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Round of Applause
Round of Applause

The 2014 Circle of Excellence Grand Gold winners boldly showed their institutions’ colors with projects such as a hot pink donor-appreciation publication and a glowing night of arts and culture (complete with giant bird puppets and a luminous peacock)

By Mary Ellen Collins


Jacob Wackerhausen/istock/ThinkStock



Vivid videos, engaging events, captivating campaigns, marvelous media relations, a magnificent magazine, a bespoke book, and a personality-filled publication are among this year's CASE Circle of Excellence Awards Grand Gold winners, the highest prize that the 20-year-old recognition program bestows. Dozens of volunteer judging panels, made up of advancement practitioners and other experts, reviewed the more than 3,000 entries received in 100 categories from nearly 630 member institutions representing 18 coun­tries. After submitting their best programs and products in advancement services, alumni relations, communications, fundraising, and marketing, 168 universities, colleges, independent schools, and nonprofit organizations worldwide merited this year's 285 grand gold, gold, silver, and bronze awards. Ten grand gold award winners are profiled here. View the full list or browse a Pinterest gallery of the award-winning work.

Artful Appreciation

University of Pennsylvania

Grand Gold for Institutional Relations Publications
University of Pennsylvania Grand Gold for Institutional Relations Publications

What is it? Time to Shine: A Celebration of Penn's Rise from Excellence to Eminence is a photographic art book created for donors of $250,000 or more at the successful conclusion of the university's $3.5 billion "Making History" campaign in 2012.

Proud snapshot: With input from the university president, the goal of the photo book was to artistically capture a specific moment in time. "There had been an emotional shift over the seven years of the campaign," says Michaela Touhey Ahearn, the project's creative director and senior editor. "Pride in [what the university had accomplished] was off the charts, and we wanted to show what the university looked like at that moment by creating a book that conveys Penn's qualities, including beauty, curiosity, vibrancy, and diversity."

Content challenge: The book had to represent people and programs across 12 schools and six centers, while remaining a story about the university as a whole.

A new view: Taken during the campaign's final year, none of the featured photographs had been seen or used elsewhere. "The biggest challenge was curating a collection of photos that captured the spirit and impact of the campaign," Ahearn says.

Take it personally: Donors who gave $1 million to $5 million received personalized books with the president's signature and a general thank you message on a special insert. Books given to donors of more than $5 million included the president's signature and a message regarding the impact of their specific gift. The president also signed books for deans, center directors, and members of her senior cabinet.

Spreadsheet says: Production costs totaled $428,788 for 1,500 books.

Kudos: Recipients were impressed by the special edition. "It's absolutely stunning and will be the perfect addition to my library," remarked one donor. "I'm looking forward to showing it off proudly."

Credits: Michaela Touhey Ahearn, senior director, campaign projects and strategic communications; Helen Bradley, assistant director, campaign projects and strategic communications; Andrea Hemmann, partner, GHI Design, Philadelphia; David Maialetti, photographer, Philadelphia Daily News; Eric Mencher, Eric Mencher Photography, Philadelphia

First Class All the Way

University of Central Florida

Grand Gold for Media Relations Programs and Projects
University of Central Florida Grand Gold for Media Relations Programs and Projects

What is it? "Celebrating UCF's First Doctors" was a long-term media relations effort that told the story of the university's new medical school and its first graduating class of 36 physicians.

Backstory: When the University of Central Florida embarked on its goal to start the medical school, critics said the institution would fail. President John C. Hitt vowed to create a premier program that trained outstanding physicians. The inaugural class of students who enrolled in 2009 took a chance on this unknown and unaccredited College of Medicine, which lacked its own building. The draw: Each student would receive a full scholarship, thanks to $7 million in community donations.

Goals: Over a two-month period leading to commencement in May 2013, a team of UCF communicators aimed to increase the medical school's name recognition and place stories in a minimum of 10 local media outlets and at least one story with a national news organization. The team developed a communication plan and identified students to share their stories and serve as media ambassadors, including a military veteran, a professional violinist determined to become a surgeon, and a Haitian immigrant focused on emergency medicine.

TV triumph: As a follow-up to a 2009 NBC Nightly News story on the upstart medical program and its community funding of scholarships, the UCF team convinced the journalists to return to cover the students' final year. An NBC crew filmed Match Day—the annual March date when graduating medical students learn if they have been paired with a residency training program—and commencement and interviewed student ambassadors. "I never thought they would be willing to come several times. That really exceeded our expectations," says Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala, senior communications coordinator at UCF News and Information. The national broadcast aired a two-minute story the night of commencement.

