How to Engage Your Alumni


Improved fundraising, a stronger brand, and more effective student marketing - the benefits of good alumni experience are clear, but how do you go about achieving it? Here are 8 ways to deliver the kinds of experience the modern alumnus is after.

1. Engage your students in the right way, at the right time

In England, the average student leaves university with about £50,000 of debt. So, asking for donations right away can turn off your former students. Consider at what point your alumni will be financially secure enough to actually give any money away. This will depend on your university, but also the student’s degree. You could look at averages, for example how graduates from the 24 Russell Group universities earn an average of £33,500 after 5 years. However averages only go so far and don’t help you create personalised messaging. Insead, use alumni survey feedback to get accurate info on how a student is doing and whether they’d be ready to donate.

2. Make sure you’re not only talking about donations

Many alumni assume any communication from their university will be asking for money. And that can produce apathy in your alumni community and make them switch off. After all, what are they getting from you? New alumni in particular don’t want to be bombarded with fundraising comms immediately. So prioritise building alumni engagement in the short-term, to generate greater fundraising amounts in the long-term. Always think of an alumnus’ lifetime value.

3. Understand what connects your alumni to your university

You won’t be able to able to craft effective alumni comms if you don’t understand what former students want, or how they feel about their university. Is it the chance to leave a legacy and put their name on something at the university? Or is it more about improving the experience of current students, through mentoring or sharing stories from their professional life? And what drives their emotional connection to the school? If it’s the great teaching, they may want to receive great educational content; if it’s more about the friends they made, then reunions and online community platforms might work better.

4. Tell a story about your fundraising efforts

It’s hard to donate money if you don’t know what it’ll be used for, and trust is a big issue in the wider area of donor engagement and retention. Use a Kickstarter-like model, where every fundraising effort is structured around a clear goal. In other words: we want to do XYZ, here’s why, and here’s how much we need to raise. This makes it clear to alumni what they’re donating towards. Connect it back to alumni’s experience as well. Fixing up an old campus building? Then talk about how the student might remember their time there, and what the improvements mean for your current students.

5. Ask for feedback

It never hurts to ask the simple question: what do you think of what we’re sending you? Many alumnus will be happy to tell you, and that kind of feedback is crucial in forming your alumni messaging.

6. Deliver personalised messaging

Take a leaf out of the customer experience (CX) world, where personalisation is one of the main ways to drive loyalty. At the most basic level, it starts with addressing someone by their first name in emails and letters. And at the other end of the scale, it means creating bespoke campaigns for different alumni personas. Generating personalised content starts by understanding your alumni journeys and identifying the moments that matter to them. Learn about journey mapping

7. Invite people to share their stories

Across younger generations, there’s a tendency to prioritise peer impact over leaving a legacy. Now, that’s a pretty big generalisation, and one to interrogate with your own data – but it’s still worth ensuring your alumni activities include the chance to mentor current students, speak at the university, or share alumni-generated content across student channels.

8. Be there during their entire career

If you want your alumni to donate money, then help them progress in their careers and develop their skills. At the outset of their working life, support your alumni in finding jobs, using connections your institution may have with other organisations, or by promoting great opportunities across social media channels. Later in an alumnus’ career, they want networking opportunities and ways to develop their skills. You can do that by:
  • repurposing your educational content for an alumni audience

  • promoting training opportunities you or an affiliated organisation may be running

  • highlight alumni successes across your social media channels

And throughout someone’s career, you can facilitate alumni connections through LinkedIn activities and other alumni platforms you may have on your website.

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