The ways in which HEIs communicate with their alumni is becoming a focal point for marketing professionals across the sector, and for good reason - the total funds received and pledged by UK alumni is at an all time high, according to research by The Guardian.
One of a university's most valuable assets is its alumni body: they are a literal realisation of an institution's academic acumen and, if utilised correctly, can act as effective recruitment tools and advocates for a whole lifetime.
Alumni are essential mentors and placement providers; they compliment student recruitment campaigns and support enrolled students with career planning through workshops and coaching sessions, whether they take place online or offline. A small percentage of alumni eventually become donors, providing universities with much needed cash in a world where other financial channels are diminishing.
But how can universities convert debt-laden graduates into willing and active advocates of their institution? And more specifically, how can they ensure that any ‘likes and ‘follows’ transmute into true engagement with students and campuses by way of meaningful conversation or donation?
Utilising a CRM to its full potential
First off, having as comprehensive a set of data as possible on alumni is essential in order to streamline and target communications effectively. Does you current system enable you to not only store, but maintain accurate contact information in line with higher education GDPR requirements?
Instead of housing alumni records in multiple documents, a CRM enables you to keep them in one centralised place, making it easy to update, synchronise and segment in preparation for marketing efforts. In terms of segmentation, year of graduation, field of study and location all help to target relevantly and maintain a sense of community.
When it comes to alumni relations, there has been a shift from the obligatory annual alumni campaign to frequent communication between institution and individual, through the use of multiple channels, including email and social media. Patricia B. House, former senior member of the institutional advancement team at Elon University and Associate VP for Enrollment Management at Seton Hall University recognises the importance of technology in reaching younger alumni demographics.
"The fierce competition for philanthropic dollars requires organizations to meet donors where they are, not wait for donors to come to them. Educational institutions must meet younger alumni where they are likely to be communicating most—in the digital world. The 2014 Millennial Impact Report finds that 73 percent of millennial alumni would actually like to receive more email from their alma mater.
But they expect messaging to be clear, concise, and direct; Tweets limited to 140 characters have set a new standard for conciseness. Digital communications can also provide an entry point for traditional engagement vehicles, such as creative postcard campaigns and occasional snail-mail pieces, which stand out amid all the technological noise."
Technology has also revolutionised how donations work; social media in particular has enabled institutions to conduct smaller crowdfunding campaigns, more clearly incentivise donors and make it easier for people to donate quickly and see what impact their donation has made.
Of course, when it comes to higher education CRMs, the proof is in the tracking; inbuilt analytics make it easy for alumni staff and marketers to glean the success of crowdfunding campaigns and analyse click and open breakdowns for email campaigns.
Maintaining a relationship on social media
On dictionary.com, ‘Nostalgia’ is defined as “a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland, or to one's family and friends; a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time: a nostalgia for his college days.”
Evoking a sense of nostalgia is a sure-fire way of engaging alumni and encouraging them to share memories in the form of images or posts on social media. It is perhaps the most obvious way of maintaining a relationship with alumni and can also be the easiest.
HEIs should create linked social media accounts specifically for alumni
Maintain healthy alumni relations by creating a relationship that goes beyond small talk. Why should participation stop on graduation day? This post on University College London’s UCL Alumni Facebook page invites former students as well as current students to contribute creative content to a university publication.
Activities like this one encourage alumni and student to compete and interact
When it comes to encouraging monetary donations on social media, universities need to get creative to generate a buzz and incentivise. University of Wisconsin’s relationship with two alumni enabled them to create a hugely successful fundraising campaign for their Great People Scholarship.
After donating money received as a wedding gift, Will and Jenny Hsu agreed that for every new Facebook or Twitter follower the institution gained, they, alongside Will’s parents, would donate $1 to the scholarship fund. The campaign became known as the Bucky Challenge and helped the university’s social media follow base and presence to grow exponentially. Through the campaign, which ran between 15 September and 3 October 2011, almost $20,000 was raised.
Find out more about the Bucky Challenge on UW’s website.
Scheduling a diverse range of alumni events
Although online communication is important, nothing can quite replace the ‘buzz’ generated by face-to-face alumni events. These events can be large scale or local reunion events, like University of Leeds’ annual pub quiz in London. Alumni can also be selected to take part in judging panels, student mentoring or voices of experience at a student recruitment fair.
Small gifts distributed at alumni events spark feelings of pride and nostalgia in the institution.
No matter the medium, universities need a modern CRM for higher education to streamline their communications and segment their data accordingly, to ensure that messages are well received and engaging.