Innovative Alumni Engagement in the COVID Era
Enhancing Alumni Engagement in the COVID Era
Understanding the methods of effective alumni communication can enhance an institution’s goal of having students that are connected to their alma mater beyond graduation. Alumni serve as great resources in the long-term success of college institutions as well as building a supportive community for future students. There are no specific guidelines for communicating with recent graduates, making it difficult to find successful strategies for keeping them in touch beyond the diploma.
COVID-19 sparked a quick transition to online communication methods, altering the ways in which colleges can reach their graduating classes. The informal graduation ceremonies as well as online learning have taken away the in-person celebrations and events that remind students of their continued relationship with their school after they earn their degree. This leaves a small window of opportunity to connect with alumni before they begin to stray away from their undergraduate studies. This means that institutions must make a plan of action to secure a relationship that will benefit the institution as well as provide long-term support for the student post-graduation.
Utilizing Online Engagement
Alumni have significantly increased their donations during the COVID era. The Blackbaud Institute’s 2020 Charitable Giving Report finds that online giving grew 21% during the pandemic. This reveals that these recent graduates are willing to donate, especially if it is easily accessible. What are some ways that institutions can increase the chance that alumni will donate?
Curate an alumni relationship prior to graduation.
Send a message to students as early as the first day of their final semester reminding them that they are only months away from becoming an alum. Make sure to reach out on an online platform that is easily accessible for students to use and is consistent in its approach.
Use data to personalize online interaction.
Know your audience. If you are reaching out to a student graduating with a degree in Political Science, include some job resources or relevant content that shows the student that you are not just sending a mass message out to the entire graduating class. This provides incentive for students to return the message and and stay connected on a personal level. Reaching out to alumni beyond the mass email lists outlines the individual role that these students played while pursuing their education.
Highlight the benefits of their contribution and ask for feedback.
Show students where their money is going by highlighting the accomplishments of the institution since they have graduated. Reaching out to graduates about their personal experiences with their previous education opens a dialogue that can build these alumni relationships.
For example, send a message that asks the alum for three pieces of advice they would give an incoming freshman about the university. Follow up with this message by saying that their feedback is going to be evaluated by the orientation leaders and given to these students before their semester begins. This allows the graduate to feel as though their institution values their experiences and will use them to ensure that future students have positive educational journeys as well.
Leverage virtual communication.
COVID has introduced students and staff to a plethora of online events that eliminate the hurdle of availability or proximity to the institution. Present the opportunity for students to connect with alumni during a virtual event, wherein students can hear from graduates, ask questions, or exchange contacts at the convenience of their screens. Another idea is to host alumni only events that focus on receiving donations. This is an easy way to personalize your communication with alumni as well as raise money in an efficient way.
How to Send: Tips from a Recent Alum
The most important time to search for job opportunities is post graduation, where it can be tough for alumni to jump right into the workforce. Connecting with other esteemed alumni and forming a network to reach out to would benefit my future and broaden the connection that I have with their institution.
- “Hi Alexis, congratulations on the recent graduation! We are hosting a virtual event with alumni from the School of Public Affairs and think this would be a great networking opportunity for you. Over 40% of those in attendance have secured jobs on Capitol Hill! Here is the link to register.”
Though it is hard to keep up with a university after graduating, knowing that my university is thriving and involved with their current students’ accomplishments would cement my financial support as well as my response rate to action items.
- “Hey Alexis! We thought that you would like to know that thanks to donations like yours, we were able to secure funding for Meena Harris to host a virtual event for students in the School of Public Affairs. Not only would we like to invite you to this event, but we would also like to thank you for your continued support. We could not do this without our alumni! Register at the link below.”
Knowing potential discounts as well as other alumni specific benefits that can be utilized in the real world builds my interest in looking at institutional engagement emails and increases the likelihood that I will respond to their communications.
- “Alexis, did you know that you receive a discount on Geico Insurance as an alum of American University? We have created a spreadsheet of other resources that might benefit you in your future endeavors. Do not forget that we are here to support you beyond the degree and appreciate your continued support as an alum.”
Personalized Outreach Efforts.
Humanizing an email template beyond the typical mass spam emails shows that my institution cares about more than just receiving a donation. As alumni are getting hundreds of emails daily as well as moving to other email platforms, it is important to send messages that will catch my eye rather than cause me to scroll past it.
- “Hey Alexis! Based on our data, almost 50% of the 2021 graduating class is registered on our alumni website. It looks like we are still waiting for your application. Other than being cost free, our network is full of other Justice and Law graduates just like you! Join us at the link below and see all of the amazing resources we offer to our cherished alumni network.”
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