talk about affinity advancement and how to build relationships as an edtech. Company. Lori Stirling Welcome to Ed Tech insiders.

Lori Stirling:

Thank you, Alex. Thank you for having me.

Alexander Sarlin:

Yeah, it's nice to have you here. So first off, give our listeners a little background on your ed tech journey you come from the advancement worlds, which is something that we don't often have guests from, and I'd love to hear more about it. You've been a consultant for a Lucien you were at Babson College, tell us about your background, and how you got into this field?

Lori Stirling:

Well, it's actually very odd and interesting, I think most people fall into advancement, which is what happened to me as well. I'm a girl who has a degree in fine art. And so how I got into advancement and technology is a bit of a is a bit of a journey. And it's in its own right, I really started working for nonprofits, and working with committees and operational work and fundraising work kind of on the side that was kind of secondary. And it really was a gentle way into it. Because when I first started, I was not expected to do anything with technology. But on my first day, the company or the group that I was working with, was getting their converted data back back when it came on floppy disks. And I don't mean the little ones, I mean, the big ones. So they had trouble. And so they sat me in a corner and said, Go look at this stuff. And pretty soon I had read through all that. And pretty soon I was curious about what they were all looking at. And for me the technology is very, it's a visual thing. And once you start to see it and see patterns, maybe that's where that art degree really paid off. But to me, it was a lot of data, a lot of patterns. And it started to make sense in a way that it probably didn't to everybody else who was sitting around the table, fretting about what they were going to do, because it didn't flow for them that day. And that's really how it started. I moved into universities, because they I thought had better technology and more things to play with. And a curious mind can't help themselves, but want to play with more technology. You know, bigger organizations move a little bit slower. So while they might have some better technology, how it gets deployed, and how fast you get to play with it, you know, may or may not have really been as fast as I assumed it was, that might be a little bit of gullible on my part because I was young and, and gullible. But, but that's how I started my career in technology and fundraising.

Alexander Sarlin:

Yeah, for our younger listeners, this is there used to be this crazy thing called a floppy disk are two different sizes of them. And one was actually floppy, and the other was actually solid and hard, but they still called it a floppy disk. And a hard drive was still in the computer. This is like ancient history and computer land, but it was I grew up with those to it. It's fun to think about them. Well. Before we go any further. Laurie, I want to make sure that you define what advancement means in relation to higher education because we're going to use that word a lot today and not a word that's familiar to everybody.

Lori Stirling:

Absolutely. So most every university organization has an advancement office and advancement really is kind of combined of three or four different areas. It's really about relationship building. Most people come to a university for their for possibly Five year experience, maybe they go on and do a masters or a PhD degree. And most people think of it as that chunk of time. But in fact, what advancement really does is look to create that lifelong relationship between alumni, parents, friends of the organizations, for hoster reasons. It could be career development, where they're looking for mentors for students, or it could be internship possibilities, it could be really connecting people back together to the university to speak to really help people help generationally, if you think about it that way, really engage, ultimately, that might result in a gift. And if you've been watching the papers, or your blogs, in your in the news, universities do not make all of their money, and in fact, are probably underwater, if they only based it on tuition, charitable donations, will play a huge part into keeping the universities and colleges vibrant and developing new new aspects of the University in the College new programs, new top tracks, new degree areas that you wouldn't normally explore, because you don't have the funds for it, or you're not sure that it's really going to become something that you want to build into the pedagogy for the for the university.

Alexander Sarlin:

Yeah. So, you know, you're mentioned relationship building, and it's sort of like advancement is a relationship building over time for a variety of different reasons, often in relationship to donations and fundraising, but not not entirely. It can be other types of relationships, and a finish quest builds technology that supports this type of relationship building, it's about building affinity between a nonprofit, a university, a college athletic program, and the alumni of those programs or their communities that are around them. I'm sure you can speak to this. So, you know, unpack this a little for us, you know, what is the word affinity mean, in this context, you have alumni giving back in various ways to their schools, or to their college sports teams? And how does technology support this type of relationship?

Lori Stirling:

