Researcher in Corporate Engagement Wonderland

Elisa Shoenberger (@Vogontroubadour) is a senior prospect management and research analyst at Loyola University Chicago.

In early June, I had the pleasure of attending CASE’s Annual Conference for Corporate and Foundation Relations Officers in New York City. The sessions presented me with a new perspective in my work as a researcher who supports the corporate and foundation relations team at Loyola University Chicago. I had only attended conferences in my own field and that of advancement services, so this was a novel experience. The conference highlighted several themes around corporate engagement. (Note that most companies attending the conference were tech companies.)

Corporations are focused on the talent pipeline in STEM fields  and want to reach students while they are still at a university. Because of an expected employment gap in STEM fields in the United States, companies are investing in programs to help encourage the talent that they will need and to build relationships with students. For instance, AT&T partners with community organizations countrywide to ensure that middle school students have access to the resources to help them graduate high school, encourage entrepreneurship and mobilize learning tools. Many companies want access to students while they are still in school. Emily Bosland, senior manager of corporate responsibility at Verizon, explained that the company prefers the flexible and creative minds of university students over that of consultants. Many companies offer students the opportunity to work on projects for them, such as capstone or thesis projects.

Companies want universities to understand their needs. Issues of intellectual property are salient issues, too. Students and professors may want to publish their research, but companies may object to that over intellectual property concerns—such as patents, copyright and data. Companies want to protect their proprietary information since that is often their competitive advantage. When asked about determining the needs of companies, gift officers should speak with the company’s senior leadership, when possible. This will help the gift officer know how to move along a possible partnership with the company. And like companies, universities should be able to articulate what differentiates them from competitors.

Companies prefer to work with one person at a university.  They want to build a relationship with one person who will help lead them institutional bureaucracy and provide them with detailed information about the university. Realistically, this may not be possible since a corporation may have to have several touch points at a school—for  recruitment, student internships, and sales of products and services. Having someone who can coordinate or understand all of the touch points and help navigate the university and its processes resonates with companies.

Timing is important.  Many universities have been around for more than 100 years while many companies may have only been around for a few years or a few decades. As a result, university leaders tend to have a longer term focus for their institutions while corporate leaders take more of a short term view of their companies. This is a critical idea when approaching a company. Companies may be more interested in short term projects over longer term projects.

Passionate alumni can help build relationships with corporations. Leveraging relationships with loyal alumni who work a specific companies can help make partnerships or even cash gifts possible. It’s important for universities to cultivate and engage their alumni at companies they hope to work with. For instance, a representative from Corning mentioned how a passionate alumna from Rutgers helped facilitate a substantial gift to the institution.

These company perspectives will prove useful for me as I continue to modify our corporate profiles. In the past, I’ve focused more on grants but have learned that companies were less interested in giving out money. They want deeper relationships with universities, so it will be important to include more about company and university partnerships in upcoming research profiles.

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