Reaching alumni: 5 ways to boost engagement and investment in your college or university

A new report from Anthology shows that alums want to be involved in helping recruit and retain students.

In June, education provider Anthology conducted a survey and received more than 2,300 responses from college graduates. The mission, and the title of its resulting report, was to find “Opportunities for Institutions to Refine Existing Strategies and Grow Alumni Engagement.And potentially, increase donations.

The latter being one of the most difficult but essential tasks, the report highlights ways to keep alumni active while utilizing them to help increase institutional value. Anthology leaders note that involves a mix of communications, social media and programming initiatives—some that are tried-and-true and others that might be new—to assist in recruiting and mentoring students and ensuring levels of giving.

“Alumni, especially recent graduates, are a potential bridge to prospective students and to current students exploring careers,” said Jim Milton, chairman and CEO at Anthology. “Our research makes clear a personalized approach to alumni engagement is critical for building impactful, two-way relationships that create value beyond traditional giving and engagement campaigns.”

But if alumni are at arm’s length, or not really in the pipeline, how do colleges can get them more involved? How should they reach out to them? And what might alums be expecting or looking for when reconnecting? Those are all questions Anthology hoped to uncover in the survey.

Two statistics immediately jump out. The first is that 25% of all respondents said they do not recall their institutions reaching out to them in the past year. Institutions clearly are not leveraging one of the most impactful resources they have. The second is that 82% said they would be willing to reconnect with their college or university. Half of them said they are already contributing.

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Here are some of the results and answers to key questions provided in the Anthology study:

Could be outreach efforts holding institutions back? If your institution is emailing alumni, that is a smart choice, according to 61% of respondents. Social media and standard mail are OK ways of keeping communication alive but far less effective than email. Either way, institutions should be wary of blitzing alums too frequently. Avoid bombarding them with messages several times a week or once a week. Keep it to every other week or monthly.

What are they interested in? A wide range of items catch their attention. But they said what lures them in most with communications are alumni updates, discount offers, in-person alumni events and networking. A good portion of alums also said they like virtual events, so it might be worth exploring both options, especially for those who can’t make it to campus.

But what the majority of alumni really want is a chance to talk with current or new students. Many of them say they would be willing to help in mentoring and recruitment efforts. Given the shortages across higher ed in career services and the needs of admissions offices, there might be instances where alumni can provide assistance. A little more than 10% indicated they could provide monetary help.

How important is personalization? Very important, according to Anthology researchers, who note that around 40% prefer hyper-specific information around their areas of interest.

What about programming? The highest percentage of alumni want to see networking opportunities and that includes face-to-face gatherings. Career-related interests was No. 2 on the list, especially for the youngest graduates. Either way, those are both good opportunities for alumni to be connected long term.

How can you get alumni to dig deep? 30% of alumni surveyed said they gave some form of donation to their institution in the past 18 months, and more than a third of them responded in kind after getting an email from their college. The rest were lured in by two old-school approaches: personal letters and phone calls. Social media was fourth on the list. Anthology noted that more than half of alums are willing to give now, and most want to donate to students directly. So why not reach out?

“The more that institutions can meet alumni expectations, the deeper their engagement, and the more likely that alumni will also support the institution financially,” said Mirko Widenhorn, study author and senior director of engagement strategy.

Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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