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September 8, 2023


A complete guide to alumni engagement: Strategies, implementation and best practices

Jono Kupferberg

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Alumni engagement is vital to any institution or university’s long-term success. Strong connections with graduates can lead to numerous benefits for both the alumni and their alma mater.

In this 101 alumni engagement article, we will explore the importance of alumni engagement, identify critical segments of the alumni population, discuss strategies for developing a comprehensive engagement plan, and examine methods for measuring success.

We are going to cover a lot of exciting topics, so let’s jump right in.

What is alumni engagement?

Alumni engagement is the process of building and maintaining meaningful relationships between educational institutions and their former students, also known as alumni.

Universities need engaged alumni to help contribute to the institution’s reputation, fundraising potential, networking opportunities, and support for academic and strategic goals.

Alumni engagement is not just about organizing events or sending newsletters – it is about fostering long-term partnerships with graduates, offering value to alumni, and involving them in activities that advance the institution’s mission.

Building alumni network through active engagement

What are common goals of successful alumni engagement strategies?

Common goals of alumni engagement strategies include:

  1. Strengthening alumni connections by building and maintaining solid relationships between the institution and its alumni, fostering a sense of belonging and loyalty.
  2. Supporting fundraising efforts by encouraging alumni to contribute financially and provide essential funds for scholarships, research, and campus improvements.
  3. Enhancing the institution’s reputation by working closely with alumni and showcasing the value of the education provided.
  4. Creating a platform for alumni to connect with current students – leading to mentorships, job placements, and professional collaborations – all of which create a more robust network.
  5. Offering value to alumni through resources and services catering to alumni’s needs and preferences – career guidance, professional development programs, and networking events.
  6. Ensuring alumni engagement efforts are inclusive and representative of the alumni community’s diverse range of experiences, identities, and perspectives.

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Why is alumni engagement important for universities and institutions?

Alumni engagement is essential for universities and institutions for several reasons:

  • Engaged alumni are more likely to contribute financially to their alma mater and provide essential funds for scholarships, research, and campus improvements.
  • Alumni can generate invaluable word-of-mouth marketing among their social and professional networks, positively impacting a university’s profile and making it more attractive to prospective students.
  • Successful alumni can serve as powerful brand ambassadors. It can bring positive testimonials on behalf of the institution and enhance its reputation.
  • Engaged alumni can create networking opportunities for current students and fellow alumni, including mentorships, job placements, and professional collaborations.
  • Alumni can offer their skills, experience, and expertise to support the institution’s academic and strategic goals, such as serving on committees and boards or mentoring current students.

Benefits of strong alumni relationships

Strong alumni relationships not only benefit the institution but also the alumni themselves. Staying connected with one’s alma mater allows them access to a vast network of professionals in their respective fields, enhancing their career opportunities and contributing to lifelong learning.

Additionally, being involved in alumni events gives graduates a sense of pride and belonging. This involvement can strengthen their emotional attachment to the institution and encourage philanthropic support.

Moreover, alumni engagement can lead to increased financial support for the institution. Alumni who feel connected to their alma mater are more likely to donate to the institution, whether it be through annual giving, major gifts, or planned giving.

Philanthropic support can fund scholarships, research, and other important initiatives that benefit the institution and its students.

Alumni engagement is a win-win for the institution and its graduates, and institutions must prioritize and invest in these relationships.

Alumni engagement focuses on past graduates

Below is a summary of the critical benefits for institutions and alumni.

Key benefits for institutions:

  1. Strengthening alumni connections, fostering loyalty, and building a strong alumni network.
  2.  Supporting fundraising efforts, and providing essential funds for scholarships, research, and campus improvements.
  3.  Enhancing the institution’s reputation by showcasing the success of alumni and attracting prospective students.
  4.  Facilitating networking opportunities for alumni and current students, leading to mentorship, job placements, and professional collaborations.

Key benefits for alumni:

  1. Accessing networking opportunities, connecting with established professionals and recent graduates.
  2. Availability of resources and services, such as career guidance, professional development programs, and networking events.
  3. Exclusive discounts and perks, including travel discounts, insurance, and other services.
  4. Opportunities to give back to the institution through volunteering, mentorship, and financial contributions.

