How to create an effective, integrated alumni engagement strategy
Events are central to your alumni relations strategy. 36% of alumni who attend events will donate, while only 3% of disengaged alumni will give. But your events only effectively drive donations if alumni to show up. Email is pivotal to that effort.
After all, 91% of people check their email every day. But today’s young alumni engage differently with email than their forebears did. While email used to be the “fast” way to get in touch, today, the younger generation tends to check texts, Slack, and social media first.
That’s why a marketing strategy that integrates email with other channels is the best way to nurture alumni from initial invite to event attendance. With an integrated approach to your alumni outreach, you’ll maximize attendance—and donations.
Here’s how it works.
1. Keep your lists updated
The first step to a successful email marketing strategy is, obviously, email addresses. The more, the better. You might have all your alumni’s .edu addresses, but chances are, they’ve moved on to another handle since joining the “real” world.
Young alumni tend to change jobs (and email addresses) frequently. You may have one address on file; they’re using another. If your alumni database is plagued with outdated contact information, you’re emailing into the ether.
Part of your alumni event strategy should be to encourage alums to provide their updated contact information so they can stay in the loop. Use strategies like contests (which require entrants to re-enter their information) or database cleanse emails (which unsubscribe unengaged recipients) to keep your email list clean.
2. Target your invitations to alumni interests
The average person receives as many as 94 emails per day. Your outreach efforts need to break through the clutter. One of the best ways to do that is to segment your lists by things like geography, interests, or demographics in order to send targeted emails.
When the University of Connecticut Foundation wanted to increase attendance for its annual homecoming weekend, Huskies Forever, targeting was their key strategy. The team segmented its alumni audience based on topics people liked on Facebook (things like craft brewing, gender issues, or athletics). Then, targeted email invites were written promoting those types of activities at Huskies Forever.
“A one-size-fits-all approach no longer works for event promotion,” says Jen Doak-Mathewson, Director of Engagement and Acquisition at the UConn Foundation. “Alumni go to homecoming for a variety of reasons. Segmentation based on interest was the best way to create messages that truly resonated.”
UConn set a new record for homecoming attendance in 2017. And, with a better understanding of your alumni audience, so can you. With email marketing tools like Emma, you can target alumni segments to send the right message at the right time.
A recent study showed that marketers can improve conversion by 355% — and increase revenues by 781% — by sending targeted emails.
3. Follow up with engaged alumni
Email marketers often talk about “open rates”—how many recipients actually opened your email. But opening an email doesn’t guarantee someone will attend your event. That’s why it’s important to follow up with these engaged alumni to make sure they show up in person.
The University at Buffalo, for example, boosts attendance at events by sending additional email invitations to alumni who have responded as “interested” on Facebook or clicked email invites but haven’t yet registered.
“This saves us time by targeting specific outreach to those who are going and who are in consideration, so we can try to get them to the next stage for this event, or even for another similar event down the road,” said Joseph DiDomizio, Director of Digital Communications at the University at Buffalo.
4. Supplement your sends with other means of reaching out
Your email campaigns will be most successful when paired with other forms of alumni outreach. For instance, on LinkedIn, you can run an advanced search for graduates in your local area, then send InMail messages. You can also filter by profession in order to invite alumni in industries relevant to your events.
You can do the same with Facebook and Instagram ad targeting, displaying ads to people based on their location and alma mater. Once an alumnus has seen your message in each of these various channels, they’re more likely to commit and RSVP online.
Another effective strategy? Text message. “A growing number of alumni relations and advancement professionals are discovering that 1:1 personalized text messages are more effective than other forms of communication at reaching alumni where they are, which is on their phones,” says Director of Higher Education at Hustle, Jean Pembleton.
Combined with email outreach, text messages can drastically increase donation rates. Schools like Amherst College have seen alumni participation rates for giving days, fiscal year-end outreach, and in conjunction with telefund programs, increase by 200%.
Ready to take it even further?
From gift officers to local alumni chapter leadership, the pressure to transform graduates into lifelong supporters has never been greater. To learn more about how live events can help you better engage alumni, read The Next Generation of Alumni Giving.
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