Read all about it: The News and Information team's media outreach garnered more than 30 placements, including front-page coverage in the Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Business Journal and prominent stories in Spanish-language media outlets such as La Prensa, Telemundo, and Univision.

Positive prognosis: Medical school applications increased last year from about 3,000 to more than 4,000; many applicants noted seeing news coverage of the school. The positive media attention was a topic of conversation at meetings of medical college professionals throughout the year.

Stewardship touches: The team highlighted community donors' special relationship with the medical students. For instance, graduates were handed their diplomas by the donors who sponsored their education. Many donors also attended Match Day, where some students asked them to open the envelopes.

Cost: $3,400 covered the services of two photographers from Solislux Photo who worked on Match Day and at commencement.

Credits: UCF News and Information—Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala, senior communications coordinator; Courtney Gilmartin, assistant director; Chad Binette, director; Grant Heston, vice president for communications and marketing; UCF College of MedicineWendy Spirduso Sarubbi, director, communications and marketing; Anjelica Partridge, coordinator, information/publication services

A Perfect Balance

Kenyon College, Ohio

Robert Sibley Magazine of the Year
Kenyon College, Ohio, Robert Sibley Magazine of the Year

Claim to fame: This marks the third Sibley award for the Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin, which also won in 2009 and 2011.

Look and feel: "I think we have a light touch, and we try to push the envelope a bit," says current editor Mark Ellis. With a tone and approach ranging from thought-provoking to humorous, each issue features an eclectic mix of historical pieces, examinations of contemporary issues, and profiles of interesting students, faculty, and alumni. High-quality photography and illustration along with clean design and layout support engaging reporting and writing.

Marvelous morsels: The winter 2013 feature on David Foster Wallace's 2005 commencement speech, which was published as the book This Is Water after the author's suicide in 2008, explored how Wallace's remarks gained new life on the Internet and enhanced Kenyon's reputation. A cover story on photographer Jonathan Mannion, a 1993 alumnus, used his arresting portraits of hip-hop artists Eminem and Missy Elliott as art.

The fine print: The 64-page magazine, which is published three times a year, has a circulation of 21,000 and a unit cost of $1.61.

Candid feedback: Kenyon's letters to the editor show enviable appreciation for the staff's work. A 1984 alumnus offered this gem: "I work in political communications, and I am used to telling clients their stuff sucks. This is great."

In memoriam: Former editor Shawn Presley died suddenly on April 1, 2014. The judges' report offered this remembrance upon learning the news: "Shawn Presley was a beloved force among his fellow editors, not only for the high bar he set through his work but also for his humor, friendship, teaching, and mentoring. His passing leaves a void at the heart of the profession."

Credits: Shawn Presley, editor; Amy Blumenthal and Dan Laskin, deputy editors; Mark Ellis, associate editor; Adam Gilson, designer; Mike Andrews, Robin Ball, Patty Burns, Chris Davis, Josh Fitzwater, Martin Fuller, Megan Monaghan, and Hays Stone, editorial assistants; Emily Aldrich, Aldrich Design, St. Paul, Minnesota

Inspiring Pride Through a Donor's Eyes

The University of Sydney

Grand Gold for Fundraising Videos
The University of Sydney Grand Gold for Fundraising Videos

What is it? A poignant video for INSPIRED, the AU$600 million campaign to support Australia's University of Sydney. The nearly 3.5-minute film tells the past, present, and hopeful future story of the university through the eyes and narration of John Hooke, a notable alumnus, businessman, and campaign board member who gave $5 million to endow a new chair in the School of Physics and the Australian Institute of Nanoscience. It premiered at the May 2013 formal dinner that publicly launched the fundraising effort, which is the country's largest higher education campaign to date.

Capturing hope: Hooke's words and perspective draw viewers into the university's history—accented with archival black-and-white film footage from commencement in 1950—as he serves as the audience's surrogate spectator observing a present-day graduation. Drinking in the intimate family moments and watching the joy, love, pride, and achievement that flow through such days, Hooke reflects on the university's roots and accomplishments as the musical score builds. "I have had a very good life, and I can't feel anything but gratitude and hope for the University of Sydney," Hooke says. "Here's to the next 160 years of inspiration."

