Everything You Need to Know about Alumni Data

This guide will help you audit, iterate, and improve your alumni community with better data.

Skip to the Alumni Data Guide

Maybe you are a school with an in-house alumni team, a student group with a spreadsheet, or a camp starting to engage its counselors.

Likely, you have some alumni and a strategy to engage them. The strategy could be to do nothing, or it could be a multi-platform engagement strategy.

Sophistication is not the key to active alumni. Alumni will open the emails relevant to them, attend the events they care about, and give to the organizations they want.

Personalization and context are gateways to active alumni and alumni data the keys.

The most effective alumni strategies share one thing, an emphasis on clean, up-to-date, alumni data.

If the mantra of real estate is “Location, location, location”, the mantra of successful alumni programs is “ Data, data, data.” Tech firms already know this. Google and Facebook are so successful because they have up-to-date user data that they use to achieve all of their goals.

Data is the new gold and most alumni programs are missing out. It’s something to be cherished, maintained, and improved.

But what is alumni data? Who needs it? And how do you know if you are using it correctly?

This i s a comprehensive guide to improving and adding an alumni data strategy to your program. It lays a framework for improving your data so that you can communicate, fundraise, and engage your alumni community.

It includes:

  • A checklist to assess whether you need an alumni data strategy
  • An Alumni Data Inventory and Guide

So let’s break it down.

Do you need an Alumni Data Strategy? 5 Questions to Ask Yourself

If you have alumni and want to interact with them, you probably need an alumni data strategy. If you aren’t sure, here are a couple questions to ask yourself:

Does your group:

  • Send out newsletters to alumni?
  • Ask alumni for money?
  • Organize alumni reunions and meetups?
  • Connect, or want to connect, members and alumni?
  • Want to understand alumni outcomes?

If you answer yes to any of those questions, you need an alumni data strategy.

Why? Well the only way you can achieve these outreach outcomes is if you can reach the right people, at the right time, with the right message. To do that, you need data.

What groups typically fall under this category?

  • Camps
  • High Schools
  • Colleges
  • Student groups
  • Fraternal organizations
  • Non-profits
  • For-profit companies

All these groups care about their alumni activities, because they want to maintain and improve their communities. The core value of these organizations is often the people themselves. Alumni are crucial to maintaining that community.

A college and camp may seem like separate entities, but to an alum they are similar. They both are learning experiences with people that they care about. They are transformative life experiences. Both should care about alumni data because they need it to engage.

Is your group a community group that wants to engage past members? Then you need alumni data.

What is Alumni Data?

Alumni data is any information that you can collect about your alumni. There are three reasons for having the data

  • So you can identify unique individuals.
  • So you can communicate.
  • So you have context.

The first type is what makes an alum an alum. It could be their name and class year. It could be a unique ID in your database system.

The second type are communication data points. They are core to engagement.

How do you contact someone? What is their email address? Phone number? You must ask these questions before reaching out to someone. In order for you to engage an alum, you must first be able to contact them.

The third type are nice to have. Where do they work? Where do they live? What did they do while in your group? These data points are crucial to improving communication. Sending out a personalized email, knowing where someone works and lives, will see way higher engagement than a generic message to an anonymous email.

Effective alumni programs outshine their ineffective counterparts because their data is more up to date, they’ve prioritized the important fields, and they have more context on their alums.

Data has a tiered value within each type, uniqueID, communication, and context. A personal email address is more useful than a work email address. A cell phone number more important than a home address. Current job more important than past job.

Check back soon for a data prioritization list to help you understand what fields are most important for your job.

How to assess your alumni data quality?

So you need data, and you know which data points are most important to you. How do you determine how good your data is? You need to do a data inventory.

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A data inventory assesses the current strength of your database and sees if there are any gaps that you should be working on. It’s an easy assessment to determine what your priorities should be.

The goals of this Inventory are to:

  • Assess your current alumni data strategy
  • Get stakeholders in different departments on the same page
  • Create alumni data plan moving forward along with relevant action items

How to use this Inventory

  • Create a shareable document with the Inventory questions.
  • Invite the relevant stakeholders to the document
  • These could include IT, Alumni, Center for Professional Development, Development etc. Anyone invested and involved with nurturing alumni and their data should be invited.
  • Tag each question with [NAME — DEPARTMENT]. This indicates who should answer them.
  • Set a deadline for answering the questions
  • Schedule an hour long meeting to discuss inventory and next steps. Schedule follow up meetings as necessary.
  • Assess Alumni Data goal completion at regular intervals. Share Inventory document with new stakeholders. Reassess if Alumni Data Inventory Document has changed yearly.