It's funny, I think of it a little bit like the ultimate dating matchmaking program, you know, people want to be connected in some way, shape, or form, maybe they want to be connected through sports, maybe they want to be connected through the music department. You know, somebody helped a student, make that next step in their career. And maybe you want to give back, we are a culture of giving back is part of our DNA. When the Mayflower hit the New World, the captain of the ship, looked at everybody and said, you know, you're only gonna survive together, you're gonna get back together. So you have to help your friend, you have to help your neighbor. And so it's kind of in our DNA to help people you know, grow and go forward. And as a culture, I think it's a it's a beautiful thing, because a civilization only gets better as its population grows and as and as better. And so when you think about affinity building, what you're really talking about is, how do you connect people, which is where I say it's a little bit like the ultimate, you know, relationship dating matchmaking, because you're looking to connect people together for a host of reasons. It could be, let's be honest, we're a little self serving, it could be that your business is looking for, you know, new staff, you might need interns, you might need some sort of help. And you're looking for different ways to recruit people. There's a different relationship there. It could be that you're trying to just give people advice on how to get into an industry. You know, I may not have a position today. But people are always curious about how, how to get into fundraising, it could be that you're looking for peer to peer relationships, I want to meet with like minded people, because I want to advance something, I want to talk to somebody about the crazy interesting ideas I have. And that might not be my husband, or my brothers, or my best friend who might think my ideas are crazy, but I think they're really good. And I want to talk to like minded people. And so there's a whole host of ways and means that people want to connect. And why not at your university, because it's far more interesting than at say, you know, the neighborhood bar, right, you're not going to get the same kind of responses, you're not going to be able to advance the conversation in the same way. They might not enlighten you to, you know, turn on a light switch to think about something different. Whereas people from your university might, and it could be professors, it could be your classmates, it could be students, it could be any of those things. So engaging people is just, again, part of our DNA and, and a Fennec quest is really designed to help do that. It does that through communities and it's a fan of Quest was a CRM that is built on the Salesforce platform. But we build other things on that we build online communities we build calling programs. And while many organizations calling programs are going a little bit to the wayside, the reality is peer to peer calling is getting more popular all the time. And so being able to connect people and grab those, those details and help them make those connections is all part of what we do.

Alexander Sarlin:

Yeah, I'd love to dig into this your comment about the calling because this is an interesting technology, that sort of, as you say, it's building affinity. It's building allegiances, it's building communities, which is something we know that technology, you know, has been striving to do in variety of ways for quite a while with every kind of social media you can imagine, for better or worse. But it also works, as you say, like a customer relationship management system where you're trying to reach certain people or make sure that they're nurtured or that they're in the loop or that they're being reminded to connect to their university and all of these different ways. And I'd love to understand a little bit about how you combine the sort of salesy aspect of advancement with the community aspect of advancement, because it feels like those could be at odds, but they, you know, played right, they could actually go together.

Lori Stirling:

That's right. It's well known in the lot of reports and statistics from consulting firms across the country around the greatest number of dollars come from volunteers. So if you volunteer for an organization, you're likely to get back to that organization. And there's also a lot of things in the in the news about how philanthropy is really not available to the common man, which is just a lie. Because we all give back in some way, shape or form, we might not be, we might not all be Bill Gates and be able to give, you know, millions and millions and millions of dollars. But there's a truth to every dollar makes a difference on how things progress. And so when we think about you know how to engage people, and how to get them connected to the university, it's, it's a journey for them. It's a journey that you need to lay out. And in the meantime, you've got this data that you want to collect, or you should want to collect, because the data is really going to tell you where somebody is interested in. If I never open an email, or I never engaged on a topic, say I don't know, hockey, I might hate hockey, might love football, I might, that might be the the conversation point to see even pick up the phone, I might really love the music department and go to every small concert that's going on. It really just depends on what your interest areas are? And are you collecting the kinds of information that can help you engage people faster, and the things that they care about? Because they're bombarded with information? I mean, I'm sure in your inbox, there's 101 different emails, you're thinking, why don't we get this, I want to engage on the topics that that are meaningful to me. And the reality is, meaning changes over time. Because, again, when you're a student, it's four to five years that you really, your focus is different. But as an alum, you're talking about 40 to 50 years of engagement. And I would hope that people's interests change over 50 years, because we're dynamic creatures, and we grow and learn and, and things get more interesting. And so being able to meet people in the interest areas that they have at the time. That becomes really powerful. Yeah,

Alexander Sarlin:

I imagine that technology solution would be much more effective than, you know, a set of paper files, in terms of using data, remembering what every single person engages on what their relationship is to the school or the athletic program. And that providing insights to an advancement services within a university to about how to sort of reach these different groups with the interest that they have expressed and with a communication media that they've expressed, has a huge effect on their on their ability to keep these communities alive.

Lori Stirling:

Not only that, but you know, as you look at somebody's lifelong journey, there are things that you don't know necessarily know about them. They have no indication along the way. I made a graduated with a degree in fine art. But, you know, my father died of cancer and cancer research is really important to me. You would never know that without really gauging what is it that I'm responding to? What do I open? What do I not open? What do I What events I show up to? What kind of conversations I have with peers? What do I say to the alumni officer who's asking you to volunteer for something? I might be a very big donor to cancer research, even though the art department might be you know, my true Love, but these are the important things that data and these and the CRM helps you, you know, understand, so that you can move things forward and help people with research with all kinds of things.

