Award-Winning Magazines Reach Community, Impress Donors
In 2015, Elgin Community College’s Impact wasn’t living up to its name. The newsletter, a stewardship piece for the suburban Chicago institution’s foundation, contained plenty of reporting, but little in the way of storytelling. Impact was heavy on old-school content, light on style.
“There were a lot of grip-and-grin kind of photos in there,” says Jennifer Strohl, manager of alumni, affinity groups, and stewardship at the ECC Foundation.
The institution’s marketing and outreach committee knew that the publication could be much more. The committee members decided to recreate Impact as a glossy, visually striking magazine centered on one theme for each issue. And, in January 2016, the ECC Foundation brought on Strohl, who shepherded the transition.
“It allowed us to marry the images and the design into the way that we told the story,” Strohl reflects on the change. “It really empowered us to take our storytelling to the next level. To make it more personal and build in those details.”
In the next few years, Impact took on new life—exploring themes from emergency services to STEM—and was honored for its success in 2019 with a gold Circle of Excellence Award in the category of community college magazines.
Promotional to Professional
Another Circle of Excellence winner, Salt Lake Community College’s SLCC Magazine, earned a silver award in 2019 after undergoing a less drastic, but significant, journey which managing editor DB Troester describes as “promotional to professional.”
“Coming from a publishing background, I’ve found that people don’t like to be sold,” says Troester, who has been in his role at the Utah college for more than three years. “Just tell the interesting stories at Salt Lake Community College. A good product will promote itself.”
SLCC Magazine hasn’t only promoted itself, but also its institution. Troester says the publication has displayed the college’s inclusivity, diversity, and a range of success stories—communicating with a primary audience of alumni, in addition to lawmakers, donors, students, and community members.
At a time where many print publications are struggling, alumni and school magazines such as SLCC Magazine and Impact are flourishing by drawing upon the tangible qualities of a physical product—a trend explored in “The Power of Print” in the January/February 2020 issue of Currents magazine.
A Tactile Experience
“As a community college, many of our alumni and our donors are right here in our community. But they’re not on campus every day,” Strohl says. “I think their connection to campus is strengthened when they receive something in print that you can hold in your hands, and you have that tactile experience. And the images pop off the page and make you feel like you’re there on campus.”
Troester agrees that a well-produced print product can draw (and hold) readers’ attention in a manner that is different from digital publications.
“You’ve got this product that was produced and there was effort put into it,” he says. “Because it’s a physical item in your hand, it’s not as easy to dismiss as an email or a digital newsletter.”
Just because these magazines are succeeding doesn’t mean that publication costs aren’t still a challenge. ECC dealt with this reality by replacing three separate stewardship products with Impact. Troester has lowered publishing costs by standardizing the number of pages in an issue to 40, made possible by keeping articles short, and not often allowing pieces to jump beyond one spread of pages.
This “digestible and readable” approach to SLCC Magazine has produced powerful results. Troester cites stories that had an influence on donations to the college, such as one about a blind culinary student at SLCC that helped encourage a $250,000 donation from a foundation for the sight impaired.
He also proudly quotes from a letter written to him by a donor who gushed, “Your publication … makes me want to sign up, take classes, and be part of the student body. … Clearly, SLCC is redefining the concept of the community college in an innovative way.”
Troester reflects on the note: “Nothing personal, but I like that better than awards. It’s validation for exactly what we try to do.”
Strohl enjoys the positive feedback she receives about Impact from ECC’s local community. She’s thrilled that the magazine spotlights students, faculty, alumni, and donors for an audience that includes those same types of readers, as well as the college’s tax-paying base.
“I think that this publication empowers them to be proud,” she says. “The evidence is right there: these beautiful pictures of students doing outstanding, incredible things. It enhances our community pride.”
That sort of pride is reflected in the design and content of both magazines. Because 54% of SLCC’s student population is first-generation and 30% are minorities (more than any other higher education institution in Utah, according to Troester), SLCC Magazine has ample opportunity to share the stories of the college educating “those who need and want it the most.”
Likewise, Strohl thinks that Impact doesn’t just showcase what’s going on at ECC, but the types of human stories playing out at community colleges across the country.
“This is where you see America,” she says. “This is a place where you see women’s empowerment happening. A higher percentage of our students are women, so we are giving this opportunity to women in the community to get an education. I connect with our students and I tell their stories about their dreams and how we can make them come true.”
What Will You Enter?
Submit your institution’s work for the 2020 Circle of Excellence Awards. All entries are due March 11, but entries received by Feb. 26, 2020, earn an early-bird discount of $20 off each submission. Enter now.
About the author(s)
Bryan Wawzenek is a content creator at CASE