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Top Five Elements of a High Performing Engagement Center

As is true with many new concepts, the line between jargon and innovation can get quite blurry. Engagement centers have the power to redefine how institutions inspire people to connect, and stay connected. At firstname.co, we see high-performing “engagement centers” that transform and elevate constituent engagement across many business units, from advancement to enrollment to alumni engagement, using a blend of media and channels to capture attention and inspire action.


The potential far exceeds anything that a traditional phonathon might accomplish; simply rebranding a call center or phonathon as an "engagement center" is not going to cut it. Engagement centers must use a blend of channels to promote their most important asset - authentic student voices.


And given that the year is 2023 and the Internet seems kind of popular, video is a must. Especially short-form authentic student video, intentionally designed to power social media journeys.


So what does all of this mean for how you should structure your engagement center? Let’s focus on advancement and consider the top five elements that will contribute to success at your institution…


Top Five Elements of a High-Performing Engagement Center:


1. Video, and more video


57 percent of everyone who watches a nonprofit video will go on to give to that nonprofit. We’ve seen that statistic prove true time and again after running warming campaigns leading up to a solicitation.


Authentic video is equally important for enrollment marketing. Google admits they’ve lost 40 percent of Gen Z search to TikTok, meaning a high volume of video on channels like TikTok and Instagram Reels is increasingly critical to your recruitment efforts.


The volume of content required can be surprising, and a big change for those places that struggle to release a single chancellor video over the course of a year. If you produce five videos per year, most people will never view a single video to completion. But ramp up production by a factor of 10, and now you have enough content to build compelling storytelling journeys that power multi-channel campaigns that use social media, email marketing, and warm donors well in advance of any ask (#nocoldasks).


The charismatic student video producer is to the modern engagement center what the smooth talking caller was to the old phone program. The main difference is that creating great video requires a more complete, modern skillset. Engagement centers must hire, train and manage prolific authentic video producers, and then give them the freedom to create.


2. Annual fund is only one small part of the program


We’ve established that video is a driver of giving behavior and other conversions. If 57% of people who watch a video to the end will make a gift, imagine what else they might do.


What if more than half of your gift officers’ calls led to a substantive next step? What if you could deliver personalized videos to every mid-level prospect? What if your next event sold out in minutes because you sent a great video along with the invitation? Simply producing real videos, prominently featuring real students, can be transformational for every objective you pursue. Bust student video out of the annual fund silo and watch real growth in every facet of your operation.


3. Pipeline, pipeline, pipeline

In the best programs, gift officers work hand-in-hand with one or two student video producers to craft a narrative that focuses on a narrowly targeted segment. The first objective is creating personalized content that warms people in a gift officer’s portfolio. Beyond the video work, the students can serve as discovery officers calling prospects and providing a one-on-one engagement point that many donors and prospects in mid-level portfolios rarely experience. Once engaged, the handoff can be made to a leadership or major gift officer.


In fact, if pipeline growth and movement is what you seek, a modern engagement center might be your best investment.


4. Call people who want to talk

As noted earlier, we have a mantra here at firstname.co: “No Cold Asks.”


Most higher educational institutions have no shortage of individual donor and prospect records – they just don’t have the capacity to manage everyone with a personal touch. So focus on those who are ready for a conversation around giving.


Modern digital tools allow us to better know who is engaged and ready to talk. You can expand this “ready to talk” audience by serving them authentic video content featuring the same students and gift officers who will eventually be calling donors and prospects in that audience. Warm with digital channels, then reach out to those who’ve “raised their hands” by engaging online with the content on those digital channels. #NoColdAsks


5. Making the occasional call does not mean it’s phonathon

I get it. You’ve spent 10 years of your career building the best phonathon possible. That means you have an urge to start calling everyone for whom you have a phone number. But let’s be honest with ourselves, that doesn’t work as well as it once did and you may end up alienating as many people as you coerce into giving. Thanks to US News & World Report changes, we no longer need to pretend that spending two dollars to raise one contributes to your institutional ranking. Resist the urge to “call, call, call!” Be sure your new engagement center is truly a program focused on quality engagement, and not just another phone program with a new name.



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