The Higher Ed Marketer
The Higher Ed Marketer

Episode · 1 year ago

Finding Donors and a Shrinking Higher Education Market


It’s no secret: The market for higher education is shrinking. And whether that’s a seminary, graduate school, or a small private college, everyone is looking for ways to pull in more prospective students.

One way in this post-pandemic era — hybrid virtual events.

From Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary: Joe Emmick, Vice President for Development, and Shane Nichols, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer discuss the shrinking market in higher ed, finding new enrollment opportunities, and the importance of one-on-one conversations.

Join us as we discuss:

- The shrinking market for higher education

- Enrollment opportunities & merger history

- Key takeaways for the audience

To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to Higher Ed Marketer on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast platform.

Listening on a desktop & can’t see the links? Just search for Higher Ed Marketer in your favorite podcast player.

One of the things that we are hearing from our alumni who are working church pastors is they are overwhelmed just trying to get people back to church. You are listening to the Higher Ed Marketer, a podcast geared towards marketing professionals in higher education. This show will tackle all sorts of questions related to student recruitment, don'tor relations, marketing trends, new technologies and so much more. If you are looking for conversations centered around where the industry is going, this podcast is for you. Let's get into the show. Welcome to the HIRRID marketer podcast. I'm troy singer, along with my cohost and total tamer, Mark Taylor. Today we talked to Joe EMMIC and Shane Nichols from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary About Grad School marketing. Yeah, Troy, this was a good conversation. I think that there's so many different schools are relying. Either there their graduate schools and seminaries alone, like like Garrett is, or they are the graduate and the graduate programs are, you know, and a thend them to colleges and universities and a lot of a lot of schools are using those to kind of bolster up and kind of impact the bottom line. And I think one of the good conversations that we had today was just about the uniqueness of being able to market and do communications for graduate level schools, whether it's a seminary, whether it's your graduate school of Medicine or whatever it might be. But I think there's a unique aspect of how to market that not only for enrollment standpoint, but also communicate it for development. So it's a really good conversation to hear how Joe, the Vice President of development, works really closely with Shane Nichols, who's the director of marketing at Garrett. Thanks part. Let's get into the conversation with Shane and Joe. It is my pleasure to welcome Joe EMMIC and Shane Nichols to the High Ed Marketer podcast. They are coming to us from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. And Gentlemen, if I one of you would just give us a brief overview of Garrett and then individually, if you can tell us your roles. Sure, Garrett even jolical hide seminary. We are founded in one thousand eight hundred fifty three and we reside smackdab in the middle of the campus of northwestern university in Evanston Illinois. We and essence grew up together. We do maintain our own identity and our own faculty, but share a lot of resources with northwestern university and our primary objective is to prepare religious and faith leaders for Ministry and the Church and in the academy and the world. So a variety of ministry setting and what have you. Thank you, Shane. And how many students do you currently serve? We serve on average about four hundred students a year. Thank you, and we are speaking to Shane. What is your role at Garrett? Sure? I am the Chief Marketing Communications Officer at Gary Evangelical. This is actually this months my seventeen year. Starting my seventeen year here at the seminary and when I started I was doing a lot in the LUMB relations and development and in two thousand and ten started heading up the marketing and communications office and have been in that role ever since. Thank you, Shane. We also have JOE EMMIC with us. Hello, Joe, I try high bar. Good to see you guys again. Thank you great seeing you with you could let the listeners know what your role is and then we'll get started with the conversation. Sure, I serve the seminary as the vice president for development and that entails all the traditional roles and responsibilities that someone responsible for fundraising and alumni engagement has a higher education. I have been in a higher at advancement work for almost twenty five years. But while Shane is one of Garrett's grizzled veterans, I'm a relatively new addition to the team. I've been with Garrett for three and a half years. Great and just just so everybody knows, that Joe and I...

