Thank you to everyone who has followed, liked and read the Alumni Catalyst blog! I have decided to put the blog on hiatus for the time being. I wish you best of luck with your plans to keep your alumni engaged and involved!
Most schools' alumni associations will be able to meet, in person, 5-10% of their alumni base in person each year. But, what percentage of your alumni base would say they feel connected to their alma mater? It would be more, most likely. Many alums may only come back to campus every few years, or sporadically attend regional institution events. But that doesn't mean they don't still feel engaged... through the university magazine, by staying connected with friends or visiting their alma mater's website.
It is important to remember that large percentage of alums who we will not see on a yearly basis. How can the institutional community be brought to them? How can they still feel like they are interacting with the school? This is where a digital strategy is ever important for an alumni association.
Here are a few tips to ensure that you are reaching as many alumni as possible through digital communications:
1. Create a content plan for your social media feeds. Content plans can feel daunting and are typically an easy thing to set aside when there are so many other pressing issues to deal with on a daily basis. However, if you can find the time to go through a content planning exercise, what you will find is it will actually reduce stress for you because you won't have to spend time every day searching for a good article or picture to post. Create a plan where you break down the focuses of the posts you will make each week. Make sure to have posts that showcase a number of different areas of your school: student life, professor recognition, athletic achievements and alumni profiles. By breaking down future posts into different areas of the institution, it can help make sure your content feels fresh and that you appeal to a broad audience of your alumni.
2. Weave in your school's mission or unique reason for being. Is your school known for its engineering program? Does your institution have a strong service community? Is your president beloved by alumni? Figure out ways to showcase those aspects of your school that stand out. Highlight amazing stories from the engineering department. Take pictures at all of the great service events. Have a weekly video chat with the president. Make sure you provide regular updates on the unique aspects of your institution.
3. Stimulate interaction. This is the hardest thing to do, because interaction is best when it is organic. It is important to discuss, as part of your social media planning, what you can do to encourage more alumni interaction on your social media feeds. What questions can you ask that you know will receive a response? Ask alumni to share stories about their favorite places on campus, their favorite professor, stories about a professor who it about to retire, and memories from student clubs, dorms and traditions. Every post does not have to include a question that needs an answer, but if you weave them into your content plan, you'll find it easier to start getting responses.
Social media strategy is challenging, but by following the three steps above you'll find that your social media feeds will become more active, engaging and thoughtful!
Most alumni and annual giving offices utilize volunteers in some way. There are some programs out there that are best in class, but most schools have their fair share of successes and challenges with alumni volunteering. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges is how can we find those uber alums, the individuals who not only love our school, but are willing and have the time available to help us with attracting more alumni to reunion, or serving as an admissions volunteer or calling up classmates and asking for a gift.
No school will get all rock stars but here are a few tips for increasing your chances of finding awesome volunteers:
1. Speak with class presidents and vice presidents - When it comes to Reunion, the default choice for a Reunion volunteer is to call on the class president. Sometimes the president would be a great volunteer, but there are also many times when this person is too involved in other activities to give enough time and effort. Sometimes the president isn't actually the networker that one might expect either. However, the class president will know who from their class would be best served in a reunion volunteer role. Schedule a call with him or her as a way to get to know the class better and to do a little recon on who from the class could fit that uber reunion volunteer role best.
2. Search social media - Review your top hashtags on social media or use data from social media vendors you currently work with to determine which alumni are out there who are regularly sharing your information. Pair this with any user open rate data you have from your email system. This alone will not be able to tell you if someone can be a good volunteer but it will give you an idea of how well-connected someone has stayed to your school.
3. Check for involvement at the club level - Which alumni are club leaders? Would they be interested in serving directly with your school in some volunteer capacity? You don't want to cannabalize someone's volunteer time with a club, but many alums are willing to take on multiple volunteer roles.
4. Have a position description available. Being able to provide a short, one page description of what an alum will be expected to do as part of a volunteer role can help set expectations and can help to avoid confusion regarding responsibilities. Position descriptions can ensure that you don't have an alum agreeing to the position but then realizing after the fact that he or she isn't truly up for this type of work.
5. Ask the right questions - When speaking with an alum about volunteering, have a set of questions drawn up that you want to go through. Often times this can help determine if the person you are speaking with will be able to fulfill the responsibilities of the role. Depending on the volunteer position, you may want to ask things like "What other types of volunteer work do you do?", "Have you been involved in fundraising initiatives in the past?", "What do you think about the latest news from the college/university?", "This volunteer role requires 10 hours of work a month, do you think you can fit that into your schedule?"
