Meet the Experts: Jenny Cooke Smith
I began my career managing about 200 volunteers for a hospice, where I formed a special connection with a group of people passionate about the organization’s mission, each with a unique story.
When we embarked on our first capital campaign, I realized these constituents would be critical to our success. I pitched carrying my own portfolio of volunteers, connecting their passion to the goal of funding a hospice house. It worked. The same principle applies to advancement in education.
We know that engagement leads to giving (and student recruitment, government funding, community outreach, and lifelong learning, among other outcomes). But until recently, those stories have been just that—anecdotal evidence shared to help shed light where quantitative results were missing.
I transitioned from fundraising to analysis after that capital campaign’s completion and spent 15 years with Blackbaud’s Target Analytics, helping institutions and organizations gain insights from statistical modeling, trend analysis, and donor life-cycle behavior.
I was in the audience at CASE’s 2018 Summit for Leaders in Advancement, when CASE President and CEO Sue Cunningham announced the formation of AMAtlas and its goal to become the global resource for advancement metrics. It felt like a sea change.
A year later, I joined the AMAtlas team in a position focused on helping members find value through using CASE data. We launched the Alumni Engagement Metrics survey to help integrated advancement shops solve challenges ranging from “participation isn’t a valid measurement of alumni affinity,” to “we aren’t using data to make strategic decisions,” and my own query, “We know engagement leads to giving, but how do we show it?”
We knew presenting those solutions should be visual, so we created Graphical Program Summary reports, which are delivered to any member who completes the AEM survey. The reports make it easy for members to identify key performance metrics in the results, see changes in their own data over time, and then compare their data against like institutions’ data.
We also launched the first AMAtlas Facilitated Cohorts, with the goal of incorporating benchmarking results to understand the stories behind the data across advancement disciplines.
Despite a year filled with uncertainty, 372 institutions from 16 countries submitted results to the 2020 AEM survey, an increase of 20% over the previous year. Key findings show that 16% of alumni are engaged in any of the four modes of engagement: philanthropy, volunteer, experiential, and communication. And for the first time, we could tell the broader story of alumni affinity, by showing that 26% of engagement was represented by philanthropy.
I’m motivated to use these metrics to provide insights for advancement, no matter the role. It’s about finding measures that can lead us to next steps and answer the important question: Who are the volunteers who aren’t giving?
Working with AMAtlas isn’t that different from working with the hospice, where I found such joy in collaborating with volunteers.
I am profoundly grateful for the CASE community of volunteers and members. I hope to partner with you, whether you are taking a survey for the first time, understanding your GPS report, or considering CASE for tailored solutions for your institution.
Article appears in:
Town-Gown Relations: How and why institutions should collaborate with their communities. Plus, understanding alumni personas, navigating nontraditional paths to advancement, and creating a new normal as institutions return to campus.