- General Best Practices
- Higher Education
- Independent Schools
Communications, marketing and admissions strategies are largely driven by the “customer funnel.” Whether it’s investing in SEO, a new website, or social media campaigns, their goal is to take prospective families and students from the initial stages of awareness and interest to consideration and decision, and then ultimately, retain them.
And then...for marketing, communications and admissions, the funnel stops. Their role is essentially done. (Well, their jobs are never done, but, you get the idea.)
Advancement offices on the other hand, focus almost all of their efforts on the very last stage of the funnel: advocacy. Alumni engagement and donations heavily rely on your school’s biggest advocates. But, we can’t just turn to them when the end of the year is near and all of a sudden, ask them to open their wallets.
It is about consistent, relevant and timely engagement year-round — not just when you need them to advocate. And if year-round engagement seems difficult, here are the top six ways to keep your school’s alumni engaged — with some pretty sweet examples included, too.
1) Be Relevant
Staying trendy and tuned in with what is going on in the world should be top of mind when planning to engage your alumni. It could be something that is trending on social media, in the news or a popular sporting event. Almost any high-profile event can be turned into a fun way to engage this group.
Recently, LaSalle College High School created a March Madness GIving Challenge Bracket by graduation year.
Here is how it worked: Entering each matchup, each class's score was based on their current participation level, i.e., a 9.2% class will start with 9.2 points. This baseline score was updated as they progressed through the tournament, and an increased participation rate put a class in better position for the next week of competition!
They had a series of three rounds, and eventually a showdown. This was an extremely creative way to ask for Alumni participation while playing off of relevant events or happenings in the world.
This example in particular tied in the relevancy of March Madness, but also class rivalry and competition — and who doesn’t love a little competition?
Aside from campaigns, year-round engagement helps your school stay relevant. Immaculate High School in CT uses the #ThrowBackThursday trend to keep alumni engaged with what they’re posting on social.
This is a great way to be active on social, especially during the summer months when you may not have as much to post about current students.
2) Segment Your Audience
Alumni ages vastly range, so it is important to know how to segment content and messaging to engage and reach a specific target audience. For example, some audiences frequent specific social platforms more than others, while others are glued to checking email. We can even get as granular as saying that young alumni are more active on Instagram, and older alumni are active on Facebook.
Here is a quick breakdown where we see the majority of age ranges fall:
- Graduates of less than 10 Years = Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat
- Graduates of 10+ Years = Facebook, Email
3) Give Them a Designated Place On Your Website
With the majority of school website’s focusing on prospects, it is easy to lose sight of placing focus on our alumni. These pages get buried in your site map, and are more than two or three clicks away from the homepage.
There are two popular ways to engage alumni using your website: alumni microsites and alumni portals.
Alumni Microsites are a great way to segment your alumni web presence. For example, Punahou has done this very well. When you visit their alumni microsite, you will notice that everything an alum was to look for is up front and center with the primary focus of this website, including news, calendars and photos.
An alumni portal is a password-protected area where alumni can access the same information, but in a private area.
4) Stay True to Your Brand
Many times alumni like to remember their days with nostalgic memories rooted in history. If your school has a historic building name, student cheering section, statue on campus, former beloved faculty or fun athletic ritual … don’t be afraid to play those heart strings!
Trinity-Pawling recently did a campaign in honor of a former teacher and Alumni. #StretchWithStretch featured Alumni donors who took pictures with the lifesize cutout of Robert “Stretch” Gardiner all of Campus. You can watch the video here.
The campaign was fun and lighthearted, and got a ton of engagement across social media.
Similarly, Germantown Academy used the Graduates “House” as a way to bring back the Student vs Student competitiveness, but this time focused on Giving Back.
5) Be Nimble and Globalize
I had the pleasure and opportunity to attend college in North Carolina. Spending my entire childhood and growing up in New England, this was a major transition for me. I knew once I had graduated and moved back North, frequent visits and Alumni Homecomings were going to be hard to swing. Low and behold, my alma mater started sending emails that they were coming to me! In the heart of NYC, Boston, New Jersey. #HPUOnTheRoad was something that really intrigued me and caught my eye as I always wanted to get back, it just was never a good time. This showed me how much my school cared about staying connected with me post-grad.
We need to understand that not all of our Alumni are going to stay local. Instead of fighting the uphill battle of getting every Alumni to come back to the area, try going to them! You’d be surprised how many Alumni may not even know they are working near each other. Work life takes over and suddenly, a trip back home is hard to swing. This brings the memories to them, rather than requiring them to make long and unrealistic trips.
6) Focus on More Than Just Money
Many times we get caught up in the monetary aspect of “Giving Back,” and forget that a person’s time is one of he most valuable resources that they can provide. Whether it’s planning a reunion or simply sharing and liking our social media posts, any and all forms of giving should be recognized and rewarded!
There is nothing more unsettling than making alumni feel like their importance is directly correlated with the amount they have given. Giving your alumni the sense that they are an important stakeholder is crucial. It could be as simple as asking their opinion on an upcoming event or a new building project, Their input is valuable even without a direct monetary contribution
Some alumni are more eager to share their experience and expertise, rather than their financial funds. Offer up ways for them to give back through mentor programs, career days etc. Alumni are eager to tell their stories and share their successes!
One school in particular, Montclair Kimberley Academy, shows very evenly that Giving Time is just as important to them as Giving Money.
Keeping your alumni engaged is a year-round effort that relies heavily on creativity, segmentation and consistent communication that makes them feel included and nostalgic.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
After graduating with a BA in Strategic Communication, Ryan pursued a career in web and graphic design. Prior to joining Finalsite, Ryan was the Director of Digital Design and Media Communications at Immaculate High School in CT. While he is currently a Client Success Manager, his speciality is combining graphic and web design together for a unique digital experience.