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 Rick Cook Studying CRM Software In Higher Education

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 By Rick Cook

Constituent Relationship Management Software Increasingly Makes The Grade

It’s no secret that higher education of all sorts, public, private, not for profit and for profit, is under financial pressure in today's economy. To cope with the problems of rising costs and falling revenues, more educational institutions of all kinds are turning to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software solutions, often called “Constituent Relationship Management” among higher education circles, in order to help trim expenses and grow revenues.

According to the National Center For Education Statistics, in the 2007-2008 school year expenditures at four-year public universities rose to $208 billion while revenues were almost static at $213 billion. Private colleges saw expenditures rise to $133 billion while revenue (mostly from endowments) fell from $182 billion in 2007 to $139 billion in 2008. In 2009 giving to institutions of higher education dropped for the first time, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. The trend toward less participation in fund drives continues, the Chronicle reports, with a median participation rate down from 15.9% in 2008 to 12.4% in 2009, and with the average revenue per donor dropping by 8%.

What this adds up to for higher education is the need to streamline operations, cut costs, enhance revenue generation activities and improve management. Colleges and universities are discovering that Constituent Relationship Management software systems can help them do all those things and in particular, better manage their efforts to secure financial contributions from donors, philanthropists, alumni organizations, government and even the public at large.

Fortunately, there isn't a lack of CRM vendors at the ready to help schools and universities. Companies like Blackbaud, Campus Management, Datatel, Hobsons EMT, Microsoft, Oracle Siebel, RightNow Technologies and SunGard Higher Education all offer higher education CRM software solutions specifically targeted at the unique industry requirements and business processes of the education market.

Educational CRM systems are also increasingly making the transition from on-premise only offerings to the software as a service model. "Our older systems were holding us back from providing the same level of student service and support we were able to provide when we were smaller," explained Michael Statmore, IT Director at Post University in Waterbury, Conn. The university selected and implemented Oracle OnDemand to manage its student information. Statmore indicated by selecting a SaaS application, he avoided capex and was able to keep his IT costs down. Traditionally horizontal CRM vendors such as Microsoft, Oracle, RightNow and now all have higher education versions of their SaaS CRM products.

In the face of present economic conditions, institutions are increasingly using Constituent Relationship Management to expand and manage their base of both students and potential donors. For the later, this includes mapping out highly defined fund raising campaigns, applying targeted messaging to specific audiences, managing the campaigns in real-time and developing incremental methods to encourage recurring and progressive donations.

Using new Constituent Relationship Management systems, techniques and automation for revenue enhancement represents a considerable change for many schools, who are moving from paper based systems, or perhaps Excel spreadsheets, to an integrated database approach and measurement system.

One of the primary challenges for educational institutions adopting new systems is the same as the problem long associated with sales force automation systems implementation, and that is getting a centralized and shared system in place of individual development (or “advancement”) and officers’ Rolodex. As with sales forces, much of fund raising success depends on an individual approach and careful cultivation of potential donors. It can be initially difficult to convince fund raisers, as it is with sales people, that they can be far more efficient and effective with a customer relationship management system.

However as with Sales Force Automation, the advantages of Constituent Relationship Management software and strategies are overwhelming. The donor data in a central data warehouse can be precisely mined to produce new insights about the donor base and new potential campaigns. Contacts can be followed up more consistently and efficiently and staff time can be more productively utilized.

There are other advantages as well, some of them relating to changes in donor profiles. One of the major changes of the last few years has been that donors tend to be more targeted with their donations. Rather than simply giving to the university, there is a tendency to want to give to specific programs. To satisfy these kinds of donors, it’s important for development officers to carefully follow how encumbered money is used and periodically report back to the donor on the programs progress. This can consist of letters or emails updating the donor, or it can go as far as mounting a webcam at a new building under construction so that donors can follow the progress in real time.

The other major use for CRM in higher education today is in tracking the applications and admissions process and communicating with students once they enroll. Here the advantages are reduced cycle times, student efficiencies and cost savings. Constituent management has the potential to streamline and automate much of the enrollment paperwork that runs a modern university. For example, a well-managed student system makes it easier to keep track of who has applied to the school, systemically advance their application, and automatically coordinate with housing, financial aid, scholarships and other related programs. For most schools this can represent a major savings in time and effort.

Another related use for Constituent Relationship Management is to provide more self-service capability for students in dealing with the administration. With CRM software applications and the web schools can let students get the information they need online and handle routine jobs unassisted. This makes life easier for the students and takes a load off administrators.

Still, the market for CRM in higher education is only beginning. While the vendors tend to talk in terms of institution-wide programs in order to manage everything from applications to alumni relations, most schools are concentrating on using Constituent Relationship Management to boost their fund raising efforts. Institution-wide, fully integrated systems are still in the early stages of adoption. However there are significant advantages to institution-wide systems which will undoubtedly encourage schools to move in that direction as they get more comfortable with CRM software and strategies. End

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Comments (6) — Comments for this page are closed —

Guest Alan Walker
  I find that higher education CRM systems have a way of starting out or ending up as glorified email distribution applications. Rather than considering the student lifetime journey and integrating CRM software with enrollment systems, financial aid apps and the registrar in order to leverage the student's journey with context and content, they revert to batch and blast email distributions. It has little to do with the student experience and is more about deploying another communication channel. Higher education CRM generally lacks strategy and has a lot of learning to do before it catches up with the business world.

Guest Spense Navart
  Colleges and universities are facing a similar competition as the business world. Admissions offices were often the early adopters of CRM software but now academia is using technology to better reach out to more constituencies, including prospective students, matriculated students, alumni, donors and businesses. Many are also increasing usage from student acquisition to also include student retention.

Guest raulesos
  Which vendors offer higher education customer relationship management systems in saas model?
  Denise Denise Holland
    To a degree, almost all of the educational CRM systems do, however, some use the more dated "hosted" concept generally characterized as single tenant operation with traditional (up front) licensing procurement while others leverage the more current multi-tenant, subscription-based SaaS CRM delivery model. Microsoft Dynamics 2011,, RightNow and Campus Management offer multi-tenant, subscription based educational CRM systems. The Campus Management system actually uses Microsoft Dynamics as part of its student information system. Azorus, Blackbaud, Datatel, Enrollment Rx, Hobsons EMT, Intelliworks, Jenzabar, Oracle Siebel and SunGard Higher Education offer varying degrees of hosted options.

Guest adam stouk
  As a part-time graduate student attending evening classes at a major university, it appears to me that my college, and seemingly many colleges, don't have a clue about educational CRM applications.
  Denise Denise Holland
    CRM for higher education is going through its own learning and education phase. Like businesses before them, many educational institutions began their information systems acquisitions with piece meal, stove pipe applications that responded to a particular need and without the foresight of a long term information systems strategy. Later, they were forced to integrate early student systems with self service portals, campaign management and fundraising applications, financial aid programs, back-office enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and a myriad of other educational systems. Now at an accelerated pace, higher education is adopting CRM applications which are part of the larger information systems landscape and increasingly considering software as a service (SaaS) CRM systems. While as an industry, educational institutions may have started a bit late, expect them to apply their academic rigor and pick up the pace when it comes to using these systems to achieving a holistic view of the student and alumni relationship, implementing automated business processes which keep students on track and leveraging business intelligence in a way that aids educators in making smarter decisions.


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The advantages of Constituent Relationship Management software and strategies are overwhelming. The donor data in a central data warehouse can be precisely mined to produce new insights about the donor base and new potential campaigns. Contacts can be followed up more consistently and efficiently and staff time can be more productively utilized."


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