To engage young alumni, drive participation, and, ultimately, strengthen the major gift pipeline, institutions must clearly understand what alumni value. While the nuances of these values will vary by institution, one trend that has emerged nationally is that today’s alumni are no longer particularly inspired by straightforward social events such as cocktail hours. Increasingly, institutions need to dig beyond pigs in a blanket to facilitate the long-term relationships and affinity essential to a robust fundraising strategy. By staying abreast of national trends and investing in metrics beyond participation rate, institutions can better assess engagement, strengthen their connection with alumni, and capitalize on key opportunities to drive fundraising.
What do alumni want? Networking and career development. (Hors d’oeuvres on the side.)
The results of the most recent Eduventures Alumni Pulse survey clearly demonstrate that the 71,000 alumni surveyed are keenly focused on networking and career development. Events that showcase the academic and programmatic strengths of the institution resonate with alumni much more than purely social gatherings and happy hours. Career-focused networking events that incorporate an academic perspective resonate with graduates, and institutions are tailoring their efforts to these shifting values. Such programming is not designed to make an immediate dent in any participation or fundraising goal, but it will help cultivate future major donors and bolster the foundation of a long-term strategy grounded in substantial alumni engagement.
Holistic metrics: the alumni engagement score.
Developing an effective alumni engagement score requires a combination of soul-searching, statistics, and trial and error. This metric can be an incredible tool for better understanding how your alumni are responding to outreach efforts.
The most effective alumni engagement scores measure characteristics that align with an institution’s mission. Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) developed its calculation for an alumni engagement score based on qualities across each of their “Four I’s”: Invested (volunteers and donors), Involved (online community members and award recipients), Interested (attended ticketed event on campus) and Informed (receives mail and alumni magazine). Based on these criteria, RIT built a statistical model and engagement score calculation that measures alumni engagement. Others take a simpler approach by assessing the total number of donors in addition to participation rate. As institutions grow their enrollments, proportional participation gains are harder to come by, so this is one effective way for an institution to measure its short-term success.
The complicated influence of the U.S. News & World Report.
Overall participation rate is a key metric collected by the U.S. News & World Report as the publication assigns rankings to colleges and universities. While every development office strives to increase participation rates, it is equally important to consider the influence of this metric against other strategic priorities. For example, an institution’s participation rate inherently declines as “lost” alumni (and inactive donors) are identified while the overall number of donors and potential donors increases. While U.S. News & World Report rankings are important, institutions could go astray by focusing on participation rate alone to the detriment of the overall alumni pool and the search for “lost” alumni. The inclusion of other measures such as retention rate, acquisition rate, and conversion rate of targeted segments allows for a more holistic view of fundraising success and potential.
Neither metrics nor martinis alone will make an effective fundraising strategy. By staying connected to alumni interests and needs and maintaining a balanced, holistic fundraising strategy, institutions will be positioned to capitalize on short-term fundraising opportunities and build a foundation for long-term success.