Real deal: The contemporary graduation footage was filmed during four separate commencement events.

Bottom line: If this video doesn't tug at your heartstrings, you should check your pulse.

Spreadsheet says: The project budget was AU$8,000. Following the launch event, the campaign processed a record number of gifts and ended 2013 with 12,225 annual donors—its highest number to date.

Credits: John Hooke, donor; Tim Dolan, vice-principal, advancement; Meghan Knox, Crystal Yau, and Katie Lusinovska, donor relations team; Alexander Thomas Media Company, Sydney

Art of Merrymaking

Tufts University, Massachusetts

Grand Gold for News and Research Videos
Tufts University, Massachusetts Grand Gold for News and Research Videos

What is it? "Art in the Round" is a seven-minute video that depicts Tufts alumnus Jeff Briggs, an artist and sculptor commissioned to create a carousel that features recognizable New England wildlife for Boston's Rose F. Kennedy Greenway.

Creative minds: Boston third- and fourth-graders drew pictures of creatures they hoped to see incorporated into the ride (top left photo), which opened in August 2013. Briggs used these drawings as inspiration to create the ride's menagerie of 14 different characters, including a sea turtle, grasshopper, barn owl, seal, and lobster.

Moving pictures: As animated cutouts of children's sketches move across the screen and artist renderings are superimposed over the three-dimensional creations, Briggs describes the challenges of realistically representing the creatures and making the ride accessible for all visitors.

From concept to carousel: Viewers see the animal figures move from the sculpting phase to assembly, including a time-lapse video of a whale being painted.
Invaluable insight: Hearing Briggs talk about translating the children's ideas into characters that met the project's requirements (top middle and right photos), how a high school teacher informed Briggs' approach to his work, and what differentiates this type of public art from his previous projects gives the video dimension.

Payoff: Viewers get to watch a crowd of children rush to the ride and then see the artist take a turn to enjoy his finished work.

External accolades: In addition to communicating the talent of Tufts alumni to university audiences, the video offered the Boston community a behind-the-scenes look at the making of a new area landmark. During the two-week period that the video was featured on the Tufts homepage in October 2013, nearly two-thirds of the almost 200,000 site visits came from users outside the university.

Credits: Steffan Hacker, multimedia producer; Kelly Benvenuto, production assistant

Blushing with Gratitude

Notre Dame Preparatory School, Maryland

Grand Gold for Individual Fundraising Publications
Notre Dame Preparatory School, Maryland Grand Gold for Individual Fundraising Publications

What is it? You Must Know is a 64-page magazine-size color brochure published last year at the end of the quiet phase for the current $5 million campaign. The publication served as both a donor thank you piece and annual report.

Attention grabber: The vibrant booklet was mailed in a clear envelope so that its hot pink cover would stand out. "People get so much stuff in the mail, we defied any woman to not at least flip through it," says Claire Hartman of Exit 24 Creative Services. A note on the table of contents explains that pink is the color of gratitude.

Course correction: After several years of listing donors online and forgoing a printed annual report, staff members decided to acknowledge their supporters in a more tangible way and raise the visibility of the independent school's fundraising.

What's to know? "You Must Know" is the theme of the piece, which functions both as a work of donor appreciation and education. Rather than take for granted that people are well versed in the institution's mission, traditions, and goals, the publication reminds readers of what the Catholic girls' school stands for through short, plain-spoken paragraphs that accompany personable portraits of students, alumni, staff, and supporters. The brief but heartfelt donor profiles reinforce the value of an NDP education while making the case for philanthropic support.

A peek inside: Thoughtful text and quotations, top-notch photography, and a generous use of white space create an elegant design that highlights meaningful messages, including challenges such as ensuring institutional diversity, addressing the middle class squeeze, and promoting the value of single-sex education. "How can I complete the cycle?" asks a 1992 alumna who attended on a scholarship. "NDP was a gift to me. I want to pass it on."

In demand: The brochure, known as the pink book, garnered such an enthusiastic response that the school will produce a similar publication annually. At its first distribution during last year's annual fund kickoff reception, audience members greeted the piece with delighted gasps. Fall reunion attendees snapped up the booklet, which has become a prized possession among alumnae and supporters.

Judges' take: Calling the piece a home run, many were ready to enroll their own children or make a gift.

