Improving Alumni Engagement

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Maintaining contact with alumni after graduation can provide invaluable, lifelong support to higher education institutions. Engaged alumni can support institutions in a variety of ways, including:

  • Donating funds to their alma mater
  • Volunteering with a regional alumni club or a reunion committee
  • Attending on-campus events such as reunions, special lectures and classes, or athletic events
  • Becoming regular members of alumni clubs or organizations
  • Mentoring current students or recent alumni
  • Contributing content that supports an institution’s digital presence
  • Serving as informal representatives by encouraging the next generation of students to attend their alma mater and motivating fellow alumni to become involved with the institution

As alumni engagement is of great interest and importance to higher education institutions, below, we offer several strategies on how to improve alumni engagement and thereby strengthen an institution’s support structure.

Guiding Principles

The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) outlines 12 guiding principles describing the ways that alumni relations officers should approach their responsibilities and improve alumni engagement. Any effective alumni engagement strategy will likely incorporate one or more of the following principles presented in the following table.


Key ideas presented in these principles include increasing communication and information shared, as well as increasing opportunities for involvement.

Below we present several key strategies for communicating with alumni, including tips that focus on messaging, outreach methods, pre-graduation outreach, and alumni contact information.

Messaging

  • Investing In Alumni
    Effective alumni outreach should communicate to alumni that their alma mater is invested in their success and offers professional and personal support. Such offerings may include professional networking events and career services, continuing education opportunities, and use of campus facilities.
  • Alumni Feedback
    Alumni engagement programs should solicit feedback from alumni and incorporate alumni suggestions into their development strategies. Listening to alumni allows institutions to understand who alumni want to connect with, how they want to communicate, and what they want to gain from their relationship with the institution.
  • Deemphasizing Financial Requests
    It is vital for institutions to communicate that their outreach is not singularly focused on enticing alumni to make financial donations. While encouraging financial donations is often a key goal of alumni engagement efforts, pushing too hard in this aspect can alienate some alumni and discourage participation altogether. Alumni may view correspondence and event invitations as thinly-veiled attempts to solicit donations.
  • Alumni News
    Alumni outreach at many institutions consists mainly of generic “alumni news” content, which does little to motivate alumni to connect with their alma mater. Instead, institutions should focus on publishing relationship stories that entertain while simultaneously market the institution’s alumni initiatives. Additionally, messaging that highlights both current and past on-campus events addresses a desire of many alumni to be “back on campus.”

Outreach Methods

 

  • Target Groups
    All alumni are not identical. Alumni relations officers should recognize and account for the differences inherent in an alumni body, which span multiple generations, exhibit a range of interests, and reflect diverse backgrounds.
  • Modes of Communication
    Alumni outreach methods must connect with alumni through their preferred mode of communication. Increasingly, alumni rely on social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to communicate. Institutions should consider establishing a presence on these media and adapt their messaging to provide concise, interesting content to alumni.
  • Groups Conducting Alumni Outreach
    Communications from a senior institution official such as a university president conveys to alumni that engagement is a high priority of the university and helps to alleviate alumni suspicions that correspondence is simply a fundraising scheme.

Pre-Graduation Outreach

  • Life-Long Relationships
    Institutions that begin establishing relationships with students long before graduation can build lasting alumni connections. Institutions can set the stage for lifelong relationships by helping students understand that they are alumni in the making.
  • Maintaining Relationships
    Once connections are made, institutions should not allow those connections to wither. Outreach strategies such as networking breakfasts, newsletters, contests, awards, and promotional events can be used to sustain regular contact with alumni. Also important is to engage alumni immediately after graduation and avoid any lapse in contact between institution and alumni to prevent permanently losing contact.

Alumni Contact Information

  • Alumni Databases
    Alumni databases are essential to effective alumni outreach. They allow institutions to determine which alumni have the capacity to donate, have a history of engagement, live in specific areas, or work in a given industry. Additionally, alumni with updated database information can be a strong indicator of engagement with the institution.
  • Simplify Record Keeping
    Academic registrars and alumni record keepers may share contact information to ensure that information is kept up-to-date. Alumni associations can also collaborate with student organizations to collect alumni information from unofficial events. Additionally, many institutions encourage alumni to update their contact information with a visible, direct link on the main alumni web page.
  • Permanent Email Address
    Another vital piece of information to collect before graduation is the permanent email address. Student use of school email addresses typically ends after graduation, so ensuring that a permanent email address is on file will (at least initially) prevent loss of contact with graduates. An alternative option for maintaining contact with alumni is to offer a permanent email address hosted by the University, which allows for a direct line of contact with alumni.

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