Many university Alumni Relations departments don’t interact with former students with anything more than the occasional solicitation email or fundraiser invitation.
But alumni are more than a revenue stream.
Engaged alumni will give much of their time, talent and network in ways that impact quantifiable metrics across the entire university—not just funds. In fact, alumni can provide value greater than just monetary donations to several other departments, including:
- Enrolment Offices
- Career Services
- Philanthropy efforts
- Student Affairs/Services
Institutions realizing the full value of their alumni often have an alumni advocacy strategy and formal alumni community to build stronger relationships with former students.
In this article, we’ll outline tactics and strategies your alumni relations team can use to drive alumni engagement and help your institution reach important goals that aren’t just dollar value.
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1. Increasing student enrolment
Qualified Applications and Yield (Percent of Enrolment Offers Accepted) are two of the most important metrics a university measures.
Alumni advocates can help improve these numbers by publicly promoting your institution. Heartfelt support for their alma mater increases the university’s reputation amongst would-be students. Word-of-mouth is an effective and efficient low-cost method to guide prospective students’ decisions, with 95% of prospective students choosing their school on the basis of positive word of mouth.
Furthermore, when prospective students are directly referred to a school by an alumni, they’re more likely to consider attending.
How to engage alumni
Before you start a “dial-a-thon” to harass alumni for referrals, think about what value you can give them first to entice them to engage with your campaign. (Hint: it’s not an another phone call.)
By giving alumni something first, you can harness the power of reciprocity (you do something nice for them and they then feel psychologically obligated to do the same for you) to inspire them to submit referrals.
A formal alumni advocate community can serve both purposes.
An advocate community first gives your alumni valuable access to their peers (hello professional networking opportunities!).
Once they experience value, they’ll be much more likely to reciprocate by participating in your campaigns, which you can promote within the advocate community.
The right advocate community platform will reduce the friction for alumni to submit referrals, while providing your institution with an easier way to track alumni referral (and other acts of advocacy, which we’ll get to later). Just remember to inform alumni on the outcome of the referral so they aren’t left wondering what happened to that qualified candidate they introduced to your school.
An example of an alumni referral campaign page. Make sure it outlines the referral process clearly so advocates feel comfortable participating.
Make sure you have a way to track the progress of referrals to follow up with your alumni advocates.
2. Improving career services
Candidates want a university that can help them secure a job post-graduation. Schools are constantly building networks of contacts and partnerships that can place fresh graduates in relevant and well-paying roles. This is why Career Services offices are measured on:
- Numbers of employers represented at recruiting events and online
- Job postings
Engaged alumni that own companies or manage recruitment inevitably come back to recruit…if they think the quality of talent is there and you’ve been staying top of mind with them over the years.
How to engage alumni
One of the great things about an advocate community is its ability to collect information about your alumni. This is useful not only for delivering targeted, relevant content to your alumni through the community (a must-do if you want to increase advocacy!) but can also help with your campaigns.
For instance, collecting relevant, up-to-date information from your alumni enables you to deliver more relevant engagement initiatives, like local recruitment efforts, or industry-specific mentor matching.
When you first welcome alumni to a formal community, make sure to ask them a few qualifying questions through a welcome message or activity. This way, you can get to know them better and keep your requests meaningful. Relevant asks based off of your alumni’s demographics or interests will be more likely to get a response than huge requests aimed at your entire advocate base.
You can also tap into your alumni’s sense of competitiveness with one another to drive engagement for your recruitment goals. Award a prize to the alumni that recruits the most students or attends the most recruiting events.
3. Long-term philanthropy
The Philanthropy Office does rely on donations to operate, but there are other valuable ways alumni advocates can drive key performance indicators (KPIs).
Donations are, of course, a critical end goal. They are also, however, a residual effect of engagement. Donors who engage in non-donation activities, both online and offline, are almost twice as likely to be retained as donors than those who only interact in one of these avenues. These activities range from attending events, to volunteering their time, to coming back to campus as a guest speaker or recruiter.
This means alumni who are engaged in multiple ways over the course of the year (like being asked to volunteer for or promote an event) are more likely to continue as a donor in the future.
Furthermore, the 2016 Membership Marketing Benchmarking Report found that alumni advocates are one of the top ways to attract and obtain new members and donors.
Alumni advocates can also assist by promoting the philanthropy department’s causes. You can never have too much awareness for a cause, and alumni are in an excellent position to increase the causes’ visibility and drive interest through personal conversations or social media activity.
How to engage alumni
Use your alumni community as a place to discuss your philanthropic initiatives and ask for help. When advocates feel like they are a part of something meaningful, they will be more likely to participate. The key is offering them ways to participate that are on their own terms.
First, provide local opportunities to volunteer. If you present it as part of a networking opportunity with other alumni, it will likely garner a bigger response!
Ask alumni who don’t have time to commit to an event to promote your initiatives on their social networks. Give them prepared messaging so it’s quick and easy for them to do. Make sure to supplement your requests for help with other things they might want to share on social media, like relevant articles, reports, etc. Giving them content that increases their professional profile or brand will make them more likely to help you promote your own initiatives later (reciprocity strikes again!).
4. Enhanced student services
Student Affairs and Student Services offices are charged with enhancing a student’s quality of life and providing experiences beyond the traditional classroom. Their core KPIs are often focused on student satisfaction scores and retention.
Mentorship can play a large part in accomplishing this goal, as it broadens the student’s horizons and presents them with a wealth of hard-won, real-life experience. Universities that have large numbers of motivated alumni mentors can create better matches to students with similar interests and needs.
Alumni that have used Student Services programs can also be tapped to provide useful feedback. Their insights and experiences using the program when compared to post-graduation life can promote positive changes that make Student Services more valuable to current students.
How to engage alumni
Asking alumni for feedback in an advocate community has a number of benefits. First, alumni have a sounding board and way to feel heard by their alma mater. Furthermore, they can converse with both the institution and other alumni in an open and honest way—which wouldn’t be ideal on public social channels like Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn Groups.
Make sure your alumni relations team responds to all feedback (both positive and negative) so alumni feel appreciated, and will continue to give feedback in the future.
Advocates also crave and appreciate recognition. Offer to do a profile in your advocate community on the alumni who mentor students. Making your alumni advocates feel special (especially among their peers) is one of the most powerful rewards you can use to motivate them.
Driving value with engaging alumni advocate communities
As you go into strategic planning this year, ask yourself this: have you done enough to engage your alumni, and are they helping you to move the dial on your most important metrics?
The key to successfully engaging alumni requires consistently involving them in ways that are meaningful to them, and showing them appreciation when they participate in your campaigns. The more you show that you value your alumni advocates and their involvement, the more invested they’ll be in your school’s success.
The right advocate community platform can make presenting requests, resources, and recognition to alumni fun, easy, engaging and trackable.
Take this first step today and explore how an alumni advocacy program can benefit your department, and your entire institution.