Finding great alumni volunteers can be challenging. Planning and persistence can help ensure that your success rate is high!
Much has been made over the past 5 - 10 years about the power of crowdfunding in higher education. Crowdfunding provides the urgency necessary for higher ed fundraising, it cedes the responsibility of fundraising to concerned constituents - making the ask more personal and heartfelt, and it can provide a unique, short-term platform for restricted gift fundraising at a lower dollar threshhold. All of these things have allowed days of giving and student run crowdfunding campaigns to become immensely popular.
Amongst all the advances made due to new technologies available, not much has been said about how some of these same technologies could impact the world of alumni relations. If Uber can revolutionize the cab industry and Air BNB can transform the hotel industry, what can change the world of alumni relations? What product or platform can provide a new way for alumni to interact, to contribute and to share through their relationship with their alma mater?
Having an impact through your alma mater
In 2016, we began looking for new ways to reach our alumni. We provided a good range of opportunities already: regional alumni receptions, on campus tailgates, social media feeds, e-communications, and local service opportunities in select cities. However, we wanted to do something more.
With the onslaught of new tech out there, there are a number of different ways individuals can share their expertise in ways never before possible. This provided a unique opportunity for us. We knew one of the strengths of our alumni base was our base's willingness to help others. The College's mission is "Ask More of Business, Ask More of Yourself" and we have some great programs for students to participate in while in school. We had also launched a local service opportunity for alumni in DC, Chicago and South Bend that allowed teams of alumni to serve as pro bono consultants to local nonprofits. This program was running well, but we didn't have a way to scale it nationally. We knew our alumni enjoyed using their business skills to benefit others through a connection set up by Mendoza, but was there a technology available that would allow us to take this type of program online? Enter crowdsourcing.
Crowdsourcing ideas... as a force for good.
Crowdsourcing has been around for a little while now. There are crowdsourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo that help individuals crowdsource funds. This type of crowdsourcing migrated into higher ed with companies like Scalefunder and the proliferation of days of giving. But there are other types of crowdsourcing tactics as well.
IDEO, a famous design consulting firm, has been running idea sharing challenges on its social impact site, OpenIdeo, for a few years now. The idea is that to solve some of the world's biggest challenges, the best way to do this is to utilize the wisdom of crowds. While you could get 5-10 experts into one room to discuss how to get more clean water to India, the best way to find the most effective solutions is actually to get as many opinions as possible, from people with expertise in a variety of different areas, and then to refine those ideas with the power of that same group of people.
OpenIdeo, along with other campaigns, provided us with the inspiration necessary for our new alumni relations campaign. We wanted to provide an online platform to allow our alumni to share their ideas for solving a specific societal challenge. We wanted to pose a question to our alumni that they would be uniquely qualified to answer, and we wanted to allow our alumni to vote and comment on ideas suggested by their counterparts.
What do our alumni think?
While we had what we thought was going to be a great way to engage our alumni. We wanted to be sure of it. We surveyed our alumni and asked them what they thought of a number of different service opportunities and types of service organizations to help. The idea sharing suggestion received high marks, so we were more reasonably assured that this could work.
We then set about determining a topic. We wanted something that was targeted toward experienced business people, but also something that would be a broad enough topic that an alum could contribute regardless of whether their background was in marketing, operations, accounting, finance or anything else.
Ultimately, we suggested a topic centered around the environment and how businesspeople can help to reduce the carbon footprint of their workplaces. We set the challenge to be one month long, from May 15 to June 15, and called it the Mendoza Ask More Ideas Challenge.
The Ask More Ideas Challenge
To do this right, we couldn't just create the site, we had to get people to visit. To build a more robust, integrated campaign, we did a couple of things:
The Challenge was quite the task. Some aspects of our plan exceeded expectations, while others fell flat. In the end, we finished with 64 ideas submitted. Our goal had been 100, but ultimately we were satisfied with our final tally. So what worked?
Our goal is to have a different challenge question posed each year, leveraging the talents of our alumni to help a different group of individuals or part of society in need.
What do you think of the idea? Could your school launch something similar?
This post was first published on Evertrue's blog.
BuzzFeed has flipped the journalism world on its head. From humorous top-10 lists to high-level news reporting, the tech company excels on both ends of the spectrum—and has done a great job of drawing in a younger audience because of it. Visitors might come for the quizzes, but they stay for the breaking news and investigative reporting.
