Higher Ed Trends and Learnings from the Experts at bbcon 2019 | npENGAGE

Higher Ed Trends and Learnings from the Experts at bbcon 2019

By on Nov 1, 2019


bbcon, higher ed, bbcon 2019

Last month we hosted bbcon 2019, the premier tech gathering for organizations and change agents driving social good, at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, TN.  With over 3,000 attendees and over 1,000 individuals representing higher education institutions, this was our largest event to date. Throughout the 3-day conference, industry experts, customers, and partners participating in the higher education track shared what the higher ed landscape looks like today, challenges, new opportunities, digital transformation, and more.  

We’ve summarized a few of the key takeaways below that you can leverage even if you weren’t able to attend this year 

1. Industry Research & Trends 

Industry insight is an important part of the value that bbcon provides to attendees. This year, we were proud to feature perspectives from many leading higher ed experts including James Wiley, principal analyst at Eduventures, and Fred Weiss, chief research and data officer at Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE).   

Fred Weiss shared an in-depth analysis on the latest trends facing higher education advancement, alumni engagement metrics, and CASE’s 2018 Voluntary Support of Education (VSE) Survey.  Key findings from CASE’s 2018 VSE Survey include: 

  • Gifts from every type of donor increased. Notably, gifts from the category “other organizations” increased 13.5%, nearly double the increase from any other type of donor. This category includes fundraising consortia, religious organizations, and, significantly, donor-advised funds (DAFs). 
  • A sample of 404 institutions reported on receipts from DAFs. They reported a 65.8% increase in amounts received from DAFs, which suggests that such increases contributed to the substantial increase in gifts from the broader category called “other organizations.” 
  • Giving to current operations rose 6.2% while giving for capital purposes rose 8.6%, both represent sizable increases over the previous survey period 
  • Seven different institutions received gifts of $100 million or more. While several gifts were payments on previous multi-year commitments, such nine-digit gifts are rare and noteworthy.  

In a compelling session on technology transformation, James Wiley reviewed the Eduventures 2019 Higher Education Technology Landscape report and delved into the essential components needed to achieve true transformation. I also had the pleasure of interviewing James Wiley in the #bbcon Lounge to discuss the latest tech trends in higher education and how digital transformation is changing the way universities operate.  You can check out a recording of this interview on YouTube.    

2. Communicating Your Institution’s Value  

From prospective students who are searching for the right institution, to existing students working to reach their academic aspirations, to active alumni who want to support their alma mater, industry leaders agree that effectively communicating institutional value is critical. Institutions can no longer rely solely on national rankings and athletics as the primary means of building public trust.  In our higher education super session, panelists shared many of their strategies for communicating institutional value, such as leveraging communication focused on impact stories and strengthening alumni engagement.   

3.  The Changing Higher Ed Tech Landscape  

As the higher education technology landscape continues to evolve, institutions are looking for new ways to hone their technology ecosystem and translate technological progress into impact.  With trends changing in deployment models and institutions supporting a more diverse technical ecosystem than ever before, a sound technology strategy is essential.  Both higher education leaders and industry experts summarized these keys for success: 

  • Implement thoughtful data strategy – As the depth and breadth of data available to institutions continues to growdata delivery and the ability to shape that data to inform action are criticalHigher ed leaders that focus business intelligence and analytics initiatives to answer strategic questions help set a more productive course for data usage and better position their institutions for success.   
  • Prioritize adoption and usage It is important that institutions deliver solution experiences that are not only consistent with what users want, but with what they will use.  With limited experienced technical resources, thinking through how solutions will be adopted is a key component in helping to avoid long-term technical debt.   
  • Develop a sound integration strategy — Ensure that new technology systems have the interoperability and scalability qualities to fit within your existing ecosystem and can extend to support your future goals and growth. 
  • Focus on the long-term impact – Many higher ed leaders find it helpful to begin technology initiatives focused on the ROI of the investment.  Asking how the new technology will enhance and improve the services you offer or allow you to work more efficiently will help you make a more informed decision and justify the investment.  

 4. Trends in Talent Management  

Industry speakers covered the trending topic of talent management in both panelist discussions and best-practice sessions throughout the week.  With research indicating both opportunity for advancement offices in this area and the significant impact that high turnover has on fundraising goals, talent management has grown in focus for the higher ed industry.  Higher ed panelists discussed strategies for implementing talent management programs and creating a culture for success. 

 Jeanne Pecha from Brown University shared how they are implementing strategies to grow and retain talent, including:  

  • Participating in regional talent management consortiums, sharing best practices, resources, and innovative ideas 
  • Hiring an experienced professional that understands the nuance of the fundraising industry to lead talent management initiatives 
  • Focusing on institutional culture as part of retention 

 5. Importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs  

Industry leaders shared the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion programs and how they are implementing these programs to support future success. Speakers shared how DEI programs are broad in scope, part of their higher-level strategic plans, and are woven throughout the institutions’ initiativesShared examples include how some are enhancing alumni programming to support the diversity of experiences and creating a multi-faceted approach in their commitment to DEI 


With a constantly evolving higher ed landscape, institutions are increasingly relying on technology innovation to support their future success. To stay ahead of these trends, institutions leverage forums like bbcon, EDUCAUSE, and CASE Summit, that provide industry insight and foster peer collaboration and forward thinking.  


Explore additional resources around these topics on the Blackbaud Higher Ed Resource Hub. Then, lock in your ticket to bbcon 2020 in Seattle now with discounted super early bird rates! 


Tim joined Blackbaud in October 2016 as President & GM of Higher Education Solutions. He is a visionary, award winning global marketing, sales and operations executive with over 25 years of experience at high growth technology companies. He has led worldwide sales, marketing and operations teams at leading corporations like Blackboard, SAGA Software (Software AG) and Iomega Corporation. With more than two decades of success in technology sales/marketing strategy and brand development, Tim has been named one of the “Top 10 U.S. Marketers” by Crain’s Business Marketing; “Top 100 Executives” by Advertising Age and won “Product Launch of the Year” from Marketing Computers (for the Iomega zip drive). 

Before joining Blackbaud, Tim served as a senior executive at Blackboard for over eight years, most recently as President, Global Marketing. Prior to this, Tim was President of the Professional Education business unit (ProEd) focused on non-profit, government, corporate and for-profit education market verticals. He also held senior posts as Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing and International Sales at Software AG Americas and served as Chief Marketing & Sales Officer at Iomega Corporation. 

Comments (1)

  • Kate Baker says:

    Really interesting insights! Thinking about point #3, I am currently engaged in developing a new CRM implementation and recruitment strategy for a small nonprofit arts college. In this process, we are faced with the potentials and opportunities to integrate and engage our advancement (fundraising), communications (marketing + public relations), student life, and admissions offices through these new data platforms to enhance one another’s work, and provide an integrated strategy for the development of the experience and perception of PNCA from inside and outside. Whenever discussing the approach to such integration, the questions always end up at the point of where to draw the line, how much integration is too much, how much change is too much change. With newer players like Slate rapidly expanding the possibilities for integrated processes across the whole cycle of stakeholder from prospective student to alumni or community donor, it seems important that we engage these questions earnestly.

    DEI has also been a rapidly developing space. We’ve found ourselves moving from “equity statements” to a process of collaboratively creating organizational value statements that can serve as a basis for translation into practical policy and practice changes across the institution. The work is just beginning!

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