...have worked together before. We known each other for several years and so it's good to good to get back together with you. Joe. Thanks for being on the show. I think when we've first talking, you know, before we got onto the recording, talking a little bit about, I think, Garrett and seminaries in general, and I don't want it. I don't want people to think about, Oh, this is just a podcast about seminaries, but it's actually a little bit broader because I think one of the challenges that a lot of schools have is that whether you're a seminary, a graduate school or even a small private. There's a challenge because the market seems to be getting smaller and shrinking. Sometimes our audiences do, and so one of the things that I wanted to just kind of start the conversation about is how are you at Garrett? You know both Shane and Joe. How are you both kind of addressing this idea of a shrinking market and shrieking audiences? Because, I mean, it's happening everywhere. Yeah, absolutely certainly happening everywhere, and I'll signs at this point in time keep pointing that it will only get smaller. So the challenges are real and something we take a look at. The biggest thing for us that we do is events, and what I mean by that is how, you know, how do we get the institution in front of people that may not even know that Garrett is a thing right? And so, from our development stance, we spend a lot of efforts on ministry Sundays, which is an opportunity to be able to, you know, honor a particular alum or pastor so that we can then introduce the seminary to congregations from the admission side of the House. This last fall we've hosted five different events that we're all hybrid online events to be able to introduce perspective new students, and so for us it's about getting the institution in front of people and doing so with engaging content and events is one of the primary ways that we've really been able to go at that to expand our audience. And then, of course we're doing all the traditional things you would expect from a marketing office and the way of paid advertising, social media and engaging content, stories, website creation, all those good fun things that you would expect to do, and so so we do a lot of that on top of trying to just tell the story to any and everybody. That's great and I guess I would ask you joke, as I'm gonna here in what Shane is saying is that you know a lot of times you're kind of going, I like to call it the watering holes that your perspective, perspective audiences is, whether it's your prospective students or prospective donors. I love the fact that you know the watering hole for Garrett seems to be these churches that you can do these ministry Sundays or ways to honor some of your alumnist has that been a successful strategy as far as these watering holes joke. Historically, the ministry Sundays Shane described have been incredibly successful for us. So the way they work is we identify alumni who are pastors in milestone years or their ministry. It's almost like a class reunion list and we take nominations for them to be honored with a ministry Sunday. It's really honoring somebody, for example, who's had a very effective ministry for twenty five years or thirty years. The seminary then establish as a scholarship in that person's name. We put in the first thousand dollars and then we invite members of the congregation to contribute to the scholar Orship Fund. We have over six hundred individual and dowed scholarship funds guaranty evangelical and a good number of those were started through these ministry Sunday programs. The challenge we have Right now is with ministry Sundays is really covid related. So one of the things that we are hearing from how our alumni who are working church pastors is they are overwhelmed just trying to get people back to church. So even as churches reopened people sort of liked online church and people have continued to attend church online rather than coming back to the pews. Pastors are reluctant to bring in any sort of outside endeavor at this point. So where we in the past maybe did...

...anywhere from six to eight of these in a year, where maybe doing two or three or four this year. I'm hopeful that will change in the spring. So historically it's been successful. It's been a great way to identify new donors and the last year or so it's been a little more difficult just because of the access to churches, because of COVID. And I guess, Shane, are you finding opportunities even from an enrollment standpoint at some of these Sundays as well? Yes, we have. It's it's a great opportunity to do some crossover between the work of development and admissions and enrollment. So so there's definitely a possibilities there. I will say, to go back to original question, we also, of course, we spend a lot of time working with a lums and they our biggest influencers time and time again. So we hear often from our current students. You know why, Garrett, and often, time and time again, they will say because an a lum said, go check out Garrett. So so we spend a lot of time and effort there and so then with these ministry Sundays, being able to honor a lum's it just helps that cycle of potential students come through. So so that piece has been great for us. Yeah, it's a little bit of a the classic networking in a lot of ways. I mean it's the idea of who knows who and how can you connect those people together, and I'm sure that your other marketing plays into that, whether it's paper, click or or digital or other things, that you've got a brand awareness that you're building. But then actually to be on side on a Sunday or have a pastor be able to say go check out Garrett, I think that does make a big difference. So that's that's a pretty cool way to go about it. Speaking of the why, Garrett, in previous conversations we've talked about the different branding and communication messages that you have to have for the different types of people that you're speaking to, because I think they're in your history. There was a merger. So if you could kind of give everyone a history, or should I say description of that history and that merger and then we can talk about the challenges that it gives you in when you're going out to talk to them, speak to them in market and develop troy. I appreciate your giving Shane to me the opportunity to talk about this because I think it's a fascinating case study in higher at branding and audience identification. Some of this is going to make the traditional branding folks out there listening a little squeamish, I think what I describe what we do, but it really does work for us. So some quick history. As you mentioned troy, our current seminary, Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, is really the merger of two seminaries. So some quick church history. The United Methodist Church was formed in the late s when what was then the Methodist Church merged with the Evangelical United Brethren, more commonly known as the EUB, to form the United Methodist Church. At the time, Garrett Biblical institute at Evans to Illinois, where we are now, was the methodist seminary in the Chicago area and Evangelical Theological Seminary in Naperville Illinois and the West suburbs of Chicago was the eub seminary and of course it didn't seem necessary to have two seminaries for one denomination in the same metro area. So the two seminaries merged and it became what we are now, Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. Our Name is hyphenated, so it's Garrett Evangelical and that's a pretty much a historic name for us. That merger happened in the early to mid S, so we still have a lot of living alumni from the former evangelical theological seminary and the former eub denomination, and I like to call this perhaps the most successful merger in the history of higher education, because those alumni from the former ets are very loyal, they're very faithful, very generous. We have several members of...

