The key for involving alumni is a digital community for them to engage with one another, students and their alma mater.

by Dustin Ramsdell

Colleges and universities are in a moment where change is inevitable and innovation is necessary. This takes many shapes, but one area many institutional leaders are finding fruitful efforts is leveraging their vast and diverse alumni networks. Alumni engagement has classically been about three pillars of involvement – time, talent and treasure. To achieve these goals, staff must build relationships early and maintain them often. 

Unfortunately, far too many institutions rely on outdated practices like email, cold phone calls, social media and mass mailing as their sole outreach strategies. While each of these has their place, the problem is they’re static channels lacking connection and community building. Even social media is a less reliable platform for broadcasting information for a variety of reasons. Many people opt out of Facebook and X (formerly known as Twitter), and for those who remain, alumni are unable to hear the institution’s message through the noise. 

This current state of how institutions are communicating with alumni has a clear call to action. In order to develop these valuable alumni relationships and networks, institutions need to implement new digital communities bringing people together and achieving institutional goals of involvement. For the greatest impact, institutions should be mindful of a few key areas.

Easy to Use

Institution websites are clunky and overstuffed with content in an attempt to serve many different audiences. This causes too much friction for most people when searching for information and they’ll typically give up after too long. Creating a digital space where information is much more accessible is important, especially for the valuable constituency of alumni. Their needs are specific, so they require a sophisticated, easy to use interface allowing them to break through the clutter and get what they need.

Mobile Optimized

Some people are primarily accessing websites and other platforms through their mobile devices, whether it is a smartphone or tablet. While it is great to design an experience exclusively for mobile users, the best scenario is full parity and functionality on both mobile as well as desktop. Having separate experiences on different devices is confusing and inefficient. Alumni span a wide range of ages, so institutions should implement a consistent and easily navigable experience anywhere, anytime – on any device.

Integration Friendly

To realize the full potential of an alumni engagement platform, it needs to integrate with the other tools an institution uses. If it exists as a static destination, disjointed from other parts of the digital ecosystem of an institution, it’s no better than a glorified webpage. This principle builds upon the prior value of having an easy to use platform. A smooth, seamless interface allows for a satisfying user experience. This minimizes friction which would otherwise have alumni bailing out from making a donation or getting involved because it takes too many steps or they have to login to new windows several times.

Flexible and Personal

Any institution is going to have a vastly diverse network of alumni with different needs and preferences. Any digital platform created for them should be contoured so they can efficiently navigate and find the information they’re looking for. Customization and personalization are ways to compound the impact of the other values on this list. Arranging unique and relevant apps to each user makes a platform easier to use and brings to the forefront the integrations of your existing digital tools. When it comes to alumni networks, they’re going to need personalized interfaces with specific information. They should see information about local area events, ways to mentor current students, the ability to donate back to their alma mater as well as engage in community building with their fellow alumni. With the latter point, consider private groups for their graduating year or the specific college they graduated from.

As higher ed institutions continue to fight for their survival, the involvement and generosity of their alumni communities will become increasingly critical for their ongoing success. The catalyst for all of this is a vibrant digital community of global alumni who engage with one another, students and their alma mater. Accomplishing this takes time, commitment, as well as the right tools and strategies – but this investment will pay back dividends to your campus community.