Alexander Sarlin:

Yeah, I really like your point that, you know, if you base your assumptions about people on what they did in college, or what you know about them, from the time you were most closely connected, you may be missing the boat on the evolution of their life, which can happen in every different direction. I want to sort of generalize this a little bit, because I think the points you're making a really interesting and could be very relevant to many of our listeners, whether they're in higher ed or not. I think every company, and every organization and nonprofit is interested in building and maintaining relationships with the people that they contact, it's, you know, as you said, we're all bombarded with information. How do you stand out and actually, you know, have somebody care about opening your email or taking a call or responding to a text or all those things. And some of our listeners are founders of edtech companies, they have subscription models, where they want people to stay engaged, or they have boot camps where they want the alumni to, you know, recommend people to the boot camp and look back with fondness and maybe hire graduates from the boot camp, just like alumni would hire graduates from a university as an expert on affinity and sort of looking at these relationships. And with your background and advancement. What are some of the tips that you would give to any organization that seeking to build and maintain relationships with, with a large group of people who they've sort of been in contact with, if they're alumni or learners or any relationship like that,

Lori Stirling:

you know, it's so interesting, because it really is about analyzing your data, it does go back to that the patterns that you see both good and bad, I think people generally, you know, cue into what they do super well. But the truth is, you need to queue in to the things that are alienating people just as much as you're looking at what's making people respond to something. Because, you know, I was looking at something the other day around, I had to call the cable company because my cable is acting, or my internet was acting up. And it's funny when you call the cable company, how much you get frustrated before you even get to a person. There's a research study on this done by Arizona State, it's really fascinating about how people just get angst before they even get to explaining the problem. And it probably takes you 30 minutes before you get through at all, you know, understanding why people connect and why people don't connect is super important. I think analyzing the data is super important. But you got to collect data. And for years people, people didn't, or they don't understand the value of the data. They may collect data at one one end of an organization but not the other end. And I think that the biggest challenge, or the biggest opportunity missed opportunity is this idea that nobody cares about the data you have, that data might be important to you for a period of time, but that data is important to everybody, maybe downstream. And looking at that data and how people engage with it is going to be really important. When I think about, you know, subscription information, like why do people renew? Why do people what is it that makes them lannoo? Is it just on an auto, you know, on your credit card and just comes every month and you just haven't cancelled it, I'm sure we all have a few of those. We might all have a subscription to that, especially after COVID to maybe some entertainment subscriptions that we probably forgot we had. But understanding, you know, you think about that engagement. I mean, people engage at far different paces than than they really give credit to, for instance, I was with somebody a couple of weeks back, and they are not an alum of that particular school, but they go to their basketball games with their daughters, because it's it's a good family cost effective entertainment for Friday night. So all four kids and the parents go to a basketball game for a university that they have no relationship to, but they love it. They love it because it's cost effective. They can they still go out to dinner, they still it's cheaper than going to the movies, the kids watch the games, they understand the sports. And you look at that and you think about you've got early engagement going on, those children will ultimately wind up at a summer camp at that university. They're going to have affinity long before they touch campus to to actually take a class for their degrees. So those kinds of relationships are critical when you think about engaging somebody across the organization for a long time. I mean, this is from cradle to, you know, you're not even you're not even on campus yet. You're having an engagement, which is totally different than how people have thought about engaging in the past. And so, being aware of all of those data points long before you have that initial you know on campus This tour, if I'm thinking about it from a tourist perspective, but if you think about if you can capture that information, clearly they're coming to more than one game. Clearly, they're not season ticket holders, I asked because I was curious, but they could be for a school that neither parent graduated from. That's kind of powerful.

Alexander Sarlin:

So I want to double click on this, because I think this is such an interesting point, I love your point about, you know, not only recognizing what people do respond to, but recognizing what they don't respond to, and what might be alienating them can't that's very interesting, especially with things like email marketing, you know, it can be very easy to just keep sending emails and wait for the one that works. And you maybe don't realize that you're, you're driving people crazy people try to look at those unsubscribe rates. But you never know, I think when one thing that's particularly interesting about the university use case is that there are some alumni I would imagine, have athletic programs, or have colleges that are high net worth individuals, and where you could actually really dig into the data on just that person, and personalize that campaign directly to them, and meet them exactly where they are. And then of course, there could be these much more aggregated campaigns where you're sending something to, you know, the class of 2020, how do you think about that division between, you know, super personalized, like, we're gonna go for this exact family who goes to the basketball games, versus the campaigns that are trying to sort of meet as many people as possible where they are,

Lori Stirling:

