Ease your student supervision speed bumps.

Ashley Budd // Decoding Advancement

Are you ready to get decoding advancement?! Ashley Budd is a Digital Strategist and currently serves as Director of Digital Marketing for Alumni Affairs and Development at Cornell University, but she wasn’t always on that career path. She shares about her transition from enrollment to development – from one side of university moneymaking to the other, filling us in on the warm sides of philanthropy and demystifying advancement. Additionally, Ashley walks us through a few of her personal and professional digital campaigns and why she loves list-making so very much. 

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Josie & The Podcast is proudly sponsored by:

Campus Sonar Logo

Online conversation is a reality, and the digital presence of your campus executives says a lot about your university to those who matter most—from current students to staff and alumni to prospective students, and beyond. That’s why this year, I partnered with Campus Sonar to explore the digital presence of 194 higher ed presidents and vice presidents over 6 months to help improve the industry’s understanding of digital leadership trends and get higher ed professionals thinking about the benefits of an effective executive digital presence. You can get your copy of the study at info.campussonar.com/higheredexecs.

Notes from this Episode:


Decoding Advancement Lightning Talk at HighEdWeb 2019

Ashley Budd Newsletter



CASE 2019 Summer Institute in Marketing & Communications

Just Enough Research by Erika Hall

Nicely Said by Nicole Fenton & Kate Kiefer Lee

Culter Andrews

Laura Day

Jennifer Doak-Mathewson

Christen Gowan

Eric Holderness

Kim Infanti

Advancement’s 40 Under 40

More about Ashley:

Ashley Budd is a digital strategist and designer from Saratoga Springs, New York. She serves as director of digital marketing for alumni affairs and development at Cornell University. Ashley speaks, writes, and shares her projects in a weekly newsletter. 

Prior to joining the digital team at Cornell, Ashley spent more than five years at her alma mater, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). At RIT, she led social media strategy for undergraduate admissions.

Ashley is producer and host on the Higher Ed Live network. She speaks before international non-profit groups and appears regularly at higher education web professional conferences including CASE, Confab Events, NACAC, and HighEdWeb.

Connect with Ashley:

Twitter: @ashley_budd

LinkedIn: LinkedIn

Instagram: @ashleyhenn

Connect with Josie

Twitter: @josieahlquist 

LinkedIn: /JosieAhlquist

Instagram: @josieahlquist 

Facebook: Dr. Josie Ahlquist 

Email: josie@josieoldsite.meljudsonclientportal.com

Website: www.josieahlquist.com

About Josie and The Podcast

In each episode, Dr. Josie Ahlquist – digital leadership author, researcher, and speaker – connects tech and leadership in education. This podcast will bring you leaders on-campus and online.

From Senior Vice Presidents on Snapchat, YouTubers receiving billions of views and new media professionals. All through the lens of social media and leadership. Josie hopes you will not only learn from these digital leaders but also laugh as we all explore how to be our best selves online and off.

Thanks for listening! Please subscribe to receive the latest episodes, share widely and let me know you’d checked it out!

Josie: Hello and welcome to Josie & The Podcast. This is Josie and I am grateful you are joining me today. This podcast features leaders who share everything from their latest tweet to their leadership philosophy. My goal is to connect tech and leadership with heart, soul, and lots of substance. Josie & The Podcast is sponsored by Campus Sonar, a social listening agency for higher education and I would sure love to tell you a little bit more about them. Online conversation is reality and a digital presence of your campus executives says a whole lot about your university to those that matter most.

From current students to staff and alumni to prospective students and beyond that’s why this year I partnered with Campus Sonar to explore the digital presence of 194 higher ed presidents and vice presidents over six months to help improve the industry’s understanding of digital leadership trends and to get higher ed professionals thinking about the benefits of an effective executive presence. You can get your copy of the study at info.campussonar.com/higheredexecs. Josie & The Podcast is also part of a pretty darn wonderful higher ed podcasting network called ConnectEDU. Learn more about us and our shows at connectedu.network.

All right, let’s dig into my amazing featured guest for today. Ashley Budd is a digital strategist and designer from Saratoga Springs, New York. She serves as a director of digital marketing for alumni affairs and development at Cornell University. Ashley speaks, writes, and shares her projects in a weekly newsletter which we’re going to dig into. Prior to joining the digital team at Cornell, Ashley spent more than five years at her alma mater, Rochester Institute of Technology. At RIT, she led social media strategy for undergraduate admissions.

Ashley is one of the producers and host for the Higher Ed Live network. She speaks before international non-profit groups and appears regularly at higher ed web professional conferences including CASE, Confab Events and HighEdWeb. A few quick highlights of the show that you can look forward to with my convo with Ashley. We really do get into decoding advancements since she’s my first advancement guest on the podcast. We talk about her career path from enrollment to advancement and discovering similarities across different campus roles. We demystify the requests for fundraising philanthropy and in other words, bringing in money for the university and its services.

We also get into a bit of digital strategy from social listening and segmenting audience based on sentiment. Woo. We’re going to get nerdy about social listening and what’s also neat is we talk about the power of text messaging, more powerful than email and some of our social media platforms. We also talk about why she almost left Twitter and started her newsletter and how she writes those as if she is messaging a friend. Of course, the both of us. You can find us on all the socials on Twitter. The pod is [JosieATPodcast 00:03:29]. I’m @josieahlquist and Ashley is @Ashley_bud. Everything we talk about from resources, people and posts, you can find them on my website, josieahlquist.com/podcast. Enjoy.

Josie: I am thrilled to be joined by Ashley Budd today on this show, Ashley, welcome.

Ashley: Thank you. I’m excited to be here.

