Alumni engagement is big business. According to a recent survey by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (or CASE), in 2022, total contributions to colleges and universities in the United States increased 12.5% to a total of $59.5 billion. Donations from alumni specifically rose by 10.2% to $13.5 million and accounted for almost a quarter of all charitable donations to institutions.
Despite the potential upside, some colleges don’t do a great job of engaging alumni. Unfortunately, it’s all too common for alumni to say, “I only ever hear from them when they’re asking me for money.”
Institutions hoping to thrive in the coming years should prioritize alumni engagement. The effort put forth here truly takes an investment, where the upfront cost pays off in a variety of ways for both the institution and its students. This investment will utilize a diverse set of strategies and digital tools to build community amongst all alumni.
Why is Building Alumni Engagement Important?
Maintaining affinity with alumni after graduation provides invaluable, lifelong support to higher education institutions.
Engaged alumni will support their university both financially and in other meaningful ways.
- Donating money
- Volunteering on committees and boards
- Attending on-campus events to give back to the university community
- Mentoring current students
- Supporting recent graduates as they start their career
- Giving back to the alumni community
The benefits are clearly significant. So what are some of the strategies to improve alumni engagement?
Strategies to Building Alumni Engagement
Start alumni engagement early
Universities will struggle with building strong engagement with alumni if they provide a mediocre student experience.
Students attend colleges and universities for a (relatively) short period and become alumni for their entire lives, so the foundation of their relationship with the university develops well before they become alumni. It’s relatively easy for students to lose their affinity for their institution, but difficult for it to develop after they leave if they didn’t enjoy their experience.
Build lifelong relationships by making current students feel valued, and make it clear the journey doesn’t end as soon as they graduate. Instead, plant the seeds for a meaningful relationship with alumni when they’re students.
Long-term success requires a sustainable approach because alumni engagement won’t happen overnight. Design a strategy, execute it in the short term and make sure the institution commits to long-term outcomes.
To accomplish this, an easy-to-manage platform is critical to organizing and optimizing outreach efforts into one place. It’s not enough to simply rely on email and phone calls anymore because they’re too easy to ignore.
Invest in supporting your alumni
The alumni relationship with their alma mater should not be one way. Effective alumni support should include resources such as career services, personal or professional development workshops and even the use of campus facilities.
Make an effort to connect alumni with these resources via mobile optimized announcements, directories and event feeds.
Offer detailed information about continuing education in graduates’ career fields or provide other general learning opportunities including speakers coming to campus and seminars put on by faculty.
An institution’s commitment to supporting students shouldn’t stop once they graduate. If done well, the long-term payoff of this investment will be immense with alumni providing their time, talent and treasure back to the institution. This also creates incredibly valuable experiences for students which likely wouldn’t exist without the involvement of these alumni.
Many of the strategies on this list require an upfront investment of some sort, but ultimately, if institutions plan on prioritizing alumni engagement, the budget must reflect this commitment.
Proactively ask for feedback
Alumni engagement programs should proactively solicit feedback from alumni on a regular basis, ideally doing a survey at least once a year. These inputs will help to measure the effectiveness of existing approaches so these programs incrementally improve. Make sure to also open conversations about what new initiatives are available to alumni to make their experiences even better.
Creating a dynamic process with alumni engagement ensures it continuously evolves and improves over time. Doing this work and listening to thoughtful feedback is a critical strategy to building affinity and respect from alumni.
Reduce direct financial requests
Outreach shouldn’t solely focus on donations. While financial contributions are ultimately the outcome universities are seeking, this can’t be the only communication alumni receive. Focus on giving, and the financial contributions will come.
Segment and target messaging
The alumni body is hugely diverse — and institutions should segment these groups so messages are targeted to the right people. Is a recent graduate interested in the same news as someone who left 50 years earlier? And who is more likely to donate? Messaging needs to reflect this.
All content should feel relevant and l personalized, which creates challenges if alumni are all treated the same. Then, organize those with shared interests into groups and filter events and messaging to a specific audience.
Connect with alumni through exclusive platforms
Being an alumni of an institution should feel special.
Providing access to an exclusive platform accomplishes this by building community with their fellow alumni and connecting to events just for them. Social media has its place as a public facing communication tool, but institutions need to curate tailored experiences for alumni. These experiences make it easier for them to get to know each other as well as discovering events for them to get involved with.
Make introductions amongst interested alumni
Making introductions between alumni helps to promote camaraderie and community.
Facilitate introductions at events, via an online community or even directly by providing elements of the alumni database to members.
Digital platforms also help with curating groups of alumni who share an affinity to help make connections. This might include their graduation year, major, location or an involvement they had as a student such as athletics.
Involve alumni in student life
Wherever possible, invite alumni to meet prospective students as well as current students. There are countless ways to do this including seminars, competition panels, speeches, retreats, mentoring or student body events. Part of this effort also involves organizing and informing alumni of what is happening for them to get involved with.
When alumni engage with students, it creates valuable relationships serving both parties as they progress through life.
Consider all of these strategies to determine how to intentionally use the best tools and tactics to create a centralized hub of engagement for alumni to come together and provide amazing opportunities for the entire campus community.