You know it's bad when they start making parody videos about the horrors of alumni fundraising campaigns. Nothing can sap alumni energy for your school like getting donation calls again and again and again… But you need your alumni engaged to maintain your school's relationship with them. You want them to be motivated to act on behalf of your institution and yes, donate, at the times and ways they're able.
Alumni involvement may have its most valuable payoff through alumni's power to connect with potential students with an authenticity no one else can match. Alumni can give your prospects a view into life at your school and what life might look like for them once they have a degree from your institution.
The best way to get alumni to engage with your school is when interactions with them have nothing to do with asking for money. Here are some proven tips how to inspire engagement from alumni:
Alumni Respond to Personalized Emails
People won't bother with emails that don't hit on their personalized interests and concerns. Use everything you know about each alum to tailor email content based on their unique history with your school — both off and online. Customize content based on data points such as their graduation date, program, and their preferred social media platforms.
An email with a subject line "Join us for an alumni lunch" isn't terribly inviting. Try an email with the subject line "Nursing program alumni lunch – come network!" instead. Now that's a subject line that makes it clear why this email is directed to the recipient and what she'll gain by reading it.
You need a rocking subject line to get alumni to open your emails, but don't let the personalization stop there. Send happy birthday and graduation anniversary emails. If the career center is organizing a job fair for graphic arts students, invite recent graduates as well as current students.
Social media is the most effective option for the "little" yet highly impactful conversations you can have with alumni. Keep track of how their social media preferences change over time.
For nearly all alumni, regardless of graduation year, LinkedIn is one of the most important platforms for career networking. LinkedIn's Alumni Tool is a valuable tool helping people find and connect with fellow alums, but by itself, it won't spark conversation or motivate action. Having a LinkedIn group for alumni can do that.
If your school hasn't already set up an alumni group, chances are good one of your alumni has. You don't want competing groups. You can always ask the group owner for someone on your team to be added as a group administrator. Either way, your social media specialist should be an active presence in the group connecting people, sharing school updates, and asking for alumni feedback on relevant issues.
Personalization works well in the LinkedIn group too. You can have multiple sub-groups. Create sub-groups based on different programs or industries where alumni can target their job and business networking efforts.
Use other social media platforms, like Instagram and Facebook, to promote more social activities and interactions. Having alumni-specific accounts on social media provide a space where alumni interests are front and center. Social media is also the ideal channel for encouraging and sharing alumni generated content (AGC).
Alumni Generated Content, You Say
Alumni are rich sources for your content machine. Whether they're posting career or personal updates, sharing stories about their time at your school, or attending school events – alumni always have entertaining or informative content of interest to prospective students, current students, and other alumni.
Use your social media accounts to solicit their stories and posts. Ask specific questions, such as "Tell us three things you wish you knew by the time you graduated?" Then curate the most interesting responses. You can drop these into emails, reports, and your website.
Asking alumni to contribute an article for a school newsletter or a blog post. Or to be interviewed in a webinar, is another useful way to source content. In fact, don't be surprised if alumni are just waiting to be asked to write something. Alumni want to give, but they can't always give money. Especially recent grads still paying off school loans. Inviting them to engage with your school by providing content is valuable way they can donate rather than hitting the "donate" link.
In-Person Engagement Still Matters
Attending or speaking at in-person events is another opportunity for alumni to give back without opening their wallets. In-person events are spring-boards for interesting AGC, as well as ways to connect potential students with alumni. Invite alumni to speak at regional open house events for prospects or make themselves available for applicants to contact with questions.
Active regional and national alumni groups can do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to having a full calendar of alumni events. As with your social media alumni accounts, people on your team should be actively involved in giving them event ideas and being an extra pair of hands promoting the event. Using the information you have about alumni in your database, you may well be able to uncover alumni who'd be interested in specific events that the local association doesn't know about.
If you want lifelong engagement from your alumni, market to them based on their specific interests and concerns as intently as you do in your search for new students. Alumni are the core of your school. The number of active students can only grow by so much, but your alumni pool is an ever-growing resource. If you want alumni engagement, you need to engage with them first.
Originally published Oct 27, 2016 7:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017