Spreadsheet says: The 2,500 brochures cost $21,725, or $8.69 per unit, including writing, photography, design, materials, and printing.

Credits: Anita Williams Feeley, director of advancement; Cami Colarossi, director of communications; Maureen Mazurowski, stewardship coordinator; Claire Hartman, Exit 24 Creative Services, Monkton, Maryland; David Pugh, Dave Pugh Design, Baltimore

Tell Us How You Really Feel

Trinity College Dublin, Ireland

Grand Gold for Alumni Relations Programs

What was it? The two-day Trinity Global Graduate Forum brought more than 100 alumni from 14 countries to campus in November 2013 to provide input on the institution's growth and to support its goal of becoming a global top 50 university.

High-stakes gathering: The purpose was to garner graduates' perspectives on the university's future, but the forum also strengthened and deepened alumni engagement. "This [is] the beginning of a conversation that [will] be continued," noted Vice-President for Global Relations Jane Ohlmeyer. "Trinity [is] at a crossroads, and what [is] at stake [is] Ireland's future, not just Trinity's."

Talking points: Facilitators focused discussions with alumni on five themes: reputation, growth, technology, education, and finance. Graduates explored how they could support the university in six areas: advisory groups, advocates, branches and affinity groups, international student recruitment, careers (internships and employment), and financial gifts.

Aiming higher: In the post-forum report, Provost Patrick Prendergast said the event exceeded his lofty expectations: "I was struck by the energy, dedication, and inspirational ideas ... you have imbued us all with an ambition to set even higher expectations for Trinity's future."

From ideas to action: Many key ideas helped shape the college's 2014–2019 strategic plan, and alumni offered to help set up new alumni branches, mentor students, provide internships, and contribute financially. During the forum, one participant became a patron of the new business school.

Budget: €98,000

Credits: Trinity Global Graduate Forum Steering Committee

Now You Know Ono

University of Cincinnati

Grand Gold for General Information Videos
University of Cincinnati  Grand Gold for General Information Videos

What is it? Santa J. Ono, Bearcat, is a nearly four-minute video introducing the University of Cincinnati's new president to the institutional community.

Advantageous vantage point: Filmed from the perspective of a fictional female applicant, the video begins with an email from President Ono informing her that she's been admitted to the Class of 2017. An online quest for the scoop on the president leads to photos that reveal Ono's personality, accomplishments, background, and interests. She learns interesting biographical details from Wikipedia and LinkedIn; gathers insights from current students on Facebook and Twitter; watches YouTube videos highlighting the president's campus involvement, accessibility, sensitivity, and sense of humor; and reads his tweets, many including the #HottestCollegeInAmerica hashtag that Ono popularized.

Bottom line: The prospect likes what she sees and tweets her excitement to Ono. Conversion accomplished.

Last-minute maneuvers: The video includes footage from Ono's April 2013 presidential installation ceremony—an impressive feat because the finished product debuted at the inauguration luncheon 30 minutes later.

Judges' take: "A well-told story that personalizes a president, makes you like him, and then makes you like the school by extension."

Watch your SEO/SEM: While not geared to prospective students, the video's style and content speak this audience segment's language. The shots of online search results serve as an implicit reminder of the first impressions prospective students gain from their initial research on an institution and its leader.

Final tally: The project's budget was $9,150.

Credits: Ryan Hays, executive vice president; Ben Hofstetter, special assistant for digital media; Marianne Kunnen-Jones, special assistant for executive communications; Dustin Shell and Nick Shell, Purpose Video, Cincinnati

In the Name of Love (and Honor)

Miami University of Ohio

Grand Gold for Recruitment Videos
Miami University of Ohio Grand Gold for Recruitment Videos

What is it? In about seven minutes, the student recruitment video For Love & Honor: Miami University uses the well-known line from the chorus of the institution's fight song to delve into what's special about the Ohio campus.

Changing paces: It seems like a standard take on college life: the opening shots of red-brick buildings and autumn leaves, a senior reading a poem aloud. But then a campus a capella group performs, its melody punctuated by the rhythm and sounds that accompany interspersed shots of students ripping paper and working with metal. The unexpected change provides a transition point to a different part of the story as told by students, a parent, and President David Hodge. The final third of the video explores the origin and meaning of love and honor with insights from several sources, including a study abroad student and the president, who advises students to take chances. "Are they going to fail sometimes? Absolutely," Hodge says. "But that's part of the process."

