For any university, college, or school system, alumni networks are important. A network of alums doesn’t just help meet fundraising goals, but members can even act as public ambassadors, mentor students and offer post-graduation job opportunities, support athletic departments, and even help increase new student enrollment.
But the key to all that is good alumni engagement, and not everyone does it well. Today we’ll explore some alumni engagement best practices to make your network as strong as it can be.
According to a 2020 report by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, alumni giving at U.S. colleges totaled more than $11 billion in 2019. That’s a lot of money, but it’s not spread out evenly.
Only 8 percent of U.S. alumni give to their alma mater on average, according to that same survey of 1,451 ranked colleges. Meanwhile, the top schools in the study were seeing giving rates of 44 percent and higher. Once again, the difference is a strategic approach to alumni engagement.
Donor Search notes that a full 93 percent of alumni associations “offer no direct benefits to their members.” Let’s make sure you don’t fall into that category.
As with any community nurturing operation, the first step is to know who you are talking to. Your alumni network is mostly likely diverse, so create a few categories and different messaging for each category of alums. Make sure to keep your member database (CRM) up to date, too – there’s no point in reaching out to people who have dropped off the rolls.
Now that you have some categories set up, it’s important to create messaging that speaks to each one directly. If you’re talking to fans of the school’s sports programs, keep that in mind. Graduates from an Education program? People with a Finance degree? Take a different approach with each different group of people. Not everyone will want to engage with the school. But lifelong fans are ready to jump in and support/engage how they can.
Fundraising is a big part of why the network exists, but when it comes to alumni engagement best practices, you can’t just solicit donations and nothing else. Members will start to delete or ignore the content reflexively. Instead, send them news on new programs and sports updates, offer perks from local partner businesses, and anything that will make them feel like they're still part of the community. Free guides, offers, and perks are always good choices.
People get bored easily, and if you’re only reaching out via one mode of communication, it will get old fast. Plan out a healthy mix of email campaigns, articles, video content, podcasts, snail mail, and even texting. Also, use video and social media to reconnect with old alums – especially alumni-generated content, which sees a high rate of engagement. Alumni photos from the big game? Student snaps of their favorite part of campus? That’s all great.
High on the list of alumni engagement best practices is regular communication. Plan out ways to be consistent in reaching out, even as you mix up the mode of contact and message. It shows you are engaged and that effort will be appreciated. It will also keep your school fresh in the alumni’s memory.
Finally, the most engaging alumni networks have one thing in common: They make their members feel a sense of ownership in the institution. They probably already feel a sense of pride in the school, so you just have to take that one step further. Creativity is welcome here, but it could be done with something as simple as a survey. Take the results, listen to the members, and keep them in mind when making changes, planning events, or expanding. Then report back through your network.
As we’ve seen, engagement is the most important factor in a high-functioning alumni network, and the returns on your hard work can be game-changing. These alumni engagement best practices aren’t complicated, and most of them aren’t even hard to do, but they will help you give the most to your members and get the most for your institution.
Starting with a community engagement strategy is the secret to building a successful platform in the long term. Cause Machine helps customers build the plan of engaging a community well and then begin mapping out the technology to help support that strategy. We’re certain that you’ll find some great resources and powerful tools in Cause Machine to better engage your community. Learn how it can work for you here.