Tracking down your whole global alumni network is a dream for many alumni managers; many graduates lose touch when they first leave school or college, and might not realise that there is an entire community there to support them whenever they need it. Whether you are starting from scratch with your alumni data or trying to target a specific year group, it’s important to plan your outreach campaign and think about how you want your alumni to respond in order to encourage lasting engagement.
You may hold data in your main school database or even on spreadsheets, but it's important to consider how to manage alumni data long term. Tracking engagement on individual database records will give you the best chance of seeing the school's outreach from your alumni's perspective, and building better outreach campaigns that result in the response you want.
Connecting with ‘lost’ alumni is a two-fold challenge; firstly to find out where your alumni are, which platforms they are using, and how best to get in touch with them. Secondly, to encourage them to join your online community and find ways to connect them with other members & your organisation. To overcome this, make sure that the alumni data you hold paints a full picture of who the group is and what is important to them, so you can tailor your message.
To engage your lost alumni, you should organise an outreach campaign. To plan for an outreach campaign, it’s important to answer these four questions:
Which segments of your alumni network do you want to engage with? Although it might be tempting to try to reach all of your alumni contacts at once, you can spend more time tailoring your campaign with smaller segments.
Consider how easily you can reach a certain group - for example, if you already have up-to-date contact information for them - and what the value might be of this group, e.g. if there are any potential major donors in the mix.
You should also consider what the reason is for engaging with this group at this time; is there an upcoming reunion, a new club for them to join, or a fundraising event for them to take part in?
If in doubt, choosing alumni years or groups where you already have some engaged alumni can improve your chances of success, as this can encourage others to come to an event or sign up to your platform.
Are they local, or based internationally? Thinking about the logistics of an outreach campaign will vary greatly depending on where your alumni are based - e.g., when to send your emails, whether a postal campaign is possible and how expensive it might be, whether you can engage alumni using events.
In addition to considering their physical location, you should also consider where they spend time online. It might be that alumni are already connecting through other social media platforms, and might need persuading as to the benefits of joining a different platform.
When thinking about your ask, you should plan this from an internal and external perspective. Different groups of alumni will seek out different benefits from your community, so you should tailor your ask to connect with these reasons. For example, younger alumni may be more focused on careers support and mentoring opportunities, whereas entrepreneurs might be persuaded by the ability to network, advertise their business and hear from other entrepreneurs.
Finally, consider what the next step for alumni to take is. For example:
Providing a clear ‘call to action’ in your communications will ensure that more of your alumni take the intended next step, such as ‘Volunteer today’ or ‘Join now’.
One of the best ways to encourage alumni to get involved is by asking for their feedback. Princethorpe College, based in the UK, shared a listening survey with alumni that they had lost touch with or hadn’t been in contact with, wanting to find out more about them and what they might want from an alumni community. They carried this out through a postal survey, resulting in 1,500 alumni updating their contact details and triggering a spike in sign ups to their community site.
The team at Princethorpe College also sent a more in-depth survey to everyone they had an email address for, asking questions about how they felt about their communications, opportunities to get involved (such as mentoring or events), and the school itself. This received over 500 responses and shared interesting details about affinity levels and likelihood to engage with initiatives, which fed into their development plan for the year.
Some alumni may not want to join a private online portal, but might still want to receive a newsletter or occasional mailings from your school. Therefore, it’s important to make it easy for people to update their details without having to register for your community. Dame Allan School, located in the UK, created an online form with a unique URL that they could share via emails and social channels to encourage people to update their details, which would automatically feed into the database.
Often, one of the main incentives for joining an alumni community is to network with members who they might not have otherwise met, who may be working in the same location or industry - or might be able to share some advice for getting started. Promoting your online directory, which enables members to connect with one another and send messages through the site, is a great way to encourage engagement. Blackrock College Union, the largest past pupils union in Ireland, signed up 2,500 members of their alumni network in the first 3 months of launching, and they are always looking for new ways to connect their expansive network. Online members can search for others by interest (e.g. golf), year group, or other keywords, and can request to join their individual network.
For more examples of schools connecting with alumni, watch a recording of this webinar and download the presentation here. For more insightful content on development & alumni relations, sign up to one of our upcoming live webinars, or view the content on-demand now.
Focusing on lasting engagement and building a strong relationship with alumni is key when connecting with those who have lost touch. ToucanTech offers a variety of features to facilitate community engagement; to find out more, speak to a member of the ToucanTech team.
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