Josie: We finally met face to face in person, in real life in Wisconsin a few weeks ago at HighEdWeb, which we’ll talk about in just a minute but for folks to get to know you, of course I read your big old bio, but it’s also fun to dig into what your social media bios say and yours is I think the shortest and the most to the point, so I’m excited to hear more on Twitter. Your bio is very good list maker at Cornell alumni. I chew, I’m a lover of lists so tell me more about your expertise.

Ashley: This might be a recent realization for me. I can’t remember when I changed that Twitter bio, but it’s certainly within the last couple of months. I’ve noticed my mother do this too. We’re just a perpetual list making family and I can recall myself trying to get organized by creating a list of all of the things that I needed to get done in a day down to the minute like I’m going to take a shower from 12:15 to 12:45 and I would do this in high school, and now in my career, I’m really good at project management. I’m really good at organizing information. I think that’s where that comes from. Yeah. I think whenever I feel like I need to get grounded or a little out of control, I go back to this to do list mentality. It makes me feel calm and more in control.

Josie: Right. There’s so much more sanity in the world when there’s lists involved.

Ashley: For me for sure.

Josie: [Tia 00:05:40] said you are really good at project management and obviously lists. Do you have any tools that you enjoy using beyond the pen and paper in digital form?

Ashley: Right now I have a very strong philosophy about what is allowed in my email inbox. Most things that come into my email inbox shouldn’t be emails at all. They should be to do items and so I try to get those out of my inbox as soon as possible into either a project management tool or setting a reminder in a different space that is not my inbox, so that is a philosophy that I really ascribe to and then right now I’m also taking it… our team uses Slack and I’m taking advantage of the reminder feature in Slack where you can kind of… pinpoints a conversation and say, remind me about this in an hour or tomorrow.

Again, I don’t have to make the to do list now, I’m using this check tools to kind of nudge me or be the to do list reminder in the future. I use Basecamp a lot at work for project management and I also have become totally obsessed with Airtable in this last year and all of the things that it allows me to do with organizing information and work and people and outcomes and all sorts of things, so big Airtable evangelist on the side.

Josie: We’ll make sure to link to some of those in the notes to the show. I love your response. You have a very strong emotion or strong philosophy about email. Yeah, email can become a full time job just in itself, so it’s great to hear you’ve got some tools at your disposal to make it work. Well, so Twitter is another one of the tools in your tool kit. What was your most recent post on that platform?

Ashley: Probably something about work, a project that I’m up to if I take a peek.

Josie: Yeah, you can totally [crosstalk 00:07:45].

Ashley: …tell you exactly. Oh no it wasn’t. It was actually something pretty terrible. I tweeted two days ago, so I’m still recovering it turns out, because I didn’t tweet anything yesterday about a catalog that I received in the mail for… it’s like a Christmas catalog time, toy catalogs. I’m getting them every day. I have a two year old, so the Internet gods know that I am-

Josie: You’re a prime demographic.

Ashley: Prime for stocking stuffers and like they’re prepping me for Black Friday and I got this catalog in the mail that says Lakeshore Gifts for Growing Minds and… so it’s these Lakeshore toy products and on the cover is a small girl playing with her first beauty kit and it just struck me that this was a real thing that I… my tweet says this is a real thing I received in the mail in 2019 promoting Gifts For Growing Minds and then juxtaposing that with the small girl putting lipstick on with her beauty kit, and it made me sad.

I was looking for people to commissary on Twitter I suppose, but yeah. Like super interesting about that… firstly I’m getting targeted for these kinds of purchases and then how wrong they’re getting it still, raising a daughter in Upstate New York. I just don’t think, yeah, if I was behind this campaign, I’ve probably… they have cool science toys. Like give me the girl doing the coding thing that would have made me much happier.

Josie: And much more on trend right now too.

Ashley: Totally.

Josie: Pay attention, openness. Wow. Well let’s take it back then to potentially your childhood. What was some of your earliest memories with technology?

Ashley: Earliest memories, probably I went to a small Catholic school. We did have some more resources than probably the public schools in my area for technology in the classroom, and so we did have the, like the first Apple computers. I remember playing Oregon Trail in kindergarten on that machine and then somebody gave us like an MS-DOS space computer that was in my room and when I was probably first grade, so I was playing like those chess games and Backgammon and like those kinds of things, so yeah. I think that’s as close to a digital native for a millennial as you can get. It was certainly like the handheld video games too. I can vividly remember learning that Santa Claus was not real because I saw a Game Boy in my mom’s trunk and then I got the game boy from Santa and my mind was blown, but also very happy about the Game Boy, so it all worked out.

Josie: [inaudible 00:10:50] keep getting the toys. Oh goodness. Well, now as a mom, considering tech and social media, have you start to carve out when you’re going to introduce her to Oregon Trail or not, and I’m just kidding about Oregon Trail.

Ashley: Yeah.

Josie: You know like how young kids get exposed to phones or mobile or have you started to think about things like that?

Ashley: Yeah, definitely. I try to follow what kind of mainstream guidelines are around screens and screen time and really they’re pretty strict up to 18 months. Children aren’t supposed to be in front of screens at all. If you can get away with that more power to you. I think my only… mom friend that gets away with that doesn’t have a television in her house. I kind of watch her. I think the negative effects on screen time at this age are really in children not being able to sleep well and their social behaviors and my girl sleeps like a rock. She’s very social, so if she gets more than the one hour or half hour recommended time, like I’m not going to worry about her but if I start to see that she is having trouble with social interactions or having trouble sleeping, I think that’s certainly the first thing that I would cut out.