There’s a good lesson here for higher-ed alumni relations and communications teams. By attracting alumni to your site with fun content, they may be more likely to see important information like fundraising appeals, reunion details, or volunteer opportunities.
Here are just a few examples of institutions that have begun to experiment with the BuzzFeed model to reach young alumni and students.
Saint Louis University’s Admissions Quizzes
While this example is admissions-focused, alumni relations and fundraising professionals should take note: Saint Louis University (SLU) attracts potential applicants to their site by offering quizzes that are highly relevant to incoming college students (e.g., “What degree is right for you?” and “What student organization is right for you?”). The “would you rather” scenarios presented in the quizzes—similar to what you’d see in a DISC assessment—make the University feel personable and approachable.
Because the information provided in the quizzes could apply to any college experience, SLU’s admissions site has the potential to bring in traffic from Google searches like “roommate advice” or “what should I major in?” They’ve already cleared the first hurdle when it comes to reaching prospective students.
Ohio State University’s Alumni Spirit Quiz
Last year, the Ohio State University (OSU) ran a creative alumni engagement campaign supported by an interactive quiz called “Hey Buckeye: Are You Scarlet or Gray?” The 10-question quiz asks questions about university traditions, an alum’s former dorm room, the alumni magazine, and much more.
Interestingly, since the campaign is geared towards alumni, OSU places two calls-to-action at the end of the quiz: make a gift to an OSU area you’re passionate about (which ties back nicely to the quiz), and/or share your results on Facebook or Twitter.
Colorado Boulder Alumni Association’s “Lists of 10”
Just as BuzzFeed thrives on publishing top-10 lists, the CU Alumni Association has its own “Lists of 10” series that provides fun, bite-sized content for alumni magazine readers. Many of the lists focus on the presence of CU in pop culture, such as “10 Songs that Mention Boulder,” “10 CU Olympians,” and “10 CU Pulitzer Prize Winners.”
Not only are these lists quick and easy to share on social media, but they also serve as a gateway to the more in-depth articles that CU publishes in its online magazine.
Memes for Dartmouth Alumni
Pinterest is under-utilized by universities and colleges. It’s a great space to catalogue different aspects of your alumni base’s passion for their alma mater, including pictures, school-inspired recipes, tailgating suggestions, and decoration ideas.
Dartmouth runs some great Pinterest boards that serve to rekindle alumni’s appetite for all-things Big Green. For example, they pin memes related to life at and after Dartmouth so that alumni can easily share them on social media.
Marquette University’s BuzzFeed Community Content
There are even schools that publish directly to BuzzFeed! The BuzzFeed Community section of the site allows users to create and post original content, which Marquette has been doing over the last few years. For example, Marquette has published a quiz to find out which Marquette legend you are; a list of 13 Marquette alumni who have made it big; and a one-question quiz called “How Marquette Are You?” The site allows you to quickly share your results on social media, helping alumni and students showcase their Marquette pride in a viral way.
The next time your team gets together to discuss new content or the annual communications plan, think about how to incorporate a BuzzFeed-style strategy to get young alumni to your site. Consider the following:
Publishing both serious and fun content can be a challenging act to balance, especially for a higher-ed institution. But BuzzFeed isn’t the only one who does it well—get inspired by the above examples and give it a try at your own institution.
With the Star Wars resurgence still going strong within the world of pop culture, I thought I would post again about the importance of storytelling for fundraising, alumni relations and admissions. Storytelling helps us better relate to a person’s struggles, and helps illustrate how someone can get through those struggles with some help. And, it is through this help that an individual receives in most stories that allows storytelling to be so powerful for fundraising or alumni relations.
Last year, I wrote about some examples in higher ed where institutions have been able to replicate Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey”, through video work. The hero’s journey describes a common storytelling arc used in many myths and, in modern times, the Star Wars movies. Nancy Duarte does a great job showcasing the up and down pattern of the arc in her book “Resonate”.
This time around I wanted to showcase two institutional videos that have many of the stages of the hero’s journey, and similar to “Resonate”, I wanted to show when the peaks and valleys in the stories occur. Below is a graphic showcasing all of the steps in the hero’s journey, and then examples of how the University of Michigan and The College School have videos that follow similar arcs. Now, not every video will have the all of the steps from the hero’s journey, and you will notice that with these two videos, but they share very similar themes.
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Tim Ponisciak is the Director of Graduate Alumni Relations at The University of Notre Dame where he oversees the college's social media, events, and volunteer activities for the college of business. Previously he worked in Notre Dame's central annual giving office where he was responsible for the university's young alumni and student fundraising activities.