The Future is BrightCrowd
For the first time in ten years I am not working on the campus of Cornell University. I am beginning me second week at BrightCrowd. Professional life at a university, especially one as revered as Cornell, is hard to leave. There’s the prestige, the inspiring alumni, the wonderful camaraderie of your colleagues, platinum benefits, and tuition breaks for your kids. So then, why jump ship? To answer that, I need you to hop in the DeLorean and take a relatively quick trip along the space-time continuum.
The year was 2012. Facebook gobbled up Instagram and went public and Kickstarter was bringing crowdfunding into the mainstream. Remember the guy who wanted $10 to make potato salad and ended up raising over $50,000? It was also the year Cornell University Alumni Affairs and Development invited me to be part of a “skunk works” group that included about a dozen peers from across the division. We had a simple, but complex task: dream up something that will improve the way we do business. So we did.
After a year of meeting, the end result was an app that would allow Cornellians to know every Cornell event and Cornellian owned business in their immediate proximity. Mobile was surpassing desktop and I dreamed of an experience that would not simply connect alumni with alma mater, but connect alumni to each other for their own benefit. In higher-ed, there are times we advance products/ideas that appear to be great for our bottom line, but fail to recognize whether it’s user-friendly and/or desired by our alumni. Spoiler alert: our skunk works pitch never came to fruition. But the desire to offer our constituency valuable experiences that would be mutually beneficial for them and the institution, continued.
Welcome to 2020. You know, the year you’ll be trying to scrub from your memory banks for the next decade. Two months before the shutdown, an esteemed peer introduced me to BrightCrowd and its founder, TJ Duane. After my initial look at BrightCrowd I knew I needed to have it. In my various roles at Cornell, I was subjected to many product demos and a seemingly endless flow of emails from vendors who could offer me exactly what I needed to easily engage alumni and raise money. This one was different because it was built in a way that takes into account why people don’t sign up for new things, especially when invited by their alma mater. The product came AFTER extensive research and alumni surveys. BrightCrowd puts the user (alumni/students) at the forefront and the result is a product that’s desirable and easy to use.
BrightCrowd offers simple, elegant digital yearbooks that are private to just a class, team, organization or affinity group.
We deployed several books at Cornell, focusing on select athletics programs. The result was a space that not only connected alumni back to their program, but to each other and current student-athletes as well. The books have the unique nature of being a stroll down memory lane, but also a catalyst for networking and mentorship. The Big Red debuted with four BrightCrowd books and within a few months of launch, doubled that number. With a strong affinity within the books comes a better return on engagement. Open and click rates on emails sent within the book were substantially higher than our average institutional emails. Speaking of email, in just a few months of deploying our books, we were able to update over 200 alumni email addresses.
So, why jump ship? For me, BrightCrowd represents what those of us in the advancement space ultimately strive for: provide valuable experiences for our best friends and benefactors that enrich their lives and help advance the institution they’ve helped build. BrightCrowd books allow one’s diploma to act as a membership card, not a receipt for four (or more) years of education. I also adore the respect BrightCrowd has for its clients in that it knows what NOT to be. BrightCrowd is not a social network or a software solution. It’s a digital book. Period. It’s what Facebook could have been before it went public and became a haven for ads and disinformation. The good old days when you only saw pictures of what your college friends were having for dinner. But when applied to institutional affinities, that book quickly becomes a treasure chest. I’m not the only one who thinks so. BrightCrowd digital books are used by all of the Ivy+ schools, over 90% of the top 25 schools and the majority of the top 100 schools. We serve undergrads, as well as business, law, medical, and prep schools.
Skunk works 2012 didn’t deliver the breakthrough we had hoped for…or much of anything at all. But nearly a decade later, I’m honored to join a team that has spent years suffering over their big idea. An idea that has evolved into a product that empowers schools and organizations to make good on their mission statement. That’s a pretty cool thing to be part of.
Let me know when you’re ready to dive in.