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President's Perspective: Research Matters
President's Perspective: Research Matters

CASE surveys help members do their jobs

By John Lippincott

Q: How many fundraisers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: I don't know; CASE hasn't done that survey yet.

But I can tell you how many fundraisers it takes to raise a billion dollars in a campaign. Or what the average frequency of publication is for campus magazines. Or the average alumni relations budget per 1,000 constituents at European universities. CASE has done surveys on these topics and dozens more.

The volume of research conducted and disseminated by CASE has grown substantially since 2003, when the CASE Board of Trustees established research as a strategic priority. Here's the why, what, and how of our research activity.

The why of research

To the wonkish among us (myself included), research data are often interesting in and of themselves. However, CASE's research agenda is driven by three far more pragmatic goals in service to our members and the field of educational advancement: to inform decision making, to improve performance, and to illuminate outcomes.

Sound decisions require sound data—this is the first principle underlying much of the research we conduct. Many of the decisions our research is designed to inform have to do with internal operations, such as the mix of funding sources for institutionally related foundations. Our research can also have significant external value; consider the notable example of CASE reports that have helped establish matched funding schemes in England and elsewhere.

Among CASE studies designed to meet the second goal of improving performance is our annual campaign report, which includes such data as the average amount raised per fundraiser during a campaign at various types of institutions. We have similar studies that can help you raise your sights in alumni relations and marketing.

The third goal of our research effort—illuminating results—has become especially important in this era of increased emphasis on accountability and widespread budget cutting. Our Advancement Investment Metrics Study (AIMS) will help campus leaders understand and appreciate the significant return to the institution from its funding of advancement operations. Additionally, our research on the positive impact of U.S. legislation incentivizing contributions from individual retirement accounts has been used by lawmakers on Capitol Hill to argue for extending that program.

The what of research

We are committed to providing useful data for all of the advancement disciplines, including alumni relations, communications, fundraising, marketing, and advancement services as well as government and community relations.

Our studies look at best practice (e.g., in social media applications) and common practice (e.g., in online fundraising). We provide data on internal logistics, including detailed information on advancement salaries, and on external impact, including actions taken by readers of the campus magazine.

Some of our surveys are quick, easy, and pulse-taking, such as the CASE Fundraising Index. Some are lengthy and sophisticated and offer in-depth analysis, such as the AIMS research. Some are focused on relatively small communities of practice, while others are national and even international in scope.

The single most important factor in determining which specific topics we will research is feedback from members. Your suggestions, your inquiries, and your responses to our periodic membership surveys help us prioritize the work of our lean and keen research office, so keep those ideas coming.

The how of research

CASE conducts both primary and secondary research. Our primary research is often undertaken in collaboration with other associations, member institutions, and corporate partners. For example, we recently cooperated with the University of Florida on a review of communications programs, with Lipman Hearne on campus marketing efforts, and with SunGard Higher Education on uses of technology in advancement offices.

We have also done surveys under agreements with other advancement-related groups, such as the Council of Alumni Association Executives, the Jesuit Advancement Administrators, and the University Foundation Financial Officers. And we put research tools in the hands of members through the CASE Benchmarking Toolkit, which allows you to define and survey your own communities of practice.

In addition, we are constantly scanning the environment for existing and relevant secondary research from other sources. We also shine a light on useful publications and dissertations through our research awards program.

We disseminate our research findings—both primary and secondary—through CURRENTS, BriefCASE, white papers, conference presentations, and the CASE Web site, where you can visit the "Samples, Research & Tools" section to find additional information on the studies mentioned in this column and many others.

Let us know what research matters to you by e-mailing our research office at Use that same e-mail address to share your "bright ideas" on how many fundraisers (or other advancement professionals) it takes to screw in a light bulb. We'll post the best answers on our Web site.

About the Author John Lippincott John Lippincott

John Lippincott served as president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education from 2004 through 2015.




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