Alumni engagement programs aren’t built in a day. Through careful planning, mindful alumni outreach, and strategic growth, your school can offer a powerful alumni program that benefits your wider school community. You have the ability to foster loyal alumni who wish to connect with each other and give back to their alma mater, be it financially or through volunteer opportunities.
But where do you begin? Holy Spirit Prep in Atlanta, Georgia, grappled with this very question as they prepared to celebrate their 25th year of existence. While they have stayed in touch with alumni through social media and some email outreach, Wavelength engaged with Holy Spirit to help. Through this partnership, Holy Spirit prioritized three things:
- Finding missing alumni data and managing ongoing data updates;
- Offering easier and more meaningful ways to reach out to alumni, and;
- Developing a private community for their alumni to be able to connect with one another no matter where they are geographically.
Step 1: Get a baseline a baseline on your data
Whether starting or growing your programming, you want to have a baseline understanding of the current state of your program and that starts with your data. You can offer the best engagement opportunities but unless you have up to date information on your alumni, you aren’t able to communicate with them effectively.
Ask yourself questions like: What data do you have? How do you track and store it? When was your data last updated? How will you keep your data up to date? There are several data solutions that can help you improve your current data practices. Enrichment services like what Wavelength offers can find missing contact information for you, crowdsourcing data from volunteers and the “source” itself are also beneficial.
Pete Rodasta, Director of Operations at Holy Spirit Prep, understands the importance of data and attention to detail. Starting small, he’s made a conscious effort to update data records to ensure alumni are addressed by their preferred names. This small detail has the ability to make an alum feel remembered by their school. Strong data practices allow you to personalize your outreach, match the right alumni to engage opportunities, and make informed decisions on future projects.
Step 2: Offer diverse engagement opportunities
There are several ways to interact with alumni: email communications, events, volunteer opportunities, speaker series, and mentorship, to name a few. One alumni offering may be very compelling to one alum but not to another so consider the diversity of touchpoints you offer.
No matter where you are in the stage of alumni programming growth, you want to learn to prioritize.
We recommend the Impact Matrix to help with prioritization. Consider the projects and ideas you have, where do they lie on the below matrix? You want to have the highest impact: the most number of people impacted or the largest influence on a small group of people while maintaining low effort. Effort implies resources, your time, energy, money, and more.
Holy Spirit clearly has a long term vision in mind as they begin to offer more alumni programming while being mindful of the impact matrix and setting appropriate expectations for growth as they start off. With the support of Catie Johnson, Holy Spirit Alumni Volunteer, they target marketing messages to select alumni groups in addition to their alumni-wide communications. Selective outreach allows you to share relevant information to the correct group of alumni without spamming inboxes that could prompt alumni to ignore future communications from you.
Step 3: Start small but be mighty
To start, Pete and Catie may be focused on increasing their email outreach and local gatherings but this is only the beginning. Catie has hopes to expand events to other regions that have larger alumni populations by using Wavelength’s Network Insights to identify hubs of alumni. In addition, Holy Spirit understands that seniors and young alumni are the future of their program as they strategize the transition of their senior class to the alumni community this spring.
As small teams, you have limited time to make a big impact. Tips for success:
Use your data to help influence your future planning.
- Even if you have minimal data at your fingertips, use it to influence your decisions.
- One example is how email open rates are influenced by subject lines. This can tell you what your alumni are interested in.
Meet your alumni where they are and show them the value of being connected.
- Your community is already online so give them a reason to interact with you, be it in private alumni directories or on social media.
- Many alumni believe the only reason their alma mater is reaching out to them is for fundraising purposes. Holy Spirit Prep understands this and made the intentional decision to not have donations linked to Wavelength’s alumni portal, focusing instead on developing a relevant resource for their alumni so they understand the value of staying connected.
Use technology to save you time, simplify your day to day, and grow your program
- Platforms like Wavelength can be affordable solutions that save you administrative tasks like class note collection, alumni data updates, and email outreach so you can focus on what matters most: your alumni.
- Some alumni programming ideas may not fit in the sweet spot of the impact matrix today, but as your program grows, that might change. Perhaps you’re not ready to offer a job board and career center for your alumni but that doesn’t mean you’ll never be ready. Capture your ideas and save them for later. See if technology can help you deliver on your vision. Whatever technology solution you choose, make sure that it can grow with you.
Ultimately, alumni have the ability to positively impact your larger school community, from admissions and current student experiences, to alumni-specific events. It’s an exciting (and sometimes daunting) task. Know that you are not alone in these challenges; every school and development team, be it a staff of one or a staff of twenty, are always seeking ways to improve their programming and stay relevant to their alumni. If you keep it simple, develop data practices that help guide your strategy, and listen to your alumni, you can reach any goal you have set for yourself.
To learn more about what Wavelength can do for your alumni relations program, visit searchwavelength.com.