The Immediate Need: Strategy and Tactics in Alumni Communities

Christina Balotescu

October 23, 2023

Many hands together with a heart painted on them, implying generosity

It’s hard to think of any organization that does not need an online hub to bring their people together. For higher education it is critical to make good on their promise of “the network”. This post aims to address a few key strategic and tactical options for alumni relations professionals to consider.

Financial Pressure Leads to Innovation in Alumni Relations

Some schools have been slow to transition from alumni directory to online community. But one positive aspect of the unprecedented financial pressures they face is that it accelerates innovation:

  • Culture changes are driven by new hires who understand young alumni and the ways they want to connect.
  • Staff consolidation reduces bureaucracy.
  • Technology challenges are reduced by solutions that require little or no support from the IT department.

Barriers to innovation are being dismantled everywhere. Colleges are shifting from "communications" to "marketing", recognizing the value of diverse channels (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc) but also learning how to make their own asset - the alumni database - more valuable and useful to their constituents.

While social networks build their own brands and provide extremely limited insight into the activities of those who follow their groups or like their pages, an alumni community provides a permanent, direct connection to the alum.

Strategy: Consider Establishing an Online Alumni Community

An alumni community online builds your brand, allows you to easily measure engagement, gives you a powerful marketing platform, and reduces the long term revenue loss from losing touch with your alumni. This short list that doesn't even address the benefits to your alumni.

Strategy: Prioritize Alumni Email Collection

Email addresses are the single most important piece of data for long term engagement and well worth protecting and cultivating. Here's how to use a community to stay connected to alumni:

  1. Get all their personal email addresses before they leave campus.
  2. Send them regular communications that are more about helping them than how they can help the school or 'stay connected'. (Ask not what your alumni can do for you...)
  3. Make it easy for them to update their email address.
  4. If you follow step 2 religiously and facilitate alumni-to-alumni connections, they will willingly keep their email addresses up to date.
  5. When you lose touch with an alum (as determined by bounced or several unopened emails), have an admin contact them on Twitter or LinkedIn.

More details on how to use an alumni community to reverse list decay are shared here.

Thinking about Outsourcing Alumni Data Collection? Think again.

Without a system to stay connected to your alumni, outsourcing alumni data collection or running an "oral history project" can be tempting. But there are three major drawbacks of this approach:

  1. Data quality is questionable
  2. The phone calls are not well received by alumni
  3. The opportunity cost of building real affinity through thousands of phone calls that should be done by volunteers is immeasurable.

After more than ten years in business and hearing feedback from dozens of universities and high schools who hired companies to collect alumni data, we wholeheartedly advise against this practice.

Developing a reliable network of volunteers who each take a small portion of alumni for annual engagement is one of the most powerful strategies you can implement to develop a large network with strong affinity.

Talk with the Experts

So there you have it, three key strategies and tactics to discuss with your team as you set priorities for the next twelve months. As you're considering your next steps, talk with a member of our team to explore how 360Alumni can support you. We've had multiple in-depth conversations with more than 1,000 alumni relations leaders and have firsthand experience to share with all our clients.

Our vision is to unlock the full potential of human networks to advance individual and organizational success. We'd love to help you achieve it for your college, school or nonprofit too! Contact us today to learn more.

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