Year In Review: 5 Best Virtual Alumni Events of 2020
2020 was a unique and challenging year for educational institutions as traditional alumni engagement events such as reunions, homecoming, chapter meet-ups stood either cancelled or postponed. As the pandemic made it nearly impossible to hold any in-person alumni events, advancement teams realized the need to look for creative ways beyond traditional events to stay connected to their alumni and offer support to their communities.
Schools, colleges, and universities across the globe opted for the next best option - virtual events and at times, a combination of both in-person and virtual events. This past year gave us an opportunity to witness some of the most creative virtual events focused on driving higher participation from alumni.
As we wrap up the year, let's take stock of the five most popular alumni virtual events in 2020.
1. Virtual Races
At a time when health has become a top priority, a few institutions have shifted their focus on ensuring the health and well-being of their alumni. The past year saw a number of advancement teams host virtual races - walk-a-thons and marathons, and motivate alumni to take actionable steps towards their health.
With everyone confined to their homes, forced to work from home, limitations on social interactions, it wasn't just physical fitness that took a back seat. 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. More than anything, in 2020, these virtual races helped relieve the stress and loneliness that alumni were reeling with.
Check out how The College of Idaho introduced a month-long virtual run/walkathon for their alumni during COVID-19. Alumni could participate from any location and any time during the month of April. The virtual event created an opportunity for alumni to virtually engage with one another while being socially distant and take actionable steps towards their health and well-being. The College of Idaho's Virtual Race witnessed huge success as the college captured 100+ RSVP's in 20 days.
2. Virtual Happy Hours
Another big hit amongst advancement teams in 2020 was Virtual Happy Hours. Before the pandemic, Friday night happy hours were a common practice for advancement teams to drive alumni engagement. However, social distancing regulations put an end to this crowd favourite event.
Resultantly, a few institutions decided to transition to Happy Hours over video conferencing software such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom and many more followed suit. Virtual Happy Hours turned out to be a great avenue for boosting social interactions amongst alumni in times of social isolation and anxiety.
When Florida International University thought of hosting a happy hour event, they went the extra mile. After a two-hour Zoom session, they planned an after-party to entertain their alumni. The alumni were treated to an exclusive DJ set that they could enjoy with their family members from the comfort of their homes. Read more about Florida International University's Virtual Happy Hour here.
3. Virtual Flagship Events - Homecoming, Reunions, and Commencement
While a majority of institutions were hosting smaller-scale events virtually at the onset of the pandemic, many were apprehensive about hosting larger flagship events such as Annual Reunion, Homecoming, and Commencement in this new format.
However, the latter part of the year saw advancement teams take the plunge towards moving online for some of their biggest events. 2020 witnessed traditional events such as homecoming, annual reunions, and even commencement ceremonies being successfully hosted virtually. Institutions leveraged event management tools and experimented with virtual events that were spread across days and had multiple sub-events.
Despite not being able to get alumni together on campus to celebrate these grand occasions, alumni associations found creative ways to drive engagement.
Cornell University hosted a two-day homecoming event aptly named StayHomeComing. The digital version of the event included exclusive downloads and interactive sessions. To keep the Big Red spirit alive, the school also hosted a fun evening where the Cornell Athletics Hall of Famers and student-athletes competed in various activities. Read more about the virtual event here.
4. Virtual Book Clubs
While binge-watching shows on Netflix was a popular pastime during the lockdown, 2020 also saw some people go back to old hobbies and creature comforts. Reading, in particular, was a great way to productively spend time at home whilst also keeping COVID-induced stress at bay. A few universities picked up on this and thought of a unique way to engage alumni - virtual book clubs.
To boost alumni participation, the University of Maryland partnered with PBC Guru and started two virtual book clubs - Fiction and Literature, and Management and Leadership. Alumni read one book every two months and then share their views on a platform specially designed by the institute. Read more about this wonderful initiative here.
Thanks to this event, the institution successfully rekindled alumni's love for reading and facilitated social interactions.
5. Virtual Dance Parties
It's been a while since any of us have grooved to our favourite tunes and spent our nights dancing away at our favourite club. But that didn't stop advancement teams in 2020 from bringing the experience home to their beloved alumni. To combat the accompanying stress and anxiety around the pandemic and provide avenues for alumni to socialize with their peers, some institutions hosted virtual dance parties with the help of virtual event management solutions.
The Washington State University Alumni Association (WSUAA) hosted a 2-hour long virtual dance party over Zoom and also brought in a special DJ to play alumni's favourite songs on request. Read more about the event here.
While 2020 was full of hurdles that alumni professionals could not have anticipated, it also brought along new opportunities. Institutions across the country went above and beyond to devise creative ways to keep their alumni engaged virtually and overcome challenges amid this new normal.