Josie: Yeah, that’s a great plan. Look for all the holistic signs. Start to dig into your today’s… we’re going to talk about your newsletter, your use of social, as a digital strategist especially you are my very first guest to come from advancement and alumni affairs so you’re breaking the ice. You’re breaking the ceiling. Some of my questions might feel a little basic maybe for my own knowledge but also maybe potentially for my audience. I come from a student affairs background and it’s interesting how in some divisions I feel like they kind of keep each other from the other [crosstalk 00:12:46]-

Ashley: Totally.

Josie: …areas and I found enrollment and advancement were a couple of those areas and so it’s been great, especially things like social media where you can just break those types of walls and your career started in enrollment and you went to alumni and development, and so if you want to just maybe quickly tell us about what that shift was and then what skills you’re finding that have really helped in that transition to jump to visions and pleasant surprises.

Ashley: Sure. Yeah. I was brought up in enrollment. I attended Rochester Institute of Technology as an undergrad for a painting degree, which makes a ton of sense. I went to RIT for art. I was a tour guide. That’s my main student job. I ended up covering a full time leave when someone was ill over the summer and got some more real enrollment experience working as a receptionist and having to understand all the nuances of what that front facing engagement looks like with students and families and a little bit more about how the business worked and when I graduated with my private school debt and the speeching degree, I asked the director of admissions if he would support me in a graduate program and keep me on working in the office and he did, which was fantastic. He also had a maternity leave that he needed to fill, so the timing was right.

I ended up being hired full time at the same time when Facebook was turning public, like moving from just being university accounts and opening up to the public and we started talking about whether it was creepy or not to have institutions having a presence on social media. At RIT, tuition driven institution, large institution, at the time was about 20,000 students, very much driven on bigger enrollments, adding more programs. Growing the student body and also at the same time increasing tuition trying to position themselves as more competitive nationally, and so all of the focus at RIT really was on enrollment and I was looking at what we can do with digital marketing, social media to help elevate what the business schools were.

In 2013 when I started looking for other opportunities, I was really… I thought I was setting myself on a career path to sit somewhere or more centrally. This is also… still, we see many institutions just setting up their first marketing departments for their institutions. I was kind of looking, my career path being sitting somewhere centrally and Cornell was looking for a social media strategist in their advancement division. I thought what a great opportunity to learn about advancement at a place that is focused on advancement. Cornell isn’t the place that is completely focused on enrollment all the time. They’ve kind of got that figured out for them.

It’s much more about how do we stabilize this business and bring in more fundraising dollars and so I thought, great place to go learn that business match myself with an incredible mentor and [Andrew Golson 00:16:21], who’s been my boss for the last six years there and thought that there was going to be a lot of similarities coming from RIT, similar size institution, lots of engineers still in Upstate New York, but I found that I was going from like a mom-and-pop shop to going to work for Coca-Cola, like it was night and day, the kind of place that I got dropped into and I really fell in love with the work. I didn’t think that I would like the advancement work. I had spent so much time opening doors, providing access to education for students, had myself like fully grounded in this enrollment mindset and I thought of advancement as kind of like the icky part of the business having to ask people for money.

I didn’t really understand how that work, I wasn’t really excited about that. I was more excited about my career path that I would have to do this for a little while in order to get where I wanted to be, and what I found is that advancement is a phenomenal fit for me and that I really don’t notice it centrally in an organization. It’s been a journey, that’s for sure.

Josie: But even scrolling back to your degree in art, which you kind of giggled about that… I mean, even if you look at your website that is artistic, you’re telling this story in the visuals that bring advancement and alumni to life so you can… it’s not also to go back to connect the dots about things as well. You are trying to be an advocate and amplify what it really means to do this type of work because even yourself had some misperceptions about what advancement was.

Ashley: Yup.

Josie: If you could summarize it, what’s really at the mission of the work that advancement is here to do, clarifying what some of those misperceptions might be.

Ashley: Yeah. A couple of things resonate with me when I think about that. One is all of the conversations I’ve ever been in when we’re thinking about strategic planning, thinking about the future of our institutions or doing any benchmarking against peers and you’re sitting in those meetings feeling inspired and really wanting to get to this aspirational place that you can envision for your business and for your institution and what happens on the financial side of things is you have to plan to keeps the lights on. You have to show that you’re using the dollars that are coming in to keep the institution running and it’s harder to make justifications about those aspirational goals and so what ends up happening is your aspirational goals end up being funded through philanthropy.

That’s where you see capital campaigns being strategy to take institutions to the next level or you see crowd funding projects making things possible for student organizations where there just simply isn’t the funding outlined in the budget or on the path that your institution’s on. You’re not bringing in dollars at the rate that you should and so doing a campaign whether it’s 30 days for a small, tiny student organization or seven years to take the whole institution to a next level. It’s the philanthropic dollars that take you to that aspirational place.

That’s part of it. The other part is demystifying this like asking for money, begging, groveling kind of thing that you picture. I would picture the students in the phoning room having to make those phone calls to keep a job on campus, not like a line of students out the door that are just… you couldn’t wait to speak with alumni and ask them for money. Like that’s not the picture I have in my head, but what I found was that it actually is more like what I was used to in enrollment, where I am understanding who the student is in an enrollment scenario and trying to align their needs and ensure that my institution’s the right fit for them for their academic career.

With philanthropy, it’s identifying alumni or community members who are generous, who do give philanthropically and identify for them what the right philanthropic fit is. We know that our communities are generous people. They are giving. It’s then a storytelling problem where we need to make sure we’re explaining why their generosity makes sense at our institutions and I find that challenge incredibly rewarding, when you can match any work that you’re doing back to real dollars it’s exciting and then knowing that those dollars are the things that are going to not just keep the lights on at your institution, but make transformational change happen.

