Virginia Tech wins three 2022 Circle of Excellence Awards
The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) named its 2022 Circle of Excellence Award winners earlier this summer, and Virginia Tech won awards in the areas of alumni relations initiatives, communications, and fundraising.
CASE is a worldwide membership association that serves educational institutions and advancement professionals. These peer-selected and adjudicated awards honor institutions whose staff have advanced their organizations through their resourcefulness and ingenuity.
Winners are selected based on several factors, including overall quality, innovation, use of resources, and the impact on the institution or its external and internal communities, such as alumni, parents, students, faculty, and staff.
In 2022, CASE received more than 4,500 entries from 636 institutions in nearly 30 countries. Of those, volunteers judged 626 exemplary entries for bronze, silver, gold, or grand gold recognition.
“We’re honored to be recognized by CASE for the innovative and effective work our team has been doing to keep alumni and friends engaged in the life of Virginia Tech,” said the university’s vice president for advancement, Charlie Phlegar, whose Advancement division recently increased undergraduate alumni giving percentage to 22 percent and set a record for new gifts and commitments. “We have an extraordinary team of driven people who consistently surprise me with new and creative ways to connect the worldwide Hokie community. We are very proud to receive these awards.”
Steven White, creative producer, won a gold award in the illustrations category. His “doodles” at the bottom of Virginia Tech’s daily email drew readers to COVID updates while bringing a lighthearted look at campus life through his eyes. His doodles have been repurposed for large-scale advancement initiatives, including a stewardship postcard mailed to more than 18,000 people.
At the end of 2021, White took center stage at a holiday alumni event that drew nearly 400 guests and raised nearly $2,000 to support student scholarships. In-person and online guests to that event received an exclusive 2022 Doodles calendar in the mail. Judges complimented White’s work, saying it was “well executed and could be replicated at other institutions.”
"I get to see all the important facets of the Virginia Tech community — the people who make us who we are,” White said. “Winning CASE gold is very exciting and shows just how incredible Hokies are. The support I've been given by everyone here at Virginia Tech is tremendous, and I couldn't have done any of my work without the enthusiasm of our community. The award reflects how exciting it is to bring Virginia Tech to others through sketches."
Virginia Tech also took home bronze awards in alumni relations initiatives (staff of more than 25) and targeted campaigns and appeals.
The College of Science held its annual Pi Day celebration on March 14, 2021, and the alumni relations staff, along with staff members from marketing and communications, coordinated a Pi Day 5K for 2021. The event featured a file of Pi Day humor and trivia for social media, written and pre-loaded email lists, and a video with a mathematics professor calculating the difference between a 3.1-mile 5K and a 3.14-mile Pi K.
In all, 710 people registered for the Pi Day 5K and alumni participation jumped 38 percent from 2020. Judges complimented the event, citing the efforts to use social media and emails to engage alumni and increase giving.
“Our team was looking for a creative and dynamic way to involve our alumni, faculty, staff, students, and friends of the college during the pandemic,” said Katie Lafon, director of Cornerstone Alumni. “We fully acknowledged that people were overloaded with virtual content. We took what we historically did on campus in-person to celebrate Pi Day — it is meant to be fun and enjoyed by all — and we simply expanded on that base that we had already established. Our loyal supporters truly embraced it. We have been able to involve individuals from all over the globe in our program that never would have participated in a traditional on-campus engagement program by developing this new spin.”
Lafon continued, “As a team, we looked to our participants for inspiration for creativity. By having participants submit the ways they celebrated Pi Day, it allowed for us to build on their excitement which was contagious. For example, we had an alumnus submit his 3.14-mile run that was in the shape of Pi geographically on the map. Others sent photos of all the places they were doing their walks/runs in their race day shirts (New York, Hawaii, campus), and the pictures of the types of pie people enjoyed afterwards. Throughout the day, having different Hokies sharing their Pi story with us allowed us to embrace our College of Science community, which made the event truly amazing.”
In the targeted campaigns and appeals category, Virginia Tech’s Advancement team used a donor survey as part of a holistic approach to grow planned and annual giving. The survey was made easy to complete — only six questions and delivered both by email and postal mail to capture the audience’s preferred communication medium. It sought to learn both why donors support Virginia Tech, as well as their likelihood of making gifts in the future.
As a result of these efforts, the university increased bequest notifications and planned giving leads at twice the rate of other efforts, identified 1,358 individuals for follow up toward annual giving participation goals, and secured bequest intentions and current gifts totaling $12,120,364.
Judges were impressed with the results of the campaign and how the survey reminded stakeholders of their commitment to the university, which ultimately increases their potential openness for future gifts.
“We’re excited that our effort to learn more about how to better serve our alumni was recognized nationally,” said Steve Clark, assistant vice president for gift planning.
Virginia Tech now has won at least one CASE award in six of the past seven years.