Staying engaged with recent grads in the age of social distancing
How to digitally connect and cultivate donor relationships with alumni
- Start with a compelling reason for recent graduates to give and/or volunteer
- Use data to identify what your recent graduates are interested in
- Personalise your communications and be intentional with the frequency
In my previous blog, I shared examples of how advancement teams are reprioritising campaigns to support student needs during the coronavirus pandemic—an effort that requires outreach to hundreds of thousands of donors. But how do you engage donors digitally when you can’t build relationships face-to-face because of social distancing? And how do you connect with recent graduates to start cultivating those relationships?
Explore engagement channels
In today’s age of social distancing, your institution must evolve your engagement strategies. You can no longer engage alumni with in-person reunions and may not be able to invite them back to campus this fall to watch athletic events and celebrate homecoming. To counter the lack of in-person opportunities, you need to engage alumni through other channels.
Some institutions are hosting virtual events. The George Washington University Alumni Association hosted a virtual networking hour. It gave alumni an opportunity to connect with other alums in their industry—and helps keep them connected to their alma mater.
One of the best ways to stay in touch with recent graduates (those who have graduated within the last 10 years) is through texting and social media. The challenge, though, is that a lot of advancement teams don’t have current information on their graduates. You might have an email address, but it might not be a current address or it’s one of many. And in all likelihood, alumni may ignore your email because they get so many messages from multiple organisations.
In my experience, email is more effective when graduates sign up for—and use—an alumni email address (e.g. [email protected]). However, I’ve found that using multiple touch points with a mix of different channels, such as text alerts, social media, and blogs, to be more successful at reaching and engaging diverse alumni populations.
Give recent grads a compelling reason to reconnect
Before you decide which communication tool to use, you must first have a compelling reason for recent graduates to respond to you. We are living in difficult times with countless causes and opportunities to give back. Why should your alumni give through your institution? Before they reconnect with you, you've got to give them a reason to come back. And you do that by talking to them about what they're interested in.
How do you know what your recent graduates are interested in, especially as student demographics are changing? Recent grads are no longer just traditional students. They’re also nontraditional students with different experiences, backgrounds, and interests. To figure out what your recent graduates are interested in, look at your data to find out how they were involved while they were on campus—that’s your tell.
For example, I was in marching band as both an undergraduate and graduate student. If you talk to me about the band, I'm probably going to get involved. I was also an RA, so I’m interested in student leadership, too. And even though I was a history major, that’s something I’m not interested in. So, it’s not just about having the data but being able to track that information across departments.
Having all of that information about your recent graduates—data about their major and the activities and organisations they participated in—in your ERP is key so that it can be pushed to your advancement system. That's the advantage of having a modern, integrated CRM system; it's easy to have that information flow in. Then you can segment your database and personalise your communications.
Why recent grads give
When it comes to alumni giving, 85% of recent graduates said they would donate more if they knew that their money was going to support an organisation they were involved with as a student.
Generationally, they are interested in volunteering and seeing the impact of their gift from day one. If they volunteered with an organisation while they were on campus, then they’re more likely to support those initiatives as alumni. Look for ways they can volunteer and mentor students.
To support coronavirus-related initiatives, can they help make calls to raise emergency funds or answer calls to student support lines? Can they volunteer at your institution’s food bank? How can they help students? That's what they're going to respond to.
If they're interested, they're going to pay attention. If it's something that they're passionate about, or something that resonates with them, then they'll pay attention. If you can figure out who they were connected to while they were on campus, a popular faculty member or club advisor, and personalise your communications, then they’ll be more likely to pay attention. That's why you have to have the hook.
Be intentional with personalised communications
Once you’ve identified what your recent graduates are interested in and developed compelling reasons to engage, then you can post about those topics on social media and your website. When you’ve caught their attention, they’ll be more likely to give you their contact information, and then you can reach out to them. Further, your engaged alumni may socialise your content with their peers and help you reach other members of the community that have been less engaged.
Being intentional about how you’re communicating with recent graduates is going to be key. Consider adjusting your communication schedule so that you’re not bombarding your alumni with messages. And instead of just asking for donations, consider also communicating about the ways your institution can support your alumni, like through career services.
When you do solicit donations, share the potential impact your alumni can make, no matter the size of their gift. For example, your alumni have the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of students and families across your community impacted by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Demonstrating the immediate change those gifts can make can be a powerful tool to motivate action.
By applying best practices and using data to personalise communications, you can connect with your recent graduates and start cultivating donor relationships digitally.