Secrets to the Alumni Lifecycle

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When you think about your institution’s alumni, who do you picture?

What is their age? Gender? Race? Religious affiliation? Political leaning?

Where do they live? Where do they work? What is their income? Do they have a family? What are their passions?

If you had trouble picturing an average alum — or if you resisted this exercise entirely — you’re actually on the right track.

Alumni demographics are shifting. Your institution’s graduates vary so much — in age, gender, sex, race, religion, political identity, geographic location, industry, class, family composition, ability, interest, etc. — you name it!

Professionals in advancement and alumni affairs can no longer afford to approach alumni outreach with a one-size-fits-all attitude.

So, with shifting demographics and higher-ed budgetary pressures in mind, how do you effectively and efficiently engage your institution’s diverse alumni populations? Who might you be missing out on due to a misdirected outreach approach?

We believe one useful way to think about your alumni is by their stages in the alumni lifecycle. ALUMinate has designed a chart that shows how these stages can impact the giving capacity and likelihood of an alumnus to give back to an institution.

ALUMinate Alumni Lifecycle Chart

As you can see, the X-axis indicates alumni by age. The Y-axis measures alumni giving capacity and likelihood of giving. Notice how the giving habits increase and plateau during different stages in the cycle.

We’ve broken the lifecycle of an alum into four major stages:

1) School Years Stage (both undergraduate and graduate)
2) Career Focus and Family-raising Stage
3) Empty-nester Stage
4) Retirement Stage

A few things to note:

  • -This chart is meant as a learning resource and is not exhaustive.

  • -There can be overlap in stages.

  • -This is just a starting point! Alumni within these stages can vary greatly based on other intersecting aspects of their identity.

When we asked hundreds of alumni from across the U.S. if they hear from their alma mater, these were the most common responses:

“No, not really.”
“Yes, but you can tell it’s a big email blast to EVERYone.”
“Yeah, mostly when they want donations.”

Alumni are constantly moving through the stages of this lifecycle. How do you engage multiple groups in each stage simultaneously?
How do you make your outreach personal?
How do you predict their needs in future stages?

How do you create continuous involvement between alumni and the institution? Here are some ways ALUMinate can help…

1) Creating targeted, personalized emails for alumni in each stage of the lifecycle.

2) Designing a balanced menu of programming for alumni that addresses their life-stage needs and milestones.

3) Identifying and using the communication methods preferred by alumni in each major stage.

4) Cultivating meaningful interactions between current students and alumni.

5) Knowing when to ask for what. For example, when might certain alumni be most
interested in and ready to join advisory boards?

6) Providing alumni with a variety of ways to give back to the institution (not just

Interested in ongoing research like this?

Our Research Consortium aims to prepare its members with evidence-based research so they can systematically and thoughtfully increase alumni engagement.  


Be sure to keep an eye out for next week’s post, when we interview Notre Dame’s Alumni Association to find out what makes their alumni outreach so successful on and off campus! 

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