The Impact of Online Shopping on Higher Education
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The following interview is with Derrick Feldmann, chief executive officer of Achieve, a fundraising agency. Recently, Achieve did a study to understand the behavior of donors between the ages of 25 and 35. They found donors in this age bracket, described by Feldmann as Millennials, are typically turned off by out-of-date websites and a lack of e-commerce infrastructure. In this interview, Feldmann shares his thoughts on what these findings mean for institutions looking to increase their donations from, and enrollments of, adult students.
1. Given the value adults between 25 and 35 put into making donations online, what kinds of changes must colleges and universities make to their websites to encourage more activity?
We have looked at how Millennials – those in that category – are really interacting with websites. What we’ve discovered is a lot of the things that they’re doing from a consumer side persuades them when it comes to the non-profit or even the higher education side of things too.
When I usually speak about this topic, I make a reference to … the first time you ever bought something on Amazon.com. It took a little bit to get to the process of transacting, to actually get your credit card in there. And over time what Amazon has been able to do is create things like a “One-Click Payment,” where you can buy things so quickly to make your experience really user-friendly as much as possible. Weaving in things like, “Well, this is what other people are saying about this product” and sharing other individuals that might influence them and their peers to what they are purchasing and buying.
The same sort of thing needs to happen when it comes to higher education as well. Whether it’s a Millennial who’s looking to register for a class — “What are other people saying about this? How quickly could I do that?” When it comes to donations, in particular, it’s how can we help them during the process, understand where money goes, how it will be used, even hear from those who have given, who have done this process before as well.
What websites need to do is really build upon fundamental core pieces of how Millennials look at purchasing products, or purchasing services, and that is: how can they trust them? How transparent can that institution be with how either the money is used or what we are asking them to do? And, lastly, how can we connect directly with the people who we might be receiving those services from, to ask questions, and to participate in anything that shows the impact or the end result of something?
2. Extrapolating further, what can this study tell us about factors on which way individuals in this age group judge institutions?
In this year’s research, we’ve focused a lot about “Let’s really drive and motivate a Millennial to act.” A prime example would be, “Well, do you want to help four people receive water in Africa? This is what you could do.” Or is it, “Do you want to help Water.org provide four people with water in Africa? This is what you could do too.” And you tend to kind of position the two. We found that the first one really had a great response because it was driving into the passion and connection to what the Millennials [are] driving for; that cause, that topic, that piece.
And this is where higher education should really refocus their position, their content on the website. It’s, “How can I connect directly you — a Millennial student or alumnus — directly to the thing you care about and show that and help them understand how if you participate, sign up, give, all of those things, you’re going to be able to directly affect that.”
The institution is the conduit to the end of what that Millennial wants and values. It’s not necessarily the service already being provided, but it’s the thing that will help reach the end of the means. And, so, institutions need to ride that language, that donor-centric language that helps them understand that if you give, if you participate, this is what will happen and this is how you can connect to the thing that you care about. And that’s a very key piece; institutions are valuable in that role, which they can make that happen, but they also need to make sure that they’re not the ones that are actually being at the forefront of it. Let the issue, the passion, the thing that connects the Millennial — let that be at the forefront of it there.
3. What can institutions do to encourage more 25 to 35-year-olds to purchase products, like courses or programs, and make donations on their websites?
Well, I think one of the things that they should be doing right now, consistently, is looking at the way that they present themselves externally. How do they talk about their work? Is it all about pride and loyalty of just the institution? Or is it that joining this community means that you’ll be a part of this, a part of the end? … How we communicate externally to these audiences is the first step everyone should take.
The second step is, once you start to master the way you are communicating — removing the institution and focusing on that cause, the issue, the particular topic of how if they participate, whether it’s academics or just giving, how that helps them — then you move into, well, “How can I present it, then, both in words and in visuals?” We have seen this in a lot of our users testing on our websites. They are driven by that visual image that stimulates them to act on something. That means, again, what we are trying to communicate. So, how can we present things in both words and in images?
And then, lastly, this is a very key important piece is: the action that you want Millennials to take. We have to remove the barriers in order for that person to take that action. Usually, websites, by accident, create too many barriers for somebody to act. If you want a Millennial to sign up for something the higher education institution is doing, you ask for it and make it one click to make it happen. We should remove all barriers, all miscellaneous content, all miscellaneous images and things that just don’t work to get us to act as quickly as possible. In the past research, we found that 42 percent of them are inspired by something that happens instantaneously — the message that they receive. You’ve got to act on that remove those barriers; those things that may make stuff not work.
And this is where higher education should be disruptive themselves. Disrupt the way that people transact and in the things that you read within your website. Take a chance to say, if we want these four things, these fundamental four actions to happen on our website, remove everything else in order for those channels to actually make it occur.
4. Is there anything you’d like to add about the importance of a website in generating engagement among 25 to 35-year-olds and the steps institutions need to take to ensure this group is actually engaging with the product they’re trying to sell?
One of the key things that we heard in this year’s studies is the use of a website to draw them to a place to talk. And usually that is in a social network or somewhere else. So, we have to be better about talking through and with Millennials within our social networks.
We know from our study that a lot of them are going to the site — directly to that social network — to continue conversation. And, so, as you look at connecting with Millennials as institutions, how can you ensure that when we talk to Millennials within social networks that we’re really talking to them and not at them. You, usually, that’s where we see some challenges in higher education is that we have people who monitor social networks that come from the PR and communications standpoint. But we’re not necessarily having two-way conversations and that’s where Millennials are really wanting that.
If you take the aspect of sharing, of hearing and reviewing things that allow Millennials to understand — whether it be a course or whether it be how the foundation is doing with their dollars — and talk with one another about those things and recreate the platforms — whether that’s Facebook or whether it’s on the website — those are great opportunities for an institution to then honor an actual relationship with Millennials.
Don’t be afraid to ask for an opinion and ask for ideas and generate conversation that way. Even though it might scary at times, or you might get bad feedback, it’s a great way to start saying, “We’re here, we’re listening to you, we want to have a conversation with you,” and continue dialoging along the way. The best organizations and institutions can carry on that conversation all the time.
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Author Perspective: Business