Personalize alumni relations with CRM

Personalize alumni relations with CRM

By Ellucian on Thursday, August 3, 2017


Before her most recent career as a management consultant to the higher education community, Jenny Jones drove alumni relations at many institutions, including the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Over the years, Jones has seen a marked shift from traditional, broad-based alumni programs such as annual giving campaigns toward greater engagement between the alumnus and the institution.

Fortunately, new technology tools facilitate better information collection, analysis, and updates for both students and for alumni. “The trend toward personalization drives alumni relations,” Jones says. “Alumni want to know exactly what they’re giving to; how the college or university will use these funds; and how their contribution benefits the institution, student, or faculty member.”

Thankfully, colleges and universities can now deploy customer relationship management (CRM) systems designed specifically for higher education. Having the right tools makes it easier for institutions to collect meaningful data and harness it to forge personal connections. “You must figure out how much information you can collect about an individual, and then successfully match that information to his or her interests,” Jones recommends.

Jones and her peers have discovered that the more you can relate the ongoing developments of the institution to alumni’s time on campus, the better and more productive the relationship will be. “You can gather a lot of information to get a larger picture of what the students did and with whom they interacted when they were on campus,” she says.

For example, what extracurricular activities did students engage in off campus, and what were their interests? “A graduate may have been an archeology major who traveled abroad and was interested in linguistics. If you know that, you may be able to fund scholarships for students who are studying archeology or linguistics,” Jones explains.

Institutions need to be able to pull all those different pieces into a single CRM system, and pinpoint an endowment or scholarship on campus that’s a good match for each individual. “Is there a student organization like a Habitat for Humanity chapter that’s trying to raise funds? What is it we can send out that the person will open or click on?” says Jones.

Jones acknowledges that getting people to supply personal information after they graduate can be challenging, but believes that if you give something in return for the information, graduates are often receptive. As various IT systems on campus become more integrated, data becomes more useful and persistent across platforms.

However, many institutions are still in the early stages of their data collection initiatives. “People are so focused on technology like CRM right now because they do not have even the most basic information about their alumni,” says Jones. “To get that information, you must make gathering it easy for everyone.”

Armed with the right data about current and former students, institutions can more easily make connections between people and programs. This boosts engagement and increases the likelihood for giving.

Jones also has witnessed a shift in the channels used to communicate with prospects. For example, younger donors tend to be more receptive to social media outreach, text messaging, and email rather than direct mail or phone calls.

Technology eases the process of conducting crowdfunding and micro-funding campaigns. "For smaller institutions, technology is now affordable enough that they can start implementing effective online giving," Jones says She recommends providing donors with the tools to make smaller online donations and offering incentives to turn those smaller donations into recurring gifts. Noting a Pew Research Center study that finds that 87 percent of crowdfunding donors value their personal connect to the projects they support, Jones adds, "The mix of personalization and technology makes online crowd funding possible."

Jones points out that increased awareness of tools for advancement has fostered better collaboration between alumni relations, communications, marketing, and fundraising. Many institutions are integrating the role that advancement professionals play at the highest levels of administration. As advancement technologies and strategies become more sophisticated, institutions need to take advantage of them to raise capital.

JENNY JONES, Principal Consultant, Ellucian

Jenny Jones joined Ellucian from the University of North Carolina Charlotte, where she served as the executive director for Alumni Affairs. From 2008 to 2012, Jenny served as director of Alumni Affairs for the Duke University School of Medicine, and from 2002 to 2008 she served as Duke Medicine’s director for Special Events and Donor Relations. Jenny holds a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and history and a master’s degree in education administration, both from Appalachian State University.

To learn how Ellucian can help your institution meet its alumni relations goals, please visit our Alumni Relations and Fundraising webpage.

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