I think it's incredibly important to segment your data and who you're sending messages to, and what that message looks like. Not only is it from a messaging standpoint, it's from every perspective how you're engaging certain people, you know, often when you're thinking about my friend who goes to the, you know, the basketball games at a university, not her own, you're looking at, I won't say hi, Well, that depends on how you wanted to find high wealth. But you know, reasonably well off people could make a significant, you know, gift to an organization wouldn't think twice of writing out a $10,000 check as an annual gift, you know, what you need to when you think about that repetitive year after year, giving kind of the same behavior, how you want to grow that, versus finding that one off, kind of a nugget, right? The person who might show up who has the capacity to make transformational gifts to your organization, you're gonna want to segment off who those folks are, who could make those kinds of significant change transformational gifts, and send them a much different message, you're gonna want to curate those messages in a much different way? No, you're not going to send them the same messages, the message, I'm going to send you, Alex that says, hey, come to my university in a basketball game, I want to get you in the door, I want to get you excited, versus people who are already excited. And then how do I get you more engaged, because it could be that, you know, the basketball team needs new uniforms, it could be that you want to renovate the courts, and you need funding to do that that's perhaps outside what the university really has funding for, especially after the last few years with COVID. And, you know, priority funding projects were not necessarily, you know, an athletic sports floor, or, you know, a music auditorium. It could be that, you know, everybody spent their money and energy and their access funds on ensuring that you could do remote learning, and what that looked like. And so, you know, there's limited budgets and lots of priorities, and if you can offset those priorities, and you can really identify people who have that kind of affinity and grow them through a journey of connecting them and escalating that connectivity in a meaningful way, generally results in some sort of giving back,

Alexander Sarlin:

as I hear you talk about the sort of growing relationships and segmenting and finding the you know, the right message for the right person. It is obviously incredibly important for universities, as you say, it's a big part of their, of their funding. But even for edtech companies, I think there's a really interesting parallel there where it would be, you know, there are particular graduates or learners or, you know, people related to your institution that have had, you know, that have the potential to make sort of transformational differences, like you're saying, to give the equivalent of a transformational gift in edtech, that might not be giving money work. It could be doing some incredible, giving a kind of testimonial and putting it out on their social media and getting you know, 200 of their friends to join this service or something like that. But I love the idea of seeing these different people and that I've sort of crossed your paths with you, and then really trying to figure out Which of them are worth segmenting off and really sort of treating with white glove treatment? And then which, you know, do you need to sort of grow that over time? I'm trying to make the parallels. It's really interesting. What do you make of that?

Lori Stirling:

Think about it from the terms I may have, you know, let's say a full season of football in your football stadium takes, let's say, 50,000 people. So I've got a slew of people who are repeatedly coming to the games. I have people who have season tickets, so we know probably know who they are. We shouldn't know who they are somewhere, right? Do we know what else they're doing on campus? Do we know when they're on campus for career days? Do we know were there other touch points, that they're engaging on the campus at a much bigger level, I often think of as athletics is kind of that gateway. And when we talk about athletics a lot, because well, it's football season, we're all watching football these days or basketball these days. But there's so many other ways that people engage in the on a university setting, that, that you really want to understand how people are are, are they showing up, it may be that they never show up, it may be that, you know, they live hundreds of miles away. And sports has the ability to get on the radio, it's on TV, it's you're gonna get the scores, it's whatever is tight, you know, it may be the big takut at the local neighborhood watering hole. It's a connector for people in a significant way. So I may never be able to come to campus, I can live far away. And in fact, most of my family watches and pays attention to a university that's in the middle of the country. And I live on the east coast. And and yet, that is the talk of the day, how well that particular university does. And when you think about where and how that kind of comes together, where people who have never gone to that university, but they pay attention, I pay attention. I didn't go to that university, either. My older brother did, but I pay attention because that's where my family is paying attention. And it's a big conversation point. And it's not just like my immediate family, the cousins and the cousins, wives and the it is the tack of the state. Right. But I live far away. So you know, am I buying family? I'm not going to a game. am I buying fan gear? Am I you know, cluing into other ways? Am I looking at their website? Again, I didn't attend. So how are you engaging someone like me who, you know, is far away. But you know, there are ways to know that I'm spending 1000s of at by everybody, you know, T shirts and hats every year, right? It's the perfect gift and they never get tired of it. How do you look at all those pieces, I might be the really, really wealthy relative, who never went to school there who buys all kinds of high end gear and wants to make a difference. Because my little nieces and nephews or cousins might all be going there.