Josie: Well, especially for someone who loves lists so much, being able to going back to connect those dots to see the effort and the outcome. You’ve used the word campaign and philanthropic giving. Are those two in the same or is anything that you are putting energies towards to go to something, a campaign?

Ashley: Yeah, I mean the word campaign certainly in a marketing sense could be, you know, you can… it has a beginning and an end. I’ll say that. It has a narrative but it doesn’t have to be the capital C, capital campaign that most of the time when you’re talking with advancement professionals, if they bring up campaign, they mean this massive undertaking that will take several years but certainly we’ve seen… and we’ve seen that to the kind of… let institutions take their fundraising to the next level. Maybe you’ve been bringing in $10 million a year and you really think your organization should bringing in $30 million a year. You would invest in a campaign and kind of give your organization the resources that it needs for a short period… well, for a five, maybe five year period of time to get the operation up to what it would take to be that $60 million a year organization, but different than annual giving campaign that relies on money coming in regularly and kind of the regular cadence of communication is very different than a capital campaign that’s kind of like one big exclamation point over several years.

The scale is different, the concept’s the same and you can kind of get it down to even. What we’ve seen in new giving programs do is go super fast, so they’re doing 30 day crowdfunding campaigns, they’re doing 24 hour giving days, so very different than the like seven year plan-

Josie: Sure.

Ashley: …that might be happening with major or principal gift donors that are making multimillion dollar gifts. Those you don’t get them to make that decision in 24 hours, so it takes a little bit longer to convince them.

Josie: Within your role as a digital strategists within advancement telling the story of the institution and campaigns that are going on, is there one that sticks out in your mind as your favorite or most proud?

Ashley: Yeah. I’m deeply involved in Cornell giving days and one of the things that’s really exciting about the way we design the giving day, I’m putting my digital strategists hat on, is that we not only consider the broad audience that we have, but we also consider those digital behaviors that they have, so when someone comes to participate in a giving day with us, we want to make sure that no matter how they feel comfortable giving, there’s a pathway for them and so we know that there are some people that know exactly where they want to give. They were part of the band and they want to make sure that their money and giving is going to the [big red band 00:25:32], and so we want to make sure that we’re designing something that enables them to search for exactly the form that they’re looking for and get there very quickly. So we design something for search for those people.

We also know that there are people who are going to be drawn to our giving day because of all the hype that we bring and they don’t know where they should contribute and so for those folks that you want to kind of take them on a journey based on what they might care about in their everyday life and in those cases we’re pointing them to the different causes that Cornell represents and so we have a way to navigate through all of the different funds by starting with the overarching cause and that could be animal health, it could be public policy, it could be social justice. It could big red spirit. They just want to give back to the students designing the journey for them in a way that lets them connect with their own personal values and then display all of the different funds that roll up to those values, it’s a strategic part of our design.

For me, I think the stories are there to tell at all of these institutions, but how to deliver that story in the right way based on how a user might be thinking is a really interesting digital strategy challenge.

Josie: So a lot of customizations and then almost guidance through that process that it’s not just dumping my money here or like getting my name on a building. There’s lots of different journeys within that process [crosstalk 00:27:23].

Ashley: Right.

Josie: That’s great. At HighEdWeb, this last fall you were one of the lightning talks and you did phenomenal. I know how nervous that can be to get in front of the whole conference and like get it in in a very short period of time and you talked about decoding advancement, which we’ve already been starting to decode. I find a lot of my listeners are from all parts of the field, but especially grad students, new professionals who may not even realize their fit in lots of different areas across campus beyond where they currently are. Is there other things that you think any listener would need to know about how you think we need to decode advancement, especially for those that again, may not even have thought of that as a career path for them?

Ashley: Yeah, I think… I mean, no matter where you sit in the organization, if you’re under budget constraints you should talk to advancement because there are endless opportunities to have cashflow if you can find the right donor to support it, and that was never anything I knew existed. I think crowdfunding has helped us form great bridges between advancement and student campus life at Cornell because what we see happening in the industry and what we see happening in philanthropic giving and higher ed is that this idea of an annual gift to an institution that’s completely unrestricted. I’m just going to give to the university blindly, that is happening much less and new donors are coming and with much higher levels of skepticism.

Being able to offer… and I’ll backtrack. What happens when unrestricted funds or funds that aren’t earmarked for something aren’t available, then deans and vice presidents have fewer discretionary funds to spend, so where a student group might have had access to budget in campus life to go on a trip, if annual giving is going down and that discretionary funding isn’t available, you almost have to turn it back to the donors to say, okay, you’re not going to give us money without knowing where it’s going to go. Let me tell you about where we need the funding. Where a dean might not be able to send a student group to a trip, they could talk to advancement about putting together a small fundraiser and targeting individuals who do feel that connection and at the same time, it’s really supporting the donor pipeline at the institution because you’ve brought in someone who has this connection and is getting really close to the beneficiaries of those dollars by giving directly to them. This idea of directed giving you can point to almost any place in the institution.

We get requests from student campus life, but also in academic buildings, law school clinics and new institutes and new centers that want to be built up. They all need funding and there might just be a gift officer sitting in your advancement office who has someone on their radar who cares deeply about the same thing that you do, but without speaking with advancement that gift officer might not know that there’s even an opportunity for that donor on your campus.

Josie: For those of us that aren’t as lucky to work at Cornell with you, if any… or anywhere within the division or institution, who would be kind of your entry into an advancement office to maybe get that conversation going? I mean, like typically who would one first inquire to start the conversation to see if there’s a match?