How can you identify key alumni segments?

When engaging with alumni, one size does not fit all. Institutions must consider Different alumni groups’ unique needs and interests when developing their engagement strategies. You need to identify and target critical segments with tailored plans that better serve the diverse needs of the alumni community.

Here are some key alumni segments that universities often target.

  1. Recent graduates who are in the early stages of their careers. They may require career guidance, networking opportunities, and mentorship.
  2. Established professionals who have achieved a certain level of professional success. They can serve as mentors, offer job opportunities, and contribute to the institution’s reputation.
  3. Industry leaders and influencers often have considerable influence and can be powerful advocates for an institution. Engaging these alumni typically involves showcasing the institution’s successes and accomplishments while also offering exclusive opportunities for these high-profile graduates to reconnect and become involved. 
  4. Alumni with the financial capacity and willingness to contribute significantly to the institution can become major donors. They may be interested in supporting scholarships, research, or campus improvements.
  5. Alumni actively involved in the institution’s activities and want to become volunteers serving on committees, boards, or mentoring current students.
  6. Alumni who share a common interest, such as those who participated in the same clubs, sports teams, or academic programs. They may be interested in reconnecting with their peers and supporting initiatives related to their interests.
  7. Alumni located in specific regions or countries can contribute to alumni’s unique needs and preferences in different locations.
  8. The universities often target alumni who represent various cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds because they can promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in universities’ alumni engagement efforts.

These are just a few examples of the key alumni segments universities may target in their engagement strategies. Still, they all share something in common – to establish lifelong connections between universities and their graduates.

What are the most effective alumni engagement strategies?

Let’s examine how you can systematically approach alumni engagement and the strategies you can use.

Setting clear goals and objectives

As with any strategy, it is crucial to establish clear goals and objectives before launching an alumni engagement program. Institutions should consider their desired outcomes, from increased philanthropic support to a larger pool of active alumni volunteers, and then set specific, measurable, and time-bound goals to guide their efforts.

For instance, an institution may set a goal to increase alumni donations by 10% over the next year. They may create targeted fundraising campaigns that appeal to alumni’s interests and values to achieve this. They may also offer exclusive benefits to donors, such as access to special events or recognition in the institution’s publications.

Creating a strong alumni network

In building an effective alumni engagement strategy, creating a robust alumni network that fosters a sense of belonging is essential. Building the network can be accomplished by offering various opportunities for alumni to connect, both online and in person, and by showcasing the achievements and stories of successful graduates.

For example, institutions may create alumni chapters in different regions or countries where alumni can meet and network with their peers. They may also organize reunions, homecoming events, and other social gatherings that bring alumni back to campus and allow them to reconnect with their alma mater.

Leveraging technology for effective communication

As the world increasingly digitizes, leveraging technology is essential for effective alumni communication. Institutions can use various tools, such as email marketing platforms, social media channels, and dedicated alumni websites and apps, to keep alumni informed about events, news, and developments.

For instance, institutions may send regular newsletters highlighting upcoming events, recent achievements, and other news related to the institution and its alumni. They may also use social media channels to share updates and engage with alumni more casually and interactively.

Promoting the positive work of alumni

Highlight your alumni’s achievements and success stories to showcase their education’s value and inspire current students. This can be done through newsletters, social media, and alumni spotlights on your website.

Take a hybrid approach to alumni events

Organize both in-person and virtual events to cater to your alumni’s diverse preferences and geographical locations. This approach ensures that more alumni can participate in events, regardless of location or schedule.

Show where donations go

Transparency in the allocation of donations can encourage alumni to contribute financially. Share stories and updates on how their donations have made a difference in the lives of current students, research projects, or campus improvements.

Start alumni engagement early

Build relationships with students before graduation to lay the foundation for solid alumni connections. The relationship building can involve them in alumni events, mentorship programs, and networking opportunities.

Act consistently

Regularly communicate with alumni through newsletters, social media, and personalized outreach. Consistent engagement helps to keep alumni connected and informed about the institution’s activities and achievements.

