2015 was a year of rapid growth for Higher Education Works.
We transitioned away from a digital marketing agency and expanded our internal team, adding a Director of Engagement for online efforts, a Director of External Relations and an interim CEO. This enabled us to stabilize our budget, support online efforts by building stronger offline relationships, and strategically target advertising to highlight our message and build our audience.
We launched a robust schedule of content featuring video interviews with university chancellors and CEOs, op-ed pieces from state leaders and commentary on legislative developments. We focused on three strategic messages:
- Higher education as economic driver;
- Affordability and access; and
- Our system at risk.
We also grew our database – dramatically. We started the year with fewer than 5,000 email addresses in our database. We finished with 105,000. We expect to continue growing the database dramatically in 2016 as the fruit of collaboration with our university partners.
With strategic advertising to drive traffic to our sites, we began to see results:
- Web traffic increased 139% year over year, growing to 98,007 from 40,953 visits across our websites. While visits continued to respond to advertising, we are becoming less dependent on advertising as we attract more visits from direct and organic sources.
- Facebook ‘Likes” increased from 1,171 to 10,600 and Twitter Followers grew 228%.
And word began to travel:
- Leaders of our group built a good relationship with legislative leaders and believe we played a role in development of a House budget proposal that was the best budget for higher education in at least five years.
- Erskine Bowles and Richard Vinroot penned op-ed pieces on our behalf that appeared in The Charlotte Observer.
- Brad Wilson wrote an op-ed piece for The Daily Reflector in Greenville on the need to stabilize the ECU Brody School of Medicine.
- News & Observer columnist Rob Christensen wrote a column on the efforts of Paul Fulton and Higher Education Works to restore North Carolina’s brand.
We also sponsored well-attended events on the future of public higher education:
- In Research Triangle Park featuring NC Community College System President Scott Ralls and UNC System President Tom Ross;
- And in Wilmington featuring Ross and UNCW Chancellor Zito Sartarelli.
Our organizations ended the year with 30 board members – significant representation across the University and community college systems. We continue to recruit representatives from institutions that are not yet represented on our boards.
All of these efforts combined to create fundraising success.
Higher Education Works and its Foundation ended the year with more than $2 million in commitments since 2013 from our donors. We are profoundly grateful, and we are confident our organizations are funded well into 2016. Fundraising remains a priority to expand our efforts.
As we move into 2016, we will focus our communications initially on educating our audience about the March 15 Connect NC bond referendum. We will increase advertising substantially to highlight more than $1.3 billion in higher-education projects in the bond proposal.
As we then approach the N.C. General Assembly’s “short” session in April, we will increasingly focus on the need to grant meaningful raises to the people who teach our students – at every level.
SOME MEMORABLE POSTS FROM 2015 (CLICK TO READ)