Ashley: The communications, if there is a communications office within advancement, they tend to know everything that’s going on because they have to write stories about it. There are just usually a wealth of knowledge about the place, and then I would say annual giving programs. Annual giving programs are really focused on bringing in new donors every year and serving the broadest base of the population. They’re kind of your gateway into advancement. There’s also many structures and institutions will have a point person at advancement you might not know exists but if you’re working in a college or a unit, maybe you’re in athletics, maybe you’re in student campus life, there’s likely a development officer either sitting in your part of the organization that you might not be aware of or there is someone assigned to your college or unit that’s working in the advancement office. Finding out who that kind of lead development person for your area is would be my great person to connect with.

Josie: Yeah, that dotted line. Well, you’ve kind of alluded to it a couple of times about the financial health of our institutions obviously vary from campus to campus, but some spots are in critical places considering how much they rely on enrollment or their endowment and I think this… thinking about your career or those that are thinking about career paths within this area, I think it’s going to be even more growth and opportunity and need for those that can build these relationships tell the story, and so I’m glad you are one that are doing it.

Ashley: And I had a reflection back, like a light bulb. One of my very first jobs on campus because you were talking about phoning was a phone jack at South Dakota state. We’d call different colleges who are alumni. I was pretty good at it. I loved to call the pharmacies school alumni. [inaudible 00:33:46] nice. They always were more giving.

Josie: Yeah. Well, before we switch to a bit of digital strategy, anything else you’d like to share about decoding advancement or anything else that’s on your mind about advancement and even… or even alumni?

Ashley: No. I think, I mean one of the… I’m really trying to bring it together, communication professionals across institutions to understand what advancement is because I think most of our institutions are tuition driven and have most of the focus on enrollment, which makes a ton of sense. That’s what our business models are designed around but having seen the other side at a place that is focused on advancement, there’s just so much to learn and so much that I wish I knew.

Yeah. I mean, I’m trying to share the work that I do for those reasons and I recognize that I am at a place that’s really well resourced in this area, and so I almost feel like it’s my obligation to the industry to share what we learn when we make investments, when we fail. I want to share that too, so you don’t have to waste your money and when we figure something out that really works, trying to share that with as many people as possible to keep our institutions in good financial health, and to help more people recognize that higher education institutions are places that are worth their philanthropy because we still got a lot of work to do in that area.

Josie: The role as director of digital marketing then, what is that day in the life? What are the projects that you’re creating, putting out there that connects digital strategy and advancement?

Ashley: Yeah, I’ve got quite a bit under my umbrella right now. I oversee a team of three at the moment. A social media strategist, so his role is actually a bit broader than that. I would say it’s more of like digital community, digital engagement role, but all the social media channels essentially roll up under me. Also a digital content producer, which is a fancy way of saying phenomenal videographer, whose on our team and then I also have an assistant director who does a lot of our marketing performance analysis, campaign analysis across all channels.

All of our digital channels at this point include the websites, the social channels, the email marketing, direct mail, the phoning room, text messaging, all of those ways that we’re reaching out and so there’s quite a bit of traffic control that comes into play.

Josie: Sure.

Ashley: There’s quite a bit of audience management, understanding our audience, where they are in there… how connected they are to the university, how engaged they’re at this moment. Who needs to be re-engaged? How do we do that? How do we get our messaging to people in a very, very noisy digital environment? So kind of constantly iterating and understanding what channels people want to receive content on, at what time and what format.

It’s quite a bit of content strategy. It’s quite a bit of project management and then letting our storytellers do their jobs by taking all of those good stories that are happening and getting them translated to all of these different channels. It’s fun. I mean it’s… it is mostly storytelling but with all sorts of like tactical digital levers that you get to pull now, and all of these social listening insights and things that you can do to target people correctly, not with the child’s beauty magazine but with like the… with the thing that they’re actually looking for. It’s exciting to be able to use technology in a way that makes things more convenient to people.

Josie: And for Cornell and just having a broad scope of what advancement’s doing right now within digital strategy, those that are doing it. What are some of those engaging practices or ones that you love to come across or that you found through social listening that are working at least today in the fall of 2019. Who knows in a year that it’ll be the same, but I know you mentioned text messages even. I’d love to hear any of that.

Ashley: Yeah. I can tell a story about social listening and one about texting. Actually, they do overlap a bit but this past spring we had a commencement speaker who we thought would be a big hit with our alumni base, and so the speech was going to be live streamed anyway and we thought it would be smart for us to tell the entire alumni base that Bill Nye class of ’77 was going to be the commencement speaker that year, and I have a soft place in my heart for Bill Nye. He was on the TV that got wheeled into my science classroom in middle school and… so we were excited to share that news and share that the live stream was going to be available.

We sent that message out to all alumni via email on a Monday and we got a lot of negative feedback. It turns out not everyone has a soft spot for Bill Nye in their heart, and I joked with one of our senior people on the engagement staff, she came to me and said, “Wow, our alumni inbox is getting a lot of negative feedback about this advancement. Do you think we really have to do a reminder? Couldn’t we just send a reminder to the people who like Bill Nye?” And I laughed with her and then I said, “Yes, we can.” And so what we ended up doing was some social listening. We looked at Facebook posts that Cornell had posted about Bill Nye. It turns out there were about 80 or 90 that had existed, and we source all of the people who liked that content and then we had compiled the list pretty quickly of about three to 4,000 individuals, which is a pretty sweet spot for a reminder.

We found this group of individuals that we thought, okay, these are people that are going to be Bill Nye fans and we feel pretty confident about that. On Friday before commencement, we sent them a text message reminding them about the live stream and then we send a reminder email on Saturday morning reminding them about the live stream and we had about 500 people tune in to watch that on a Saturday afternoon and we count that as an engagement point.

Josie: Sure.

