In our recent welcome questionnaire, we asked all Research Consortium members, “What is your most pressing question or concern about alumni engagement and philanthropy?” Second to the topic of career services and alumni, the most popular response was research and content related to engaging young alumni.
You aren’t alone. According to the results of the 2017 VAESE Alumni Relations Survey Report, “85% of alumni organizations report they ‘do a poor job,’ or ‘need to do more’ to attract and engage young alumni.”
So we’ve identified 4 major ways in which institutions often neglect young alumni, and ways to resolve those issues.
1) Misguided Communication Efforts
Perhaps you are reaching out to young alumni but hearing crickets on the other end. Try these tips for how to redirect your communication efforts:
-Ask them to show you where you are. Launching an interactive map on your website that shows where alumni live can encourage them to tell you their current address. The University of New Hampshire has a map that shows where alumni cluster based on college and class year. Henry Chou has an easy-to-follow video guide on how to do this.
-Rethink social media. You’re probably already using social media, but what discussions has your department had about the persona you’re building through social media? For example, Duke University maintains a separate, and quite active,Twitter profile for the Duke Annual Fund.
-Upgrade your technology. Many institutions use platforms to customize and segment communication with young alumni or predictive analytics software to better gauge what to ask for and when. According to the 2017 Fundraising Analytics Survey by BWF Insight, “Among established analytics programs, 93% of respondents cite the positive impact data analytics is having on their fundraising. Nearly 50% are able to quantify and measure the contribution analytics has on their fundraising programs.”
Cornell University uses the Net Promoter System to assess whether the events they offer engage alumni or not. In addition, Georgia State University used strategic data to start the Panther Retention Grant program to improve retention and graduation rates. According to Jeffrey Selingo article, “How a Little Data Can Solve One of Higher Education’s Biggest Problems,” through big data, Georgia State is making “‘structured interventions’: [where they] find a problem, comb the numbers to figure out a solution, test the idea on a small group of students, and either tweak it or expand it if it works.”
2) Not Going Far Enough Beyond the Game
Effective institutions seek to offer a diverse menu of programming to alumni, and don’t just rely on sports-related events. For example, the University of Nebraska-Omaha Young Alumni Academy is a program “designed to facilitate networking and professional growth while delivering participants an insider’s view into what it takes to run one of the nation’s premier metropolitan universities. While there is no age requirement, programming is geared toward alumni under 35.”
3) They Need Help Building Good Habits
In his book, Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, Derek Thompson points out how certain “skills and tastes are shaped during a ‘sensitive period’ in a person’s life (124).” Thompson continues: “A 2015 Spotify study of Spotify data pinpointed to the precise year that listeners stop listening to new artists: thirty-three (125).”
This logic, that people become settled in their habits and preferences after a certain age, can be applied to young alumni. During that formative period just after young alumni graduate and leave campus, institutions can show them how to become active, engaged, and philanthropic by programing and initiatives that gets them in the habits of volunteering and giving early on.
One example we found in this area is the University of Texas at Austin’s Longhorn Foundation Young Alumni Program. What is strategic about this program is that it offers young alumni sought-after season tickets at a special rate, while getting them in the habit of giving annually to the Longhorn Foundation and incrementally increasing their yearly gift.
4) Young Alumni Aren’t Sure How They Fit into Their New Identity
As they transition into careers and new communities, recent graduates may feel uncertain about their relationship with the institution—they aren’t on-campus as students and they don’t yet identify with older alumni. If you think of your institution as having a story, where do young alumni fit into it? What roles would they play? How do you help them discover this?
Your young alumni may thrive under greater challenges, responsibility, and involvement, especially with students. Cornell University’s Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network allows young alumni to assist with admissions and connect with prospective students.
Another step is to ensure that young alumni feedback is integral and your decision-making processes are transparent. Check out Elon University’s Alumni 360 digital volunteer program, which “allows alumni to share their feedback and input to shape the alumni experience for years to follow. All members will complete four brief, quarterly surveys per year on topics such as Homecoming, alumni communications and future alumni initiatives.”
You might help recent graduates find their new place within the institution by starting a young alumni council. But, as Ashlyn Sowell and Erin Stringer point out in their article—“Start a Young Alumni Council? Yes or No?”—this type of program can require a lot of resources, so have those realistic conversations about the capabilities of your staff, time, and budget.
Is your institution doing something unique to engage young alumni, especially through the use of big data? As part of our ongoing research, we want to hear about it.
Want more ideas on how to engage young alumni? If you haven’t already, join our Research Consortium, which is free to inaugural members who sign up now! In addition, we have developed a shared resources model that utilizes best-in-class practices and local professionals to organize and direct your regional alumni activities. Check out our services today.