How many colleges or universities are you an alumnus or alumnae of?
Counting every community college and university I’ve attended, my answer is seven. That’s to say, there are seven different colleges and universities I’ve attended over the course of the last eight years.
This means that there are at least seven different colleges and universities that are (or that will be) fighting for my attention over the course of my life.
And why do colleges and universities want the attention of their alumni, the attention of folks like you and me?
Well, I think we all know the answer to that: money.
The Collegiate and University Situation
While most people probably aren’t fond of organizations asking them for money, you can’t blame them (the organizations), right? How else are they supposed to get on?
At least for the ones whose funding is not sourced largely by the state or government, it’s understandable that they would seek to make donors out of their alumni.
The alumni were consumers of the college or university’s product, after all. For this reason, they make for a pretty natural target.
But colleges and universities face a special problem in their targeting and marketing efforts to make donors out of their alumni. In short, they’re not the only ones targeting their alumni for donorship needs.
With the popularity of attending multiple universities, accumulating our credits from several different schools, and wanting to diversify our educational experience, many people now have two or three or schools of which they’re alumni.
This means people are no longer deciding whether to give back to their singular alma matter; they’re now deciding, if they’re deciding at all, between several of their alma mater.
We’ve got three strategies we think could be of use to those in the higher education sector.
That is, we’ve got three strategies for keeping your alumni engaged, even if you’re one of several alma mater for them.
1. Move From Email Communication To Platform Communication
I think it’s fair to say that email is losing its steam as an effective communication tool. Everyone’s email inbox is now inundated with hundreds of emails, some of which are important, some not so much.
If you’re attempting to get someone’s attention via email, generally you need to already have their attention or you’ll have to be persistent with your follow ups.
The latter strategy for universities and colleges, however, doesn’t tend to fair very well.
Perhaps that’s because frequent emails from organizations are usually laden with needs and requests. People are very familiar with this by now, so if these emails aren’t going straight to the trash or spam, they will be before long.
So here’s an idea. What if colleges and universities pivoted their communication methods? Maybe it’s not necessary to ditch email altogether, but email isn’t where most like to spend their time.
Networking platforms are. The data is in and there’s no denying it.
At Harness, we design platforms specifically for universities and colleges to provide a space for their students, staff, faculty, and alumni to network.
Our platform is incredible for many things, but one such resource it provides to universities or colleges is the power to communicate to their alumni.
Imagine if you could send direct messages to all of your alumni about the different events or resources your institution is providing. The idea here is to communicate to your alumni at the location you know they’re already at.
I would never give a speech in Southern California if I know my audience is in New York City (assuming telecommunication is not an option).
Likewise, if your audience isn’t hanging out in their email, it’s time to go where they are.
2. Bring Your Alumni-Engagement Events To Your Alumni
One of my alma mater — indeed, my favorite alma mater — had an outdated outreach strategy for their alumni.
What they would do is host events on their campus and then invite us to attend these events. As much as I love being on the campus and all the nostalgia that comes with it, it’s simply not feasible.
And I live within an hour of my alma mater. What about everyone else who doesn’t?
Our world’s pandemic has obviously forced higher education directors and managers to adopt a new strategy and move on from the old one, but I have a worry that deep in their bones is a hope to return to the old, “normal” way of doing things.
You have to resist this urge, especially if you’re serious about engaging alumni.
While an occasional on-campus event to promote nostalgia and in-person connection will always have some sort of value (when time permits for these to resume again), they can’t be the central strategy for alumni engagement.
Bring your alumni events to your alumni. This requires you to ask the question, “where are they?”
You can’t bring something to someone whose location is a mystery to you. But you also can’t force someone to attend an event just because it’s in their “city.”
The events must possess value, so much so that it would drive an alumnus or alumnae — who in many cases is beyond excited to be out of school — to make a return of sorts by showing up to this event.
Make the events valuable, easy to attend, virtual, and place them right where the alumni are. If what I’ve said in the last section is at all accurate, then on a networking platform will be the proper location.
3. Make It Easy For Your Alumni To Find The Resources They Need
First, which resources do your alumni actually need?
This is without a doubt the first and greatest question you could be asking yourself if you’re in higher education and care about alumni engagement.
Getting our needs met is a crucial first to being able to give back in any capacity; it’s hard, quite frankly, to give out of deficit.
Some answers to this question might include goods like jobs, a network, mentors, internships, or perhaps a way to hire interns or employees.
The signs that higher education institutions have done their job well with their alumni will be a matter of sufficiently educating and preparing their alumni for life after school.
Life after school is often incredibly difficult. The contrast if often stark and sharp for post-grads (you read the many LinkedIn testimonies for proof of this).
So, get your alumni what they need in order to succeed as alumni after graduation. But just as important is making sure that these resources, whatever they might be, are easily accessible.
Quality resources that are easily accessible are always seen as more valuable. And the more value you possess for your alumni as a higher education institution, the more likely your alumni will be to engage with you.
If you’re lucky, that engagement might even convert to donorship.
But make donorship your ultimate and only end goal with your engagement efforts and you’re destined for an ever-decreasing engagement trend.
Data, once again, already suggests as much, but at Harness we’re here to help you change this.
Let us help you engage your alumni today. The benefits and increased engagement are yours for the taking.