Best Practices

Strategic Branding Ideas to Use in Your Alumni Outreach

Strategic Branding Ideas to Use in Your Alumni Outreach


Carl Diesing


July 19, 2022

Last modified: 

Your organization’s alumni carry your organization out into the world long after they leave your storied halls. Their donations also provide a significant amount of your organization’s funding, allowing you to continue impacting students for years to come.

That’s why it’s crucial to create an effective, alumni-centric outreach strategy to continue engaging these key supporters. 

According to DNL OmniMedia’s guide to creating a digital strategy, one of the first steps to raising funds online is examining your audience and refining your brand. That’s what we will focus on in this guide, covering the following three steps to improve your alumni outreach:

  1. Expand your brand beyond your logo and color palette.
  2. Conduct research to understand how your brand will perform.
  3. Highlight what makes your university and alumni unique.

Advancement playbook

How you adjust and incorporate your specific branding into your outreach will be unique to your institution. If you’re struggling to refine your organization’s brand, remember that you can work with a consulting firm with expertise in marketing and branding to get professional assistance.

With that in mind, let’s get started.

1. Expand your brand beyond your logo and color palette.

Consider Nike’s branding. Beyond the memorable “swoop” logo, Nike’s brand is exemplified in its written messaging with the tagline “Just Do It” and its visual assets, which often depict the stories of everyday people pursuing greatness in their personal fitness journeys. Nike’s audience isn’t just professional athletes, but rather the everyday athletes that aspire to something greater. The company built its brand on empowering and encouraging individuals to do just that with the aid of their products.

Nike has one of the most recognizable brands in the world, and it’s far from the only company that recognizes that branding goes well beyond logos and well-coordinated color palettes.

If your organization hasn’t refreshed its branding strategy in some time, it’s worthwhile to revisit how you’re currently positioned and how you can further refine, expand, and elevate your brand. Address the following aspects of your brand:

  • Visual Elements: This includes your logo families, photo and video assets, color palette, and typography. Visuals are your strongest asset when it comes to evoking your audience’s emotions. When curating your visual brand, consider how you want alumni to feel when they receive your communications. Nostalgic? Proud? Hopeful? Motivated?
  • Messaging: What key phrases or topics do you want to associate with your university’s brand? What is your brand personality when greeting alumni — formal and businesslike, or nostalgic and lighthearted?
  • Channels: Consider how your brand will adapt to work on various channels and platforms. These are discrete differences, such as using different abbreviated logos on social media posts.

Regardless of the specific details of your university’s unique brand, it’s true that all higher education institutions want to be known for appreciating alumni and their contributions to the organization both financially and reputation-wise. 

The way to accomplish this has little to do with your brand and more to do with your use of personalization in each individual communication with alumni. Use data in your organization’s CRM to tailor messages to individual alumni by incorporating past giving histories and each alumnus’ preferred name and title.

2. Conduct research to understand how your brand will perform.

Once you’ve refined your brand, conduct research to understand how it will perform with your alumni audience.

Remember that your alumni represent a wide and diverse group of individuals with regard to gender, age, ethnicity, and industries. When testing your branding, consider how it will perform with different demographic segments of your audience.

There are three main ways to discern how your audience will respond to your refreshed brand:

  • Sharing surveys. Send out a preview of your organization’s updated branding to a sample of your university’s alumni audience, making sure to include a diverse range of perspectives. Include a survey that asks respondents about their opinions of the changes.
  • Conducting focus groups. Ask a few of your university’s most active alumni to participate in focus groups in which they’re shown your brand and invited to provide their opinions. Consider segmenting groups by different demographics, such as having a group full of Millennial alumni and a group of older alumni.
  • Reviewing existing data. Review granular data from your previous alumni outreach campaigns, including those shared on your website, social networks, and via email. Which campaigns had the most positive responses? Which campaigns were largely unsuccessful? What made those campaigns unique, and how can they inform your current branding updates?

By conducting this research, you can understand what your alumni respond well to, whether it’s phrasing changes (such as incorporating a more positive, upbeat tone) or content updates (such as highlighting workplace giving in fundraising appeals). You can understand how both your university and your university’s communications are currently received by alumni, and how you can adjust your brand to improve that. 

3. Highlight what makes your university and alumni unique.

Last but certainly not least, when refreshing your branding for alumni outreach, highlight what makes your university and alumni unique.

Your alumni don’t feel a connection to your university simply because they attended it. It’s because of the experience they had while at your institution — the small, special, specific details they experienced and how they can help foster that experience for generations to come.

Consider how you can highlight that connection, such as incorporating “throwback” images and stories from a particularly memorable rivalry football game, hosting campaigns tied to the memory of beloved instructors, or even hosting forward-thinking campaigns, such as one that highlights successful alumni and their careers after an education at your institution.

Once you’ve refreshed your university’s branding with alumni outreach in mind, create a comprehensive PDF document that outlines your branding guidelines. Share this document across your team, ensuring anyone who interacts with your brand has a copy on hand. That way, your brand will remain consistent across the various alumni outreach activities you conduct.

About the Author:

Carl Diesing Managing Director – Carl co-founded DNL OmniMedia in 2006 and has grown the team to accommodate clients with on-going web development projects. Together DNL OmniMedia has worked with over 100 organizations to assist them with accomplishing their online goals. As Managing Director of DNL OmniMedia, Carl works with nonprofits and their technology to foster fundraising, create awareness, cure disease, and solve social issues. Carl lives in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their two children Charlie and Evelyn.

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