Communication is at the core of connecting with alumni. Proper, frequent, and useful communications allow alumni to feel engaged with their alma mater and, ultimately, contribute to that community in meaningful ways.
In September, Jennifer Cole, Director of Sales at AlumniFinder, was joined by Julia Beltran at Double the Donation, Kapil Dev Advani at AlmaShines, and Kathy Edersheim at Impactrics for NXUnite’s “Relating to Your Alumni: Alumni Communication Tips and Tricks for 2022.” The panelists discussed the keys to donor communication in our modern-day world: gathering alumni contact information, keeping up-to-date alumni databases, and learning what your alumni want to hear about in your communications with them.
Contacting your alumni
When asked what she would tell someone that is new to alumni communications, Jennifer highlighted the significance of alumni data: “Successful alumni engagement starts with the data itself,” she stated. Alumni communications center around various methods of communication, such as direct mail, phone calls, and emails. In order to begin any conversation with alumni, institutions have to be able to get in contact with their former students.
While it might seem intuitive, it’s incredibly difficult to have a phone call with someone if you don’t have their phone number, or if you have an outdated phone number from their previous employer. Your institution’s alumni network is likely comprised of a large and diverse group whose members are constantly moving and changing— whether an alum changes their address as they move states or changes their phone number when they move across the world, it’s imperative that higher education institutions take the steps necessary to maintain their databases as a first step to alumni communication.
Updating alumni data
While some alumni might be delighted to contact their alma mater with any address changes or employer information modifications, other alumni might overlook or deprioritize these communications with their alma mater.
Services such as those provided by AlumniFinder allow for analysis of existing data to measure which data is correct and which data is out-of-date. Once you know which data is correct and which isn’t, your institution will know what to prioritize. As Jennifer suggested, before spending money on direct mail and event invitations, it’s best to know which addresses on file are current.
Still, your institution shouldn’t simply leave behind or forget those alumni with outdated information— to do so would be to miss out on potential supporters, donations, and event attendees. As noted by NXUnite’s Strategies for Using Both Online and Offline Fundraising, gathering and analyzing donor demographics such as age, area of residence, and gender is integral to any fundraising strategy. That’s why AlumniFinder not only cleans up your data but enhances it, filling in any gaps and finding new, current contact information for your alumni.
Connecting with alumni
The better you understand your alumni and who they are, the better you can interact with them and garner their support. As Julia suggested, institutions shouldn’t be afraid to talk to alumni in order to glean information from them. Ask your alumni the questions you want answers to: Where do you work? What do you care about? What goals do you have in relation to the institution?
These questions and communications can serve as an opportunity to connect with alumni outside of a financial appeal. Seemingly counterintuitively, alumni who receive non-financial communications are more likely to donate to your institution in the long run. This is because “critical content,” which targets donors’ interests and provides them a sense of engagement, is “more important than [the] frequency or channel” of your communications.
Alumni communications start with data— what’s next?
It can be time-consuming to manually gather alumni information, so institutions should consider utilizing technology to save time and increase efficiency. That way, some of these efforts to collect data can be reallocated to crafting and perfecting the communications you want to send to your alumni.
While it can seem daunting to solicit donations from alumni, many alumni want to donate to their colleges and universities, so it’s essential for institutions to capitalize on their communications with former students. Plus, many of these donations can be matched by alumni’s employers, making the impact of each donation even greater.
Panelists on NXUnite’s “Relating to Your Alumni: Alumni Communication Tips and Tricks for 2022″ provided useful insights into how to best communicate with donors.
Communication starts with outreach, and this outreach can only be impactful when backed up by correct data. The more information your institution can gather about your alumni, the more engaged and connected your alumni will feel. And that engagement and connection is at the heart of building a vibrant and thriving alumni community.