Engagement Beyond Donations: 4 Alumni Outreach Strategies
As a higher education professional, you know the value of engaging your alumni and fostering community post-graduation. It can be a challenge, however, not to let urgent fundraising needs skew all of your outreach toward asking for donations.
While you may think you need to prioritize donation appeals over other kinds of outreach to reach your goals, any fundraising consultant will tell you that relationships are the key to fundraising success. Engaging alumni beyond donations is how you build and sustain those crucial relationships and secure more stable funds over time.
If your current engagement strategy needs attention, consider these four ideas to better connect with alumni and raise more in the long run:
- Leverage multiple communication channels
- Host a variety of events
- Promote volunteer opportunities
- Provide ongoing support for alumni
When your alumni feel connected to your university, they’ll be more likely to donate. Let’s dive into these strategies to learn how to foster that connection.
1. Leverage multiple communication channels
To successfully engage your alumni, you first need to know where to reach them. Broaden your outreach efforts and get in front of more alumni by communicating across multiple relevant channels.
Create a multichannel marketing strategy that includes channels such as:
- Direct mail: If you’ve already seen direct mail’s effectiveness for donation appeals, start branching out. Handwritten thank you notes and physical newsletters often make a greater impression than digital versions.
- Social media: Social media is the perfect channel for quick announcements, engaging videos, and immediate interactions with alumni. It also provides space for alumni to connect with each other. Create Facebook groups for posting jobs, networking, and general peer-to-peer advice to encourage feelings of community.
- Email: Check metrics like email open rate and click-through rate to see how your current email strategy is performing. To increase engagement with your emails, send out surveys and personalized invitations to events or volunteer opportunities.
- Newsletters: Alumni newsletters provide great opportunities to share major university-wide updates and celebrate the results of recent fundraising campaigns. Add an alumni recognition section to show your support for different alumni every newsletter.
As you lay out your strategy and create content calendars, be sure to balance event announcements and fundraising appeals with more casual outreach. Share interesting blog posts, shout out faculty and students, and check in with individual alumni.
2. Host a variety of events
Any event provides a crucial opportunity to interact one-on-one with alumni. From class reunions to holiday parties to networking events, these gatherings allow your university to personally demonstrate what you’re doing with funding, how much you value your alumni, and the benefits of the lifelong community you offer them.
When choosing alumni engagement events to host, strive for a balance that will interest as many alumni as possible. Host some events geared toward those fresh out of college and others more tailored to older alumni classes. Mix up your event formats, offering in-person, hybrid, and fully virtual attendance options. The more variety, the more chances you have to connect with each and every former student.
It can be tempting to put all of your focus on fundraising events, but make room for solely social events, too. For example, Meyer Partners’ year-end giving guide suggests hosting small events around the holidays to engage donors. These events aren’t focused purely on fundraising, but they do strengthen relationships and therefore increase the likelihood of future alumni giving.
3. Promote volunteer opportunities
Volunteering programs are highly engaging because they give alumni a chance to give back to their alma mater in ways other than donating funds. Develop a variety of volunteer opportunities alumni may like, such as mentoring recent grads in their job search or speaking at a prospective student event.
To effectively promote these volunteer opportunities, use your donor data to segment alumni based on:
- Location: Consider segmenting alumni by city, state, or even time zone. These groups will help you determine those more likely to attend local in-person events and those you should promote virtual events to instead.
- Event preferences: Note the types of events alumni have attended in the past, then promote volunteer opportunities at similar events to each segment.
- Interests and fields of study: Former English majors may be interested in judging a student poetry competition, while those working in STEM fields would have more interest in volunteering at a science career fair.
- Volunteering history: Create segments of one-time volunteers, active volunteers, those who’ve previously expressed interest, and those who have yet to volunteer with your university.
Then, tailor outreach to promote applicable opportunities to each group. In your outreach, consider also highlighting corporate volunteer grants. These are programs in which employers make donations on behalf of their employees for volunteering. Ask your volunteers to check if their employers offer these programs, as they could provide impactful funds for your university at no cost to your alumni.
4. Provide ongoing support for alumni
One of the best ways to engage alumni is to remind them of the value you can add to their lives. Just by being a part of your alumni community, they have access to a wealth of benefits they may not even know about.
Show them the value of your community by emphasizing your university’s ongoing support for them. You can do so in a variety of ways, such as:
- Offering career services after graduation. Services like career counseling, exclusive job board access, and open career fairs are especially important for strengthening relationships with young alumni.
- Celebrating individual alumni accomplishments. When alumni celebrate a major achievement, cheer them on with social media shoutouts, handwritten letters, and detailed highlights in your newsletter.
- Inviting them to academic events. Invitations to webinars, guest lectures, lunch and learns, and senior research showcases remind alumni of fond memories and facilitate lifelong learning.
These ideas work well as both general engagement and alumni appreciation strategies. Don’t limit these opportunities just to alumni donors. Make sure that every member of your community feels welcome to take advantage of these valuable opportunities.
You know your alumni are worth far more than their donations, so take the time to show them. You may be surprised that these outreach strategies not only improve your stewardship efforts but also help you find new donors in your alumni pool and inspire lifelong involvement with your university.
Blackbaud, the leading provider of software for powering social impact, and Almabase, the digital-first alumni engagement solution, have announced the expansion of their partnership to the education sectors of Canada and the United Kingdom. The partnership will provide institutions with a modern, digital-first solution to improve constituent data, drive self-serve engagement, and boost event participation.
A Unified Vision
The partnership aligns with Blackbaud’s commitment to customer-centric innovation across digital engagement, Advancement CRM, and financials.
“Partners bring integrated capabilities that extend capabilities and outcomes for Blackbaud customers. We are thrilled that Almabase’s offering, integrated with Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge NXT® and leveraging Blackbaud’s best-in-class payment solution, Blackbaud Merchant Services™, is now available to even more of our customers around the world.”
- Liz Price, Sr. Director of Global Partners at Blackbaud