...our board of trustees who are from that seminary. We have a lot of leadership owners who are from that seminary, and so it is important for us to honor that legacy and honor that name. As you might imagine, in our current political climate, though, from a recruiting standpoint, the word evangelical and its connotations work against us more often than not, and so we really have dual branding at the seminary. All of developments, materials are business cards. The way we identify ourselves and where we work is Garrett Evangelical and if we don't identify ourselves that way people call us on it. So it's very important to maintain that legacy for our admissions folks. Sometimes people walk right by the event table if they see the word evangelical. And so my colleagues and admissions, their materials, their business cards, the way in which they identify themselves is Garrett theological seminary. So we almost really have two branding tracks and marks here at the seminary. Bart, I realize that is not branding one hundred and one and any traditional way, but it is critically important for us and it works. Yeah, I think that's interesting. I mean I we have, you know, we've got guests all across the spectrum and we talked with Asbury, which is the Evangelical Seminary, a few weeks ago and they told us a bit about how they market. This is a different audience and so you know, as I'm as I'm having some of the listeners listening, there's different audiences and I think this is part of marketing higher education is knowing who your audience is, being able to market to your audience effectively, to be able to match up the mission fit students. You know, Amission fit student that might be going to moody isn't going to necessarily be looking at Garrett. The same with Garrett students are not going to be looking at Moody and sing being able to differentiate yourselves through branding is going to be critical so that your admissions team and you're not burning through the admissions team on a lot of people that are not naturally going to fit. And so I think, I think part of it is in Shane, you can kind of way into this. Is really being able to position yourself in a way that you can be authentic who you are to the audience that's going to be your tribe that's going to come and join you and making that as clear as possible. And I think, yeah, Joe, to your point, it's not it's not historical branding, but is solving a problem of branding and I think that's really good. Shane, what do you think? Yeah, I think that's absolutely right and I will say we have, mean for several years, several decades now, we have take the initial effort just to even define the word evangelical and what that means here in our context, right. So, to Joe's point, yes, very much. It is in relation to ets and the merger that beyond that, we mean we've done some campaigns where we were so far as back to go back to the original Greek right and the Greek meeting of the Word Evangelical, and so so we've tried to do our peace and educating perspective students and a variety of constituents that we serve in what that word really means here within our context. Right. But despite all of those efforts, with the political climate as it is, you can imagine that is truly a David and Goliath type situation. Yeah, it is. I mean that that word is actually gotten hijacked. Yeah, opinion. Yeah, so I thought that. Can speak to that absolutely. So that really did put us in a position of having to really think through then, exactly, as you say, who is our audience and how do we make sure that we're getting the right fit for for who the kind of student is that we're looking to serve? Great and I know that you know some of the things too. I know when we talked earlier, just the idea of part of that just differentiating your brand, and I think that Joey did a great job describing that on how you've done that, just even through business cards and things like that, but also being able to recognize these different audiences in those different generation groups in the alumni base, and then also being able to even recognize, I guess, that not all your donors are going to come from your your alumni base, and so being able to pivot and maybe do a little bit of a... with the brand to is important. Is that? Is that kind of way you find it, Joe when you are communicating, I do bar and I think that's less about the overall brand and more about how we tell the story. So I mentioned you in an earlier conversation. We have a relatively small donor base because we're a relatively small institution as a seminary, but it's one of the most complex donor bases I've worked with, just for the reasons you described. So we have our alumni, who have been incredibly generous and faithful over the years. We've always enjoyed a relatively high alumni giving percentage, as you might imagine, most of our alumni are pastors and so their current giving capacity is not huge by most major gift standards, but they give and they give generously to their capacity. That also puts them at a position of being good playing giving donors down the road. So we also have a very robust plan giving pipeline. Are major gifts, are major outright gives. Those in particularly that of driven campaigns, as folks might also imagine. Typically of come from lay folks who've been introduced to us through the ways we talked about earlier, and so those really are two different approaches to connecting people at the seminary. You know, when we engage our alumni it's just like engaging alumni elsewhere and higher at advancement. It's understanding what their experience was here. It's trying to find the right marriage between their interests and their good feelings about their experience here and the ways in which the seminary prepared them to be effective in their ministry. For Our laydowners it tends to be more broadly about good clergy leadership and the church. So most of the lay folks who support us either had family members who are garret graduates, they were preachers kids or they got a grandparent who is a Garret Grad and they want to honor that legacy, or they are people of faith who have been influenced in a positive way by a pastor who is a Garret Grad and they want there to continue to be good clergy leaders in the Church and that's what drives their philanthropy to get evangelical. So those are those are two slightly different stories to tell and points of engagement within our donor base. And then Shane might be able to comment on this as well. He's Garret graduate as well. I think even among our alumni were starting to see some differences, marked differences generationally, and I think that's largely because of the way in which ministry has changed over the last ten to fifteen years and will continue to change. So our mid career, two older alumni went through very traditional seminary education and went into very traditional church pastor roles. Are More recent alumni and our future alumni are in degree programs that are more diverse than a master's of divinity. They are engaged in ministries that are very different than leading a church as a pastor and I think that changes the way we think about engaging them relative to their experience at the seminary and that it also changes the way we reach them and connect with them in what are very different ministries than we've seen in the past. Yeah, I'll pick up on them to say it's the marketing transenter on targeting right. We've been having to target around here for quite some time and that work, it only gets only becomes more so. Target, target, target, is a lot of what's behind how we brand and who we communicate to. That's great and I that kind of brings me to the last conversation that I wanted to have with you was the idea that we talked about targeting and talking about we talked about the watering holes and some of the other things in different ways of marketing to to this this this post traditional audience. You know, folks who are graduate level. It's different, and I'd like to have you talk to this,...

