Data and Analytics

Want to Boost Alumni Engagement? Get Personal.

Want to Boost Alumni Engagement? Get Personal.

January 31, 2023 | Jason Berman

You should probably read this article…but nothing in it pertains to you personally. It’s not relevant to your job or your life in general. Are you willing to keep reading? Probably not. 

That’s why alumni outreach often falls flat. 

Schools miss the mark when their outreach isn’t personalized. As a result, monthly newsletters get deleted or unsubscribed. Fundraising phone calls are ignored. Annual fund letters end up in the wastebasket. 

But there is a surefire way to grab the attention of your alumni, and keep it. Spoiler alert: it’s all about knowing them better. 

Alumni engagement is everything to schools.

Maybe it’s pandemic-induced apathy. Maybe it’s the ongoing economic uncertainty. Whatever the reason, alumni engagement remains volatile. Case in point. In a recent study, there’s been a 15 percent jump in alumni who are requesting to be added to “do-not-contact” lists.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of alumni engagement. Sure, fundraising is front and center. But it’s more than that. Alumni programming, reunions, networking events, and local chapter groups are also important mechanisms that can expand a school’s reach. Still other alumni opportunities spring from these initiatives. Things like mentoring and internships. 

It’s not one thing, it’s everything. Your alumni base is a gold mine of opportunities, resources, feedback, expertise, and funding that can enrich nearly all functional areas of your organization. Knowing this, your ability to engage them means everything to your school. 

Seize their attention by getting personal.  

Alumni may feel like “they should” read your emails, letters and social media posts, but it doesn’t mean they will. They’re managing careers, families, finances and more. Reading and responding to your messages probably isn’t a priority.  

Now imagine grabbing their attention—seizing it!—by getting personal. In the business world, companies that excel at personalized marketing reap a startling 40 percent more revenue than ‘average’ players, according to McKinsey. How does this translate to higher education? 

  • At the student level, 87 percent who received personalized communications “said that those communications were an important factor in their enrollment decision.” 

  • At the graduate level, “85 percent of alumni agree they would donate more often if they knew their money was funding organizations or initiatives with which they had been involved as a student.”

Put simply, it pays to know your alumni. Where they are today, where they work, their income bracket, assets, and more. 

It’s not about more data, it’s about the “right” data.

To get personal, you need salient insight into the current lives of graduates. This doesn’t mean you need more data. Instead, you need more of the “right” data. Information about their career path and trajectory. Their professional and industry expertise. Their lifestyle. Their ability to donate.

Your existing graduate data is a great starting point. It likely contains basics like name, address, phone number, degree type, graduation year, prior donations and donation amount. You can then look for third-party data to augment it. 

For this, Graduate Outcomes data from Equifax is a resource trusted by many colleges and universities. You get highly secure, cloud-based access to direct-measured alumni data. Knowing this, you can use it with confidence to build more precise, holistic views of your graduates based on right-now insights pertaining to: 

  • Current affluence, wealth and lifestyle 

  • Income, credit and employment 

  • Assets, debt, property 

  • Channel preferences, and more

With a deeper understanding of graduates, you can better model and segment alumni audiences based on a wider array of features, attributes, and indicators. You gain much-needed context for tailored strategies, targeted campaigns and personalized messaging that yields higher response rates and deeper, more enduring alumni engagement. 

The possibilities are limitless. 

The idea here is to build a data-driven resource of highly personalized alumni insights. One you can rely on for up-to-date views of former students. One you can experiment with to finetune your audiences and messaging. One you can use to better understand the real-time conditions affecting your alumni.  

Once this foundation is in place, you can mine it to support a range of alumni initiatives. Here are a few ideas. 

  • Fundraising campaigns. Most schools have regular donors who contribute the bulk of fundraising dollars, but try tapping into new donor pools by segmenting your alumni audiences based on their lifestyle and income. For example, a campaign aimed at younger alumni with lower incomes might feature targeted language that’s empathetic to budgets and financial restrictions. It might offer a $10 monthly bank draft versus a one-time $120 contribution. As the income levels increase for each audience segment, the language and gifting options shift to align with where they are in life. For instance, messaging to wealthier alumni might include an option to donate assets such as real estate (think: buildings and land). 

  • Organization membership. Alumni organizations mean something different to different audiences. Those who are fresh out of college or otherwise unemployed and looking for a job may value the networking and career development opportunities. Others may look forward to reunions. Consider modeling and segmenting your audiences based on supporting attributes like job status, income, etc. Start all communications with benefits and real-life opportunities pertaining to those groups to grab their attention and increase engagement. You can also re-engage lapsed members by using the data to better understand their circumstances so you can address common concerns and objections. For example, say an alum relocated to an area without a local alumni chapter. You might include a list of virtual alumni meetings. 

  • Marketing optimization. Alumni outreach involves a lot of marketing. Even if you identify and segment your alumni audiences and target them with highly personalized messaging, none of that matters if you fail to connect. That’s why understanding their channel preferences is critical to marketing optimization. Knowing this, try factoring in how your alumni prefer to engage with you and target them via a personalized mix of channels. For example, longtime alumni may prefer phone calls, direct mailers and letters. Younger alum might engage more often and consistently via text and mobile apps. Meet them where they are and you stand a better chance of improving engagement. 

Your alumni base is as unique and differentiated as it is priceless. The sooner your outreach programs are personalized to resonate with their preferences, the faster you’ll increase engagement across all areas of your alumni programming. 

Get in touch today to learn the different delivery options. We can meet you where you are. For example, I can share ways to access Graduate Outcomes via the Snowflake Data Cloud, or discuss other formats to connect to Graduate Outcomes data.

Jason Berman

Jason Berman

Business Development Advocate - Retail

Jason Berman is the Director of Higher Education at Equifax. In this role he is responsible for expanding and growing Graduate Outcomes using powerful Data and Analytics tools and brings a strong passion for empowering colleges and universities to use "Data for Good" and influence student outcomes. Jason brings more th[...]