The data inventory includes over 70 questions on topics like:

  • Access
  • Data Fields
  • Data Use
  • Database Coverage
  • Updates
  • Third Party Tools
  • Alumni Privacy

By the end of the assessment, you should have outlined your current data situation, gotten all the stakeholders on the same page, and created a list of next steps to improve.

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How do you get good data about your alumni?

There are two ways to get alumni data.

  • Through users
  • Through 3rd parties

The best is directly from users. When they update their information, you can be sure that it is the most up to date and it is what they want to share with you.

The second way is through third parties. Third parties are a great way to get lots of data at once for relatively low cost. The problem with mass data enrichment is data accuracy and communication. Big data is not perfect. For instance, Wavelength can enrich data on ~60% of emails (career info, social profiles, locations etc) with 95% accuracy. This is really good, but what happens to the 5% that has incorrect information? You don’t want them to have a poor experience when you tell them you have that data. Learn how Wavelength obtains its data.

It’s not just what data you collect. But how you collect it. Users care deeply about their data privacy. You need to be transparent and give them control over their data. When you enrich your data you need to make sure that your data partners are finding information legally and ethically. Alumni will ask you how you got your information. When Wavelength collects data, it makes sure that its data partners are committed to user privacy.

How do you make sure your alumni data strategy is working?

Users update their information when they think you provide enough value.

Your alumni data strategy is working when users update their records at regular intervals.

Alumni update their information for two reasons:

  • There are a lot of people on the platform already. It isn’t an empty house that no one uses. People actually use the platform.
  • They want to be a resource. Wavelength is built on transparency and control. Users log into Wavelength, see the data that an organization has about them, and wants to update it because they want to help out other members of the organization. It’s not about keeping admins in the know, its about keeping their colleagues and friends who are also members of their organization up-to-date.

Check out Why do users update their info? And why is it so important? for a deeper understanding of what makes an alumni network useful.

Parting Words

Your alumni data strategy will drive all aspects of your alumni relations. Without a solid strategy you can’t keep track of your members or engage them. But once you create a strong strategy, you can start making the most of your community. It’s a great way to help current members network and be resources for each other.

Don’t forget to come back and visit this page. There is so much to cover about alumni data that it gets updated regularly.

Feel like this guide has been helpful? Download your copy today.

Ruthless Prioritization to Save Time and Maximize Your Impact

Ruthless Prioritization to Save Time and Maximize Your Impact

There are several great tools out there that help in strategic planning and project management. One exercise I find the most useful as a gut check before starting any new initiative is called the Impact Matrix.

An Impact Matrix looks into how much effort (time, money, software) is required to deliver on a project compared to the project’s impact, the influence it has on reaching your goal.

For example:

Your goal is engage with more constituents. You have have brainstormed several projects to reach this target including:

  • Host regional events for constituents in major cities
  • Develop optional remote programming for constituents like book clubs and speaker series
  • Mobilize volunteers by class year to develop class-specific engagement points and competitions amongst class years

After determining your projects, identify how much effort it would be required to complete the project followed by how much impact the project has on reaching your goals. Depending on your organization, you might rank each project differently from a peer institution.

You might find that you have 80% of your constituents within 4 distinct regions so it makes sense to host regional events as it targets a large number of your alumni. Meaning high impact (4/5), decent level of effort (3)

A peer institution might have a largely dispersed alumni base and instead, they are seeking remote opportunities. They’ve found that it is pretty easy to develop a speaker series and there is a solid level of interest. Medium-high impact (3) low effort (2).

Alternatively, you may realize that while you can develop a speaker series and a book club, your constituents are Zoomed out and aren’t looking for more screen time. Low impact (1/2) low effort (2)

Class loyalty may still run strong in your school and you could already have eager volunteers resulting in low effort (2) and high impact (4). Unfortunately, some schools might have a lot more work in finding volunteers and their effort on the matrix would be higher (4/5) with a medium impact (3).

You want to look for the sweet spot: the projects that have the highest impact while not overwhelming your resources.

Whenever you are trying to prioritize projects or determine what to do next, this quick exercise helps to identify your next steps providing you a logical path forward.

Anything you place in the dark green section should be top priority. The light green part of the matrix should be put on hold. The idea as it stands might not work. That can change, your constituents’ interests might shift, you resources could increase or you find a solution to save you time. Regardless, don’t toss those ideas, put them in a parking lot and save them for later!

Coming to Terms with Alumni Engagement, What to Truly Expect

With the current age of technology and screen time, distractions and multitasking is the norm. As a school, understanding how to engage with alumni meaningfully while setting proper expectations of what that should look like is necessary to reach your advancement goals.

The biggest challenge I see when schools are looking to engage with their constituent base is assuming their community will change their behaviors. Humans are creatures of habit, requiring too much deviation from their day to day may be a barrier to entry for your alumni base.

