You have sent out your newsletters, emails, and donation requests. You have mailed reminders and pleaded for responses, and yet, your efforts are miles away from reaching your goals. What have you done wrong? How can you connect with alumni and increase engagement rates and (and ultimately) donations?
Let's get real. Graduates who are fully employed and busy with family will most likely ignore generic emails from their alma mater randomly asking for donations. They are even more likely to toss out promotional direct mail with weekly flyers and reminders. It is an unfortunate fact that most alumni-college relationships are reduced to annual requests for money, so what's the secret to approaching this necessary evil?
#1. Get em' before they're gone.
You can't begin building relationships with alumni once they become an alumnus. The time to strengthen and enhance alumni engagement strategies is before students even receive their diplomas. Don't wait until graduates move away and on with their lives before sending them email reminders and invitations.
Technology definitely makes it easier to mass broadcast messages, but it’s almost impossible to break through the noise and importance of other media sources without having a prior relationship. This means that colleges must create meaningful and long-lasting connections well before graduation. Most students may not be able to give lucrative donations, but the true lifetime value of an engaged alumnus is community support and word-of-mouth marketing.
Build relationships with students while they are there, and they will take care of your institution once they have moved on.
#2. Think Strategically
In order to think strategically, you must understand that your alumni are just like customers. With that in mind, how do you engage them? How do you build relationships?
Let's take a step back. Ever ordered food and had them ask for your name at the end of order? They may say things like, "Thanks Sarah, have a great day." Or "Your order is ready, Sarah."
Ever filled out a membership while online shopping and had them ask for your birth date? Chances are you will find a nice little coupon during your birthday month sent right to your inbox.
These companies are feeding into the basic human need of feeling important. These businesses take the time to ask for your name because they want to make you feel special; you need to do the same with your students.
Make your staff take the time to learn the names of students and build personal relationships. Have activities and recognition ceremonies for your students to keep them involved, inspired, and feeling important.
#3. Don't forget the stragglers.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) states that the six-year graduation rate for undergraduates is approximately 60 percent. Therefore, there are 40 percent of these past students who need reminders and guidance to complete their degrees.
Alumni engagement transcends monetary transactions because many students must delay or abandon their academic dreams because of financial strain, family commitments, or career pressure.
Many college dropouts justify themselves by citing saturated job markets, the rising costs of tuition, and the risks associated with being out of the workforce for four years straight. Therefore, alumni engagement materials should not only reach out to graduates, but also to people who will benefit from either completing their education or pursuing a higher degree.
#4 Use resources wisely.
Lastly, you must use all resources available to grab the attention of your alumni. Many universities have started utilizing social media platforms, such as Facebook and LinkedIn, to quickly reach their alumni and gather relevant demographic data.
When developing your social media alumni engagement strategy, keep these three keys in mind. It won't be long before your efforts pay off.