Boost Alumni Engagement in the Digital Age

Women sitting around a table

You want your alumni to maintain a connection to the institution while allowing them to have an active interest in the school’s future. These engagement opportunities should extend beyond asking for donations. With some help from your alumni, you can boost current student organizations and improve other areas of student life. 

Although reunion and homecoming remain vital components of any successful program, these large-scale events are no longer the signal events of the year. In an age of constant contact—and constant distraction—schools are finding new and creative ways to reach out to their alumni and stay connected.  Focusing on personalization is very important.

Want to find a new creative way to connect with alumni? Check out how Wavelength can make alumni relationships more manageable!

Connecting the Dots of Engagement

Finding ways to keep alumni connected to their former school requires creativity and continual relationship building. Over time, that once strong relationship often dissipates if you don’t remain in touch with your students.

Related: Ideas for Spring Alumni Engagement

Fortunately, there is some good news. Keeping your primary and secondary school alumni in communication is easier than ever in the digital age. With these methods, you can help fundraise, recruit, and retain those alumni. Think about your alumni engagement plan! With a solid strategy, you can have significant benefits for years to come. Let’s look at a few ways you can connect and engage your alumni in this modern age.

student using a virtual classroom

Resonate Your Message With Other Alumni

You could come up with a standardized message, but you might only be reaching out to half of those former students. Think about creating messages that help certain groups relate to your alumni association. For example, a woman-focused alumni meeting might be a great way to reach your female students. No matter the group, you can find a way to specialize your message and respond to them.

The more personalized programming includes gathering like-minded alumni in areas where they are clustered, such as identifying alumni who work in a specific industry and getting them together in a city where they work. For example, hosting an event for alumni in the tech industry in San Francisco, or gathering in New York for those alumni who work in finance.  The alumni engagement team also needs to ensure that the school reaches out personally to people at milestone moments, sending individual cards to celebrate everything from new babies to job promotions.

Related: Schools are Challenged Trying To Address Alumni Engagement

Highlight Alumni

If you are looking to increase your engagement, think about highlighting alumni at the school. You might find members who have a talent for making music. Reach out to them and have them discuss their abilities. Some alumni members might be math whizzes. This is the perfect opportunity to possibly set up guest speakers to share life experiences and knowledge.

With this, you can show that the alumni association is more than an organization looking for a donation. When you personalize your message, they are more likely to engage with your club. The message should have a certain amount of authenticity with current and former students. You can certainly achieve that when you turn the focus away from the organization and towards the alumni. Those high levels of authenticity will make people more likely to participate in your organization. Along with that, it will show that your school helps shape well-rounded graduates for years to come. 

Create User-Generated Content

One way to highlight alumni is by having them create content for you.  For example, ask alumni to share pictures from their school days. Imagine seeing alumni when they were little ones getting ready for school. 

Plus, this type of content also gives an authentic feel to your message. You won’t look like an organization that just wants donations but instead is focused on the stories of your alumni

close-up of apps on a mobile phone

Connect on Instagram

While schools can connect to former students on LinkedIn, it might not be the right choice for those younger alumni. Today, many younger people are staying in contact with the help of Instagram or TikTok. These methods are a far cry from the days of sending off all alumni meeting notices in the mail. 

Think about dropping them a personalized message, or DM, about your intentions. In many cases, these alumni will want to reconnect with their former schools. Plus, when you use a platform like Instagram, your organization looks ready for the future. In turn, you can have more people engaged with the alumni board. 

Remember to keep those posts and videos fresh. With a bit of creativity, you can even make a typical asking for donation post seem relevant. Take some time to create live videos. Everyone in the digital space is turning to videos. While a written post can convey the same message, a video is your chance to make your case for stronger alumni engagement. Along with that, your alma mater can put a face to the name behind the screen. 

Use Online Tools

With many alumni groups, it can be hard to get everyone together for a reunion. Think about using modern tools to make a virtual reunion for those alumni. With that, everyone can participate, even those who might not live in the area. You can also use a virtual meeting to keep in touch with alumni or hold monthly discussions about important alumni matters.

Related: The Four Categories of Alumni Engagement According to CASE and How Institutions Measure Up

Engagement can be complex, but you can have a step up with these tips. Once you have reached out to your primary and secondary alumni, you can keep them connected with social media posts, virtual meetings, and other types of digital content. Move your alumni association into the future of the digital space. 

Looking for ways to take your alumni engagement to the next level? Wavelength offers simplified ways to help create a stronger community!

Engaging the Future: Connecting Alumni with your School Community

high school students throwing graduation caps

Alumni engagement requires a lot of work, organization, and planning from your team, but connecting with alumni from primary or secondary schools requires teams to use more tools. These formative years of a person’s life should be celebrated with others. So how do you connect with your past alumni and enrich the schooling experience for current students? Here are a few tips for your school or organization. 

Do you want to connect alumni from your primary or secondary school? Wavelength has a few solutions for you!

