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Engaging Alumni with An Awesome Higher Ed Website Design
Larry Bernstein

A recent article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy noted that donations to higher education are up 5%. So, how can your institution ensure it is receiving donations from alumni? It starts with engagement.

Recently, the CASE (Council for Advancement and Support of Education) released a white paper that is focused on alumni engagement metrics. Terms were defined and a proposal on what data to collect was put forth.

Despite this effort, there is no one set way to score and raise alumni engagement though giving history, capacity, and involvement tend to be part of the mix. Ultimately, each institution needs to first determine what matters most to them. Then, they can start following related data and identify best practices.

Not All Alumni Are the Same

Besides determining what data is necessary to track, institutions need to determine how best to reach alumni. There are many ways to differentiate alumni and multiple ways can work together. One method is recognizing and responding to the differences between alumni of different generations. While the digital revolution has greatly impacted communications, younger alumni are often more comfortable and adapt with these changes, like being more likely to use their phone to donate, or engaging with their alma mater over Instagram.

Baruch College, located in Manhattan, is primarily a business college and has been in existence since 1919. When reaching out to alumni, "Age is the key thing we look at for our messaging," says Greg Leporati, Associate Director of Alumni Relations, whose responsibilities include running the school’s alumni website and managing social media. "We have a different way of communicating which includes drastically different language, based on when alumni graduated."

Baruch College Alumni celebration

Solicitations are also impacted by when alumni graduated. "With more recent graduates, we include more pictures, while with older alumni, the solicitation is more of the written word," says Sidney Ko, Deputy Director of Special Gifts who manages the annual fund.

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Finding a Galvanizing Feature

Colleges and universities strive to invoke a sense of pride in the school from alumni in order to motivate other alumni. Finding a “galvanizing feature” can serve as a prompt in communications and event attendance. 

Athletics, for example, play a significant role at some institutions and can serve as that source of pride. For these institutions, making mere reference to the sports teams (particularly when they are successful) can inspire alumni and increase open rates of email, and ultimately donations and gifts.

Baruch does not have this benefit. However, Leporati notes that the college's rank (it recently was recognized as a best value college and cited for its academics) serves to inspire.

Baruch Alumni uses clear calls-to-action to drive donations and engagement. 

Baruch Feeds and CTAs

"We have many who rally around the reference of an elite institution." While the population of the school has changed, it continues to draw primarily from New York City. "Many of our students were the first generation in their family to go to school," says Ko, "and chose Baruch is because of its affordability."

Metrics to Focus On 

While the answer to what metrics to focus on to engage alumni engagement may vary from institution to institution, some are universal. For Baruch College Alumni, this includes:

  • Email engagement. 

  • Website traffic

  • Event attendance

Email open rates and unique click through rates are important to Baruch, and the school turned to Finalsite for assistance in measuring them.

"Finalsite provides robust metrics for subject lines, open rates, and click through rates," says Leporati. The college has used these metrics to identify what works, and then make adjustments. In doing so, they have seen engagement go up. The Messages module also allowed them to finesse their email and make it more engaging.

A recent email sent through Finalsite lets Baruch College Alumni's team measure engagement through open rates and clicks. 

Baruch’s alumni department also turned to Finalsite for management of its website. Besides seeing an increase in website engagement, "The Finalsite platform helped us create a mobile friendly website which is very responsive," says Ko.

Another metric for tracking engagement is attendance at alumni events. For Baruch, which has 100,000 out of its 145,000 alumni living within a reasonable distance of the university, event attendance is key. The college has ramped up events over the last five years.

The college tracks people giving a gift after such an event as well. In the past, they had a static donation page, and, "We didn't know what inspired the gift," says Leporati.

Now with Finalsite, the college is able to more accurately track gifts. "Because the user experiences the exact same thing, the experience is seamless," says Ko.

Baruch College Fund donation page

Finalsite’s ability to create unique URLs for landing pages enables Baruch to track activity and easily recognize what drove donations. This trove of information informs the alumni office’s future actions and events.

Managing Multiple Sites

From a management perspective, having multiple donation pages can be a challenge. Updates, changes, etc. need to be done multiple times which is time consuming. However, Finalsite is built around a COPE (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) philosophy. With Finalsite's CMS and modules, you only have to edit content in a single location. That same content located anywhere else on the website is automatically updated, making organizing multiple sites quick and simple.

We all know the term too many cooks in the kitchen. While COPE makes editing a snap, it also makes each website vulnerable to one simple gaffe. Finalsite's tiered admin access allows institutions to control who can edit, delete, and publish content on their site. Institutions can determine exactly how many cooks are in the kitchen.

Key Takeaway

So, how should your institute engage alumni and what metrics should be tracked? Well, that is ultimately up to you. Whatever your institution chooses, Finalsite suite of services can help improve alumni engagement metrics.


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