Is it time to reimagine your regional event strategy?
All institutions are familiar with the challenges of planning alumni events in cities far from their central campus. Especially in the age of ROI and budgetary constraints, effective planning and execution of regional alumni events should multiply the return on your efforts and resources. You and your alumni should both gain something—skills, connections, donations, data, etc.—from an event.
We’re not writing this post to list new event ideas. Instead, we want to inspire a fresh perspective on how institutions approach regional events.
One way to begin this process is by revisiting some core questions:
-Is there a regional engagement and philanthropy strategy that dictates the number and type of events that will be conducted?
-Does each event have well-defined objectives that support the larger strategy?
-Why would alumni and supporters come to these events? What do they want and how do you know what they want?
-What are they going to take away from each event?
Next, consider these four ingredients (each with implementation ideas) as keys to your new regional event strategy!
Ingredient 1: Treat your events as pathways to your strategy
Instead of mechanically planning an event around a minimum attendee goal, what if we treat each event as a deliberate step in a broader pathway that culminates in higher levels of alumni engagement and philanthropy?
Of every event in every region, ask yourself and your team: how is this serving our long-term alumni and advancement strategy?
Remember, these events are not only a way to keep alumni engaged with the institution and to help them continue to see value in their diploma, but also a way for your staff to identify leaders and build long-term philanthropy.
Implementation Idea: Using lifecycles and pathways.
This long-term mindset is inline with the ALUMinate Lifecycle Chart, which we discussed in our second post. This chart can be used to:
-help segment your alumni;
-decide which life stage groups you want an event to target and why; and
-identify what kind of event will best facilitate the engagement or philanthropic goal you have in mind, or, which event will best build toward that goal as the alumni age and continue down the pathway you’re laying out for them.
Decide the appropriate strategy for each region by working with your prospect management and advancement teams to gather key data about your alumni demographics that will inform the types of events that should be considered. For instance, you could prepare:
-a scatter graph plotting the age (x axis) against the lifetime giving (y axis) of your donors in the region to understand general philanthropy trends (just plot them on the foregoing chart!). Add an overall analysis of historical contributions originating from the region (perhaps a three or five-year average) segmented by $0-100, $100-1,000, $1,000-10,000, over $10,000;
-an analysis showing the areas of study (business, law, engineering, public service, etc.) for your regional alumni, along with a summary of LinkedIn data showing their current professional pursuits;
-a list of area leaders and engaged volunteers based on affinity and engagement scores (if you have them), along with your top-rated donor prospects; and
-in larger cities, a heat map showing where alumni live and work, so you can determine how best to locate convenient event spaces. Remember, the last thing alumni want to do is waste time traveling, so trying to identify a single location that is convenient to everyone is a vexing challenge.
The point of all this is to be data-driven and strategic, not just put on events to say you did them. Treat the exercise like you would if you were targeting customers—identify them, design a product or service they want, and deliver it to them seamlessly!
Investing in finding, maintaining, and using good data is essential to your regional event strategy. It can be daunting to identify the best data management and CRM systems for your department, and to get your team to habitually update alumni data to these systems, but it is worth the time and resources.
Ingredient 2: Become a pre-planning visionary
How many times have you planned an event by going down a formulaic checklist, booking the same spaces, contacting the same vendors, using the same invitation texts and mediums, and hoping a “respectable” number of alumni and friends show up? You want to cover the basics well ahead of time (where is a good central location, where can people park, will there be refreshments), but, especially in the earliest planning stages, how can you envision a regional alumni event that breaks the mold? How can you generate authentic excitement about the event before it occurs?
Based on the data gathered in Ingredient 1, decide the number and type of events you wish to invest in—those events that will appeal to broad groups of alumni (the “shotgun” approach), and those events that will be most appealing to smaller, focused groups (groups important to your overall strategy, especially as they relate to fundraising). Next:
-lay out a preliminary, rolling 12-month calendar;
-identify the central staff member who will manage each event; and
-identify any university leaders (president, provost and deans) who should participate. Start early to coordinate with their schedules as their time is in high-demand.
Once you decide and schedule the gathering, make sure the attendees are given every opportunity to get to know their classmates and colleagues. After all, networking is about engaging each other. The power of coming together for a common and noble cause is immense, so don’t miss the chance to connect your alumni and friends to each other—thus, enhancing the “network effect.”
Implementation Idea 1: Let the names speak for themselves.
If you have permission, for a small group event you can share the invitee list ahead of time. If it is a general regional event, share the preliminary attendee list prior to the event. At the event itself, provide a compendium of the name, year of graduation, degree(s), occupation and basic contact information of each attendee (obtain consent if appropriate). This simple step achieves several goals at once:
-it shows your invitees that other alumni see this event as valuable and worth their time;
-if an invitee sees someone they know is attending, they are more likely to attend;
-it generates early buzz about the event; and
-it helps the invitees see who they may be able to network with and/or allows them to do research on attendees prior to the event (via LinkedIn and other channels).
Implementation Idea 2: Synergize with the region.
How can you, even when based far from the regions where you’re planning events, gain an insider’s view of the local vibe of that region?
One idea is to proactively and systematically research what conferences or trade shows are scheduled to be held in the city and conduct an event to draw in not just local alumni, but those likely to attend the conference or trade show. For instance, the North American International Auto Show in Detroit draws 800,000 engineers, designers, marketers and other professionals each year, so why not have the local Detroit alumni host out-of-town alumni in an event of common interest?
In this post, we’ve begun to lay out a comprehensive way to approach a purposeful engagement and advancement strategy. Be sure to check back on Tuesday, January 23, when we publish the second part of this post (including ingredients 3 and 4 and more implementation ideas). In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments, please contact us!