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June 20, 2017

5 Surprising Challenges to Regional Alumni Engagement and How to Overcome Them

By Caitlin Scarano

Caitlin@aluminateus.com

4 minutes

Did you know that over two-thirds of institutions report* that at least 60 percent of funds raised are from alumni, supporters, and friends who live outside a 75-mile radius of their central campus?

Yet, 25 percent or fewer of the staff in these departments are focused primarily on engaging alumni outside that 75-mile radius.

Institutions dedicate a lower percentage of resources (including time, staffing, and money) to regional alum even though a higher percentage of gifts comes from this group!

Why this disconnect?

How many alumni are you missing out on?

As funding sources dry up, especially at the state and federal levels, institutions should look to these groups as a source of untapped potential. But how do you generate alumni engagement (and gifts) in distant regions?

Don’t worry—we’ve identified five of the primary challenges to regional alumni engagement, as well as practical tips for overcoming those challenges.

Challenge #1: Relevancy

This is one of the most important questions an institution can ask itself with regard to its alumni engagement efforts:

Is what we’re doing relevant to the needs and interests of our alumni?

In a world seemingly gone digital, the demand for relevant and personalized connection is soaring. Sporadic and inconsequential contact with alumni is a waste of public and private resources.

How you do you make your programming efforts stand out? How do you tailor your outreach?

Challenge #2: Logistics and Staffing

Central to the challenge of logistics and staffing are the issues of distance and cost. Mainly…

  • -Staff travel can be costly, inconsistent, and inefficient.
  • -Departments often see high rates of turnover among regional development staff.
  • -Regional programming is often ineffective and misdirected.
  • -Leadership and a culture of volunteering can be hard to sustain in regions.

Challenge #3: Variation Within Regions

When thinking about alumni engagement, it might be easy to forget that communities of alumni can have different needs and characteristics, even within the same city.

For example, if your institution plans an alumni event in one area of a city, you may see a fraction of the turnout you might have had if you had planned the event in a more accessible neighborhood or more appropriate venue.

Challenge #4:  Variations Between Regions

How do you learn the personality of a major city in which your alumni cluster? How do you identify the best venues in a region or build and maintain meaningful sponsorships and partnerships there? How do you come to understand the local vibe?

More broadly, how do you learn the personalities of the top 10 cities in which your alumni cluster? How do you keep track of and communicate that information in and beyond your department?

Challenge #5: Technology, Social Media, and Data

Besides the platforms you use, how do you ensure that the content your institution shares is meaningful, consistent, and timely?

How can you use technology and social media in ways that directly lead to higher levels of engagement and philanthropy among your institution’s alumni?

When it comes to the information institutions gather about alumni, the problem isn’t a lack of data. More often, it is a lack of clear, up-to-date, structured, and accessible data among different CRMs and other management systems. It is easy to be bogged down by a disorganized or outdated system.

As the landscape of higher education continues to evolve, the need for greater connections with and support from a broader base of alumni is very apparent.

So, what can you do?

Our recommendations for how to begin to overcome these challenges…

1) Plug in locally. Have a team of local experts work with your institution. This team should live and work in the city in which you have a large alumni presence. They are familiar with the city’s infrastructure, event-planning logistics, and local culture.

2) Be in-the-know globally. Assess where your alumni are in the alumni lifecycle. See
our second blog post for an in-depth explanation of this chart.

3) Let technology work for you. What is your department’s web presence like? Is
your data up to date, accessible, and well-organized? Are your current CRM systems really meeting your needs?

If you haven’t already, join our Research Consortium!

Want to read more? Be sure to check out our next post: Secrets to the Alumni Lifecycle!

*According to our Regional Alumni Engagement Assessment (2016).

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