Alumni engagement is at an all-time low, at 9%.
In the not-too-distant past, many schools had a significant portion of their alumni donating to the school, participating in events, and mentoring other alumni. Now, however, that percentage has dropped significantly.
Alumni nation-wide have stated that they feel under appreciated by their schools, post-graduation. Specifically, they feel that their schools do a poor job at providing them with a network, job opportunities, and meaningful communication after they graduate. On top of that, they feel that they have already given their school too much money for tuition. Thus, when a school reaches out for donations, the results are less than ideal.
Schools are having a difficult time getting alumni to attend events, to mentor alumni, and most importantly - to donate. The lack of donations and participation lower a school's participation rate, which can adversely impact school rankings and earnings. To have a profitable or even sustainable institution, schools rely on donations for a portion of their funds. Thus, an inability to form meaningful and lucrative connections with alumni can be very damaging for schools, on many levels.
What do we need to change?
Alumni nation-wide have spoken: they want easier and greater access to useful alumni connections, more job opportunities from their schools, and overall better communication. Given the changes in technology and demands, there are a few things schools must do in order to adapt.
1. Provide Value
Schools rely on cold calls, cold emails, and snail mail to get donations from alumni. If you've ever received a cold call from your school asking for money, and I'm sure you have, then I'm also sure your reaction isn't very positive. You've been out of school for a few years or a few decades, and after paying your tuition of 100k-200k, throwing in an additional $10,000 from a cold call doesn't seem very appetizing. To fix this, schools need to worry less about getting immediate donations and more about providing value. If schools can provide value to alums by giving them connections, jobs opportunities, events, and other pieces of value, then alumni will feel more incentivized to give back to their alma matter. For the school, this also signifies a shift from outbound to inbound marketing. Rather than utilizing outbound techniques like cold calling and emailing, progressive schools have been transitioning to warm, inbound techniques. Inviting alumni to events, providing alumni with mentors, or checking in on the well-being of alumni are all ways that schools can proactively work on their alumni relationships, which will help them get donations down the line.
2. Connect with them where they are
In the past, schools could use physical mail to reach alumni. Today, however, most people will disregard or even throw away mail that they're not interested in. Soliciting or otherwise engaging someone through physical mail is very difficult and inefficient. For schools to be effective at reaching and communicate with their alum, they must communicate with their alum at a place where they will be receptive. For millennials especially, this means utilizing digital media and social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
3. Take initiative
Schools need to take more proactive measures at connecting with and providing value to alums. Utilizing web-based platforms, apps, and other university-specific tools to help alumni connect is critical for their engagement.