Alumni engagement is essential for colleges and their programs to thrive. While college fundraising tends to be the most talked-about benefit, actively engaging alumni can also strengthen a university’s reputation and build community.
These additional benefits are especially important to college performing arts programs. The industry connections that alumni maintain can provide unique opportunities and insights for your current performing arts students. Plus, showcasing alumni success makes your program more recognizable and enhances its image, boosting application rates.
To start engaging your program’s alumni more effectively, try these four tips:
- Create Alumni-Specific Communications
- Host Alumni Networking Events
- Start a Mentorship Program
- Be Strategic About Alumni Giving
As you implement the strategies in this guide, make sure to coordinate with the alumni engagement efforts at your university. Many colleges have an official alumni association or alumni relations office that can help organize your efforts and connect you with former students. They might also follow specific engagement procedures, so be aware of those guidelines before you start.
An effective engagement plan starts with letting alumni know what is happening at your college. It’s best to take a multi-channel approach, as sending a variety of communications creates multiple touchpoints that alumni can use to stay informed.
Some communication channels to consider using for alumni outreach include:
- Your website. Whether you have a dedicated section of your college’s website for performing arts or have a separate program-specific website, create a page dedicated to alumni. In addition to listing upcoming events and networking opportunities, include some resources for career development and a comment section to make the page interactive.
- Social media. Social media is a great place to shout out alumni who have landed major roles, jobs, or other career opportunities. In each post, make sure to tag the person featured and list their graduation year to encourage other alumni who graduated around the same time to connect with them.
- Text messaging. Texting is among the best channels for facilitating personalized interactions with individual alumni. Plus, Tatango’s guide to higher education texting points out that the open and read rates for texts tend to be high, so you can be confident that many alumni will see your messages.
- Email newsletters. Besides providing a regular cadence of updates, email newsletters can be useful for sending out alumni surveys that help you understand alumni preferences and gather feedback on your engagement initiatives.
No matter which communication channels you choose, always make sure you have up-to-date contact information for all of your alumni. Consider creating a survey once a year that asks alumni if their phone numbers, email addresses, mailing addresses, or social media handles have changed. Or, use a partner that can help you update your supporter data and ensure your messages always reach them.
While alumni networking events are sometimes focused on career advancement, they also provide a designated space for alumni to connect and catch up on what they’ve been doing since graduation. If your program is looking to host a networking event, you could choose from several popular options, including:
- An in-person dinner or happy hour at your college. The attendance rates at these events will be highest if you host them on days when alumni are already on campus, such as homecoming weekend.
- Virtual socials. These can be hosted throughout the year because they don’t require alumni to travel, so you could time them to align with one of your university’s giving campaigns or another important event for your program.
- Meet-ups around the country. While these events require extra effort and coordination, they can help connect alumni who live in a particular area.
One alumni event idea that’s unique to performing arts programs is a reunion show or concert. Allow participants to collaborate in planning the performance, and consider inviting current students to get involved and meet alumni who were in their shoes a few short years ago. According to Acceptd, occasionally performing in a low-pressure environment helps artists reconnect with the joy of their craft and be inspired by others, and a reunion show can allow both students and alumni to do just that.
Mentoring is another way to connect alumni with current students in your performing arts program. In addition to the alumni engagement benefit, mentorship strengthens your program’s student population and allows alumni to give back to their community through volunteering.
To launch this initiative, you’ll need to create two surveys. One survey will ask alumni who want to be mentors about aspects of their college experience—such as their major or concentration and activities they participated in as a student—as well as their career path. The other survey will be for current students who are interested in being mentored, and the questions should focus on what they hope to get out of their college experience and what they want to do after graduation.
Once you’ve collected all of the survey responses, use them to match up alumni and students with similar interests. Alumni mentors can then meet with their mentees either in person or virtually to discuss job applications, internships, university and professional auditions, performance preparation, and a variety of other topics that can help students succeed in college and beyond.
As previously mentioned, fundraising is often a major focus of universities’ alumni engagement strategies. While it’s true that alumni can provide much-needed financial support for your performing arts program, you need to take an approach that makes alumni want to give.
To develop giving initiatives that alumni will be receptive to, try these strategies:
- Set attainable goals. Every successful fundraiser starts with a clear goal. To create yours, start by reviewing any information you have on your program’s previous giving initiatives. Consider setting your goal amount slightly higher than your past totals, but not so high that it’s out of reach given the time and resources you have available for fundraising.
- Vary your fundraising methods. While many colleges focus on monetary giving campaigns, some of your alumni will be more excited to participate in event fundraisers. To appeal to this group, you could host a virtual silent auction where alumni can bid on tickets to upcoming performances, memorabilia from the shows they participated in, and items donated by local businesses they frequented during their time in college.
- Tailor your ask to each individual alum. When you are asking for monetary donations, you need to request the right size gift from each alum, since not all alumni will be able or willing to give the same amount. If you’re planning to ask for a large amount, use your college’s database, as well as outside prospect research tools, to find details on each alum’s giving history and financial status so you can create a custom ask for them.
Additionally, always send a donor thank-you letter or email to alumni contributors, no matter which fundraising activity they participate in or what size gift they make. This ensures your alumni donors know you value them which encourages them to continue giving to and engaging with your program.
Keeping alumni engaged in your college performing arts program helps create a strong support network that benefits current, former, and future students in addition to your school. Some of that support might be financial through alumni fundraising, and some of it could come through connections and mentorship. Either way, careful planning and effective communication help alumni stay involved with your program well beyond graduation.