Invest in supporting your alumni

Offer resources and services that add value to alumni, such as career guidance, networking opportunities, and professional development programs. This kind of support demonstrates the institution’s commitment to its lifelong success.

Proactively ask for feedback

Seek input from alumni on their experiences, needs, and preferences. This feedback can help you refine your engagement strategies and ensure your efforts align with alumni expectations.

Reduce direct financial requests

Focus on building relationships and providing value to alumni rather than solely asking for donations. Engaging alumni beyond financial contributions can lead to stronger connections and long-term support.

Segment and target your audience

Identify different segments within your alumni population, such as recent graduates, major donors, and others we mentioned in the previous part of the article. Tailor your communication and engagement efforts to address each segment’s unique needs and preferences.

How can institutions implement alumni engagement strategies?

A successful alumni engagement strategy involves organizing various programs and events that cater to the diverse needs and interests of the alumni community. If you work on an alumni strategy or try to implement one, think about how you can offer an array of opportunities for connection and involvement to encourage active participation among alumni. 

Let’s discuss common engagement programs and events that can effectively connect and support graduates.

Hosting reunions and networking events

Reunions and networking events provide a platform for alumni to reconnect with classmates and establish new professional connections. The events can be organized on campus or in different geographic locations to accommodate alumni who may be spread out across the globe. 

Through these events, institutions demonstrate their commitment to supporting alumni and fostering a sense of community among graduates.

Organizing professional development opportunities

Providing professional development opportunities, such as workshops, conferences, and guest lectures, enables alumni to develop their skills and expertise throughout their careers continually. 

In doing so, institutions demonstrate their ongoing support for alumni success and maintain a strong connection between the institution and its graduates.

Encouraging alumni mentorship and volunteering

Alumni mentors and volunteers are crucial in supporting current students and enhancing the educational experience. Encourage alumni to become involved as mentors or volunteers, and you will offer a unique opportunity for graduates to give back to their alma mater and create a sense of loyalty and commitment among alumni.

Utilizing alumni management software

Invest in alumni management software to streamline communication, event organization, and data management. Examples include Wild Apricot, Vaave, ToucanTech, and Almabase.

This software can help you build and maintain an alumni database, facilitate networking opportunities, and manage fundraising campaigns.

Personalizing communication and content

Tailor your communication and content to your alumni’s interests, needs, and preferences. Segment your audience upfront and use data-driven insights to deliver relevant and engaging messages.

Focusing on engaging young alumni

Young alumni may have different needs and priorities compared to older alumni. Develop strategies targeting, e.g., recent graduates vs others, such as offering career guidance, mentorship opportunities, and volunteer experiences.

Giving alumni a designated place on your website

Create a dedicated section on your website for alumni to access resources, updates, and opportunities tailored to their needs. This dedicated section can help reinforce their connection to the institution and encourage ongoing engagement.

Staying true to your brand

Ensure your alumni engagement efforts align with your institution’s mission, values, and brand identity. Consistency in messaging and tone builds trust and credibility among alumni.

Being agile and open to evolving strategies

Adapt your engagement strategies to the different needs and preferences of your alumni. If you work with international alumni, check new technologies and communication channels to reach alumni across different locations and time zones.

How to measure the effect of your alumni engagement program?

To ensure effective efforts, measuring and evaluating the success of these programs and initiatives is crucial. You can use alumni Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), gather feedback and testimonials, and continuously refine and adapt strategies to assess the alumni engagement efforts’ impact effectively.

Tracking Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

Identifying and monitoring KPIs is essential to evaluating alumni engagement efforts’ success. Examples of KPIs you can use include event attendance, email open and click-through rates, alumni mentorship, volunteering activity, and philanthropic support. 

Try to determine which strategies are most effective and adjust your approach accordingly.

Gathering feedback and testimonials

Feedback and testimonials from alumni can provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of engagement programs and events.

It would be best to encourage alumni to share their experiences and suggestions through surveys, focus groups, or informal conversations and then use this feedback for future strategies and initiatives.

Continuously improving and adapting strategies

As with any long-term initiative, continuous improvement and adaptation are crucial to staying relevant and effective in alumni engagement. If you regularly evaluate your programs and strategies and gather feedback, you will ensure that your efforts have lasting impacts on both the alumni and your institution.

