A New Reality: Alumni Engagement During COVID

Schools I work with are frequently asking me how peer institutions are engaging with alumni as the pandemic extends into the fall/winter. Below I’ve captured a few ways our customers are interacting with alumni.

  • Entertainment Nights: Your alumni are talented individuals. One school is mobilizing its alumni to provide Zoom entertainment from cooking classes (just send a grocery list ahead of time!) or live music performances to allow alumni to interact and have a change of pace while being stuck inside.
  • Master Classes/Speaker Panels: During this time, some people are seeking distractions, a change of pace, a new way of thinking. Create a mini speaker series or master class on specific topics that might engage alumni of various ages, careers and interests. Better yet, encourage students to join in the conversation and grow the strength of your community and connections across class years. One topic a school recently focused on was the impact of technology and society. When you combine conversations across industries- those working in the tech field, with teachers, psychologists, and other businesses, the conversation can be fascinating!
  • Empower Local Communities: You might not be able to host in person events, but people are still seeking COVID safe activities to complete in their area. Wavelength had a customer search for geographic hot spots of large numbers of constituents in one area. From there, they worked with some alumni owners of small businesses to provide discounts to local alumni to their stores- take out at restaurants, outdoor fitness classes, mini gift baskets at a bookstore. They promoted their alumni’s businesses all while embracing the school community.
  • Parent Support: Consider how much your school is doing to support its students (and in turn their parents). You have a large contingency of your alumni base who are parents themselves. Providing resources and ideas to keep students active and engaged through COVID (whether you are remote, hybrid, or in person) might be useful to them as well!

Before you start, gauge alumni interest: To be most relevant to your constituents, ask them what they are seeking! Whether it is to the whole base or to some trusted few, listening to your alumni needs is valuable. We have had several schools reach out to their alumni to determine what styles of communication and engagement people are looking for. Simply brainstorm a list of options (I’m sure you have several ideas already or use some from the above!) and ask. It isn’t worth pulling together remote reunions, book clubs, and game nights if people aren’t interested…

Do you have more ideas about how to engage with alumni during COVID? Email katie@searchwavelength.com

The Power of Parents of Alumni at K-8 Schools

Parents play a significant role in their children’s education, from elementary to secondary and beyond. Fostering ongoing relationships with parents after their kids depart your school has the opportunity for some truly meaningful collaborations.

I have spoken with several K-8 schools about ways parents of alumni can continue to impact their children’s relationship with your school and have listed a few of them below!

  • Volunteer Mobilization for School Send Off: Parents play an integral role in schools and may be willing to continue their volunteerism after their child has departed. One school decided to work with parents of alumni in creating a goody-bag with simple treats and items to welcome their graduated students into a new school. They mobilized the parents of those students becoming freshmen in both high school and college to create welcome packages to support that alumni class. Another school opted to rely on their parent network to create mini holiday reunions during school vacations. A heart-felt contact point like that shows your young alumni and parents that you care about the ongoing growth of your students well beyond when they have last sat in your classrooms.
  • New School Communities: As a school, you can partner with parents who are sending off their children to high school or college by continuing the power of your community. If you follow appropriate data privacy settings and preferences of your constituents, you may consider connecting parents who have children going off to the same high schools or colleges with each other to maintain the support system you fostered at your own school.
  • Data Updates: Students departing the 8th grade will undergo several changes of information (especially contact information like emails.) There is a far higher likelihood that parents of these young alumni will be willing to update these changes over time. It is important that when you request these updates from parents they understand the value of the data sharing. For example, you wish to share class updates and news.

Wavelength allows you to link family profiles

Notice a theme? Parent participation after their child graduates will dwindle over time. Taking advantage of the parent relationship you formed while they were at your school is a powerful tool to continue your relationship with your young alumni until they have matured enough to develop their own relationship with you.

Questions or comments? Email Katie@searchwavelength.com

Alumni Engagement During Back to School

The start of this school year looks a little different than most other years, how are you sharing these changes to your constituent base? To be relevant and engaging to your constituents the information you choose to share should be relatable. Below are just a few ideas on the types of content you can share to your alumni base:

1. Faculty Spotlight: Faculty who have been around your school for a significant amount of time have name recognition with your constituent base. As you share how your school is responding to COVID, highlight faculty that constituents would recognize. The nostalgia of a familiar name paired with your school’s initiative to deliver a smart and safe education to current students is powerful.

2. Thank the Educators: Just as COVID has led to several communities rallying around health care professionals, so should there be a rally around educators. Alumni who are educators themselves, even if they don’t work for your school, deserve to be acknowledged for the efforts they are making. Being intentional and respectful with how you thank both your alumni and current faculty for all the work they are doing can draw the community together.