Alexander Sarlin:

It's so interesting to hear you break it down. And I want to talk about the athletic use case a little more, because it's so interesting. You know, it strikes me that, you know, sports and graduation like you know what school you went to are for many people to have their biggest sources of sort of identity and allegiance and affinity. And, you know, I think it's not a coincidence that we're talking so much about sports, and especially college sports, we almost never talk about this on at Tech insiders, because the relationship between technology and sports, often universities are paying for one or the other. They're sort of competitive at times. But let's talk a little bit about college sports. You've been mentioning a few times, you know, a couple of stats that just really knocked me out about college sports and the incredible impact they have, like you said for people all over the country, you're the NCAA makes a billion dollars a year, the Peach Bowl, which is the number one college football event had over 22 million TV viewers last year, which is the ninth most watched event in the US of any kind, it was more than the Olympics. And the only things that beat it were all professional NFL games. The top eight things are NFL games. So sports is so incredibly embedded into people's lives. And it's a great way to you know, connect communities. There's so many bars that are all about one, one team or you know, all sorts of things. One statistic that really blows my mind, but I was actually visiting Clemson the town of Clemson recently, and you know, everything there is orange, the entire town is painted orange for the Clemson Tigers. And you know, if you look up the number one highest paid public employee in each state, two thirds of the United States, the highest paid public employee is a college coach, usually about Coach and you know, they make eight $9 million a year at the top program. So, you know, college sports is a huge business As a huge way to build fan bases and stay connected, I'll get to my question. I know I'm talking a lot here. So I guess my question for you is, what are some of the techniques that specifically sports and college athletics departments use to build that kind of, as you say, long term affinity? And How might our listeners think a little bit about you know, how can they bottle a little bit of that allegiance? How do you get people, you know, cheering for the EdTech company they've been using or for the alternative credential program that they've been in? Because I think college has really lapped most other things in terms of that affinity and sports, especially,

Lori Stirling:

because it's fordable. I mean, when's the last time you bought a professional, you know, sports ticket, they're a luxury in many cases, because the tickets are so outrageous. So again, it's, it's a great Saturday afternoon on a sunny day that, you know, drive some excitement. Even even the worst games are exciting to watch. Maybe not during a rain storm, but but the rest of the time they are. And so, you know, again, it's really it comes back down to analyzing your data. What's going on? I mean, it's the same person buying a ticket every week, why aren't we engaging them in season tickets? If the season ticket people are, you know, after three, four years, you know, are consistently buying every year season tickets? How can we upgrade them? How can we, you know, do those those pieces and it's, it's again, looking at that journey, you know, first getting them in the door, then stopping to look at and analyzing data. And you know, one of the things that Finn quest does is it looks more and more those personas, the types of people kind of crafting that message, but then also using that data to analyze a whole host of things. Are you always buying, you know, a Coke or Pepsi before the game? Are you always, you know, buying hotdogs at the are you always seated in this section of the stadium? Because you're with a group of family or friends that make part of the experience for you? Who are those people? And what does that look like? Again, it's it always comes down to how do we analyze that data so that we can surface up insights to people so that they can make decisions on how they want to engage them? How do we use, you know, machine learning and AI to help really engage and move the story forward? Because, you know, it's not like universities are getting more money. You know, we see it every day that the admissions numbers are going down. So how do we offset all of those pieces? How do you make that experience exciting? And how do you connect people and look at that data? And it always comes back? Believe it or not, always comes back to that in the technology? How can we use that information with machine learning and AI, to start surfacing up things to make a force multiplier of staff? Because we might not be getting more staff? How do we take the tedious nature out of some of the staff room that's going on, so that you can put resources towards the big thoughtful things of how to engage. And it might be that Alex, were sending you down to that box and handing out free peanuts to everybody for the hour, it could be that exciting. It could be that you know, mundane. But engaging in a different way, means freeing up people to be able to do that.

Alexander Sarlin:

Just as I hear you talk about this, I feel like it's such an interesting way of looking at it, you're saying there's so many data points that could be collected, could be analyzed sort of together, especially if you employ machine learning to find patterns for you, basically, because there's so much data out there, it's a little bit you know, you can use clustering or various things to predict behavior. It's hard to do, you can get to a certain level with human intelligence, and then you maybe need some other tools. But what strikes me as an interesting relationship to your points about college football, you're saying are college sports, they're affordable, they're televised. So there's lots of ways to interact with them. They include lots of different touch points. So you could buy a hat or jersey, you could buy a ticket, you could watch it on TV, you could, you know, attend a game, you could attend a game in a different section. And so it's such an interesting way to look at it as basically like, if you provide an affordable way for your, you know, fan base, for lack of a better word to engage over time, and you give them lots of different touch points make it easy for them to interact with you in different ways. It gives you this flood of data, which can then be analyzed to segment and find your ambassadors or your donors or whatever you're looking for him putting together the pieces and it's really interesting.