Connect With Alumni

Connecting with alumni should be an easy task. You send a message through the mail or email, and they respond to your event. Don’t give up! There are ways to reach out to these former students. Once you do, you can connect them with current students to provide real-world advice, build relationships, and lead to future opportunities

Related: Ideas for Spring Alumni Engagement

Encourage Engagement

Alumni move away, start careers, and often forget about their humble educational beginnings, making it challenging to get those former students to reconnect with the school. You want them to have a continued positive relationship with the institution. There might be a select few who want to pass on their experiences to other students. 

How do you make your former students feel welcomed at the school? Think about using the school as an excellent opportunity to build your brand. Instead of being relegated as a single picture in a yearbook, your former students can help produce something tangible for future generations to come. Focus on the enjoyable time they had, the engaging teachers, and other positives from their time at the school. They are not just joining a alumni association but being a productive component that will lead the school into the future.

black and white photos of graduates

Putting the Pieces Together

You can find alumni to share their experiences at the school. By having alumni share their real world experiences in classrooms, students begin to understand the applications of what they are learning. You can boost the engagement of the former students and give your current pupils a chance to succeed. There is no downside to developing this type of program for your school, but its success will depend on finding willing alumni to devote time to share their stories.

Once you have an interested alumni member willing to connect with students, now what? With busy schedules, careers, and school workloads, it can be hard to get everyone together at the same time. Thankfully, with the help of a few online tools, you can connect to anyone throughout the world. 

If your alumni member is busy at work, they can take some downtime and answer some questions from the comfort of an office. Students don’t have to worry about meeting strangers in person when they flip on the computer and reach out to alumni members. These methods make it a safe and effective way to connect with anyone

a person typing on a laptop

Back To Basics

You can still reach out to them and convince them to take an active role in current students’ lives. Create your own campaign to let alumni know about your plans and activities. Just like any other event, make sure to create online social media pages and use other forms of communication to spread the word about your alumni events. 

Remember, some individuals might not know about alumni-related events unless someone reaches out to them. Make sure to focus your attention on those members who are willing to help out. Once they are informed, you might be surprised, but these individuals will be ready, willing, and able to support the school in any way they can

Related: The Four Categories of Alumni Engagement According to CASE and How Institutions Measure Up

Connecting your students with alumni is one way to boost engagement with the school. When you accomplish that, you can make sure that everyone takes an active role in the successful operation of the school.

Is there an easy way to help engage with your alumni? Wavelength might just have the answers for you!

Schools are Challenged Trying To Address Alumni Engagement

The Big Picture: Alumni engagement in recent years has been redefined to encompass more than just giving but schools struggle with how to meaningfully interact with alumni that is mutually beneficial for the school and its constituents.

VAESE (Voluntary Alumni Engagement in Support of Education) recently published data regarding alumni engagement trends. Below are some telling stats to keep in mind:

Read more here

The takeaways:

You are not alone in trying to enhance your alumni engagement offerings.

  • Most schools are challenged with finding meaningful opportunities to interact with alumni.
  • Schools may not prioritize funding to alumni.
  • Alumni benefits and services must be relevant to alumni for it to be meaningful. Features and services are only valuable if they are actually addressing what alumni want. Don’t just offer benefits for the sake of having them.

At Wavelength, we believe in supporting sustainable growth of an alumni program and providing meaningful tools and resources to help you reach your goals.

Take our self assessment to identify how you can take your alumni engagement initiatives to the next level.

 

This article is part of a series that addresses alumni engagement research published between the years 2018-2020. For more, refer to our other publication: The Four Categories of Alumni Engagement and How Institutions Line Up.

The Four Categories of Alumni Engagement According to CASE and How Institutions Measure Up

In 2016, CASE established a committee to develop a framework to measure meaningful alumni engagement. 

CASE Alumni Engagement Definition: activities that are valued by alumni, build enduring and mutually beneficial relationships, inspire loyalty and financial support, strengthen the institution’s reputation and involve alumni in meaningful activities to advance the institution’s mission

As a result, four key alumni engagement categories were identified: volunteer, experiential, philanthropic, and communication. Following this determination, CASE launched the global Alumni Engagement Metrics survey and the first results are in. 

The study found that Independent schools and Primarily Undergraduate Institutions led with the most engagement across all four categories.

They have long standing success at running fundraising campaigns that rely on all four categories of alumni engagement  for success including experiential (i.e. reunions) and volunteers to support.

For this reason, when asked how much of engagement is represented by philanthropic giving, Independent schools and Primarily Undergraduate Institutions see larger philanthropic engagement than other organizations, 49.0% and 61.6% respectively.

It is therefore of little surprise that if an alum is engaged in one of the three non philanthropic categories, they are likely to also donate to the institution.

As you think through your giving campaigns and the upcoming year, consider what other engagement opportunities you have for your alumni. Read more of the results here

Alumni Engagement Video Series

This video series explores the importance of alumni engagement and how varied alumni initiatives can strengthen your school’s community, reach your fundraising goals, and satisfy your alumni. Have topics you want to make sure I cover? Email me at katie@searchewavelength.com

Alumni in the context of community engagement video: How do your alumni fit into the bigger picture?

Better data means stronger alumni engagement video: Review and improve on your data practices to reach your goals!