3. Support the Parents: Do you have resources to help parents speak to their children about COVID and what their school day might look like? Is your college guidance team brainstorming ways students can explore campuses from afar? These resources are valuable and would likely go a long way in showing how much you care and know your alumni. Share these resources with alumni who are parents themselves!

There are so many other ways to engage with your constituents beyond just resource sharing and article writing but as long as your intent is to share content that is both meaningful and relevant, your constituents are likely going to be grateful you are sharing with them.

Do you have requests for more ideas or questions? Email Katie@searchwavelength.com

Data as a Development Asset

Your alumni and donor data is your most important development asset. It helps you segment your population, keep in touch with important community members, and personalize your outreach. Each constituent attribute fulfills one of these functions. For instance, net-worth info indicates when you should contact a person, an email address indicates whether you can, and a spouse’s name indicates how to warm up your message.

The feasibility of surpassing your development goals depends on your data, but if you are like most non-profits, your data could be a lot better. Your data decays at 25% per year as people move and change jobs. It’s no wonder much of your data may be missing or incorrect. Great database managers have a hard time keeping up. Improving your data takes time and some tools may add to your budget, but there is a real ROI. A good email, mailing address, or job data point can turn into a new donation.

If your database needs a lot of work, passive data enrichment tools might be a great start. These tools help you add locations, careers, contact info and other data to your constituent records in bulk. But what you get in quantity, you may lose in quality. These tools have, at best, 90% accuracy.

A better long term strategy is to focus on constituent data updates. It’s the only way to be sure that new info is up-to-date and accurate. How do you let constituents know what info you have about them? What is the most efficient way for them to update their data? How frequently do you contact them? These are all good questions to ask when you come up with your data updates strategy.

Wavelength creates data partnerships with our schools. We work with schools across the data health spectrum, some with healthy databases missing few data points and others who are just starting out. We create data strategies with them and then give them the passive and constituent update tools that streamline all their data headaches.

Originally published at http://content.searchwavelength.com on 7/20/20 by Chris G., Founder and CEO of Wavelength

Princeton Day School Seeks New Ways to Engage with Alumni During COVID-19

Princeton Day School (PDS) is exploring new and innovative ways to interact with their alumni from afar. Below are a few concepts that they’ve begun to test in response to COVID-19.

  • PDS recently launched a Panther AlumLIVE initiative that regularly showcases alumni and their talents on Facebook live. By asking alumni to share their abilities with their peers and school community, people are brought together and encouraged to learn and share with each other. The first alumna to participate was a Nashville musician who put on a live living room performance.
  • As teachers seek ways to engage students from afar, PDS’ Advancement Team is working hard to connect alumni who can support classroom teaching. They are looking to adapt their alumni to classroom connections they’ve done in the past to be all remote. Recently, they helped to connect a STEAM class learning about computers with an alum and CEO of a computer security firm to discuss the importance of security. To learn more about their constituents’ interest in ongoing learning efforts and their skillsets, PDS sent out a survey to their community.

Wavelength’s Network Insights helps to identify where people are, in what industry, position level, and more
  • The Advancement Team is also looking to partner with other departments including college guidance counselors and senior project advisors to bring in alumni to address students’ needs.

Do you have a successful engagement story you’d like to share? We’d like to capture your great ideas in future publications. Please reach out to Katie@searchwavelength.com

School Leverages Alumni Network to Promote Community During Pandemic

While schools continue to oversee remote learning of their students, advancement teams are redesigning what engagement looks like with their alumni.

Knowing how widespread their community is across the U.S., one New England institution opted to focus their engagement efforts on creating local alumni support programs. By developing a list of geographically close alumni, they created email chains between local members. The message was one of hope and community, encouraging alumni to support each other. Young alumni were explicitly asked, if able bodied and willing, to assist older members and those unable to leave their house in running errands, obtaining essential goods, and more.

33% of alumni organization in North America have at least half of their alumni living in a different state or province than the primary campus. (VAESE)

What you can do for your school:

Now, more than ever, people are seeking connections; schools have the opportunity to show the impact and importance of their community to their constituent base.

As an advancement team, consider what you know about your alumni base. Where are they located? What are needs of your school or your alumni that can keep people engaged and promote unity at this time? Giving during a time of job insecurity and uncertainty in the future might be difficult for your constituents, but they can contribute in other ways. Acknowledging these ways, recognizing their import, and supporting your school community should be top priority. Forging stronger relationships now opens the door for longer term partnerships in the future.

Originally published at http://content.searchwavelength.com on 5/1/20