Lori Stirling:

Well then take that step further. So you've got the athletic data that you're sitting with. You've got data in your bookstore, Who's stopping by who's there for parent weekend, who's on campus For a career networking weekend, or week, probably the week there are who's coming for homecoming, who's coming for the reunions, how now take all of that data, who came to the music concerts, take all of that data, and start to harmonize that data to look for those patterns, and surface that up to a group like advancement, advancement whose job is really to engage and keep that engagement going. It could be that advancement comes back to different people across campus and says, Hey, I need you to join me on a meeting, I want to talk to this particular prospect or donor or parent, it could be that you come back and say, Hey, you, they're on campus for this game. But Sunday morning, we're having x happen. And what a great time for them to take in, you know, this concert or this, you know, breakfast with with somebody? Or how do you start to really build greater relationships. And for the person who isn't a sports fan? You know, if I'm not a sports fan, I'm still associated in some way, shape or form, there's still a passion somewhere for that university. Is it the professors? Is it the programs? What is it that I am showing up for that I find interesting that you want to leverage because there's data points all over the place that I think universities have done a horrible job over arching because they're siloed, and all their data. And again, I might think about admissions, but when I get the data, that I get them in the door, my job is done. But it's not done for down the data stream. You know, what happens next, as a student? What happens once they graduate? How do we help students and alumni accelerate their career, which is why they came to the University in the first place? How does an organization help people move themselves forward? And how do you get to that spot where I want to talk to somebody like minded about my crazy idea, because I think it has merit and value and I think we could change the world if I am with the right minded people thinking about them. Yeah, you know,

Alexander Sarlin:

universities have this advantage, or this particular suite of services in many of what you're naming there, they do programs, they do classes, they have a campus, they have sports facilities. But as you're saying, even though the data could be there to combine, they're not always able to combine all the data to put together even if there's, you know, major money on the line as there is when you're talking about the advancement office. And I think there are parallels in ad tech companies, even outside of universities as well there too, which is that you have different teams who focus on different things that may be looking at a conversion funnel for a website, or they might be looking at renewal numbers, they might be looking at engagement numbers, or how many, you know, messages, somebody sends, or all sorts of different things you can do. But if you bring the data all together, you can actually see a different picture. And I think there's a really interesting lesson in there. I want to zoom out a little bit because, you know, we talked in the podcasts a lot about some of the challenges that universities have been facing in the last few years. You mentioned a couple of them so far already. But you know, demographic shifts are leading to declining enrollments, there's been some, you know, decrease in foreign students rises in alternative credentials are a little bit of a questioning among some parents and students, whether the high tuitions are worth the money. And you know, these are pretty intense challenges. And I think the higher education world is really taking them seriously and trying to figure out what to do and innovating as much as they can. But what do you see, you know, you work with higher ed organizations, often, you know, when they're talking about the advancement office, or what they're sort of seeing in the world? What are some of the problems that they're facing? What are they looking to technology to solve?

Lori Stirling:

You know, it's interesting, because there are some very forward facing advancement offices, there are some very back facing advancement offices, and I say that kind of tongue in cheek because, you know, that really is determined a little bit about what kind of resources they have in the staff they have, and it has a big influence on our impact on it. What I think is going to be interesting in the next couple of years, you know, we just had our user conference last week and it one of the things I mentioned is if you've got a virtual world of virtual learning philosophy years, I have a niece who started college with a number of AP credits. So she was a sophomore when she started and she is, has gone through COVID and has basically been on campus. We calculated it out a few weeks ago. Something like less than 300 hours has she has literally on campus. Here's a girl who is not going to be engaged in a meaningful way in a traditional way. Have you gone to a football game? Well sure, because her father dragged her to a football game, because he's a big football fan. But she doesn't have the same kind Election, she doesn't have the same relationships. She didn't live in a dorm she just 300 hours on campus feet on the ground on that campus is a very different experience. So how do you engage somebody like that? I think it's going to be a constant challenge, because there's a whole generation who isn't gonna understand that social connection that you and I might have experienced as we went to college. I think the biggest challenge will be that kind of connection, I think I'll continue to grow. When we think about things like the metaverse, it's not that long before, you know, we all went through zoom meetings through COVID. She went through zoom classes, but you don't really engage with your students in that two dimensional kind of world, many people off campus in a classroom of 4050 people listening in to a lecture that, in many cases was recorded that you can get later. That is a one dimensional relationship at best. So I think what we're gonna see over the next few years, especially in higher ed is virtual classrooms, but where you really will have a classroom and be engaging in weird and, you know, kind of 3d sort of way that seems surreal to us today, it seems a little bit like something we might have said was a George Jetson experience.

