Webinar Recap: Emergency COVID-19 Response Tactics for Advancement & Alumni Teams

In case you missed it, last month Anthea Cuddihy, the Deputy Director of Advancement Services and Alumni Relations at Central Queensland University Australia co-hosted a webinar with LiveAlumni to discuss CQU’s Emergency COVID-19 Response Tactics for Advancement & Alumni teams.

Anthea and her Crisis Response Team at CQU have implemented several processes and strategies that have allowed them to feel quite comfortable about where they are now – even in the midst of this pandemic. When we explained that in many ways her team was ahead of the curve, she was happy to host a webinar to discuss their strategies and help other institutions get to the same space.

To put it into perspective. In a session attended by hundreds of people from Advancement & Alumni teams, we found that only 1 in 5  felt that their institution was comfortably handling their response to coronavirus-related issues.

So, what is Central Queensland University Australia doing right that so many are not?

Framework Put in Place

In a way, CQU started with an advantage. They already had pre-planning in place that allowed them to get organized very quickly. Their overarching Business Continuity Planning and Incident Management Policy and Procedures provided them with a clear hierarchy.

Step one was clarity and not responding to rumors. Their Vice-Chancellor has the authority to manage their institution’s response to the situation.

CQU started by implementing Federal Government regulations and then state. With over 25 delivery sites, they needed frontline recommendations and access to a primary source of what they were following.

All the teams on campus had a clear outline of who they would be working with – whether it was the Vice-Chancellor or their council.

Within their policy and procedures, they have Business Continuity Plans (BCP) for specific areas.

Crisis Communication Plan

With information and clarity so paramount, CQU also uses a number of specific channels to properly communicate to their audience.

  • Student intranet
  • Staff intranet
  • CQU App – allowing them to send emergency SMS

A crucial part of the University’s Crisis Communication Plan is making sure they have a voice that can be heard.

Crisis Management Control Group

The Crisis Management Control Group was mobilized as soon as they got advice from the Federal Government.

These included the top-level operation managers of CQU, chaired by:

Crisis Communication Response Team

This is our guest host, Anthea’s team and she has shared some detailed insights into how they work.

When initially putting together the team, they focused on who their key audience is and who can help provide the best representation moving forward.

The CQU Crisis Communication Response Team consists of:

  • Manager – Corporate Communications
  • Manager – Website Team
  • Manager – Student Communications
  • Head of Course – Public Relations (Academic)
  • Deputy Director – Advancement Services & Alumni Relations
  • Crisis Management Control Group Representative.

Each member holds different responsibilities and when put together, they handle the news and overarching reputation management and coordination of all communications. Their website management, all student communications, as well as to their donors and alumni groups.

Having the Head of Course from the Public Relations (Academic) is key to their team as they have first-hand insight on their academic board, how their students are affected and how programs are run.

Confidence Moving Forward & Taking Action

With overarching hierarchy plans and teams in place, CQU can move very quickly.

Having a clear vision from their Vice-Chancellor gives Anthea’s Crisis Communication Response Team autonomy and authority.

Student and staff safety is the first priority. “Once we can assure safety we can move forward. If we can maintain safety, we then want to deliver the best student experience,” Anthea explained.

Identifying Your Audience

Of course, identifying the target audience is just as crucial as the message. To make sure they get this right, CQU has established a scenario summary and what each audience might be dealing with.

Examples of scenarios include:

Holding pattern advancing to worse -> recovery -> government lead closure -> university lead closure -> visitor diagnosis -> resident college case. This allows the team to establish who would be affected in each scenario and understand what they need to deal with.

Examples of different audiences include. 

Staff -> students -> donors -> industry partners -> commercial tenant -> hosts -> campus co-shares -> community -> university supplies & more.  

For each communication that’s sent out, the team creates templates and documents tracking who the communication was sent to so, for their recovery plan, they are able to update, track and fix.

Some examples of The Crisis Communication Response Team communications that CQU used are listed below:

1) Alumni Audience communications started with their Vice-Chancellors message to all assuring safety for staff and students. Their goal was to provide clarity that CQU is responding appropriately.

2) Donor Audience communications were important as CQU was in the process of awarding scholarships. Their Major Donors were expecting news about who their new scholars were. Anthea said these messages focused on details and personalization.

3) General Donors received a more generic message communicating that students would be able to get through the year successfully.

Crucially, their plan is to engage with major donors on an individual basis every 3-4 weeks. Continual communication will focus on student testimonials and updates to reassure donors. As a bonus, student testimonials will help CQU gain insight into what their students need.

Alumni Engagement, Programs & Fundraising, what’s next?

Like many other institutions, Central Queensland has had to cancel some alumni events. Safety is a priority and it’s safer to stay at home to not put themselves and others at risk.

So they have identified other options for alumni to support CQU in the online space. They are also in the process of working with internal partners to identify all the opportunities they can now do online.   

Currently, CQU is shifting focus from fundraising to working to adapt KPIs and strategies. The lack of a visible timeline can make this difficult. Ensuring that relationships with donors are maintained is, therefore, a critical aspect of preparation. It will allow them to move quickly once fundraising becomes part of the agenda again. 

Until then, their Advancement Team is continuing to keep baseline stewardship going to stay in contact with donors – building trust with them is the key.

Their Lunchtime Leadership series with students and mentors have now been moved to online, along with their Career Fair. This may actually work in their favor as it will be easier for alumni to participate, returning higher results and engagement.

And finally, the team is also continuing to adapt to make each event more accessible and identify new roles for alumni including speaking opportunities, international ambassadors, and board advisory roles.  

We’d like to extend our gratitude to Anthea Cuddihy and Central Queensland University Australia for providing this insight into their COVID-19 Emergency Response Tactics. Their professionalism and willingness to help others in a time of need have been inspiring.

Would you like a recording of this webinar + Anthea’s presentation slides? Complete the form below!

Are you interested in providing some insight into what you and your team are doing during COVID-19? We would love to hear from you! Contact our Support Team, support@intellectspace.com.

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