Shane and Joe. It's different how you're going to be marketing to graduate students then you would to traditional undergrads. I mean traditional under grads. You know, you got act test your sat tests. Even though they're going test optional, there's still places you can go and buy lists and you can. You still have the college fairs, you still have some other things, but it's a different it's a different ball game when you get to the graduate marketing. So Shane tells a little bit about that. I mean, I know that's something that's ongoing, but what's you're thinking on that? Yeah, we're definitely work in progress forever. But I will say it just thinking through list, as you said that you know I there are traditional list that we can get from denominational structures in right right for those who are pursuing ordination, would have you. So. So in those ways there's some access to list that we would have and we have had to for four decades. But those list honestly, are shrinking right. They are less people who are going and pursuing ordination and wanting to work in the church, and so that really forces us to do than have to rethink. Where do we find new audiences? And so again, part of that is event driven, a part of that is is traditional marketing, messaging and what have you. And beyond that we have got the same way the someone at the undergraduate level might recruit at high schools. We often find ourselves recruiting at colleges right so we've got a recruiter who's going out and covering as many universities, in particular their campus ministries are their departments of religion, and trying to meet with them as much as possible. So so there is a heavy recruitment that happens, and so for us, the biggest thing, I would say I'm behind all of that, is it comes down to trying to hit marketing messaging would have you at a large level, but honestly, the vast majority of this work happens on one to one conversations. Right. It's all about relationship building and that is what has been at the center of both our development and enrollment efforts has been that one to one conversation. Isn't that interesting that with all of our technology today, and you know, we talked about all these different systems and crms that can do all this automation, which I believe and I think it's important. But the reason I think automation is important it is to free up the individuals to have the one to one conversations, and it seems to me that's something you guys are cleaning into. Yeah, I really I will tell you, having again worked in the development side of the of this work. We have been blessed with a robust development program here at the seminary for some time and you know, other seminaries would call us and they would ask what do you do, and I think they would often be disappointed because our response was we spoke to someone and asked. Like I think they were hoping there us some kind of magic tool or magic software. Yeah, but but but at the end of the day, you get pick up the phone, are you pay them a visit? Right? So that's great. Anything you would add to that, Joe? As far as just kind of the difference between the traditional versus the graduate level from a fundraising standpoint, seminary fundraising really requires very careful attention to stewarding the relationship. So to Shane's point about one on one conversations, developing long term relationships and stewarding those relationships carefully. I mean, you know you hear that it. You go to the case conference and you hear that right as fundamental for fundraising. But I think it's even more important. I Guaranty Evangelical. So you know we are. Most of our alums are. This is at best their second Alma Mater, or maybe it's their third maybe it's even their fourth. Our alumni, because of what they do, are engaged in lots of other community work, nonprofit work, and so they're getting asked a lot, and so maintaining the relationship and really thinking about the giving relationship long term. So I mentioned those scholarship funds that we have. Many of...