Alexander Sarlin:

But then he's coming, he's coming now. It's,

Lori Stirling:

I think, in the next few years, I figured before five years, we'll see that as the norm. But I can go to school anywhere and be anywhere. But physically, I may be in the classroom, but not physically at the same location. And I think capturing that kind of experience and trying to figure out how to inject some sort of loyalty to the organization is going to be incredibly important. If we want to think about what that looks like in the future. I think, you know, to me, the biggest challenge that is facing advancement in universities in general, it's a staffing issue. And it's a staffing issue in a way that most people don't think about, I think our biggest challenge is skills. Because universities just as I went to university, all excited about new technology, they're often behind the times on technology. And it means that people are maintaining older legacy data. So getting up to speed on new technology, being able to consume information and make insightful decisions, questioning the quality of data, I think chat GPT is gonna be super interesting as the next couple of years come by, I think there's gonna be a wild set of like philosophical problems that come out of it, you know, it'll make it very easy to possibly cheat. But at the same token, if you think about it, you know, if they could control certain aspects of it, sending a document through chat GPT and having it correct everything for grammar, which, you know, my professors used to do can save hours, hours from the mundane and the tedious. And I think that's where technology is going to become really exciting. Because if we can make a force multiplier, and we can take away the tedious tasks to give people really that chance to think about how they connect, think about, you know, critical thinking skills in general, to advance the mission or the priorities of an organization. I think it becomes really exciting.

Alexander Sarlin:

Yeah. So I'm hearing a couple of different themes in your predictions about technology and the problems universities are facing. So one is the idea of, you know, students have had this virtual experience, which is so different, and maybe much less likely to build the kind of deep loyalty and affinity that we're used to with college graduates. I think that's a fascinating answer. I didn't see that coming at all. But it makes sense. Well

Lori Stirling:

think about it. I compare it to like, if you were a film buff, when tacky movies came out now I thought it was going to be a fad. And they'd all go back to silent movies. We're not going back. We're only going forward on this one.

Alexander Sarlin:

Yeah, as you're talking, I was thinking we did an interview on this podcast with Steve Grubbs is the CEO of a company called victory XR that makes exactly these net diversities. These sort of online campuses for universities. And one of the things he said that just strikes me as really relevant to what you're saying is that they basically offer two different options for universities. You can buy a like default campus, like you can buy a campus that is just sort of their cookie cutter campus, it looks like a college campus. And, you know, people walk around in it, or you can pay extra to have them build things like you know, their landmarks or their football stadium or their clock tower, the things that sort of make the college physically different or unique or the lake or whatever it is. And it's so interesting thinking about that in the context of what you just said of like, well, if you're giving students a default camp This experience, are you missing the opportunity to have them care or remember, or you know, associate specific things with this college. It's just it's interesting to think about, but I want to synopsize some of the other things you said, because I think they're really interesting skills gap in advanced and offices, this idea that working with data, and even complex data, like working with big data, and machine learning is becoming a more and more relevant skill set for people who are trying to put together patterns and advancement. But as we know, that's a very modern and pretty cutting edge skill set. And you can imagine, I'm sure a lot of people don't yet know if they're even going to. But that is a really interesting idea. And then the idea of efficiency, things like artificial intelligence, Chuck GPT, to be able to speed up some of the tasks that take up a lot of all of our time during the day and keep us from doing really innovative things. I think those are really interesting uses of technology. I have one more question for you. And I think it's a good springboard from what you just said, which is that, you know, in the face of some of these problems, we are seeing universities try to innovate, you mentioned these, these forward facing advancement offices, and there are some forward facing universities that are trying to embrace technology and new skills all the time. There's hybrid delivery programs, you know, mergers are happening now, people are starting to offer shorter programs, or, you know, new partnerships, even with tech companies, we just saw Arizona State collaborate with Google and YouTube last week to put out like, you know, a college credit system through YouTube, like some really interesting innovations. What do you see as some of the interesting innovations that are already happening in higher ed? And what role do technology platforms, including authentic quest, of course, and others play in these innovations? Like, what are the interesting tech innovations that schools are already embracing?

Lori Stirling:

So it's a funny you ask, because we really did just come back from our user conference. And having built this on the Salesforce platform, it really allows us to leverage some of the best technology in the world. And we have clients who have even gone live yet they're in their implementation, but they're already using things that you wouldn't normally think of Colorado College, built a chatbot, they have limited staff to answer questions. They know that they're gonna get inundated by a whole host of questions. When they do go live. They build chat bots to answer the obvious questions. And even some that they thought weren't so obvious. They had a brainstorming session and came up with all kinds of things that, you know. So already, you think about the wear and tear on staff, when you're moving into technology. And for a lot of organizations, I'd seen a number the other day, like three out of five, universities are on legacy technology, right? I mean, that's a lot of change, if people want to get into, you know, automations and start, you know, finding ways to have force multipliers. And it's it's almost a catch 22 ALEKS, because you want to move to new technology, but you don't necessarily have the staff and the skill set on staff to help you get there. And you want to grow all your staff, because they have institutional knowledge that you just can't, you can't buy. I mean, like they just know stuff. And so I think you're gonna see some of that, I think, where people stopped to really think about what's an annoyance? What is it that you do every day, and we shouldn't be doing this in our day to day, right. I joke about this all the time. You know, I work for a company, I have to do expense reports. I hate doing expense reports. I love getting reimbursed. You know, how do I simplify the time it takes to do that, you know, what tools are out there that streamline my life? So I'm spending five minutes doing it versus 25 minutes doing it? Because 25 minutes on something else is much more interesting when you think about leveraging technology. You know, when we talk about Metaverse, I think that if we don't see it happening in the next little while, it would really only be a limitation of funding, but to have students scholarship recipients thanking their donors through the metaverse so that they're integrated together. I mean, it's just a matter of sending off the device to somebody to have those meetings, you think about what that means having those kinds of conversations in person, but 1000s and 1000s of miles away. That's pretty powerful. So I think you're gonna see lots of different things like this kind of starting to happen. And as much as everybody can't conceive it in their head today, because it seems so. So foreign, it seems so I don't know, maybe a little more matrix in the matrix and they want to be we really are there. So I don't know if technology is driving, you know, reality or if reality is driving the technology. There's that great line about Star Trek. Did we create these devices because of sci fi Star Trek or did it go the other way, you know? So we're gonna start To see a lot more of that, I do think that people need to spend some time, you know, they're almost in a golden time right now to upskill doesn't mean that everybody has to be a data scientist, but they do need to be able to look at data and consume information, and be able to interpret it to make decisions take action, and the right action, right. I think people have been doing that for years, and some well, and some poorly. And you can say that just based on, you know, you look at data for your 401k, you're making choices, some of them good, and some of them bad, based on the market these days. But what does that look like? Like getting better at analyzing smaller sets of data? And I think that most organizations, most universities and colleges, you know, if they're forward thinking, they're hiring data scientists, they're putting together programs, and they're having data scientists programs at the school, but they're also bringing in those students, a student workers to help build out things, and then possibly hiring them to run programs, because that's going to be the future and data is going to be king.

Alexander Sarlin:

So you know, we usually on the podcast asking about a trend that you think our listeners should keep an eye on. But I think it's been very clear that a trend that you've mentioned throughout the podcast that I think is incredibly important here is data based decision making is really combining unusual sources, even multiple sources of data to be able to understand to segment to predict to engage your learner's or users, whatever setting you're at. I think that's a really interesting one. I want to ask you about a resource we always ask every guest to recommend a resource that could be a book, a blog, a newsletter, anything you you know, you consume that you feel like our listeners may not know about, that you would recommend for people who want to learn more about anything we talked about today. It could be affinity advancement, technology. Metaverse, what would you recommend?

Lori Stirling:

It's really funny, you know, there's many good books out about fundraising at a university or any organization. To me, it's always more interesting to talk about what's going on technology, because it's changing faster than the dynamics of fundraising. I mean, fundraising has a very base fundamental pieces to it. And they're proven. Technology is evolving all the time. Amy Webb, Amy Webb, her blog is fascinating. She's a futurist who is always looking at what's next. I think that her information is insightful, I think, a year and a half ago, she came out and talked about how the cell phone is dead, it has done everything it can do, there's nothing more you can really do make the screen smaller, but unless we get point your fingers, we can't really tap it anyway. So what's next for communication styles. She just fascinating. And if you think about that, you think about technology, and what technology trends. You know, think of this Alex 60,000 people going into a football stadium? What if we all had a personal device, you know, that we wore, or an app on our phone that registered us through and said, you know, so that you get through the gates quicker and automatically, you know, already knew that you liked Pepsi versus Coke or vice versa. And you can speed through, you know, various lines, or you could order from your box or your seat and have it delivered to you. These kinds of things, I think are where the future is, we're going to see more devices, more technology, and keeping up with it's going to be exciting, and terrifying. Because a lot to keep up with

Alexander Sarlin:

100%. I like Amy Webb a lot as well. A couple of books, the signals are talking and I think she has one called the Big ignite about all the big companies that are doing AI around the world, China and the US. And you know, I've never read her blog, I've never realized you had a blog. So I'm really excited to go check that out. That's a great suggestion. As always, we'll put links to the resources that Laurie suggests in the show notes for this episode so that you can find them easily. Lori Stirling this has been really interesting. You are an unusual guest for us at ad tech insiders. You are absolutely hardcore ed tech. But it's really about sort of the relationship building of Ed Tech. It's not really about the classroom about delivering education. But it's incredibly important. And I think there's a lot of lessons to be learned from what you're doing it if in a quest.

Lori Stirling:

Thank you.

Alexander Sarlin:

Thanks for being here.

Lori Stirling:

Appreciate it. We'll talk to you soon.

Alexander Sarlin:

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