Ashley: If you’re… just as if you were to have showed up to commencement, you kind of got the credit in our engagement tracking that you attended this event, and so pulling together an alumni event with 500 people felt pretty good. We’ll often use that social listening insight to narrow our audience or prioritize our audience. The text messaging has been incredibly successful. We started that… really started thinking about text messaging strategically last December and the overall response is really positive. Lots of positive sentiment for these like engagement opportunities and also solicitations.

We recently started communicating with the class of 2019. They’re our first… their first year out and so the first communication that they got from us via text was just a simple check-in. How’s it… what’s it like being a new alumnus? Are you settling into alumni life? Is there anything that we can help you with? And pointing them to alumni resources, pointing them to career resources and those kinds of things, and again, response rates seem to be higher than emails. Sentiment, certainly. It’s really high and in that situation we had kind of split the audience between staff members sending those text messages. So hi, it’s Ashley Budd from the alumni affairs office just checking in. Do you need anything? And the other half was from students in the phoning room.

Josie: Oh, cool.

Ashley: So, hi, I’m a student. I work for the alumni affairs office. I’m helping them check in with all the alumni, and no surprise students got a higher response rate and the students loved texting too. They’re like, can we do this instead of making phone calls?

Josie: Yes.

Ashley: We’re excited about where that’s going, just seeing staff enjoy doing it and we’re getting those really positive responses on the other end too.

Josie: So they’d been… the theme between those two with the Bill Nye email and texting is a whole lot of customization and targeting of that audience. It’s not just one big blanket.

Ashley: Right, yeah.

Josie: …strategy, so wonderful. Those are… and just really quick. Can you define sentiment for those, I don’t know what that-

Ashley: Sure. Yeah. What we ask every… we kind of keep track with a little survey for ourselves every time we have a communication over text with someone, and what we want to track with sentiment is how they felt about being texted. Maybe they didn’t jump on the thing we are offering them, maybe they didn’t like what we had to offer, but we want to know if they felt okay with us communicating with them via text, and so we track a positive neutral or negative sentiment. Very few people were… we did certainly get some questions about how did you get my number to which we said you gave it to us, but very few people upset that they received a text message. Many feeling very positive about it, so this is great that we can kind of get a conversation going, going back and forth, and so that’s where our sentiment analysis resides and we do that so that we can kind of track over time whether people are getting tired of us-

Josie: Sure.

Ashley: …texting them or not.

Josie: Yeah, I find it such a fascinating tool within social listening. Sometimes when you see like three like really upset emails or tweets then you think that is the sentiment or the feeling for everyone, but to be able to have a broader picture of emotion and responsive things I think is again, quite fascinating.

Well, to shift gears again, outside of Cornell, you were just like a digital strategist and I really see you as a leader within communications and marketing within the field. You were a longtime presence on Higher Ed Live and talking about emails, I invited you into my emails earlier this year, but the newsletter that you started that I find is both very informational and refreshing almost like you explained that text message, which I thought was so on point to like be the first text message in someone’s inbox, you have to like really speak like a human and like what would that first thing you would say to someone in person or via text, so you’re on a good path there, but tell us about this newsletter where folks can find it. What maybe was in your last one because again, I’m a big fan of [inaudible 00:46:17].

Ashley: Yep. Well, thank you. You can find the link on my website ashleybudd.com. If you would like to receive emails from me, I started this newsletter last summer when I became really frustrated with the social media space. There were all sorts of negative political things that were happening on Twitter. I felt really sad about the community that I had on Twitter, professional community that I had on Twitter. People had either kind of gotten dark or pushed into this negative political conversation. It was also at a time where I felt that Twitter the company, was making bad decisions and so myself and many others in late summer decided to bail from Twitter, and so I thought if I’m going to leave Twitter where so many of my personal connections are, how can I keep communicating with these people? I’ve written a blog in the past and there’s something different about publishing a newsletter and publishing a blog that I thought I’m going to try this personal letter.

I’m going to DM my friends before I leave Twitter and tell them that if they want to keep in touch with me, they should sign up for it, and so I started it just really as a way to keep in touch with friends and professional colleagues and then I really enjoyed it. I told myself I would do that for six months. I gave Twitter 30 days to make me feel better before I came back and I ended up coming back to Twitter. They banned Alex Jones and that time and that was kind of my… that was kind of my rubric. I came back to Twitter but decided I was going to see out this newsletter for six months and it’s fun. I don’t know.

I don’t put too much on myself, too many rules around it but it would be things that normally I would tweet about or normally I would have written a blog post about and instead it’s taken this letter format.

Josie: Well, again, I find it very refreshing and I welcome it in my inbox and it also feels like you’re writing to a friend. Maybe you even wrote that once, that you wanted the emails to feed [inaudible 00:48:59].

Ashley: It’s how I frame my writing every time, I sit down because it can be challenging to write.

Josie: Sure.

Ashley: You know this, and I often have to… if I’m stuck and I don’t know what to say, it’s either I have a million things to say and I don’t want to make a really long letter and I’m kind of pairing it back or I don’t know where to start and I think of a couple individuals in my head that I know get this letter and read it and I think, what would I write to them today or I think what do I need to hear today? And usually when I ask… I’ve one or either of those questions, I’ve got my letter put together.

Josie: Well, something you have tweeted and I believe was in your last email was that you are the 2020 CASE social media conference co-chair, it’s going to be in Boston with Steve app. I know you all are putting out a call for presenters or anything that you want to plug about that conference. I absolutely love that conference and I’m excited to see you are taking it.

