Life-long engagement and giving can be incentivized by offering alumni benefits that are personally relevant to each alum. The elements of a compelling alumni benefit are given, and the three highest rated alumni benefits are identified, along with why they are effective at attracting and engaging alumni. (About a 5 minute read)
I appreciate all the comments and feedback from my previous article The 7 Lamest Alumni Benefits.
I apparently touched a nerve.
Some alumni and advancement professional weren’t pleased one whit about my assertion that some of their alumni benefits were lame.
So let me briefly re-state my criteria for defining whether a member benefit is effective or not.
First, I am using data submitted by other alumni and advancement professionals, found in the VAESE Alumni Benchmarking Study. (I’m not just making this up.) As in any survey we measure a sampling of a smaller population to make broader generalization about a larger universe. In this case our universe is alumni relations and advancement professionals world-wide. The results reflect responses from institutions of all sizes, shapes and flavors.
However, this study will not provide data that can automatically be applied to all programs. If a specific alumni benefit works well at larger alumni organization, you can’t automatically assume it will have a similar impact at smaller institution. Be careful about making broad generalizations. Use all the tools at your disposal to make decisions.
Secondly, my standard also includes how each benefit is personally relevant to each alumnus. I’m using these five key elements of a personally relevant benefit:
- Does it solve a difficult or frequent problem for your alumni?
- Does it deliver compelling value?
- Is the benefit within close proximity to where alumni live and work (physically or digitally)?
- Will it be easy and convenient to use?
- Is it unique or exclusive to your organization, and not available to the general public?
Of all the benefit categories we listed in the survey, here are the three highest rated alumni benefits, based on their capacity to attract and engage alumni/ae:
#1 Highest Rated Alumni Benefit: Digital Communication (Blog/Social Media/e-Newsletter)
Across most all types of alumni programs, sizes and geographic regions, 80% of alumni professionals report they see a “significant impact” or “some impact” on alumni engagement by using these digital communication tools. Only 2% report that these programs have no impact on engagement.
Of those programs that enjoy the greatest success, we see an interesting phenomenon. Larger organizations (with 350,000+ alumni) and 20+ employees are experiencing the greatest success with digital communication. But the segment that also reports higher rates of success are alumni organizations with six or fewer employees, and alumni programming budgets under $250,000. 74% of these organizations report that digital communication is their top engagement tool, and delivers a “significant” impact on engagement.
However, maybe it’s a statistical anomaly or some other type of sampling problem, but there’s a gap in success between these two aforementioned segments. For some reason, organizations with more than six employees but less than 20, aren’t seeing as much impact on engagement, but the reasons are unclear.
Notwithstanding this apparent gap, it appears that most alumni organizations would see a boost in engagement by dedicating resources to building and maintaining a digital communication program. I’ve written previously about the trend toward inbound marketing automation. It’s how most businesses successfully do marketing these days, and it’s coming to an alumni organization near you.
With regard to personal relevance, this benefit scores fairly high. It’s unique to your institution, is easy and convenient to use, it’s delivered digitally to each alum, and can offer intangible value when the content is compelling. But if the content focuses mainly on less relevant topics like campus events or soft news (like a debate team placing first in nationals, or your recent hiring of a new employee), then expect alumni to disengage. Content must be relevant to your alumni, and offer information that can help them solve their problems. See this article here for my top ten tips for an effective e-newsletter.
#2 Highest Rated Alumni Benefit: Clubs, Chapters and Reunions
48% of alumni professionals report that their clubs, chapter and reunions have “significant” or “some impact” on alumni engagement. From a statistical standpoint, the institutions that are seeing the greatest success with clubs, chapters and reunions are these two types of institutions:
- Smaller private institutions (under 50,000 total alumni), that are more often found in the Eastern Time Zone, and usually in Northeast or Mid-Atlantic states.
- Large public institutions (over 350,000 alumni) with a strong football/basketball tradition, and more particularly part of an NCAA Division 1 “Power 5” (football) or “Power 7” (basketball) conference.
Of course, many other institutions that don’t fall into these two categories can have great success with their clubs, chapters and reunions. I’m merely pointing out the statistical probability of which types of institutions are seeing the most success.
As it relates to the five key elements of personal relevance, this benefit also makes sense. Clubs, reunions, chapters are exclusive to your institution, and also help address one of our most common basic problems most all of us face: Do we belong? Do we feel as a valued part of community? If you subscribe to what Maslow theorizes, they fulfill a need for friendship, prestige, respect, achievement and confidence. They also add tremendous value by helping alumni stay connected and build their personal network.
However these events are not always easy and convenient, nor are they typically within close proximity to most of your alumni. These and several other factors are likely contributors to their lack of success at some institutions.
#3 Highest Rated Alumni Benefit: Career Services/Networking
Career Services, including associated events like social mixers, etc., are another program that show significant rates of engagement. This applies to institutions of nearly all sizes, geographic regions, and regardless of whether they are public or private.
While statistically this benefit has stronger appeal among alumni in the 20-29 age group, we also see noteworthy engagement among alumni in the 30-39 age group, and even the 40-49 age groups.
Those institutions that see high rates of engagement have made a commitment to building their career services benefits. And while the survey is unclear about the overall trend, we see a growing number of institutions moving toward integration of their alumni relations and career services functions.
On the personal relevance scale, these benefits score high in the categories of solving a difficult problem, and delivering compelling value for services that alumni may otherwise need to pay for. The most effective career services programs have offered these services online, making it far more convenient, and within proximity of a larger segment of their alumni.
You can see further data and analysis on career services benefits in this article: Alumni Career Services: The Biggest Losers (& Winners)
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I’d love to hear your comments about this topic.