Real life: Letting loose is a part of college life, and the video embraces it in the second act. "After a week of being up until 2 a.m. doing homework, I think you're allowed to stay up until 2 a.m. doing other things," says a student as scenes of concerts and athletics stream across the screen.

Scene stealer: The slow-motion shot of three female engineering students donning lab coats and protective eyewear in unison while discussing the importance of being a woman in science would be at home in a music video.

Campaign boost: The video complemented ongoing branding efforts and the $500 million "For Love and Honor" fundraising campaign. This year the university received a record number of applications and early decisions.

Message power: Alumni, administrators, deans, faculty, and high school guidance counselors all want to use the video, which is also being repurposed for the institution's individual schools and colleges. The project has spurred a more unified approach to university marketing.

Judges' take: "Captured every part of going to a university with passion and heart."

Spreadsheet says: The project cost $185,554, which included working with a branding firm to develop the concept and a production company to film and edit a long and short version.

Credits: University Communications and Marketing; 160over90, Philadelphia; and Neighborhood Film Company, Philadelphia

Many Happy Returns

University of Western Australia

Grand Gold for Special Events
University of Western Australia Grand Gold for Special Events

What was it? The University of Western Australia Centenary was a yearlong celebration of the institution's 100th birthday in 2013 and its ranking as a World Top 100 university.

Overarching goal: To promote the university's achievements, raise its profile, and highlight its connections throughout the entire state of Western Australia.

Moving parts: Initiatives included the February 2013 flagship event LUMINOUSnight, a free arts and culture celebration on campus; UWA Gives Back, a statewide road show and outreach program that targeted K-12 students; and alumni weekend. Related publications and products included a CD of original compositions by alumni composers; a 460-page centenary history book, and a smartphone app providing a tour of 100 university treasures.

Oh, what a night: LUMINOUSnight—an evening of continual, simultaneous live performances, art installations, light shows, and displays featuring more than 250 artists—required extensive planning by representatives from across the university. Tasks ranged from creating a ticketing system for a free event to orchestrating shuttle buses and determining a site for creating huge, bird-shaped marionettes on stilts.

Surprise! Officials expected 15,000 attendees at LUMINOUSnight. They got 35,000. "I don't think the university would ever have sought to host so many visitors on campus on one night," says Madeleine King, who directed the yearlong celebration. "That the campus was so well prepared, ultimately safe, and absolutely ready and equipped to handle so many people is a credit to the UWA staff and volunteers."

High lights: Massive color-drenched film images projected onto the exterior of iconic Winthrop Hall, known as UWA's crown jewel, wowed the crowd. One of the peacocks that call the campus home was a big hit. Portraits of the landscape architects, gardeners, and grounds crew responsible for the garden-like campus were transformed into light sculptures displayed on large trees.

A big deal: The celebration's budget was AU$2 million. UWA's year of events engaged approximately 100,000 constituents throughout Western Australia.

Credits: Sue Boyd, chair, Centenary Planning Committee; Madeleine King, director, Centenary Celebrations; Ian Lilburne, artistic director, LUMINOUSnight; Virginia Rowland, senior policy officer, Centenary Planning Committee; Jo Agnew, director, development and alumni relations; UWA Development and Alumni Relations staff; Meredith Eddington, event manager, Alumni Weekend; Doug Durack, Danni Wick, Susanna Wills-Johnson, and UWA Communications and Marketing staff; Paul Johnson, UWA vice-chancellor; Alan Robson, emeritus professor; Bill Louden, emeritus professor; Ted Snell, Winthrop professor; David Jamieson, Jamie Coopes, and UWA Grounds staff

Thank you, 2014 Host Coordinators!

The Circle of Excellence Awards program would not be possible without the dedication of hundreds of CASE volunteers and their institutions. CASE is thankful for their support, especially the 47 host coordinators who contributed their time, talent, and expertise by recruiting judges, managing the review process, and writing judges' reports for their assigned award categories and subcategories. The list of 2014 host coordinators is here. Interested in being a 2015 host coordinator? Please contact Brian Flahaven, director of legislative, foundation, and recognition programs, at flahaven@case.org.

About the Author Mary Ellen Collins

Mary Ellen Collins is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg, Fla. Her work has appeared in Advancing Philanthropy, The Christian Science Monitor, The Arizona Republic, Angie's List Magazine, and Notre Dame Magazine.

 

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