Ashley: Sure. Yeah. Longtime CASE volunteer and first time chair of this… co-chair of the CASE social media conference. I’m really excited about it. We have an open call for proposals through November 15th. If you happen to miss that deadline and you want to reach out directly about the conference, please do. We’re looking for both tactical multimedia presentations and also strategic big thinking presentations around social and I think topics that are tangential to social too are welcome. We’ve started to put together the faculty, hasn’t been announced yet, but we have two more faculty members confirmed and one more that I’m waiting on that are all like true rock stars. So keep your eye on the program. It’s up on the CASE website. It’s in April in Boston.

Josie: Awesome, fantastic and unfortunately this episode will not be out before that deadline, so we’ll send folks your way if they have this really wild idea that they want to pitch maybe to still be considered.

Ashley: Definitely do not hesitate to DM me on Twitter or email me.

Josie: Wonderful. Other than CASE and your email newsletter, are there other resources that you’d recommend that your loving books caught podcasts people.

Ashley: Yeah. I’m a huge fan of Erika Hall. She just released a second edition of her book. Just Enough Research, super practical for anyone who’s doing planning of any kind, really. If you’re ever someone who finds yourself having to put together a survey or having to learn, you find that it’s important to learn more about your audience. This book is a really easy book to consume and Erika is just brilliant, so that one… the second edition came out just a week or so ago, and that’s what’s on my nightstand right now. I also always recommend the book, Nicely Said for anyone who is writing, especially writing for the web so that is… it’s Nicely Said by Kate Kiefer Lee and Nicole Fenton, it’s sitting on my desk right now. Yeah. Those are the book resources.

Josie: Awesome. Well, again, we’ll link all of those and where can people find you to connect? You’ve mentioned Twitter. We’ll link to that, the newsletter, other places and spaces and addresses.

Ashley: Yeah. You’ll also find me involved in a couple of other CASE conferences. I’m on the planning committee for CASE DRIVE, which is all about data. Got any data nerds in the audience. CASE DRIVE is really cool. It’s going to be in New Orleans at the end of March, and then if you’re new to the field, if you’re in your first three years in communications marketing advancement, I am on the faculty for CASE Summer Institute, which happens each summer. It’s a week long intensive program for new professionals and I’m one of the faculty members for the marketing communications Summer Institute. You can find me at those places for sure and if you want to follow me on Instagram on @ashleyhenn, with two Ns and you’ll see all sorts of drama about the peach grove that I have in my yard and my travels and other fun things.

Josie: I must see this peach drama.

Ashley: Yes.

Josie: Is the emoji involved of the peach emoji?

Ashley: Not often, no.

Josie: Okay. I have two more questions. I wrap up every show with my work around digital leadership, thinking about what our impact is on tools now and in the future. If you knew your next post on Twitter was going to be your last, which you actually were thinking about getting off Twitter so maybe you thought about this, what would you want it to be about?

Ashley: Well, when I was getting off Twitter, I wasn’t like leaving this planet entirely but if I was leaving this planet entirely, I would probably make a case for people to just share more. I spent a long time kind of gobbling up as much knowledge as I could to get myself to a point where I had an advantage over others and I now find that it’s an incredible burden to be a person with… the only person in a room with the knowledge, and so knowledge sharing is so important for our industry. It’s why I’m really passionate about more people learning about advancement and so it would probably be a call for more people to speak up about their work and share what they know and I’m not sure that I would be able to point to any resources to do that other than some passionate cry on Twitter.

Josie: Really strong gift for video or-

Ashley: Yes.

Josie: Well, hopefully this podcast helps out as well and I appreciate that philosophy of sharing as much knowledge as possible. Well, for now, how do you hope your digital presence is impacting the world?

Ashley: Impacting the world?

Josie: Yeah, no pressure.

Ashley: The world you’re saying. Yeah. I mean I… I think education is the most important thing that people can invest in which makes sense as to why I’m sitting in the role that I do. I was actually my commencement speaker who spoke to us about if you can give back at all, give back to education. I’m sure he was planting the seed for our development office at the time, but sitting there as an undergraduate with a painting degree, I thought, huh, that makes sense. So, yeah. I think there is certainly something about American institutions that have always been leading and many institutions worldwide still struggle with the idea of an institution being a place that’s worthy of philanthropy.

I hope that the work that we’re doing at Cornell and the way we share the work that we’re doing at Cornell is able to be picked up by other institutions around the world to make their places more financially sound, but also help drive that narrative that things that are happening at these campuses are worthy of generous philanthropic dollars.

Josie: Wonderful. Well, I very much appreciate your time and the way that you’ve shared knowledge and you’re telling the story not just of your institution but the field within communication and marketing and it’s just been such a treat to connect with you over the years. Finally meet you in person and now get you on the podcast, so no pressure. You’re representing all of advancement right now as far as the field goes, but I will definitely get more of you on here to keep amplifying and advancing this type of knowledge and important work.

Ashley: Great. I’ll send you some folks to pay attention to.

Josie: Yeah, please, please do.

Ashley: Thanks so much for having me on Josie.

Josie: Wow, this episode was so overdue. I have been a big fan of Ashley for some time and to dig into all this goody work with advancement and even how that overlaps with alumni. It was an eye opening conversation. It truly helped a bit decode and demystify advancement and I’m just going to reflect a little bit on the main core things that we talked about, about advancement and some digital strategy. I love to have a lot of these conversations unpack career paths. Sometimes you can just see someone on Twitter or Higher Ed Live or on the stage and think how the heck they got there and what that path came from and we definitely got to hear where life has led Ashley into advancement.