Using CASE’s Alumni Engagement Metrics framework

A good tool you can use is one that The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) has developed. It consists of an Alumni Engagement Metrics framework that provides a standardized approach to measuring alumni engagement across four modes: Philanthropic, Volunteer, Experiential, and Communications. 

This framework enables institutions to capture various types of alumni engagement annually and track their progress over time.

Using data to assess the impact of engagement activities

Data-driven analysis can help you evaluate the success of your alumni engagement activities and make informed decisions about future strategies. 

When collecting and analyzing data on alumni preferences, behaviors, and outcomes, you can identify trends, patterns, and areas for improvement. This information can then refine engagement strategies, allocate resources more effectively, and ultimately enhance the alumni experience.

What are some successful alumni engagement examples and case studies?

Now, let’s look at some examples of universities that improved their alumni engagement programs.

Northwestern Health Sciences University

With a small team managing alumni relations for over 9,000 alumni, Northwestern Health Sciences University faced challenges keeping its alumni database updated and driving consistent engagement. The university used Almabase software & Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge NXT integration, successfully engaged alumni digitally, and updated its alumni database.

The University of Texas at El Paso

Between 2020 and 2021, when traditional in-person alumni engagement initiatives were impossible, The University of Texas at El Paso successfully digitally brought its alumni community together. They automated their database update process facilitated by Raiser’s Edge NXT and social sync and have captured updated alumni information and increased engagement.

Thomas Aquinas College

Thomas Aquinas College witnessed great success through its Alumni Giving Weekend 2021. With the support of more than 600 alumni donors, they exceeded their fundraising goal by 142%. By leveraging modern gamification elements on their fundraising page and an alumni-centric engagement strategy, they drove success to their Alumni Giving Weekend.

Solihull School

Solihull School achieved over 1,000 sign-ups with 96% opt-in consent to receive email and fundraising communication. The school maintained strong alumni engagement by segmenting their alumni and tailoring their communication efforts.

Oxford Falls Grammar School

Oxford Falls Grammar School in Sydney is another excellent example of engaging a young alumni community. The school focused on the needs and preferences of recent graduates and built a strong and active alumni network.

These examples demonstrate the importance of adopting innovative alumni engagement strategies, leveraging technology, and tailoring communication efforts to alumni’s unique needs and preferences, which can bring impressive results.

What are the challenges and potential solutions for improving alumni engagement?

Building and improving your alumni network doesn’t happen overnight and comes with challenges. But there are solutions that you can use, so let’s quickly check those as well.

Some common challenges faced by institutions in improving alumni engagement include:

  1. Limited budgets and resources for alumni relations.
  2. Outdated technology and data management systems.
  3. Difficulty in maintaining consistent and relevant communication with alumni.
  4. The diverse needs and preferences of alumni make it challenging to cater to everyone.

To address these challenges and improve alumni engagement, your institution can consider the following strategies:

  1. Invest in alumni management software and digital tools to leverage the technology to streamline communication, event organization, and data management.
  2. Tailor communication and content to alumni’s interests, needs, and preferences, using data-driven insights to deliver relevant and engaging messages. Be personal and approach your alumni with kind words.
  3. Create a welcoming and inclusive environment for alumni to connect, share experiences, and support one another through events, online forums, and mentorship programs. Remember, you want to build a community of people who need to communicate and exchange information with each other.
  4. Provide resources and services that cater to the needs and preferences of alumni, such as career guidance, professional development programs, and networking events. Or, in simple terms – offer value to your alumni. They want to help you but also need to get something in return.

Final thoughts on lasting impact through alumni engagement

As you can see, maximizing alumni engagement creates a sustainable future for the institutions.

Effective alumni engagement can strengthen an institution’s reputation, foster a culture of philanthropy and support, and contribute to creating a sustainable future for the institution.

With a strong alumni network, institutions can leverage the power of their graduates to enhance their reputation, secure financial support, and generate additional resources. Through effective alumni engagement strategies, alumni and institutions can enjoy lasting impacts far beyond the years spent on campus.

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