Charitable contributions provide a significant source of revenue for higher education institutions. As the
second-largest source of charitable contributions, alumni are an indispensable source of revenue for
advancement offices. However, this source of revenue may not always be available; with declining
trends in the number of contributing alumni and competition over limited donation dollars, alumni
engagement has become increasingly important.
Overall, charitable contributions totaled a record $43.6 billion in 2017, with alumni giving notably increasing by 14.5%. Although alumni contributed more money in 2017, the number of contributing alumni continued to decline among institutions with the highest and lowest levels of participation—making it crucial for institutions to engage their alumni effectively in order to grow their donor bases.
Developing a strong social media presence can help institutions create lasting connections with alumni that lay the foundation for future giving. Social media allows for fast, inexpensive, and effective outreach to alumni, providing a platform for institutions to share content ranging from news and information to campaigns soliciting alumni financial support. Many schools have already taken advantage of social media for their engagement efforts; nearly 90% of higher education advancement offices say that social media is more integral to their marketing and communications efforts than it was three years ago.
Social Media Strategies for Identifying and Engaging Alumni
Social media provides more than effective communication with alumni: it can be used as a powerful tool to support larger engagement efforts by assisting with donor prospecting, targeting, and message refinement. However, simply having a social media presence is not enough to effectively reach alumni; to compete with the growth of social media users and the volume of posts, new strategies are vital to bring institutional content to their attention.
1. Track Down Formerly Lost Alumni
The majority of higher education advancement offices surveyed in 2016 used social media to identify and add contact information for formerly lost alumni, especially since institutional databases of alumni information are often outdated or incomplete. Recent studies have found that alumni are much more likely to self-publish their contact information on social media platforms than submit information to their alma mater when requested, making social media an effective tool to help institutions identify and contact their alumni. Ashland University is using social media to measure its “forgotten” alumni rate, verify alumni locations, and re-engage with former students. With these efforts, the university was able to identify 1,186 formerly lost alumni from 36 states and five countries, adding them to their records and engagement efforts.
2. Identify New Prospects
Higher education institutions can use social media to identify alumni that could potentially become donors. Studying their engagement on social media, schools can determine how the former student may feel about the university and adjust their engagement efforts to meet the alumnus’s communication style. For example, if an individual shares content related to crowdfunding initiatives they support, the institution can determine that it would be more effective to reach out to the contact during an online giving campaign rather than by mailing them a flyer requesting a donation. Tracking online engagement and identifying alumni interests can effectively pinpoint new giving prospects; software developed by Stanford University allows the school to match their social media followers and top commenters with their alumni database to identify who is interacting with the channels.
3. Pinpoint New Areas of Interest to Alumni
Institutions can identify new areas of interest for current alumni giving prospects based on their engagement with social media. Studying the content alumni frequently post on their channels can provide insight into their passions and interests, which can be applied to recruitment efforts. For example, an alumnus who is civic-focused and shares content related to charity fundraisers may respond best to fundraising messages detailing how their donation positively affects students and the university’s community. Boston University uses social media to show how alumni funding benefits current students; by posting impact videos of students conducting research or projects made possible by this funding, alumni are educated on how their donations directly benefit the student population.
4. Spot Ideas for Crowdfunding
Crowdfunding through social media provides a valuable way for an institution to contact alumni for fundraising. Online giving initiatives can be very effective; half of the schools who implemented a Day of Giving campaign generated at least $50,000 in total donations from the one-day event. By researching other schools’ giving campaigns, institutions can identify fundraising efforts they can incorporate to achieve similar results. In addition, schools can use social media to identify alumni passions that could inspire crowdfunding efforts. The Indiana University Alumni Association, inspired by alumni’s “Hoosier Hysteria” during their basketball season, implemented the IU Basketball Engagement Campaign. The campaign featured social media graphics with bold images of its basketball team that alumni could share on their own accounts. As a result of the campaign, IUAA’s total social media following grew by 5,500, with the campaign reaching more than 1.2 million Facebook members.
5. Suggest a New Giving Bracket
Not all alumni can donate the same amount to their alma maters, which makes it important to identify an alumnus’s giving bracket before outreach. Being able to suggest a donation that is affordable for an alumnus may make it more likely that they will donate. By monitoring alumni’s LinkedIn profiles, schools can identify the proper giving bracket for an alumnus based on their job title, increasing the donation suggestion based on a new promotion. Likewise, a school can adjust an outreach effort to a lower giving bracket if an alumnus is in an entry-level position. Boston College was able to identify the correct giving brackets for its alumni by identifying them through LinkedIn; by monitoring changes in job titles, such as a vice president being promoted to CEO, the college was able to suggest donation amounts that were affordable for each alumnus.