She even shares, I didn’t think I would like advancement work, thought of it as a icky part of the business and she was just using as a step in her career path but she said, I found the advancement is a phenomenal fit for me, and I think that is a reframe for us in all walks and paths of life that we might have perceptions of choices or functions within our organizations that may not be accurate whatsoever and again, this is why it was so great to get her on the pod to demystify some of those things. She also had a message for anyone across the institution to hear about the work of advancement. She said, no matter where you see the institution, if you’re under budget constraints you should talk to advancement and this is I think like a nice… a weight off of your shoulders to feel like you have resources on your campus to start those conversations for crowdfunding philanthropy, if it’s tapping into specific alumni, it can be micro efforts. It doesn’t have to be these big campaigns.

It’s nice to know we’ve got so many different options and creative sources and I think the other thing that really struck a chord with me and then might for you as well when she said, when you can match the work you’re doing to real dollars and know that those dollars make transformational change, not just to keep the lights on and I know as the digital strategist with an advancement and alumni that she is telling that story of how not to just ask… always the ask, but the tell and the transformation story as extremely powerful. We did dig into a whole lot about her being the director of digital marketing. She talked about it being quite a bit of traffic control and audience management, content strategy, project management. We dug in some tools that you can check out. We’ll list those in the show notes and it’s a whole lot about telling good stories happening, adapting them to the right platforms.

There was a couple of lessons in here that were interesting for us to learn from. Sometimes you think you’re going to have a splash with a speaker you’re bringing to campus or an event that you have done and when you start to actually use these basic to advanced social listening tools, you may start to realize some responses were different than you may have expected, but Ashley and her team saw and took this to their advantage as far as their next step in communications that it wasn’t just another big push and announcement, but they were able to segment and target those that already expressed positive sentiments and feelings about Bill Nye being their graduation speaker and they targeted them with the message. As a result, they got 500 people to join the live stream and I really appreciate how she said we count those numbers as engagement. Virtual or not they have chosen on their day wherever they are in the world to join and let me just echo that. Digital engagement equals community, alumni, student engagement. We can count and track those numbers.

We owe somebody to make sure we track back to how they pivoted their communication strategy because of how they were listening and how they were targeting more specific even though they may have been a little disappointed in what the first response was to that first announcement about their speaker. It was also neat that we got talking about text messaging as a means of communication to potential donors, but also just building the relationship via text with a recent graduate, just the check-in, not the… the first text message they get is it asking for $5. It’s saying, how are you doing and getting students part of that strategy.

They’re the ones sending the messages as well and she said those get even a higher rate, so I just love these means and resources and we might feel like text message that’s just taking things far too far, and of course if you’re sending messages multiple times throughout the day or even a week, I would say that strategy is going to start to crash and burn but having it be really specific and targeted and building it up, building that relationship and trust even through text message I think is… I’m excited to pay attention to this trend to see how we see even more best practices coming along.

And then finally, the reason why Ashley is in the book, I talk about the newsletter. The newsletter doesn’t have anything to do with her role at Cornell even though it definitely has a whole lot to do with her knowledge over time within all types of spaces and communities and it’s just one of those emails where I’m deleting everything else in my inbox but then when I see that one, that’s when I’m not deleting and I’m going to come back to later. It really is like she’s writing to a friend from what she’s doing that week, what’s on her mind, articles that she found she really enjoys, conferences she’s going to, people you should follow. It’s just a really natural way, which I think is another reflection point for you to think about in your email campaigns. Are you writing those, are people… are you in that shlew of emails that people are deleting in that big clump that they get first thing in the morning or later in the day.

Are you getting saved because they can feel the emotion and connection and maybe even customization behind it. I’ll make sure to include in the show notes her info about that newsletter, it’s really great. It was so darn helpful hearing about the big picture and the why behind advancement and the relationships behind it, building those communities. That’s true for an institution. It was also so great hearing about the digital tricks that you have Ashley up your sleeves to propel your own professional and personal strategies and then again, all the things that we talk about are going to be in the notes for the show.

This was the first. This is not going to be the last and so after our interview I asked Ashley to send me a few folks that maybe I could give a shout out who are tirelessly working in this field, not just keeping the lights on but are telling the stories that are transforming our institutions and our students and so a few of those, again, there’s a whole article that EverTrue created. It’s advancements 40 under 40, so just go follow all those 40 people but a few folks, she sent my way were Cutler Andrews, Laura Day, Jennifer Doak-Mathewson, Christen Gowan, Eric Holderness and Kim Infanti, and I apologize if I’ve missed spoken of the pronouncing of your name, but at least I want to give you a shout out and I’ll link to their info in the show notes. Build collaborations on campus. The folks that are tirelessly working even beyond the campus walls, they’re really there for the transformation, the work and the leadership that we’re all here to do and serve.

Please subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss a single future episode and share it widely with your colleagues, friends. Well, you never know, you could even share it with your family. Join the conversation online by tweeting at me @josieahlquist and the pod is at JosieATPodcast and remember those show notes you find them on my website, josieahlquist.com/podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please consider leaving a review on iTunes or any other podcasting platform that you use that really helps folks find the show and lets me know that I am on the right track. If you’re interested in learning more about me and my speaking and consulting work on digital engagement and leadership or my research and publishing, you can check me out at josieahlquist.com.

Thank you again to our podcast sponsor, Campus Sonar. Makes sure to check them out at campussonar.com. I’m sending digital hugs, loves, and waves to whatever corner of the world you’re listening in from. This has been Josie & The Podcast.

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Rebekah Tilley

Assistant Vice President, University of Iowa Center for Advancement

Rebekah Tilley is the assistant vice president of communication and marketing for the University of Iowa Center for Advancement (UICA). In that role she supports fundraising and alumni engagement efforts for the university, including its CASE Gold winning Iowa Magazine, and serves UICA in a variety of strategic communication efforts.

Previously she was the director of strategic communication for the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business, and the director of communication for the University of Kentucky College of Law. She is a Kentucky native and a proud alum of the University of Kentucky.

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