 

 

Ideas for Spring Alumni Engagement

Alumni Engagement Opportunities
Schools are always seeking ways to meaningfully engage with their alumni. The spring season offers several opportunities for alumni outreach including graduation, college acceptance, alumni reunions, and more. Below highlights a few ways you can bring your alumni into community initiatives.

 

Graduation: Graduation is a time for celebration. Everyone looks back fondly on their school departure as seniors celebrate their next step in their journey. Asking alumni to send in quotes or videos honoring this passage of time is a great way for seniors to feel welcomed into the alumni community.

    • Don’t forget! Your young alumni are graduating from colleges as well. Acknowledging their continued education and celebrating their accomplishments is one way to show they are still part of your school’s community no matter where they are in their life.

College Acceptance: There is a high likelihood that your alumni have attended several of the institutions your graduating seniors are attending. Requesting these alumni to share advice or welcome fellow alumni onto campus promotes alumni engagement and recognizes the power of your school community.

    • Always Consider the Fringe Cases: There may be seniors attending institutions that former alumni didn’t attend. You may also have alumni not respond to your request for support. Don’t have seniors feel left out if you can’t “match” them with alumni. Have a plan for some alumni connections that don’t have to be college specific!

Alumni Reunions: Schools oftentimes host reunions in the spring (or it might be the fall!). The pandemic is obviously continuing to impact in person events, however several lessons from COVID should apply to future reunion planning. Having a plan for alumni engagement that doesn’t require in person attendance is valuable. It recognizes those that can’t make it back and allows you to maintain a relationship no matter where people are across the globe. Consider bringing in remote access to your programming moving forward.

Senior Projects/Career Day: Whether you have career day panels, senior projects, or special guest speaker series, your alumni are valuable assets for all of those initiatives. By keeping a strong alumni database, you can find members from your community to meaningfully connect with your students.

    • Check out The Walker School: Using Wavelength’s alumni database platform, Walker has put on an alumni career panel series that brings professionals in from various industries to speak with the senior class.

The key to alumni engagement is to not reinvent the wheel but to strengthen the ongoing initiatives you already have underway at your school. Cross departmental partnerships is necessary to build a strong community of students, parents, and alumni all supporting each other.

The Walker School Supports Students with Engaging Alumni Panels

With technology and ingenuity, schools are finding creative solutions to deliver meaningful education and outreach to their students and alumni during COVID. The Walker School is a perfect example as they recently launched Conversations with Alumni, an initiative that brings alumni back to campus to speak about their careers to upper school students.

It started with a survey to the senior class asking what industries students were most interested in learning about. After receiving feedback, Walker used Wavelength’s Alumni Search and Discover Tool to find alumni from these fields to speak with students. The most recent Conversations with Alumni included a panel of legal professionals who shared where they went to undergrad, law school, what they ultimately chose to practice and why. This was followed by a guided discussion led by Rebecca Avery, the Director of Alumni Relations.

By inviting alumni to share their experiences with current students, Rebecca promoted the value of community and showed how powerful Walker’s alumni network can be. Alumni felt valued and recognized by the school for being invited back to campus to share their insights. At the same time, students were inspired to think about their future and felt heard as they influenced what topics were to be covered.

The variety of panelists each had a different path to get into the legal profession and highlighted how decisions aren’t permanent and how careers and interests may change over time. They became more relatable to students as they shared their fondest memories on campus. Walker has provided an invaluable resource to their students by empowering them to choose their own paths with the certainty that they have a supportive community behind them.

Finding ways to bring community members of all ages together to learn from each other is one way to strengthen your alumni engagement. As you think through how you can support your alumni and students- career days, college guidance support, and special guest speakers are just a few ways to bring alumni back onto campus to inspire your current students to become leaders of the future.

A Quick Exercise in Problem Solving

Problem solving is a natural requirement for any job: you have goals to meet and barriers to overcome to get there. The challenge with problem solving is that too often, a surface level issue is identified and “fixed” without actually addressing the true matter at hand. This is just a Band-Aid.

A quick exercise I encourage when seeking to reach one’s goals and address opportunity areas is called the Fishbone or the Ishikawa Diagram. Essentially each “Rib” is a category that influences a problem.

Fishbone Diagram

The goal is to consider all the inputs and determine the key causes resulting in the problem. In this example, I have selected constituent engagement as an area for improvement.

Each organization is going to have differing components that impact the problem but I’ve provided a few below. Usually there is more than one reason behind the problem. To address it, it is imperative to identify all the influencing factors and choose what inputs you have control to change today, in the future, or something that might never be changed but still important to understand.

One must then identify why the input exists in the first place. Take incomplete or missing data: are constituents not choosing to update you as they move or change jobs? Do you have poor record books?

As you hone in on the inputs causing the main problem you wish to solve, it is easier to identify solutions that address the root cause. Solving for the root cause provides more permanent solutions and allows you to move forward in reaching your goals.

This exercise is quick and a great visual to have both leadership and teammates understand the big picture.

And this diagram is versatile! You can change the themes of the “ribs” or change the problem statement into a project goal. Instead of causal inputs, each rib can list out all the necessary components required to completing the project!

Happy Problem Solving.

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.