Texting to Engage Alumni: Why it Works

by Rachel Bishop | February 18, 2020
Texting to Engage Alumni: Why it Works

Part three of a three-part series on why alumni are important to higher ed institutions and how institutions can create meaningful relationships with graduates.

Our alumni engagement blog series (read part one and part two) and ebook highlight ways that colleges can increase alumni participation in social media, digital publications, volunteerism, and fundraising. In this blog, we focus on the significant impact that SMS technology can have on event attendance and private giving.

Around 64% of alumni offices state that being understaffed is either very or somewhat concerning to their daily operations.[1] They are also stressed about budget shortages and not having enough time in the day to complete tasks. Because software can automate processes and scale communications, it is having a large impact on the field of alumni relations. Text messaging, mobile apps, bulk email software, and social media are rapidly replacing one-on-one phone calls. But 73% of alumni relations pros state that they need to improve how they use technology to interact with alumni.[2]

Using technology to engage alumni

First, it’s important to keep in mind that young alumni are mobile. This is true both in terms of the technology they use and how they progress through their careers. Millennials move more frequently than previous generations. A cellphone number is quickly becoming the best way to stay in touch with alumni for the long term because these numbers usually do not change over one’s lifetime. In fact, less than half (41%) of U.S. households still have a landline.[3] Therefore, it’s crucial to collect students’ mobile numbers immediately upon graduation and keep the database up to date over time.

Texting to engage alumni

In terms of technology, charitable giving in all non-profit sectors is increasingly taking place via text messaging. Fundraising from a mobile device increased 205% in 2018, and 49% of all mobile giving occurred in response to text links.[4] One of the advantages of texting is the almost-instant open rate as compared to email or phone calls. Research shows that 98% of all text messages are read. In contrast, only 20% of all emails are read.[5] While an email is typically responded to within 90 minutes of being opened, texts are responded to within 90 seconds.

Texting is convenient and efficient. An international survey of more than 6,000 people in seven countries found that 89% of consumers would like to use SMS messaging to communicate with businesses.[6] Trends point to a growing number of alumni who are not only interested in receiving text messages from their alma mater, but also prefer it as a primary form of communication. Around 37% of alumni say they prefer receiving information from their alma mater via periodic texts, as compared to 28% via a mobile app, 19% via website, and 3% via Facebook messaging. Yet only 6.5% of alumni relations staff report using SMS messages to conduct alumni outreach.[7]

The University of Pittsburgh's campaign to engage alumni

Many institutions have seen significant gains in alumni donations through the use of texting. For example, The University of Pittsburgh partnered with iModules, a higher ed fundraising and engagement leader, and Signal Vine to engage alumni. The University messaged 17,000 alumni and used Signal Vine’s audience segmentation features to break their alumni into five target groups:

  • Those who had never donated
  • Alumni who had given before, but their gift designation was unknown
  • Those who had given before and whose gift designation was known
  • Alumni who gave in the previous year, but their gift designation was unknown
  • Those who gave in the previous year whose gift designation was known.

As a result of their outreach, the University of Pittsburgh achieved a yield 13 times larger than previous email efforts. In addition, many alumni texted back to report their satisfaction with the ease and simplicity of texting over other forms of solicitation.

Increase Alumni Engagement and Giving

Scaling alumni outreach efforts without increasing staff workloads

Learn more about the relationship between technology and higher ed in our ebook "Humanizing AI in Higher Education."

Keep in mind that texting with alumni requires both personal and automated approaches. Signal Vine firmly believes that the best use of technology comes in a partnership with humans. This is the very basis of the company's Blended Messaging® approach. Automation and human interaction are both important. The best student outreach includes both where each makes the most sense.

While AI-powered bots can reduce workload, they do not create relationships with alumni. A completely automated approach simply does not work with today's students, who thrive knowing they have a real support team in their corner. In the private industry, 52% of customers get frustrated when they are not able to communicate with a real person.[8] Bots are good for answering common questions that people ask repeatedly, but if questions become more complex, alumni prefer to connect with a real person.

This is Signal Vine's approach with messaging. The platform's Virtual Advisor can step in and answer those questions that alumni often ask. But when alumni have more unique, personal questions, they want a human, not a bot, to assist. This personal touch makes all the difference for today's alumni.

* Special thanks to our guest author, Alice Anne Bailey, PhD, a Higher Education Consultant.


[1] Toyn (2017)

[2] Toyn (2017)

[3] Mobile Giving Statistics for Nonprofits. Nonprofits Source.

[4] Mobile Giving Statistics for Nonprofits. Nonprofits Source.

[5] Pemberton, C. (2016). Tap into the Marketing Power of SMS. Gartner.

[6] Global Mobile Messaging Consumer Report (2016). Twilio.

[7] Toyn (2017)

[8] Dietz, R., and Keller, B. (2016). Donor Loyalty Study: A Deep Dive into Donor Behaviors and Attitudes. Abila.

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