Best Practices

Your alumni engage with you all the time. Are you prepared to see it?

Your alumni engage with you all the time. Are you prepared to see it?




July 6, 2021

Last modified: 

July 6, 2021

How your alumni engage has evolved.

What defines relevant experiences in the 2020s? The answer is straightforward - omnichannel, round-the-clock engagement and personalization drive the digital experiences of the modern world. Every important brand that we associate with gives us the right reasons to associate with it. They constantly strive to understand us, create for us, and value our time by making things easy for us.

With the boom of the Internet, social media and instant messaging, digital experiences have evolved, and customer expectations have soared. Brands and service providers are in constant pursuit to adapt their engagement strategy with these rising expectations. It has given birth to a multi-channel, round-the-clock and consistent customer experience backed by data-driven decisions. Brands utilize this strategy to meet their customers where they are by better understanding what appeals to them.

Now customers decide how, when and why they interact with service providers. The power is solely in the hands of the customer. Factors like how easy it is to engage with a brand, how much the brand values their time and interests, and most importantly, the power of choice mould their decisions. Customers don't think twice about switching brands if they feel like it doesn't pay importance to their needs.

Alumni engagement fundraising

Today, how our alumni interact with us is not so different. They're interacting with their alma mater 24*7 from across the globe, across programs and channels, even when you're asleep. Their expectations from their alma mater have increased. They seek greater control of this conversation and engage in areas that matter to them. They seek a better engagement experience. And most of all, they seek value before solicitation. In today's world, it is critical to meet our alumni where they are. If not, they are not reluctant in directing their philanthropy towards any of the many avenues available to them.

20% of advancement professionals today understand that competition for the attention of their alumni is a challenge in advancement.

The question is, as an advancement office, do we see alumni relations in the same light as our alumni do? Maybe we don't, and it is indicative that 95% of our donations today come from a measly 5% of our alumni, while the rest remain estranged from their once beloved alma mater. This statistic presses a question on the sustainability of our associations.

The flaw in how we view engagement: Where advancement offices fall short in cultivating relationships with most of their alumni

A majority of advancement shops measure engagement by the number of alumni that have donated, attended an event or volunteered for a cause. This is where the definition of engagement needs to be re-assessed. Remember that our alumni are interacting with us all the time, even when we're asleep. With each interaction, they're telling us something important about themselves. The onus is on us to capture these engagements to find the answers to relevant questions like "What do my alumni care about" or "What group of alumni are most likely to participate in my next event" or "Who are most likely to donate towards a particular appeal".

Our alumni's interactions with our alma mater are not limited to donations or engagement anymore. There are numerous ways they are interacting with their alma mater. It could be a visit to a jobs directory, a message to a faculty, an update on their alumni community profile, a message on the forum of an interest group, a reply to an email, or simply a like on a post on social media.

As advancement professionals whose work claims to be centered around the needs of our alumni, do we capitalize on these interactions to understand what might drive our alumni to an event or a fundraising campaign? As we don't, we miss out on thousands of alumni interested in engaging with the institution, just differently from how we expect them to.

A handful of advancement offices might say yes, and to their credit, it takes a lot of effort to collect the engagement information and consolidate them into meaningful reports. However, this comes at a cost. Our disconnected systems have made reporting difficult enough that it happens only once in several months. During this time, we lose opportunities to create value-driven programs for our alumni, and thereby their attention.

Key takeaways:

  • More than ever, our alumni today have great expectations from their alma mater to be resourceful to them through the critical stages of their lives.
  • Their interactions with their alma mater aren't limited to events and donations but are always happening in various forms. And with each interaction, they're telling us something about them. Advancement offices must start staying on top of these interactions and capitalize on them to create relevant programs.
  • Failing to stay on top of these interactions keep advancement teams from better understanding their alumni to build strategies around their alumni.

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