...those scholarship funds are built over time. Rarely do we get a single gift to fully and dollars Scholarship Fund. Usually somebody's built that over time, and so it's very much just continuing to build a relationship and encourage people to continue to support the scholarship fund and build it over time. And so for me, compared to the other places I've been at a higher education, that's probably the biggest difference. Is the personal, ongoing personal touches to carefully steward the relationship are critically important, probably more so than they are other places I've been. That's great. Let's get to know that. So we traditionally close our episodes by giving our guests an opportunity to offer a final thought or a takeaway that could be implemented or something that you believe would be helpful to others. Like you that are listening and if I could start with you, Joe, if there's a final fin or takeaway that you like to share. So my philosophy about development work has always been development work is not rocket science, even though there's a cottage industry turning it into rocket science. At the end of the day it's exactly what we've been talking about. It's building relationships, it's telling the institution story and it's inviting people to participate with their philanthropy. And so I don't have a wow, innovative, cutting edge idea for you. What I have to suggest, particularly in the environment in which we've been raising money in the last year and a half, now, almost two years, in a time of covid is, I think this may be the most important moment of the last two years to make sure organizations are asking. The stock market is doing very well, people are giving, people are giving a higher levels. Lots of economic markers for a lot of people are starting to improve. People, I think, are in a philanthropic mood most places now. I think staffs are able to get out and travel again and see people facetoface. And so my my biggest takeaway from what we've seen this year and what I'm seeing more broadly as I think, a return to fundamentals. Got Out, see people engage and give them the opportunity to give don't be afraid to ask. Yeah, I really appreciate that. To Joe. So we are marketing communications office of two and we can geek out about tools all day long as well. So, but but you know, we do a lot. We produce a magazine four times a year. There's email strategies, there's social media, there's maintaining the website. You know, there's content and you know the whole shabbing. And so for two full time people doing that, I think a lot about quality and quantity. And so for us, what whenever somebody asked how do you well maintain? How do you do and my words of advice time and time again is do one thing and do it unbelievably well and once that's rolled within your daily habit, then pick up a second thing, then pick up a third thing. Right, but I always that's my words of advice for anyone who says in this field better to do one thing unbelievably well than try and do five things subpar. Thank you, Shane, and wow, we have microphone or while you have the microphone, would love to ask you if someone would like to be in contact with you or reach out, what would the best way for them to contact you? Be Sure you can find me by email at Shane Dot Nichols, at Garrett Daddy to you. I'm also on twitter the handles Shane, zero two, zero six, and you can find me on Linkedin as well. The best way to reach me is by email Joe Dot emmec let's, em IC K, Garrett Dot Edu and Garrett's to ours and to t's. I am also on various... media platforms and Linkedin, but I tend to be a social media stalker rather than poster, so I don't want to quote my handles because I'm not sure I got them right. Thank you both for sharing your time with us today. It's been a wonderful conversation. Bart do you have any final thoughts that you would like to share? Yeah, I just want to kind of echo some of what what both Joe and Shane talked about today. Getting back to fundamentals, I mean I think that you know a lot of what we talked about, whether it was on the development side or whether it was on the enrollment. It comes down to that marketing communications basics. Of It's all about relationships. I mean it's about identifying the people in the tribe and building relationships with them from a from a enrollment standpoint, and it's from then, you know, getting out and face to face and engaging in relationships with people on the development side and and being able to not know, both sides, not being afraid to ask, not being afraid to ask someone to give, not being afraid to ask someone to apply. Just a lot of really good basic things here, blocking and tackling on how to do basic higher Ed Marketing and I think it's a really good, really good reminder for us. So, Joe and Shane, thanks so much for being on the show today. Thank you for having us. Good to be with you. Troy and Bart. Yes, thank you appreciate it. That brings us to the end of our episode. The High Ed Marketer podcast is sponsored by Kaylo solutions in education marketing and Branding Agency for for twenty years and by Think Patent did, a marketing execution company that combines print and digital marketing for Hire Ed campaign solutions. On behalf of Bart Kaylor. My name is troy singer. Thanks again for joining us. You've been listening to the Higher Ed Marketer. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you're listening with apple PODCASTS, we'd love for you to leave a quick rating of the show. Simply tap the number of stars you think the podcast deserves. Until next time,.

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