President and CEO
About Sue Cunningham
Sue Cunningham is president and CEO of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), which supports over 3,600 schools, colleges and universities worldwide in their alumni relations, communications, fundraising and marketing functions to advance their institutions.
Ms. Cunningham provides leadership for one of the largest education-related associations in the world with members in over 80 countries. She became president in March 2015 and engaged CASE and its volunteers in a strategic planning process resulting in Reimagining CASE: 2017- 2021, an ambitious framework for serving CASE’s members and championing education.
CASE has made comprehensive changes to its governance structure to more effectively serve CASE members. In 2018, CASE acquired the Voluntary Support of Education survey and created AMAtlas. CASE is engaged in reviewing its curriculum and will soon publish the 5th and first global edition of the industry-standard CASE’s Reporting Standards and Management Guidelines.
Ms. Cunningham serves on the Washington Higher Education Secretariat steering committee and is a member of the Council of Higher Education Management Associations, the International Women’s Foundation, and the fundraising committee for the Aurora Foundation.
Prior to CASE, Ms. Cunningham was vice-principal for advancement at the University of Melbourne and the director of development for the University of Oxford. She served as director of development at Christ Church, Oxford and as director of external relations at St. Andrews University.
She is an honorary fellow of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. She received the CASE Europe Distinguished Service Award and a CASE Crystal Apple. She was awarded a master’s degree from Oxford University and a bachelor’s degree from Middlesex University.
President and CEO of CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) joins Alberto Lidji to discuss their support of 3,600 academic institutions and 92,000 advancement professionals globally
CASE was founded in 1974 and has its origins in alumni relations and public affairs. Today, it supports schools, colleges and universities across their external engagement work advancing education to transform lives and society. CASE’s scope is much broader than fundraising; focusing also in marketing, communications, alumni engagement and even government relations – they drive forward integrated advancement.
Sue notes that CASE is heavily involved in research and have launched a resource called ‘AM Atlas’ that provides educational advancement-related metrics, benchmarks and analytics. It’s comprised of several member-based surveys, as well as custom and funded research on specific topics.
Among some of the trends Sue is witnessing, she specifically references that philanthropy and the scale of giving is increasing for higher education across the globe. Interestingly, they’ve recently, launched a survey that highlighted for the third time that British universities raised over one billion pounds. The drivers for this are likely a combination of investing in leadership and the generosity of philanthropists.
A few weeks ago, CASE launched a survey that will, for the first time, be tracking alumni engagement metrics, globally, in a comprehensive manner. Instead of focusing exclusively on the proportion of alumni who give back, this new survey will include volunteerism, mentoring, advocacy, career advice, internships and helping with governance, to name a few.
When asked about public attitudes towards universities, Sue noted that it’s important for universities to build a strong public understanding of the important work that universities are doing in areas such as research and community engagement – beyond education. Indeed, while there is much to be proud of, Sue notes there is also much to be done in terms of public attitudes and public perception around higher education – especially in light of current conversations around social mobility and state funding.
Some of the focus areas for Sue and CASE right now include enhancing their digital offering, continuing to develop great research and streamlining the organisation’s governance. Recently, CASE launched a new website that hosts a wide range of resources and they’re looking at building out their e-learning offering beyond the webinars they’ve been doing for many years. Sue goes on to underscore the importance of their data and research offering – under the banner of AM Atlas – and notes it’s critical for institutions to be able to dig deep, benchmark, learn from others and understand what success looks like.
CASE has three main sources of funding: (1) membership model from the 3,600 institutions it supports; (2) income from the more than 120 in-person institutes and conferences they run annually in 20 countries – last year they catered to 20,000 participants; and (3) income from philanthropists and educational partners (such as for-profit consultants, search firms, and research agencies).
Volunteering is a key component of CASE’s operations. They have about 4,000 people who volunteer for CASE annually in some capacity, such as by mentoring others, teaching on programs, speaking at CASE conferences, and helping with governance and key strategic initiatives. Indeed, it was through volunteering that Sue found herself as a contender for her current role at CASE.
Key takeaway: Sue takes the opportunity to thank and recognise advancement professionals and philanthropists for their transformative work and impact; she encourages them to look for ways to communicate the impact of the academic institutions they’re affiliated with and to do so in succinct and powerful ways.
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