Best Practices

5 emerging Alumni Relations Trends at Liberal Arts Colleges

5 emerging Alumni Relations Trends at Liberal Arts Colleges

By

Kalyan

|

September 14, 2020

These are both exciting and nervous times for Liberal Arts Colleges in the United States as they go through a tremendous transformation in the way they approach, engage, and stay connected to their alumni. The pandemic almost makes it look like the world has hit the pause button but, for alumni relations professionals who have invested years in building meaningful relationships with their alumni, putting everything on hold is not an option.

Alumni Relations teams at Liberal Arts Colleges are going above and beyond to keep delivering value to their communities with incredibly creative digital engagement strategies. As we looked at the data based on strategies adopted by Liberal Arts Colleges in 2020 so far, we were able to put together some emerging trends.

While the future is still volatile and the long-term impact of the pandemic is highly debatable, here’s a closer look at the 5 emerging trends at Liberal Arts Colleges that are here to stay.

1. Event strategies will be reshaped

Events have always been at the heart of any alumni engagement program at Liberal Arts Colleges but COVID-19 completely transformed the way events are now being approached. As strict social distancing measures make it impossible to host in-person events, the pandemic paved the way for virtual events. A majority of institutions have already adopted this new format and hosted a slew of successful virtual events for their alumni.

AGN’s survey dated 20th May, 2020 on alumni relations teams’ event and activity strategy for the next few months indicates a great deal of alumni events going virtual. This data was collected as part of AGN’s ongoing research into industry trends and best practices. It represents the perspectives and priorities of today’s Alumni Relations professionals. Read the survey report here.

While Alumni Relations teams at Liberal Arts Colleges may be embracing the shift to virtual events, most of these institutions are apprehensive about going fully virtual while planning their events calendar for this year. Some feel that virtual events can never substitute the feeling that alumni share at in-person events and also are apprehensive about security concerns such as Zoombombing. However, this new world order is gradually prompting many teams to think differently and explore all options. 

So, while Liberal Arts Colleges might not shift to virtual only, 2020 is definitely going to see a lot of them. And, as institutions continue to experiment, events strategy, going forward, will most likely be a combination of both virtual and in-person events - the best of both worlds. 

How Antioch College, a private liberals arts college in Ohio, hosted a Virtual Dance Party amidst COVID-19 and successfully got 400+ RSVPs in 11 days


2. New alumni that have never engaged will emerge

As virtual engagement strategies open up new avenues, Liberal Arts Colleges are now able to tap into a wider network of alumni. A large part of traditional alumni engagement strategies involved trying to get alumni back to campus for reunions, homecomings, or chapter meetings. Going to campus for these occasions was only possible for alumni who lived in the vicinity or had enough resources to travel from afar to attend. This way, a large segment of alumni were left unengaged. 

However, with the adoption of digital engagement methods such as emails, social media, online communities, and virtual events, Liberal Arts Colleges no longer face this challenge.

Liberal Arts Colleges are now able to target alumni living miles away from their campus and invite them for a virtual reunion or homecoming. They can also easily stay connected to their younger alumni via social media, rally more support for their virtual events or giving campaigns, and build a loyal community online. Alumni relations teams will now see newer alumni that have never engaged in the past start to engage.

3. Fundraising asks will no longer be the same

As a consequence of the pandemic, we saw countless fundraising campaigns getting postponed and cancelled but, on the other side, we also witnessed millions of people expressing their generosity on the global day of unity and giving - #GivingTuesdayNow. While most of the initial fundraising campaigns amidst the pandemic were student emergency campaigns or appeals that urged alumni to donate in kind, this seems to change as we move into the latter part of 2020.

How Piedmont College, a comprehensive liberal arts institution in Georgia, recorded the highest-ever participation from alumni donors amidst COVID-19

Sure, institutions will still be apprehensive about asking their alumni to donate money but, that doesn’t mean that fundraising will be halted altogether. Here are the 3 major changes in the way Liberal Arts Colleges will fundraise going forward:

1. As things slowly resume to normalcy, fundraising will pick up the pace with one major change - it is not going to be as aggressive as it used to be. 

2. As millions of people face pay cuts and undergo furloughs due to the economic crisis at hand, Liberal Arts Colleges will prioritize cultivating relationships and providing value to its community over chasing short-term fundraising goals. 

3. Liberal Arts Colleges will continue to garner monetary support from their alumni but, the intent will change. 2020 and the future will see institutions urging their communities to come forward in order to support their alma mater and help them raise money to power through the economic crisis.

A recent survey report - Washburn & McGoldrick Alumni Relations Moving Forward June 2020 reveals some interesting insights on the changing approach of Alumni Relations teams with respect to donor outreach. Get the report here.

With the approach to fundraising changing, the outcomes will too. The economic impact of COVID-19 will leave a devastating impact on the total dollars raised but, as Liberal Arts Colleges continue to ramp up engagement & value-add services, relationships will grow stronger. While these loyal supporters may not be able to contribute big, institutions will see a rise in participation and the number of volunteers.  

4. Valuable on-demand alumni services will be launched

Traditional ways of adding value to alumni included organizing local mixers, career networking events, and workshops on campus but social distancing measures have put an end to all of these in-person activities. As Liberal Arts Colleges strive to keep their alumni digitally engaged and informed, closed affinity groups and online communities play a critical role.

Many Liberal Arts Colleges are adopting creative strategies to drive participation amongst these close-knit affinity groups and encouraging alumni to get more deeply involved. With recent reports showing over 21 million Americans as unemployed, industry based affinity groups will see a massive spike with alumni counting on their peers to navigate the tough job market.

The pandemic has also wreaked havoc on the United States’ mental-health system as the country witnesses a historic wave of mental health problems approaching. While the social distancing norms are creating a lot of mental health challenges, the dire situation of the economy is adding to that stress. Liberal Arts Colleges realize the immense need for alumni to connect virtually to get through these testing times, as a community.


Centenary College of Louisiana, the oldest chartered liberal arts college west of the Mississippi River, urged its community via social media to come forward to help alumni small business owners deal with the crisis and overcome this situation. Check out the post on LinkedIn.

How The College of Idaho, the state's first private liberal arts college, drove alumni engagement amidst COVID-19 via a virtual race

5. Virtual engagement metrics will no longer be ignored

Prior to COVID-19, a lot of Liberal Arts Colleges measured alumni engagement based on a set of parameters such as in-person event attendance or volunteer participation. With the pandemic forcing these colleges to function completely virtually since the past 5 months, engagement metrics have changed. 

As alumni outreach initiatives shift to the virtual format, Liberal Arts Colleges are rapidly evolving to measure the outcome of each of these initiatives accurately. 

The Liberal Arts Colleges that previously reached out to their alumni once a month via a monthly newsletter, have now ramped up the frequency. Colleges that were inactive on social media now take to Facebook live to announce an upcoming virtual event or a giving campaign. Liberal Arts Colleges are adopting tons of creative ideas to get accustomed to the new normal. Here are some of the virtual engagement metrics that will no longer be ignored:

1. Virtual event attendance

2. Email opens & click-through rates

3. Social media impressions, likes, and shares

4. Volunteer participation measured via online requests

5. Digital donors

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