Two examples include:

  • Requiring an app to be downloaded for users to receive updates and community benefits.

App users spend 77% of their time on 3 apps and 96% on their top 10 apps. The top app usage for mobile users is seen below.

Buildfire’s Report on App Usage
  • Adding a new platform of content delivery for users to check. Vying for attention on Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram is tough , distractions abound but this is where your consumers are when they are seeking content.

Sproutsocial dives into the social media platforms and consumer insights for 2020. Bottom line: the largest engagement rate for Higher Ed is on Instagram.

At Wavelength, we believe in providing an alumni network that is there when and where your alumni want one. Your alumni may rely on their school’s network for a variety of reasons- reconnecting with old classmates, finding a favorite teacher, looking for a job, seeing who else lives in their area, scheduling mini reunions, etc. If you look at the list of examples I just provided, none of them are daily alumni needs. That’s ok! You want to provide a tool that will answer their needs when they have them. Providing anything more may go unused, require too many resources for your team to maintain, or overwhelm the user to the point of disengaging further.

If you’re curious about what your alumni are interested in, I always encourage the practice of asking- with a major caveat:

Understand the people you are asking feedback from are most likely closer to “super users” than what a typical alum engagement would be.

The Lean Six Sigma approach of asking the “5 Why’s” is a useful activity any time you are seeking solutions for engagement. It’s simple ask “Why?” 5 times.

When you are seeking new forms of engagement, always consider the resources it would take to maintain that engagement and whether it leads to reaching your development goals.

Wavelength provides a network for your alumni while simplifying your day to day by helping you identify better constituent engagement points, communicate more effectively, collect class notes, and so much more.

Questions? Email katie@searchwavelength.com

Wavelength’s Multinetwork- How to Make Alumni Networks Actually Work

Wavelength’s Multinetwork- How to Make Alumni Networks Actually Work

Originally posted by Chris G., CEO and Founder of Wavelength

Connecting with people on social media takes time, effort, and in some cases, luck. Adding another social media platform to the mix doesn’t do anyone any favors, so we didn’t. Instead, we made Wavelength all about the data — and making the data do the hard work on behalf of the organizations that need it (rather than asking the organizations to invest time and effort they don’t have).

This is what we mean: Rather than pulling information about users from LinkedIn or from Facebook, we’re using our technology to plug into public data sources -both legally and securely — to collect publicly available information about any user that joins the Wavelength network. With something as simple as a user’s email address, Wavelength can create a rich user profile, complete with accurate information about location, job history, group affiliations, and beyond. Better yet, we can do this at scale. Still have questions? Read our data policies.

This becomes beneficial not only to the user — who exerts minimum effort to create a profile and access the networks of their known affiliations — but to the very networks they’ve been part of.

On day one, an organization can get 60–70% of its alumni on the platform with enriched data.

It requires no internal promotion, no hand-holding, no complicated onboarding. The information has always been there, Wavelength just made it easy and convenient for you to get.

We then provide one user-friendly space for managing data, sending emails, searching networks, collecting donations, and much more.

And unlike Facebook or Linkedin which sells a User’s data for a quick buck, we don’t. We give users control over what data is shared with whom.

While Wavelength may sound optimal for large public universities that have amassed hundreds of thousands of alumni over the years, the benefits of our platform extend from large universities to small affinity groups.

This is how we thought about it on a smaller scale: When a user changes jobs, for example, they’re not going out of their way to update their college alumni database, fraternity or sorority alumni groups, volunteer groups, and beyond.

Expanding on what we mentioned earlier, what couldbe useful information becomes lost to anyone who’s not connected. So Wavelength changed that with something we call Multinetwork.

Multinetwork works in a way that no other directory can. It aggregates networks, allowing users to search all of their networks and then ranks search results by what’s most relevant to that user.

If they’re associated with a fraternity, for example, they have access to any other user associated with that fraternity, rather than limiting them to whether or not they directly know every other user in the network. Similarly, if that same user is part of a volunteer organization, they have access to that entire network as well, multiplying their reach with every group they associate with.

Let’s say that user experiences a life change, like a career switch or a cross-country move. All they have to do is update their oneprofile on Wavelength, and Wavelength takes care of keeping their affiliated organizations up-to-date, requiring no additional effort on behalf of the user or the organizations. If that same person decides they want to make a few donations to the organizations they care about — rather than seeking out the donations pages across all of those organizations, they can come to Wavelength and do it all in one secure place.

From the start, our mission has always been to make it easy to reach the right people in ways that are meaningful and helpful to all — organizations and individuals alike.

We built Wavelength ethically so that users control their data from day one. We’re not about the likes or the friend requests or the clickbait content. We do data, search, email, and donations, and we do them well. Check out Wavelength.