Promoting Digital Stewardship: Perks and Lessons Learned

Mallory Perdue
Director of Stewardship
Vanderbilt University

As all of us shifted our stewardship practices to adjust to a remote work environment in early 2020, one question plagued our team at Vanderbilt perhaps more so than others—how do we now execute our print reporting projects that have historically been managed in-house?

Our traditional method of regularly staking claim to shared office printers and work tables for team “stuffing parties” several times a year was not feasible during the height of a campus shutdown, and we decided to make a strategic commitment to promoting a digital reporting option to our audience of approximately 3,000 stewardees. 

With new and innovative digital stewardship tools continuously hitting the market, we knew that this was the next frontier for our stewardship operations. The ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed us further into the digital realm earlier than we anticipated and in August 2020, we surveyed our population to determine their print versus electronic delivery preferences.

We are pleased with the initial outcomes of our enhanced electronic reporting and we are happy to share a few takeaways from our experience, as outlined below.

  • Ask, ask, ask, and ask again! Our initial August survey was sent in hard copy and handled by an outside vendor. Two follow-up emails to non-responders were sent later in the fall semester. Additionally, we elected to incorporate language on print pieces that encouraged recipients to contact our office should they wish to transition to electronic reporting. Approximately 22% of our audience has currently opted-in to electronic correspondence and we recognize that we will continue to present delivery options to both new and existing stewardees in future communications.
  • Lean on your design experts With dual delivery options, each of our reporting projects now comprises two separate sets of design elements. Following the successful completion of our recent financial reporting project, we acknowledged the importance of having fabulous communications partners more so than ever. They helped us navigate questions and timeline issues alongside our vendor for 16 designed project components.
  • Feedback and analytics As more stewardees are receiving electronic communication, we have witnessed an uptick in replies to our reporting pieces. We have enjoyed interacting with our stewardees to answer their questions and read their messages of thanks. It has been important for us to have a team member “on call” to manage our shared email account to ensure that we are replying to messages in a timely and efficient manner. And, of course, with mass email sends, we now have valuable analytics to benchmark our open rates, click rates, etc. Two days after the recent send of our financial reports, we were thrilled to see a 68% open rate!
  • Assess your resources In addition to the increase in design elements, navigating a reporting project with a new delivery component naturally increases the overall workload. Our model of having one staff member serve as project manager while delegating tasks across the team has worked well. Further, there are budgetary implications for offering both print and electronic reporting to our stewardees. Shopping vendors was, of course, key to our planning process.

With 22% of our audience now receiving electronic reporting, the “stuffing parties” for print recipients are back underway. While executing mailings seemed impossible last March and April, the team has identified some aspects of report exporting that can be done remotely. Once these steps are complete, a few staff members sign up for office stuffing shifts and we prepare mailings while masked and socially distanced, of course!

We continue to consider how we can potentially outsource some of this work to an outside vendor to increase our overall efficiency and we would be happy to connect with anyone to discuss these topics in more detail. 

Back to the February 2021 Hub